Archive for the ‘Culture & Society’ Category

17
Jun

Iran just opened itself to a nuclear deal — but America has to make the first move.

By Vali Nasr

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Just when the world had given up hope for meaningful change in Iran, the country’s presidential election produced a surprise. Rather than a repeat of the 2009 conservative victory, the token reformist candidate, Hasan Rowhani, whose campaign called for moderation at home and constructive relations with the world, defied the odds to win a clear majority in the first round of voting. This is a welcome repudiation of the Ahmadinejad years and a clear popular challenge to the conservative chokehold on Iranian politics. The world can take heart in the fact that majority of Iranians voted for a break with the Ahmadinejad legacy and that the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Revolutionary Guards chose not to reverse the election’s outcome in a repeat of the debacle of 2009.

This is all good news for Iranian politics, but what matters most to the West these days is the fate of the country’s nuclear program. There is cautious optimism that popular support for moderation at the polls will translate into concessions at the negotiating table. Rowhani sent clear signals during the presidential campaign that if elected he would seek to end Iran’s international isolation. Favoring engagement over resistance, he said, “We have no other option than moderation.” That may well be the case, but a nuclear deal is still far from certain, and in fact this June surprise could confound U.S. strategy in dealing with Iran.

For starters, Rowhani may have won the popular mandate, but it is Khamenei who will make the final decision on the nuclear program. Iran’s counterparts in the P5+1 — the diplomatic bloc composed of the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, France, and Germany — would welcome seeing the back of the hardline negotiator Saeed Jalili. But even if Rowhani managed to persuade the supreme leader to sack his protégé and favorite in the recent elections, Iran’s position on its right to have a nuclear program is unlikely to change.

In fact, President Rowhani will be particularly aware of the risks inherent in negotiating with the P5+1. Rowhani was widely excoriated in Iran for ostensibly betraying the national interest in 2003, when, as the country’s nuclear negotiator, he signed on to a voluntary suspension of uranium enrichment. That concession was meant as a confidence-building measure to build momentum for a broader nuclear deal, but the reformist hope turned into defeat when talks failed amid allegations that Iran had violated protocols laid out by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The supreme leader and his conservative coterie concluded that the suspension had been construed as Iranian weakness and only invited greater international pressure. They blamed Rowhani for having put Iran on its heels. The defeatist image became a stain on the reformists’ reputation and contributed to the conservative juggernaut that swept Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power in 2005. Read more…

Vali Nasr is the dean of the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on June 16, 2013.

13
Jun

By Haizam Amirah-Fernández, Associate Professor of IE School of International Relations

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Does a power like the US know what it is doing in a region as important and complex as the Middle East? The question may sound like a provocation, but from its answer stem enormous implications for the international system. This is not an issue raised only by critics or enemies of the US. Increasingly more allies, partners and friends alike, wonder if Washington has a clear strategy towards the Middle East, if it foresees the possible consequences of its actions or rather if, as some believe, it is gradually dissociating itself from the region as part of its announced strategic shift towards Asia and the Pacific.

The experience of successive US administrations in the Middle East during the last decade cannot be described as very successful. Large projects of regional transformation, risky military adventures, costly reconstruction programmes and questionable methods in fighting against fanaticism have not given the US the security, new alliances or sympathies of hearts and minds that had been promised. All too often, US policies have given rise to results contrary to those desired and whose long-term consequences go against American national interests.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was presented as an investment to transform the country into a faithful US ally. The new Iraq was to be an example for the democratisation of other neighbouring countries as well as a base to act, if necessary, against the Iranian regime. The reality, a decade later, is nothing like the foreseen plan: Iraq is a fractured country, plagued by violence and whose government is in the hands of close allies of Iran.

The regional rise of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its hegemonic aspirations cannot be understood without the involuntary help of the US. On the one hand, in 2001 it put an end to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (enemies of the Iranian ayatollahs), thus placing in power in Kabul groups allied to Tehran. On the other hand, in 2003 the George W. Bush Administration toppled Saddam Hussein, who had acted as a barrier against Iranian ambitions in the Arab neighbourhood. Unwittingly, neoconservatives in the US handed over the Bagdad government to Shia leaders over which Iran exerts great influence.

Syria has become a new source of bewilderment regarding the objectives and leadership capabilities of the US in the Middle East. What started in March 2011 as a pacifist uprising against the totalitarian regime of Bashar al-Assad has become a proxy war whose price is being paid by the Syrian population. In this war, the regime and its foreign supporters (Iran, Russia and Hizballah) fight against the rebels and their allies (Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the US and Jordan, among others). Read more…

(Originally published in El Mundo on 10 June 2013)

5
Jun

Turks rise up against Islamist

By Benny Avni

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Washington foreign-policy circles have long treated Turkey as a role model — a place where political Islam and democracy live in harmony. Reality just shattered that ideal.

A small protest that started late last week at the heart of Istanbul has spread to Ankara and other cities, mushrooming into nationwide rallies against Turkey’s increasingly imperious prime minister, Recep Tayyep Erdogan.

One graffiti splashed across an Istanbul storefront declared in English, “Tayyep is a d–k.”

A bit crude, but Erdogan was just as insulting on TV Sunday, calling his critics “looters” and vowing never to bow to their demands. And his police were more than insulting: They attacked protesters with tear gas and water cannons, injuring over 100 and, according to some reports, killing at least one.

As Erdogan arrogantly leaves the country for a North African tour, Turkey’s largest trade union is organizing a nationwide strike in solidarity with the protests.

It all began with a rally against the looming loss of Gezi Park, an open space graced with ancient trees near Taksim Square, Istanbul’s liveliest section.

A former Istanbul mayor, Erdogan came up with the plan to demolish the green patch and convert it to a shopping mall designed to look like Ottoman-era military barracks. It’s part of a larger drive to erase all symbols of the secularist past, including the Ataturk Center in the heart of Taksim Square — a building dedicated to the founder of Turkey’s post-Ottoman democracy, which Erdogan wants to replace with a mosque. Read more…

As published in www.nypost.com on June 4, 2013.

3
Jun

Has the government of Prime Minister Erdogan finally succumbed to the authoritarian impulses that doomed so many other Turkish leaders before him?

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As I write these words in my Ankara hotel in the early morning hours, I can still hear the distant voices of massed demonstrators chanting slogans a few blocks from the presidential palace and the prime minister’s residence. Thousands of people are continuing to protest the government and its deeply undemocratic actions. The TV is showing images of the brutal police attack against peaceful demonstrators that took place earlier today in Istanbul’s Taksim Square.

The clashes in Istanbul go on as I write: Emergency rooms in the hospitals near Taksim are struggling to cope with the hundreds of people injured by the police. Earlier today in Ankara, where the protests have so far remained largely peaceful, I’ve watched protestors linking arms to form human chains blocking the streets. What struck me the most was the reaction from ordinary people. Rather than protesting the snarled traffic caused by the demonstrators, Ankarans passing by in their cars supported the protestors by honking and waving victory signs from their windows.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been taking some of my students from the United States on a trip around Turkey. The aim of our trip has been to explore the pros and cons of the country’s development experience. We started with the early days of the republic (overshadowed by the war for independence, ethnic cleansing, authoritarianism, forced cultural modernization, and economic failures) and have worked our way up to the challenges that shape the country today (democratization, the Kurdish conflict, the rise of the current Islamist government, and the tensions between secular Kemalism and religious politics). I’ve done my best to help my students see the forty shades of blue separating the empty half of the glass from the part that’s full. Read more…

Firat Demir teaches in the Department of Economics at the University of Oklahoma.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on June 1, 2013.

24
May

As its recent experience in Kunming shows, Beijing can handle environmental protests. But is this approach sustainable in the long term?

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Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province, has become the latest city in China to be rocked by environmental protest. On May 4 and then again on May 16, 1,000 to 2,000 protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against the construction of an oil and chemical refinery in the nearby city of Anning by the state-run oil company China National Petroleum Corporation.

Kunming Mayor Li Weirong attempted to placate the protesters — offering to open a personal Weibo account through which residents could communicate with him and even promising that the project wouldn’t continue if “most of our people don’t agree with it.” The South China Morning Post offers a fascinating blow-by-blow account of the beleaguered mayor’s interaction with the protesters.

It is tempting simply to add the Kunming protest to the growing list of Chinese urban environmental protests, and note once again that the Communist Party has not found the right balance between economic development and environmental protection. However, the real significance of these protests is that they signal the failure of Chinese institutions to adapt to the changing needs and demands of the people for a greater voice in the political process. Environmental politics has become a game of crisis management.

Formally, there are a few ways in which Chinese citizens can participate in environmental decision-making. For one, they can take part in reviewing environmental impact assessments for proposed large projects in their neighborhoods. As Chinese scholars have noted, however, there are a number of limitations to this process: only a small percentage of projects are subjected to compulsory public participation; the timing and duration of engaging the public is short; the method of selecting those who can participate is often biased; and the amount of information actually disclosed is often quite limited in an effort to prevent social unrest. Read more…

As published by The Atlantic on May 20, 2013

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