Deeds. Not Words. Deeds.

Ray Takeyh is right on the money when he reminds us what we should expect from Hassan Rohani before we go around calling him "a reformer":

Rouhani's attempt to refashion Iran's image and temper its rhetoric should be welcomed. After eight years of Ahmadinejad provocations that often unhinged the international community, a degree of self-restraint is admirable. However, judge Tehran by its conduct and not its words.

It is not enough for Rouhani to condemn the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Is he prepared to withdraw the Revolutionary Guard contingents that have done much to buttress Assad's brutality?

It is not sufficient for Rouhani to speak of transparency; he must curb Iran's troublesome nuclear activities and comply with the U.N. Security Council resolutions.

And it is not enough for Rouhani to speak of a tolerant society unless he is prepared to free his many former comrades and colleagues who are languishing in prisons under false charges.

Rouhani's reliability has to be measured by his actions, not by his speeches or tweets.

There are many out there who are willing to believe that Rohani is a reformer based solely on cosmetic gestures and somewhat more mild rhetoric--especially when compared to Ahmadinejad. These people might very well be setting themselves up for a major disappointment

Say Goodbye to Democracy in Egypt

As I have mentioned before, I am neither a fan of Mohammed Morsi, nor one of the Muslim Brotherhood in general. I think they are generally a totalitarian lot and Egypt would be better off without them. But as Morsi and the Brotherhood won legitimate elections in Egypt, the way to get rid of them is through subsequent elections.

Instead, we had a coup, even though the Obama administration refrains from calling it a coup. And now, the powers-that-be in Egypt are considering disbanding the Muslim Brotherhood altogether. Because, of course, that won't drive religious sentiment underground, making it even more fanatical in the process.

I am sure that there are people in the Egyptian government who have good ideas about how best to go forward. Too bad that no one is giving them the microphone at all.

Morsi Ousted

The Egyptian army has had about enough

Egypt’s military on Wednesday ousted Mohamed Morsi, the nation’s first freely elected president, suspending the Constitution, installing an interim government and insisting it was responding to the millions of Egyptians who had opposed the Islamist agenda of Mr. Morsi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood.

The military intervention, which Mr. Morsi rejected as a “complete military coup,” marked a tumultuous new phase in the politics of modern Egypt, where Mr. Morsi’s autocratic predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, was overthrown in a 2011 revolution.

The intervention raised questions about whether that revolution would fulfill its promise to build a new democracy at the heart of the Arab world. The defiance of Mr. Morsi and his Brotherhood allies also raised the specter of the bloody years of the 1990s, when fringe Islamist groups used violence in an effort to overthrow the military government.

In an announcement read on state television, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the Egyptian defense minister, said the military had taken the extraordinary steps not to seize power for itself but to ensure that “confidence and stability are secured for the people.”

Morsi is attempting to resist the coup and is continuing to claim that he is the president of Egypt, but one wonders how successful such a public stance will be, especially given the lack of popular support for his government. As the story notes, however, as welcome as Morsi's removal from power may be, the chief casualty in Egypt may be democracy itself. To be sure, Morsi was no democrat, but he was elected; many of his supporters--never having been fans of democracy in the first place--are now claiming that there is absolutely no reason whatsoever left to support democratic values in the future, as long as the army can step in at any time it wants in order to remove the government and install another one of its own liking.

Meanwhile, it is worth noting the Obama administration's reaction to all of this. The president and his team have maintained that they have sought to promote human rights in Egypt. As this story points out, however, that is just not true:

In nearly every confrontation with Congress since the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the White House has fought restrictions proposed by legislators on the nearly $1.6 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt. Twice in two years, the White House and the State Department fought hard against the very sorts of conditions for aid that Obama claimed credit for this week. When President Mohamed Morsi used the power of his presidency to target his political opponents, senior administration officials declined to criticize him in public. Many close Egypt observers argue that the Obama administration’s treatment of Morsi has been in line with the longstanding U.S. policy of turning a blind eye to the human-rights abuses of his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

[. . .]

In March 2012, Clinton 
waived restrictions passed by Congress on aid to Egypt “on the basis of America’s national-security interests.” That decision came in the midst of the Egyptian government’s crackdown on foreign NGOs, which included the raiding of the offices of several American organizations, including the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House.

In April of this year, Kerry 
again waived all congressional restrictions on aid to Egypt, but did so secretly and without any explanation. The State Department later explained that aid to Egypt’s military was necessary because of U.S.-Egyptian cooperation on things like counterterrorism.

Five senators in March proposed changes to the way the U.S. gives aid to Egypt in the hopes of using the aid to pressure Morsi to improve his record on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. But the Obama administration, led by Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, fought those changes, and none was ever passed into law.

That same month Kerry 
delivered to Morsi an additional $190 million of U.S. aid based on Morsi’s pledge to implement economic reforms, part of a $1 billion debt-relief package Obama pledged to Morsi.

Realpolitik may have demanded that the administration do what it did. But that doesn't change the fact that the administration should stop claiming that it was a friend to democracy in Egypt.

 

Surprising--and Unsurprising--News from the First Round of Iran's Presidential Election

First, the surprising news: The leading moderate candidate for the presidency has emerged as the strongest of all of the candidates after the first round of voting

Early results from Iran's presidential election put the reformist-backed candidate, Hassan Rouhani, in the lead.

With 2.9m ballots counted, the cleric had 1.46m votes, or 49.87%, well ahead of Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, with 488,000 votes, or 16.65%.

If no candidate wins more than 50%, a run-off will be held next Friday.

It remains to be seen if a second round can be avoided. If we end up having a second round, my fear is that at that point, the regime will work to ensure that the deck is stacked against Rohani. Unless the regime is absolutely determined to ensure that no one ever again accuses it of rigging presidential elections, I can't believe that it will allow a moderate to become president and give Ali Khamene'i yet another round of headaches.

And now, for the unsurprising news: 

Millions of Iranians took to the streets to demand a re-run after the last presidential election in June 2009, when the Supreme Leader dismissed claims by the three defeated candidates of widespread fraud.

Two of them, former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Mousavi and senior cleric Mehdi Karroubi, became leaders of a nationwide opposition known as the Green Movement, after its signature colour.

They were placed under house arrested in February 2011 when they applied to stage a protest in support of the anti-government uprisings which were sweeping the Arab world. They are still being detained.

No foreign observers are monitored this year's election and there have also been concerns that media coverage in the run-up has been unfair.

Many reformist newspapers have been shut down, access to the internet and foreign broadcasters restricted, and journalists detained.

On Thursday, the BBC accused the Iranian authorities of "unprecedented levels of intimidation" of BBC employees' families.

It said Iran had warned the families of 15 BBC Persian Service staff that they must stop working for the BBC or their lives in London would be endangered.

Tehran has so far made no comment on the allegation.

Proof positive that no matter who becomes president, the nature of the regime prevents the emergence of democratic discourse and the thriving of basic political/social/media freedoms.

Heads: Iranian Hardliners Win. Tails: Iranian Reformists Lose.

It's not enough for the Islamic regime in Iran to disqualify certain reformist candidates for the presidency; it must also punish people who attend campaign meetings for reformist candidates who are actually allowed to run for president.

Stories like this one are why I have an objection to calling the regime a "theocracy." In fact, it is best to describe Iran's system of government as a theocratic mafiocracy. The regime is as corrupt as it is brutal, and its hardline faction has no compunction whatsoever about showing both its corruption and its brutality in trying to hold on to power.

Is This What Iranians Have to Look Forward to?

The frontrunner in the race to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran is Saeed Jalili. Don't know who Saeed Jalili is? Behold:

At his first presidential campaign rally, Saeed Jalili on Friday welcomed the cheers of thousands of young men as he hauled himself onto the stage. His movements were hampered by a prosthetic leg, a badge of honor from his days as a young Revolutionary Guards member in Iran’s great trench war with Iraq.

“Welcome, living martyr, Jalili,” the audience shouted in unison, most of them too young to have witnessed the bloody conflict themselves but deeply immersed in the national veneration of its veterans. Waving flags belonging to “the resistance” — the military cooperation among Iran, Syria, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and some Palestinian groups — the crowd roared the candidate’s election slogan: “No compromise. No submission. Only Jalili.”

Mr. Jalili, known as Iran’s unyielding nuclear negotiator and a protégé of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is emerging as the presumed front-runner in Iran’s presidential election on June 14, an unsettling prospect for future relations with the West. Mr. Jalili, 47, who many analysts say has long been groomed for a top position in Iran, is by far the most outspoken hard-liner among the eight candidates approved to participate in the election.

Opposing “détente a hundred percent” and promising no compromise “whatsoever” with the West over matters like Iran’s nuclear program and involvement in Syria, Mr. Jalili seems set to further escalate Iran’s standoff with the United States and its allies if elected president.

“He seems to be Ahmadinejad Phase 2,” said Rasool Nafisi, an Iran expert based in Virginia, referring to Iran’s current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “He would probably not be a partner to negotiate for the nuclear issues, as we have seen before when he was headin
g the delegations.”

An analyst based in Iran, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said Mr. Jalili was “the perfect follower of Khamenei.”

“If he gets elected I foresee even more isolation and conflict, as he doesn’t care about foreign relations, the economy or anything,” the analyst said.

The Iranian people can't catch a break, can they? Note as well the story's discussion of the blatant favoritism shown to Jalili by the regime and the media it controls. So much for democracy in Iran.

The State of Play Leading Up to the Iranian Presidential Election

As noted before, the notion that there is anything resembling democracy in Iran is nothing short of laughable. More can be found here on how the election has quickly turned into a farce. The BBC informs us--in what is, perhaps, the understatement of the year--that "[b]y the standards of democratic countries, presidential elections in Iran are neither free nor fair," something anyone not living under a rock since 1979 already knew. Human Rights Watch has more:

Serious electoral flaws and human rights abuses by the Iranian government undermine any meaningful prospect of free and fair elections on June 14, 2013. Dozens of political activists and journalists detained during the violent government crackdown that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election remain in prison, two former presidential candidates are under house arrest, and authorities are already clamping down on access to the internet, having arbitrarily disqualified most registered presidential and local election candidates.

As the elections approach, authorities have tightened controls on information by severely cutting back internet speeds and blocking proxy servers and virtual private networks that Iranians use to circumvent government filtering of websites. The authorities have also gone after government critics, summoning, arresting, and jailing journalists and bloggers, while preventing opposition figures and parties aligned with Iran’s reformist movement from participating in the elections by banning or severely restricting their activities.

“Fair elections require a level playing field in which candidates can freely run and voters can make informed decisions,” said 
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “How can Iran hold free elections when opposition leaders are behind bars and people can’t speak freely?”

How indeed? Of course, the system of repression put into place by the regime in Tehran affects far more than a mere presidential election, and has prompted a lot if righteous backlash from the Iranian artistic community (which is far more civilized and enlightened than Iran's current crop of "leaders" could ever hope to be). Quoth Asghar Farhadi, whose film A Separation was the first Iranian film to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film:

THR: How was shooting The Past in France different? Did it help you with censorship back home?

Farhadi:
 I get the question very often if working abroad changed my way of working, specifically because of the restrictions and the fact that I had fewer restrictions here. The only image I can maybe use to try and say how I feel is that if you have been walking the same way for 40 years, and all of a sudden, they put you on a path that is flatter, more comfortable, less risky, you don't change your way of walking. You will still walk the same way. The difference is that you might just feel more reassured or more comfortable, because of the new path. I must say here in France I had more serenity or security as I was working, because I knew I was making the film the way I wished and that the film would be seen ultimately, which is not always the case in Iran. In Iran, you always work having in mind this worry of will I be able to carry on my project as I wish and will the audience see the film. Here, I didn't have these worries, for sure.

THR:
 How does censorship in Iran work these days? Any signs that the system is becoming more open or more restrictive?

Farhadi:
 The system happens to be very unpredictable. You can not say how it is, you can not describe it, because it is changing all the time. It's a new story every day. And maybe that's what makes it difficult for us. If there were specific rules, we would know how to deal with them or avoid them. Whereas now, your situation depends on the mood of the people who make the decisions. So, some day it feels more open, and some day all of a sudden it is more restrictive. And that's what makes it very difficult and unpredictable. You have to submit a film twice - first as a project when the script is written, and then just before releasing it. These are the two crucial moments we have. Seen from the outside, maybe it can be very surprising how under such pressure it is possible to still make films that have an impact and that give an impression of freedom and strength. This is because our filmmakers and artists in general go on fighting and finding ways of avoiding the censorship and creating despite all these restrictions. Sometimes they fail, sometimes they succeed.

The above does not a description of a free society make, and if anything, Farhardi understates the level of repression that afflicts Iran and the Iranian people. It is nice to see that the artistic community in Iran is finding ways to protest the repression that Iranians must put up with, but one wishes that they would not be given so much material by the regime.

In response to the disqualification of presidential candidates like Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani--who made noises supporting the Green Revolution back in 2009 and who is the closest thing the Iranian people have to a major reformer--and in response to the general sense of political and social oppression in Iran, there has been a lot of talk on the part of moderate and reformist voters about not even bothering to participate in the 2013 elections. After all, the candidates don't reflect reformist views, and there is a very good chance that like 2009, the election will be stolen again if the outcome goes against the wishes of hardliners in the regime. May I beseech any and all Iranians whose line of sight passes over this blog to please not engage in such a boycott? The regime would like nothing less than to see moderate and reformist voters disillusioned, dispirited, apathetic and un-engaged in the upcoming elections; after all, such a state of affairs makes it easier to elect hardliners without resorting to vote-rigging, and thus without generating controversy. If the regime wants to have the halls of government stacked with hardliners, it should be forced to engage in vote-rigging and it should be forced to generate controversy, crisis and scandal. The more this regime is forced to repeatedly show the world that it is illegitimate, tyrannical and utterly dishonest, the more Iranians will be prompted to replace this regime with a government more worthy of them. And let there be absolutely, positively no mistake whatsoever; the current regime is completely unworthy of the Iranian people, who have deserved better from their political class for a very long time now.