I will freely admit to finding Akbar Ganji's article about Iran's supreme leader fascinating--especially excerpts like this one:
As a young man, Khamenei loved novels. He read such Iranian writers as Muhammad Ali Jamalzadah, Sadeq Chubak, and Sadeq Hedayat but came to feel that they paled before classic Western writers from France, Russia, and the United Kingdom. He has praised Leo Tolstoy and Mikhail Sholokhov and likes Honoré de Balzac and Michel Zévaco, but he considers Victor Hugo supreme. As he told some officials of Iran’s state-run television network in 2004,
In my opinion, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is the best novel that has been written in history. I have not read all the novels written throughout history, no doubt, but I have read many that relate to the events of various centuries. I have read some very old novels. For example, say, I’ve read The Divine Comedy. I have read Amir Arsalan. I have also read A Thousand and One Nights. . . . [But] Les Misérables is a miracle in the world of novel writing. . . . I have said over and over again, go read Les Misérables once. This Les Misérables is a book of sociology, a book of history, a book of criticism, a divine book, a book of love and feeling.
Khamenei felt that novels gave him insight into the deeper realities of life in the West. “Read the novels of some authors with leftist tendencies, such as Howard Fast,” he advised an audience of writers and artists in 1996. “Read the famous book The Grapes of Wrath, written by John Steinbeck, . . . and see what it says about the situation of the left and how the capitalists of the so-called center of democracy treated them.” He is also a fan of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which he recommended in March 2002 to high-level state managers for the light it sheds on U.S. history: “Isn’t this the government that massacred the original native inhabitants of the land of America? That wiped out the American Indians? Wasn’t it this system and its agents who seized millions of Africans from their houses and carried them off into slavery and kidnapped their young sons and daughters to become slaves and inflicted on them for long years the most severe tragedies? Today, one of the most tragic works of art is Uncle Tom’s Cabin. . . . This book still lives after almost 200 years.”
So, Khamene'i has an intellectual and literary bent that I didn't know he possessed. I guess that is worth a "wow," or two, but ultimately, readings like this one do more to inform readers about Khamene'i's "leadership" than does the list of novels Khamene'i has claimed to have read. As mentioned in my recent New Atlanticist article (this in relation to the election of Hassan Rohani as Iran's new president), there is precedent for believing that an affinity for Western culture on the part of the leader of some adversary nation means that said leader is inclined to make that adversary nation into a friendly one (see, e.g., Yuri Andropov and his supposed fondness for jazz, which was supposed to bring about the new détente between the United States and the former Soviet Union). But as we saw in Andropov's case, an affinity for Western culture on the part of a foreign leader is not a sign that the leader in question is going to implement positive changes in his/her country's foreign policy. Something to remember as we contemplate the larger meaning of Khamene'i's supposed list of favorite novels.
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.