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Five Reasons Why Russia Fears Iranian Regime Fall

Uran Botobekov

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Search for “Foreign Enemy”

The views of Russia and the USA of the domestic policy developments in Iran, where the public unrest has caused the deaths of more than twenty people and the arrests of about four thousand protesters, is split into two opposite points of view.

The Russian officials have strongly supported the Iranian position that the public unrest has been caused by “foreign enemies” of the Islamic revolution. It should be mentioned that right after the outburst of protests, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed foreign enemies for the unrest, without naming the countries concerned.

It is particularly remarkable that Ali Khamenei, who ordered Telegram and Instagram to be blocked in the country and ordered the partially shut down ofthe internet, is an active user of Twitter and he was the first one to post his reaction to protests on social media. In a post on his Twitter account, Iran’s supreme leader was quoted as saying: “In recent events, enemies of Iran have allied and used the various means they possess, including money, weapons, politics and intelligence services to create troubles for the Islamic Republic. The enemy is always looking for an opportunity and any crevice to infiltrate and strike the Iranian nation.”

Unlike him, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Ali Shamkhani was more specific and blamed the governments of the USA, United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia for interference in the domestic affairs of Iran. While President of Iran Hassan Rouhani has taken things a step further and described Donald Trump as “the enemy of the Iranian nation from head to toe”.

Such a nervous response of the Iranian authorities has been caused by statements made by US President Donald Trump saying that “it’s time for change” in Iran, and by the promise made by Vice President Michael Pence that the US administration would support the participants of protests in Iran. As this analysis shows, instead of looking for internal reasons for public protests and implementing social and economic reforms to improve the living standards of the people, the political elite of Iran is busy searching for foreign enemies, which is typical of authoritarian countries in the world.

In this situation, the Russian official position,which actively supports the theocratic elite of Iran, does not seem strange, sincethe nature of the authoritarian power in both countries is identical. It istypical for authoritarian and autocratic rulers to take repressive actions against protestors – inthis case, against protesting young people, who demand political change, religious liberties and social and economic reforms.

Moscow was the first one to support Teheran’s statement that public protests in Iran have foreign sources. Thus, on January 4, 2018, amid the public protest in Iran, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in his statement warned the United States against attempts to interfere with the domestic affairs of Iran. According to him, the protests in Iran are domestic affairs of the country. He thinks that the United States is merely using the situation in Iran intentionally to attempt to undermine the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action related to Iran’s nuclear program (JPCOA), which does not do honor to Washington.

The United Russia faction in the State Duma, which is considered the party of President Putin, has demandedthat the UN stop the U.S. provocation against Iran in order to prevent a scenario similar to Libya and Iraq in the country. However, when, on the US initiative on January 5, 2018, the UN Security Council convened for an emergency meeting to discuss the situation in Iran, Russia’s permanent representative Vasily Nebenzya strongly opposed the inclusion of this issue in the agenda. As usual, Russia has quickly found an external enemy represented by the United States.

Russia Fights Tooth and Nail for Iran

Russia defends the theocratic regime of Iran, not only because of the similarity of their authoritarian and paternalisticsystems, but also because of Putin’s objectives of continuing his individual rule and maintaining the status quo. The fall of the theocratic regime in Iran as a result of public protests could have significant impacts on Putin’s regime for several reasons.

First, it’s no secret that Iran and Russia are the guarantors of the Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria.By participation in the military operation in Syria, President Putin has tried to win the recognition of Russia as a global super power. The Middle East has become a testing area where Russia has challenged the United States, so that the power of Moscow is demonstrated to the Western World. Therefore, Putin has used Russian military power to support the government of Bashar Assad, who is considered illegitimate by the United States, Turkey and other NATO members. For the first time in history, Moscow and Washington have been directly involved in military operations in the same state, but on opposite sides of the barricades. The Iranian military of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Tehran-supported Lebanese Shiite group, Hezbollah, are known to secure the victory of Bashar Assad in ground operations, while Russia has waged air bombardments. Iran is the main financial donor of Damascus and spends annually $6bln to support the Syrian government. Therefore, in case of the fall of the Iranian theocratic regime, the Bashar government would not endure for long.Russia would fail to maintain the Syrian regime with only air powerwithout the support of the powerful ground army, which has beenmade possible by the financial support of Iran.Such a change in the Middle East situation would not only smash Putin’s geopolitical ambitions, but would also step up global pressure on Russia regarding the Ukrainian crisis. This could lead to the inglorious escape of the Kremlin-backed armed groups from Lugansk and Donetsk in Ukraine.

Second, the economic and political agenda, which has pushed the protests in Iran forward, is very much similar to the agenda of Putin in Russia.Both countries have large-scale corruption. International sanctions have led to the decline of the neoliberal economy in both countries, which has impoverished millions of Russian and Iranian nationals. The majority of the people in both states stand against the use of vast sums of money to wage war abroad. They think that budgetary funds are not used for the people’s needs, but for the satisfaction of geopolitical ambitions of their political leaders. This is demonstrated by the fact that, the main slogans of protesters in Iran have been “NotGaza, not Lebanon – my life for Iran”, “Leave Syria, think about us instead”, “Death to Russia.” The fall of the Iranian regime could intensify the antimilitary mood within Russia. This, in turn, could deprive Putin of the opportunity to wage “hybrid war” in Abkhazia,Transnistria, South Ossetia, and Eastern Ukraine. It must be admitted though, that the Kremlin propaganda machine can still manipulate public opinion and minimize the antimilitary mood.

Third, the fact that the political regime has so far been irremovable, both in Iran and in Russia, has bred discontent among young people. The protesters in Iran have raised political demands along with economic issues, shouting “Death to Khamenei and President Rouhani.” The crushing power of the protesters has been found among the Iranian urban young people,who have been actively protesting against the clerical regime in recent years. Today neither communists nor liberals pose the major threat to Putin’s regime in Russia, rather it’s the fervent young people who don’t fear the repressive machine of the authorities. High school students, university students and young office workers stood in the front of anticorruption protests in 2013-2017 organized by Alexei Navalny. It’s the young people who faced the police baton attacks, which made them even stronger ideologically. Therefore, the fall of the Khamenei regime could give impetus to the Russian young people and the whole civil society that demand political change and the resignation of Putin.

Fourth, the fall of the Ayatollah regime could deprive Russia of one of its key allies in the region. During the last 40 years Moscow has been known for its active use of the confrontation between Tehran and the United States for its own geopolitical interests. Russia, making use of strife between the Sunnis and the Shiites,along with the support of Iran, has managed to strengthen its political and economic presence in the Middle East, which had been lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The overthrow of the regime in Iran would lead to American domination not only in the Greater Middle East, but, as a result,could even open up Central Asia and the Caucasus to American influence, which would not be in the interest of Moscow.

Fifth, the fall of the Iranian regime could lead to a domino effect in the countries which are subject to international economic sanctions. Russia understands well that after the fall of Tehran, Western sanctions would likely be used to weaken its national economy until it returns Crimea and withdraws its “armed volunteers” from the east of Ukraine.

Therefore, Russia fights tooth and nail for Iran and is on the hunt for “foreign enemies” in the mass protests in Tehran.

On the other hand, the open call for regime change in Iran stated by American President Trump, even though it may encourage the protesters, may be counterproductive. It provides the opportunity to the authoritarian rulers of Russia and Iran to claim that the protests have been organized from abroad. Thus, it can be expected Moscow will continue to support Iran and blame the United States for interference in the sovereign state affairs of Iran.

In this situation, the West should consider imposing targeted sanctions against political, military and judicial officials of Iran, who violate the rights and freedom of the protesters. The universities of European countries and the United States should also open more doors for the Iranian youth, who will become conductors of democratic values, freedom of speech and religious tolerance, which would ultimately lead to a change in the theocratic system of government in Iran.

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Middle East

Gulf crisis turns Qatar into the ‘region’s Israel’

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Prominent US constitutional lawyer and scholar Alan M. Dershowitz raised eyebrows when he described Qatar as “the Israel of the Gulf states.”

Known for his hard-line pro-Israel views, Mr. Dershowitz drew his conclusion following an all-expenses paid trip to the Gulf state. Mr. Dershowitz argued that Qatar like Israel was “surrounded by enemies, subject to boycotts and unrealistic demands, and struggling for its survival.”

He noted that while he was in Qatar an Israeli tennis player had been granted entry to compete in an international tournament in which the Israeli flag was allowed to fly alongside of those of other participants.

In response, Saudi Arabia took Qatar to task for accommodating the tennis player and almost at the same time refused Israelis visas to take part in an international chess tournament. To be fair, with US President Donald J, Trump recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it may have been difficult for the kingdom to have done otherwise.

“This episode made clear to me that the Saudis were not necessarily the good guys in their dispute with Qatar. The Saudis have led a campaign to blockade, boycott and isolate their tiny neighbouring state. They have gotten other states to join them in this illegal activity,” Mr. Dershowitz said.

His remarks were likely to have surprised Arabs and Jews as well as pro-Israeli circles. Israel, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, sees Qatar as a state that supports militants like Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip, and Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been designated a terrorist organization by Qatar’s detractors.

Mr. Dershowitz’s similarities notwithstanding, the differences between Qatar and Israel are multiple. Most importantly, Qatar does not occupy foreign territory, nor does it deny the rights of others or employ its military to achieve geopolitical objectives. It is Qatar’s soft power approach and idiosyncratic policies that provoked the ire of its Gulf brethren and accusations that it supports violent and non-violent militants.

Nonetheless, the trappings of the eight-month-old Gulf crisis, sparked by the imposition last June of a UAE-Saudi-led diplomatic and economic boycott, would seemingly to some degree bear out Mr. Dershowitz’s view.

Much like Arab maps of the Middle East that for the longest period of time, and often still do, failed to identify Israel, a map of the southern Gulf in the children’s section of Abu Dhabi’s recently inaugurated flagship Louvre Museum omits Qatar. The map would seemingly turn the Gulf dispute into an existential one in which the perceived basic principle of recognition, existence, and right to stake out one’s own course is at stake.

Yet, protagonists in the Gulf crisis, much like those on the pro-Palestinians side of the Arab-Israeli divide, ensure that some degree of crucial business can be conducted, albeit often surreptitiously, and that common or crucial national interests are not jeopardized.

Money exchangers in the UAE still buy and sell Qatari riyals. Natural gas continues to flow. Neither Qatar nor the UAE have tinkered with the sale of Qatari gas that is supplied through a partially Abu Dhabi-owned pipeline that accounts for up to 40 percent of Dubai’s needs.

A similar picture emerges with aviation. Like Israel, which does not bar Arab nationals entry, Qatar has not closed its airspace to Bahraini, Emirati and Saudi aircraft even though the three states force it to bypass their airspace by overflying Iran. This has nevertheless not stopped aviation from becoming the latest flashpoint in the Gulf, signalling that the region’s new normal is fragile at best.

Tension rose this month with when Qatar twice charged that military aircraft jet had violated its airspace. Qatar used the alleged violations to file a complaint with the international aviation authority. The UAE, beyond denying the allegations, asserted that Qatari fighters had twice intercepted an Emirati airliner as it was landing in Bahrain.

In what may be a significant difference, Israel, unlike Qatar is not in the business of fostering opposition, if not regime change, in the region. Israel largely feels that autocratic rulers are more reliable partners and less susceptible to the whims of public opinion.

By contrast, regime change figures prominently in the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s toolkit, at least in the public diplomacy part of it, albeit with mixed results. Emirati and Saudi efforts to foster opposition from within the ruling family to Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. appeared to have backfired.

Projected by Saudi and UAE leaders and media they control as a leader of opposition to Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali al-Thani, a little-known member of the ruling family, appears to have pulled a Saad Hariri, on his Emirati and Saudi sponsors.

Like what happened to Mr. Hariri, who last year resigned as Lebanon’s prime minister while on a visit to the Saudi Arabia, only to withdraw his resignation and adopt policies that contradict those of the kingdom once he was allowed to leave, Sheikh Abdullah has accused his hosts of pressuring him to the point that he wanted to commit suicide.

In two video clips, Sheikh Abdullah, the son of Sheikh Ali bin Abdullah al-Thani, a former emir who was deposed in 1972, initially charged that he was being held against his will in the UAE. Once he was allowed to leave for Kuwait, Sheikh Abdullah accused the crown princes of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Zayed and Mohammed bin Salman, of having sparked the Gulf crisis “to usurp the wealth and riches of Qatar,” a likely reference to Qatar’s gas and financial reserves.

The UAE appears to have been successful in a third case of seeking to influence the shape of government elsewhere by pressuring real and potential players. Former Egyptian prime minister Ahmed Shafiq. who went into exile in the UAE in 2012 after losing a presidential election, asserted in November that he was being held against his will in the country. He was expelled to Egypt within hours, where he declared that he would not run in forthcoming elections in March.

Mr. Dershowitz no doubt did Qatar a favour by visiting the country and by coming out in its defense. Comparing Qatar to Israel, however, may not go down well with significant segments of Arab and Qatari public opinion as well as pro-Israel groups. In doing so, he may have dampened the impact of his comments.

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Middle East

The Triggering and Deterring Factors of the Recent Protests in Iran

Ramin Jabbarli

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Starting from Thursday, Dec. 28. 2017, the widespread protests continued for a week in Iran. Based on the official reports, at least 21 protesters have been killed in across the country. Officials also have confirmed the death of arrestees in the prisons. The occurrence of the protests for many Iranians was unexpected. For the first time after Islamic Revolution of Iran, in 1979, the protesters have questioned the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic in Iran by burning the posters of the supreme leader and chanting the anti-regime slogans. Now, both reformists and conservatives consider the protests as a threat to the regime. Although in the starting point of demonstrations, in the city of Mashhad, the protesters’ slogans against Rouhani had articulated the economic grievance, then the protests turned to anti-regime protests in consecutive days. The recent events in Iran and the dynamics of the protests in Iran show that causes of the protests cannot be diminished to merely the economic factors.

The Triggering Grievances 

In order to understand the dynamics of protests sociologists like M. Hechter, S. Pfaff, and P. Underwood emphasize the importance of distinguishing between structural and incidental grievances. Structural grievances came from a group’s disadvantaged position in a social structure like oppressed ethnic groups, women’s position in a patriarchal society, and etc. Whereas incidental grievances arise from a wholly unanticipated or unexpected situation that puts groups at risk. While structural grievances are essential factors, these are incidental ones that push people to take collective and coordinated action like protest and demonstration. Being unexpected or unanticipated is a key in this issue because people may react differently to an event If that will happen gradually.

In the case of Iran, the people for a long time, have suffered from structural grievances such as inflation, environmental crisis, ethnic and gender discrimination, corruption, increasing unemployment rate, restricted social and political freedom, the monopoly of power, and etc.  In the terms of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranians experienced high inflation and the sanctions against Iran have intensified some of the problems. However, the pattern of protests in Iranian shows that the protests always follow an incidental grievance. In 2006, Azerbaijanis in Iran took street as Iran Newspaper, an official organ of Iran unexpectedly published a racist cartoon. Three years later in 2009, people took street after unexpectedly winning of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a president. In 2011, the mass protest did not occur until the parliament’s unexpected rejection of an emergency bill on August 17, 2011, to raise the water level of Lake Urmia. The people did protest without being exposed to the incidental grievances while they were aware of the problems. Knowing that all the incidental grievances did not end up with protests, implies that these kinds of grievances are a necessary but not sufficient condition to protest. So, this requires taking into account other factors such as organization, political opportunity, and identity.

To some extent, the occurrence of the current protests should be analyzed in the context of recent unexpected. Because these factors played essential roles in triggering the protests.  President Hasan Rouhani, in both terms, was elected because of his promises such as improving the economic situation and living standard, softening political climate and giving more social and political freedom and so on. He failed, even after nuclear agreement people did not feel a considerable improvement in their lives. His second term has started with moving to conservative side by having a dominantly conservative cabinet. Most recently his budget draft was the topic of hot discussion among Iranians. These were incidental ones which made the people ready to protest. Rouhani’s plan for increasing the fuel price, and cutting subsidies were unexpected plans from a president who had promised to improve living standard. These grievances were perceived as broken promises and along with sharp rising of food prices in the recent days formed a basis to interact with other factors, especially the perceived political opportunity.

The Perceived Political Opportunities

Participating in protests is an extremely costly action in an authoritarian state like Iran. There are some political situations which individuals may consider appropriate to participate in a contentious action. For instance, even in authoritarian states, as a result of political climate during presidential campaigns that candidates criticize each other people psychologically feel comfortable to express themselves. Another case could be when there are disputes among leaders and elites. People perceive these situations as opportunities for contentious actions. Sociologist Douglas McAdam calls these situations Perceived Political Political Opportunities. Indeed, in authoritarian states mostly these are not real political opportunities because follow brutal suppression by the state.

The pattern of protests in Iran reveals that a considerable number of protests happened after an election or coincided with disputes among leaders. The demonstrations after 2009 were held after election and South Azerbaijanis’ demonstrations in northwestern cities of Iran in 2011 are also a manifestation of this association. One of the significant factors which interacted with the grievances and finally has led to the protests is the critical political climate or the disputes among leaders. The current protests proceeded with two main disputes. On the one hand, the intensifying disputes among the former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Larijani brothers, especially Saded Larijani, in the conservative wing of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Sadeq Larijani Head of Judiciary and appointed by the supreme leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei. On the other hand, the increased pressures and accusations of the conservative wing on president Rouhani. Conservatives blame him for the nuclear agreement and not improving the living standard of the Iranians. These disputes finally have led to the protest in the city of Mashhad, where Rouhani’s rival in the recent election, Ebrahim Raisi, is from. But after Mashhad, the protests have been expanded to the other cities.  In fact, the incidental grievances together with the perceived political opportunities led to the protests across the country.

Organization: An Essential Deterring factor of the Protests

No doubt, suppression is one of important deterring factors in autocracies; however, it is not the only factor. Protest as a form of collective action requires a minimum organization to concert and coordinate the people. I use organization in the broadest sense, a way to lead people to a collective action, not necessary an institution or a party. There was no particular known physical organization such as fraction or party behind the protests. The protests had been organized essentially by using Telegram App. Telegram is a widely used app in Iran that based on Pavel Durov, the founder and CEO of Telegram, has approximately 25 million Iranian users. This was an Achilles heel for the recent protests because the protesters were primarily linked with the app, and blocking the app impaired the linkage among them.

The Iranian state blocked the access to Telegram and other social media apps to hinder the protests. As for me, the state had succeeded because the protesters were deprived of the required organizational mean to coordinate people. It seems that linkage or organizational problems could be solved by the support of the constituents of social movements that there is a real interaction with each other. An alternative might be the participation of non-Persian ethnicities’ social movement in the protests. However, chanting slogans in favor of Pahlavi dynasty and few anti-Arab racist slogans by a group of protesters have primed some non-Persian ethnic groups. The slogans recalled the ultra-nationalistic and racist programs of Pahlavi dynasty for the oppressed ethnic groups in Iran. This was a factor which impacted negatively the rate of the oppressed non-Persian ethnicities’ participation in the protests. In order to use the alternative organizational network and guarantee the participation of non-Persian ethnicities in any possible protest, their demands and the possible solutions should be addressed by political groups. Derived from Value Expectancy Theory, it is worthwhile to say that the oppressed ethnicities may join to protest if their goals are expected as a result of taking collective action. Currently, disregarding ethnic rights by major Persian political groups creates a barrier for interethnic collective action in Iran. The recent protests were also a manifestation of the barrier in Iran.

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Middle East

Priorities of Cyber Diplomacy in the Islamic Republic of Iran

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Although in terms of diplomacy priorities, it is usually viewed as a strategy, but in terms of tools, cyber-related developments require the diplomacy system to take this field more than ever before.

The space for policy and cyber interaction or, more accurately, the “cyber policy” environment, is considered to be the latest and most important area of ​​interest among policy and international experts in the field of theoretical and practical arena, the neglect of which could be serious and inescapable damage forecasts to countries as the most important actors in the field of international relations.

Today, cyber policy and cyber security are discussed in the field of international relations and politics. Cyberspace is a real space in the new arena for influencing and, consequently, friendship, cooperation, competition, hostility and even war between nations and other actors. These cases show well that the Internet and cyber space have created a new field for politics, a space in which individuals, groups and governments are acting and policy makers.

The theoretical framework and the most important effects of cyberspace on politics and international relations are three main issues. The first issue is the presentation of a “conceptual order” to explain the relationship between cyberspace and politics. The second issue is identifying and believing in the widespread connection between cyberspace and politics. The third issue is the explanation of the route and the important issues in this connection. In addition to the three levels of humans, governments and the international system, cyberspace requires a different level. At this new level, the global level, the impact of cyberspace is emphasized by the emphasis on the separation between the social system and the natural environment. At the global level, it is emphasized that the Internet space and its widespread impact on the world of politics cannot be discussed with the old levels that emphasize the individual or state or international arena. Internet space is the space for acting on the same time with non-state actors such as terrorists and private companies in terms of economic, cultural, security and even military, so it should be emphasized on the global level that, while combining the other levels, there is a broad interconnection between All levels and dimensions create the ability to analyze other political space, therefore, in lateral pressure theory, there is an attempt to establish a relationship between the level of individual, state and international as the old levels and the level of global analysis.

Based on the experience of past decades, the Internet and cyberspace have affected the relations between countries, especially the United States and Iran. Therefore, cyber policy and cyber security in the present situation are considered by the international relations experts as the main issue along with the older issues of war, economics, women and the environment, and even consider it more important than other areas because the cyberspace covers all the domains and the old stuff. In the same vein, in the next government, the foreign policy apparatus is expected to pay more attention to cyberspace and advance revolutionary diplomacy in the form of cyber diplomacy.

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