[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he outgoing President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, won re-election in the first round by garnering over 56% of the vote. Rouhani won with 14,619,848 votes on a total number of voters equal to 25,966,729 accounting for 53,6% of total votes.
The difference between the two figures is related to the so-called panachage, namely voting for candidates from different parties instead of those from the set list of a party, and the votes cast for his regional lists.
However, the main loser is Ebrahim Raisi, an eminent cleric of the Shiite clergy.
In addition to Raisi, the other challengers – initially 1,636 candidates had decided to run for election, but they were soon reduced to six, after the vetting and approval of the Guardian Council – were Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran who dropped out of the race before the opening of the polling stations; the former Minister of Culture, Mostafa Agha Mirsalim; the former vice-President of the Republic, Mostafa Hashemitaba, and the current vice-President, Eshaq Jahangiri.
They are complex and, anyway, remarkable figures: besides being mayor of Tehran, Ghalibaf was Chief of Police from 2000 to 2005 and formerly Commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Air Force from 1997 to 2000.
Qalibaf holds a Ph. D. in political geography and was also Managing-Director of Khatam al-Anbia, an engineering firm directly owned and controlled by the Pasdaran, namely the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
He had run also in the previous presidential elections, but his project – today as at that time – was to federate all conservative oppositions under his leadership and propose the creation of the Ministry for Foreign Trade.
Proposing a new Ministry to solve a problem is never the right solution.
Subjecting foreign policy to the economy is his most common trait, even in the propaganda of his group, namely the “Progress and Justice Population of Islamic Iran”.
Mostafa Mirsalim got only 1.17% of the votes.
He studied and had a long professional career as an engineer in France. He returned to Iran at the outbreak of Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution, thus becoming Chief of the National Police in 1979. He was proposed by the then President Banisadr as a candidate for Prime Minister as a compromise candidate acceptable to both Banisadr and the Majilis, namely the Parliament, dominated by the Islamic Republican Party.
A political story halfway between the pro-Western “Shiite Republic”, the offspring of Banisadr and the nationalistic-modernizing thrusts present in the 1979 revolution, and the identity-based and Shiite restoration – all the more so that Mirsalim was later adviser to Ali Khamenei for long time.
He served as Minister of Culture and Islamic Guide from 1994 to 1998. His tenure was characterized by a strongly conservative Islamist direction, aiming to stave off the “cultural onslaught of Western culture” in Iran. He was later appointed to the Expediency Discernment Council, a body set up to resolve differences or conflicts between the Council of Experts and the Parliament.
Besides being vice-President, Hashemitaba is Minister of Industries and Head of the Iranian Olympic Committee.
He is described as having “centrist” views – as we would say in the West – and he is co-founder of the “Executives of Construction Party”, a grouping linked to Rafsanjani.
During the election campaign Hashemitaba focused mainly on environmental protection and agricultural reform.
Jahangiri was the first vice-President of Rouhani’s government and also served as Minister of Industries and Mines between 1997 and 2005 under President Khatami. Formerly he had been Governor of Isfahan Province and a member of Parliament for two terms.
He graduated in physics and later also acquired a Ph. D. in Business Management.
Having garnered many reformist votes in the 2013 elections, he decided to run again for Presidency, in connection with the area close to Rafsanjani, Khatami and to the current winner of the election.
Raisi is a Shiite cleric, as well as custodian and Chairman of the Astan Quds Razavi foundation, the Bonyad or autonomous charitable foundation managing the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad – a foundation worth 210 billion US dollars a year.
Raisi served in several positions in Iran’s judicial system and is also a member of the Assembly of Experts from South Khorasan Province.
He run for Presidency in the 2017 elections as leader of the “Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces”, a recent alliance founded in 2016 by twenty-five groups of the conservative spectrum.
Since 1979, however, all Iran’s Presidents have been re-elected and Rouhani can boast two clear successes: inflation, which has fallen from 40% to 10%, and the GDP growth, which is currently equal to + 4.6%.
For the re-elected President the current problematic issues are above all the P5 + 1 agreement, which has been implemented only partially and with the old sanctions still largely in place, as well as the new tension with President Trump, who aims at playing the Sunnis off against the Shiites for a possible new conflict marginalizing Iran. Finally another problematic issue is Iran’s strategic stability, with conflicts in Khuzestan and attacks on Pakistan’s border.
Hence the cards Raisi could play during the electoral campaign were precisely security, the Shiite national and religious unity, as well as the sense of defeat looming large on Iran considering the probable future failure of the P5 + 1 nuclear agreement.
Hence, in a country where the average age is 31 and over 50% the population was born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, young voters have not chosen the identity-based, nationalistic and anti-Western platform of Raisi, a man of Khamenei and his likely successor as Supreme Leader.
At electoral level, the struggle was between the front supporting continuity of relations with the West and the front of close-mindedness, which is witnessing Trump’s new policy in the Middle East.
An old-fashioned policy aiming at confrontation with Iran managed by the Sunnis and Israel, with a likely “small war” between Israel and Hezbollah in the coming months and a major clash between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the coming years.
It is no coincidence that during the electoral campaign Raisi criticized the cutting down to size of the Iranian nuclear system and pointed an accusing finger at “Westerners’ untrustworthiness”.
As already said, however, Rouhani can boast his economic achievements: in addition to the data and statistics already reported, the “reformist” presidential system (indeed, we still use these silly definitions) has led economic growth to 12.5% and has reduced youth unemployment to 30%.
The outgoing President showed some signs of weakness last Sunday when the presidential car was stoned by angry miners due to an accident that had killed 42 of their workmates. However, one-third of the Iranian voters live in cities where Rouhani is still very popular and where the electoral turnover is 40%.
In smaller cities, where the Shiite clergy is still very powerful, the electoral turnover rises to 90% and tends to favour the religious and conservative right parties.
The Revolutionary Guards, which are partly a group of conscripts, have certainly favoured Raisi, but this does not necessarily mean that the policy line, based on anti-Western and revolutionary purity and opposed to the JCPOA nuclear agreement, is fully shared by the Pasdaran.
On their press they have already defined Raisi as “Ayatollah” and there are pictures of Iranian soldiers in Syria who praise the cleric of Mashhad. Meanwhile, however, Rouhani has included many members of the intelligence services in his staff and has “purged” many elements coming from the Pasdaran.
Khamenei has strongly favoured Raisi, also during the election campaign, but here the real issue is another: what is the electoral and economic value of the JCPOA and can it solve Iran’s productive and hence political crisis?
The Conservatives, who, in some of their regions – like it or not – have accepted the P5 + 1 and the JCPOA agreement are posing one single question: while it largely solves our economic problems, what is the cost of the lack of security resulting therefrom?
Moreover, if the agreement had no decisive impact on the Iranian economy, only the geopolitical and strategic damage to its security would remain.
Nevertheless, apart from the fact that paradoxically the Revolutionary Guards’ companies have much benefited from the JCPOA, the real problem is the natural and obvious low pace of its effects on the Iranian economy.
In the six months following the signature of the nuclear agreement, Iran regained access to 4.2 billion US dollars of frozen funds abroad and increased its exports by approximately 7 billion US dollars.
Again in the period following the JCPOA agreement, oil exports increased by 400,000 barrels/day, with 5 billion US dollars of revenue gains.
Moreover the government’s economic plan, voted early this year, envisages 30 billion new foreign investment, as well as other foreign direct investment and domestic investment, while it is worth noting that only 4 billion US dollars were available for investment at the time of sanctions.
It should also be recalled that Iran has acquired a 2.8% shareholding of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Banks, however, are the real weak point of Iran’s economic system.
The central bank’s scarce liquidity – for obvious anti-inflationary reasons – many non-performing loans, non-homogeneous banking practices, corruption and, in short, a banking system which remained isolated from the rest of the world for many years and currently has no longer the faintest idea of the extent to which finance and banking have changed.
Just think that in 2012 all the thirty Iranian banks were disconnected from SWIFT, and still today, after the partial lifting of sanctions, many Iranian credit institutions face difficulties in using the system of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications.
Furthermore, for the sole purpose of upgrading the extractive industry, Iranian experts deem it necessary to invest over 100 billion US dollars.
Hence, if it goes on like this, amidst objective difficulties and the Saudi and Sunni rearmament, the Iranian population who, according to opinion polls, initially strongly supported the JCPOA (42.7%) will see its enthusiasm dampen, as is currently the case (22.3%).
27% of the Iranian population thinks that Rouhani’s bad management is one of the causes of the economic crisis, while 45% of the Iranian population blames the external conditions that are not under the new President’s direct control.
Furthermore, the increase in oil exports has been largely neutralised by the fall in the oil barrel price.
The non-oil Iranian product, however, will rise by less than 3% a year, while Rouhani’s primary goal is to cut inflation – hence he will not support the State’s deficit spending, which is largely direct or hidden welfare.
Hence, at mass level, the psychological and propaganda mechanism which has emerged in the presidential election is increasing pessimism about the JCPOA economic effects and the feeling of strategic weakness in the face of new threats to Iran’s security, over and above mistrust of the way in which the West seems to want to do everything to destabilize, marginalize and impoverish the Iranian people.
Rouhani has found the Iranian masses still relatively optimistic about economic growth and Iran’s opening to the rest of the world, but if this did not happen the Conservatives would regain power quickly.
The question is rhetorical: hence, what is in our interest, both in Italy and in Europe?
Reigniting Chaos in Syria
Syria has been the nexus of brutality and terror for almost a decade now; with more than 6 million natives who have already fled and numerous displaced over the territory itself, the region casts a ghastly shade that has only turned grimmer with time. Although the conflict seemingly raved its catastrophic footprint in early 2000, the root cause arguably always ends up to be the infamous ‘Arab Spring’ that actually tuned the Syrians against their very own regime. Something to compare and contrast that communal unity acted in Iraq’s benefit back when USA invaded the territory to avenge the 9/11 Attacks in 2003 while casted a fiasco in Syria when invaded in 2014. Large scale protests and rampaging violence gradually morphed into a series of relentless efforts to first deter Bashar Al-Asad’s efforts to first peacefully and then collaboratively resolving the raging unrest. Some would say it was inspired by the historical besiege of Libya and the subsequent execution of the Libyan prime minister Muammar al-Gaddafi as an ensue of that revolution yet Bashar Al-Asad proved a far more tensile force to overthrow. Such tumultuous turn of events, lead Syria to first economic sanctions followed by severe isolation in the global community opposing and downright rejecting Assad’s actions to curb the political tremors. Yet intermittent interventions, both implicit and explicit, by the western powers and their counter-parts have defined the region more as a battle ground of mercenary motives instead of mere efforts to safeguard human rights and ensuring regional peace.
Since 2011, three core actors have remained active in skirmishes that have more oftener than not transformed into battles of gore and toil and sometimes even full-fledged wars that have not only dismembered the expanse of over an 185,000 km2 of land into mounds of dust and rubble with terror now crawling over the lanes but have even shuddered the immediate vicinity. With the downfall and perpetual dissipation of ISIS, losing much of its occupied land to active contenders, Assad’s militia and Kurdish forces remain the helming competitors along with a smattering of other oppositions like Jaish al Fateh and Nusrta Front. The conflict between the Kurdish forces backed by the US regime against ISIS and then eventual betrayal on the Turkish front had been a matter of contentions in the latter part of 2019; Kurds making it abundantly clear to harness the borders they surmise to be rightly theirs while Turkish policies, especially under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have been outright fearless and needless of any other inference regarding their austere stance over the issue; claiming their bordering territories and inferring stern response in case of any dissension caused by the Kurds.
However, the outlining threat in the recent time can be perceived at a novel yet a totally realistic stage, where proxy wars no longer remain the ground reality of armed unrest in Syria. This notion has arisen since harsh words were exchanged between Moscow and Ankara; the metropolis’ of the neighbouring giants: Russia and Turkey respectively. A glimpse in the historical scaffolding of the entire Syrian conflict, Russia has always backed Assad’s regime despite its initial block over Syrian policies revolving over strategies to deal with the blooming protests in the early tremors of the Arab Spring who’s effects had started to resonate in the entire Middle East following up on Ground 0, Tunisia. The vantage point of Russia, however, shifted when the political paradigm was drastically nudged by the terror-driven escalation of ISIS after severe US blunders and baffling retreat from Syria that even threatened the sovereignty and security of the region following their besiege of the state of Raqqa, establishing ISIS as a looming concern, thereby aligning the aims of both Russian reign and Assad’s regime, ultimately inciting a continued alliance. Turkey, on the other hand, being the northern neighbour to Syria also contended as a root protagonist in economic isolation of Assad’s government, imposing stringent financial sanctions that tightened the bottlenecks and eventually led to the deterioration of their financial virility that already staggered after sanctions and embargos placed by both EU and USA.
This conflict that permeates in the north-western terrain of Syria lilts an innuendo that a spark may be brewing between the two nations. The besieged province of Idlib exudes the source of the strife; an area that has witnessed countless Turkish troops slain by Assad’s forces in cross-border disputes; close to seven Turkish soldiers were recently killed in a thorough retaliation of Syrian forces in the de-escalation zone, much to Turkey’s dismay. However, the Russian involvement in backing the Syrian government in their dissent in Idlib and heavily bombing of the territory with artillery servers as a link to presumably leading a head-on conflict between Russia and Turkey; hinted by Erdoğan that any effort made in the region will not go answered, clearly warning the Russian forces to avoid any transgression that could cause fatality to their personnel. The people of Syria, blended with the rebels, look in the eye of a dead end; bombardments to deter the tyrants have shredded their innocent bodies similar to the incursions in Eastern Ghouta and with no one on their side but with ulterior incentives, they are left with no choice but to see Turkey as a savior. To any sane mind, however, its not really a complex interface of modes and interests involved. With clash of alliances, historical narrative of both the world wars fought, coherently brings about the model of war despite a never-ending argument at whim. Without contesting any theory by any analyst, its imperative to gauge at the systematic progression of the tensions flowing yet not mitigating. Turkey being stranded from its western allies and Arab assistance in wake of the murder conspiracy and being locked in a bound-to-doom NATO relation with Russia, the outcome of this steady conflict can bring about equal amount of damage yet in lesser of a decade and more pandemic effects.
Recent Israeli airstrikes targeted the Iran-linked elements in Syria. One of the biggest attacks even in at least half a decade period of relative dormancy in the region hint at the start of something gruesome. The attacks pointed Iran-backed sites like Al-Bukamal in intensity, riddling the city that acts as a focal point to Iran’s influence over and beyond the borders of Baghdad and Damascus, as well as paving way to militants from the fore stretch of Lebanon. The attacks reportedly served as an active Israeli position against the Irani militants and revolutionary guards, casting a heavy presence in the core hit areas of the province of Dair al Zor, claiming 57 casualties. The attack assumes a step-up stance of Israel picking up from a cold targeted strike within Iran, months back, eliminating the crucial scientific figure of Iran, that earned promises of retaliation both from the military leads and the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
These attacks nurture an underlying message of Israel following on the shadow war footsteps dictated under the premiership of Mr. Donald Trump. Now, with his nefarious exit from the presidential office following the riots at US Capitol and Mr. Biden’s ascension to power just days away, Israel insinuates its true deterrence of Iran’s growing influence and hostility in the expansive areas of Southern, North-western and Eastern regions of Syria. With US intelligence cultivating the Israeli position in Syria while Iran enriching its plans of Nuclear power along with backing militias under the lead of Lebanese force of Hezbollah, a possibility of another proxy clash is re-emerging in the peripheries of Syria. Now as Israel continues to welcome Arab nations to set camp around Syria to end Tehran’s influence, US faces a tough choice in over a decade to either exit the war before it even flames or repeat their interference regretted since the Arab Spring to jump headfirst into another round of decade long destruction.
Post Trump Palestine
The unconditional United States’ political, financial and military support to Israel enabled the latter to occupy the Palestinian territories. The former became involved in Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an arbiter to resolve the issue. But the foreign policy of US has always remained tilt to Israeli interests. From recognizing Israel as sovereign state in 1947 to accepting Jerusalem as capital of Israel has clearly unearthed the biased attitude of US for Israel.
Similarly, Trump also adopted the traditional stance of Washington on Palestine, i.e. outright support for Israel. Trump’s policy regarding Israeli-Palestinian conflict was more aggressive but not in contradiction with his predecessors’. For instance, he brought into reality the law passed by US congress in 1995 that recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, shifted US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, closed office of Palestine Liberation Organization PLO in Washington DC in Sept 2018 and closed US consulate in East Jerusalem the area under Palestinian control. His bigotry against Palestinians unveiled more distinctly when he announced defunding of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), the UN agency that provides food, education and healthcare to the refugees. Moreover during his regime in November 2018 the state department of US proclaimed that the construction of Israeli settlements in West Bank does not come under the ambit of violation of international humanitarian laws. Certainly, the belligerent policies in last four years of trump era paved the way for the colonization of Palestine by Israel and helped the latter to put unlawful restrictions on Palestinians making them deprived of all civil liberties and peace.
As per world report-2020by Human Rights Watch HRW, Palestinian citizens are restrained from all basic necessities of life such that, education, basic healthcare, clean water and electricity. The movement of people and goods to and from Gaza strip is also inhibited. According to World Health Organization WHO 34 percent of applications by Palestinians, for medical appointments outside Gaza strip, were not addressed by Israeli army. Moreover, HRW report states that the Israeli government destroyed 504 homes of Palestinians in West Bank during 2019 and facilitated 5995 housing settlements for Israelis. The country is trying at utmost to eradicate indigenous Palestinians from their home land. According to United Nations’ Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs UNOCHA, the demolitions of Palestinian homes displaced 642 people in 2019 and 472 in 2018.Moreover, the illicit attacks by Israeli side have killed hundreds of innocent citizens in the same years. According to UNOCHA on November 11, 2020, 71 innocent Palestinian citizens were killed by Israeli forces while 11,453 were lethally injured in a single day. Furthermore, UN secretary general exhorted that Israeli armed forces have infringed the children’s rights during the conflict as in 2018, 56 Palestinian children were killed by Israeli armed forces.
While, other international actors criticized the Israeli annexations of the region and declared it as violation of international humanitarian laws, US supported the Israeli escalations in West Bank. The former also stopped aid support through USAID for Gaza strip where eighty percent of population depends upon aid. Such partial attitude of US has put the country outside the international consensus on the issue. Apparently, US pretend its position as arbiter but her policies accredited the colonization of Palestine by Israel.
Thus, it seems futile to expect any big change in US policies regarding Israeli-Palestinian issue during forthcoming administrations. However, the president-elect Joe Bidden may alter some of the trump’s decisions such as reopening of Palestine Liberation Organization PLO in Washington, resuming funding of UNRWA and reopening of US consulate in East Jerusalem. But his policies will not contradict the congress’ stance on the issue. As, he and his team have clearly mentioned prior to elections that they will not shift back the US embassy to Tel Aviv as it seems politically and practically insensible to them. Moreover, Blinken, the candidate for secretary of state in Joe’s upcoming regime, made it clear through his controversial statements, that the imminent president will inherit historic US position on Palestine-Israel dispute. Further, Chinese expansionism, Russian intervention in American and European affairs and Iran nuclear deal issue would remain the main concerns of foreign affairs of US during initial period of Joe Biden’s regime. He is likely to favor the status quo in Palestine and remain focused on other foreign interests. In addition to this the inclination of Arabian Gulf to develop relations with Israel will also hinder the adherence for Palestinians from the gulf countries. Subsequently, it will enable Israelis to continue seizing the Palestinian territories into Israel and leave indigenous Palestinians stateless in their own land.
Summing up, it is significant for Palestinians to continue their struggle for the homeland and seek support from other international actors to marginalize Israel’s annexation of Palestinian territories. As well as, the peace accord of 1993 signed in between both nations, to share the holy land, should also be revoked by both countries. Both nations should try to resolve the issue on equitable grounds by negotiations so that either side could not be deprived of its interests.
An Enemy Among Us
The upcoming talks regarding the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, that are due to take place on January 25, should not disillusion us from the dangers of Turkey’s unilateral aggression on all fronts. Erdogan has made no real efforts to improve ties with the EU, except for the occasional vain promise of turning over a new leaf. Since October, he has urged the Muslim world to boycott French products, continued gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, blatantly ignored the arms embargo in Libya and has aided Azerbaijan in committing war crimes in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Despite the numerous warnings issued by the EU and the many failed attempts at resolving the crisis in the East Med diplomatically, the latest EU summit concluded with an anti-climactic promise to sanction certain Turkish officials regarding the East Med. This minimally symbolic promise could only be described as a mere slap on the wrist that will prove unsuccessful in deterring Turkey’s belligerent tendencies. Turkey’s increasingly hostile attitude, its callous use of the refugee crisis and its clear violation of international law in the East Med, Libya, Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh represent a danger to European values, identity and security.
We are witnessing before our eyes a dictator in the making who dreams of a return of the Ottoman empire and seeks to destroy the democratic and secular legacy of Atatürk. He is a fervent supporter of political islam – particularly the muslim brotherhood – and he relentlessly accuses the West of wanting to ‘relaunch the crusades’ against Islam. In fact, since 2014, Erdogan and the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) have continuously facilitated cross-border movement into Syria and shipped illegal arms to a number of radical jihadist groups. The Turkish government also uses SADAT Defense, an islamist paramilitary group loyal to Erdogan, to aid groups that can be considered as terrorist organizations such as Sultan Murad Division and Ahrar al-Sham in Northern Syria and use their jihadi fighters to send to Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh and, most recently, Kashmir in order to bolster Turkey’s foreign policy.
Erdogan uses a mixture of islamism and nationalism to expand Turkey’s influence around the world and to consolidate power within. The two most influential factions in Turkey are the radical islamists and secular neo-nationalists, who despise each other but share a deep disdain for the west. Courtesy of neo-nationalist and former Maoist terrorist leader Dogu Perinçek, the NATO member has also enjoyed warmer ties with Russia and China over the past 5 years. As a result of these shifts in alliances and growing anti-western sentiments, Turkey is becoming increasingly at odds with the West.
Furthermore, the growing discontent at home pushes him to adopt more aggressive tactics, divisive policies and his behavior mirrors that of a panicked authoritarian leader. Erdogan is desperately looking for a conflict to distract the Turkish population from the fall of the lira, the spread and mishandling of COVID-19, and the overall declining economy that predates the pandemic. Turkey’s future will most likely be determined by the upcoming general election that is set to take place within the next three years. If Erdogan wins the next election, it will solidify his power and bring him one step closer in turning Turkey into a dictatorship. During his stay in power, he has already conducted a series of purges to weaken and silence dissidents. Turkey now has the most imprisoned journalists in the world.
Yet, the loss of Istanbul and Ankara in the last municipal election of 2019 demonstrate his declining popularity, and offer a glimmer of hope for the opposition. Political figures like the new mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu, or the new mayor of Ankara, Mansur Yavaş, represent a brighter future for Turkey. Erdogan currently finds himself in a position of weakness, which represents a rare window of opportunity for the EU to strike. Unfortunately, the EU remains deeply divided on how to handle a situation that continues to deteriorate. It seems that some member states, particularly Germany, are holding on to the naive belief that Erdogan can still be reasoned with.
Our reluctance to impose the slightest sanctions against Turkey demonstrates our division and weakness, which emboldens the neo-sultan. A strong and united response from the European Union is the only way to curb Erdogan’s expansionist agenda. This should include renegotiating the migrant pact, imposing targeted sanctions against SADAT Defense and its leader Adnan Tanrıverdi, imposing an arms embargo, suspending the EU-Turkey customs union and finally suspending Turkey’s membership in NATO.
Ultimately, Erdogan’s bellicose foreign policy and his contentious nationalist-islamist rhetoric makes it impossible to consider Erdogan’s Turkey as our ally. As the EU reaches out yet another olive branch, Erdogan has his eye on the wars to come.
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