Lebanon’s Parliament slated May 6th, 2018 for its first elections in close to a decade. The country’s constitution mandates Parliamentary elections every four years but due to the turmoil within the nation the last election occurred in 2009.Based on the lengthy delay since the last election and rule-alterations, the upcoming elections have the potential to result in significant changes to the government of Lebanon. Officials expect a high voter turnout on Election Day for the 976 candidates running for 128 seats, including a record: 111 female candidates. Conversely, even with the considerable amount of first-time young voters due to the nine-year delay, Iranian-backed Hezbollah may still keep its firm hold on Parliament, resulting in little progress or change. Thus, the big question: is Lebanon on the precipice of true change or will the results just continue the status quo?
Based on a change to proportional representation, the new voting laws consist of each person voting twice: the first vote is from a list of pre-determined names and then the second vote is for the voter’s preference from the list. The convoluted nature of the voting process, multiple parties, and history of voting along sectarian lines makes it unlikely that the results will end in a major upset for any one group. The religious diversity and complex political party system contribute to a population that self-identifies more with a specific group rather than as a nation. The high number of candidates running from political dynasties is not unusual, but one aspect that is unfamiliar and unique to this election is the banding together of several activist groups in an effort to gain votes from all districts. In a departure from past elections, the two long-established primary coalitions March 8 and March 14 are seeking alliances with other groups in a bid to reach a much larger population of new voters.
The current Prime Minister’s Future Movement Party is diversifying its candidates and including some that were previously viewed as political rivals. One aspect of the upcoming elections that remains unchanged is the National Pact. The National Pact mandates “the President [elected by Parliament, not the voters directly] must be Maronite, the Prime Minister Sunni, and other positions would be reserved for the Shi’a and Druze as well as smaller minorities. A prominent position to note is that of the Speaker of the Parliament. This role is designated for a Shi’a Muslim, the same religious affiliation as the Iranian-supported Hezbollah party. The mandate does not guarantee the Speaker will come from Hezbollah, but the probability is high that whoever fills that role will be sympathetic to Hezbollah’s agenda. The current President Michel Aoun supports Hezbollah and has signed a formal agreement with the group in 2006. If the new Parliament re-elects Aoun, it further solidifies Hezbollah’s influence overt wo of the three leading government positions.
Stability from both an economic and security perspective are central issues surrounding the vote on May 6th. In early April 2018, at the behest of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Lebanon received pledges for over 11 billion dollars from several nations to bolster the shaky economy. The over 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon place a considerable strain on the economy, even with support provided by the international community. Lebanon is in a tenuous position both geographically and politicallywith the Russian-backed Syrians on one side and Israel on the other, while one of its most influential political parties serves Iran, who also supports Syria and is vehemently anti-Israel. Saudi Arabia is involved as well and plays a key role in trying to counter the efforts of Iran. Many nations have an interest in Lebanon but honestly for their own national gain and not the good of the country as an independent nation. Preventing an economic collapse, which would be followed by the inevitable grab for power, is vital to preventing a messier situation in the region. Hezbollah still seeks to enact its “long-term goal of the Islamization of Lebanon and the establishment from within of an Islamic republic. While Hezbollah also agreed not to conduct extremist domestic operations when it became a political party, the potential collapse of the Lebanese government post-election provides the perfect opportunity for it to achieve the above-stated goal and would ultimately give Iran a more permanent and critically strategic foothold.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri proposed a plan that would stabilize the economy and create jobs for both Lebanese and Syrian refugees. Securing the necessary funding a little more than a month before the elections is a victory for Hariri and his Future Movement Party, especially on the heels of his November 2017 unexpected resignation while in Saudi Arabia and subsequent rescinding of the resignation once out of Saudi Arabia. Whether the resignation announcement was a stunt, done under duress, or a sincere act undid by pressure from other entities is not known. During his resignation speech, Hariri claimed that Iran and Hezbollah were destabilizing Lebanon and speculation abounds that he revoked his resignation after Hezbollah agreed to not interfere in domestic issues. Saad Hariri, formerly a businessman, became active politically after his father’s assassination in 2005. He is also not a political novice, having served as Prime Minister from 2009 – 2011 and his father served as same five times between 1992 and 2004. Some view Hariri, likely to remain Prime Minister after the elections, as taking a less hostile stance towards Hezbollah. If true, that gives Hezbollah influence in all three central political billets – President, Prime Minister, and Parliament Secretary. However, this also positions Hariri between Iran and Saudi Arabia. If he is working both sides it could result in a tragic political ending like his father.
The known unknown at this point is the reaction to and effects of the strikes on Syria launched by the United States, United Kingdom, and France in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on April 7th, 2018. Of the players with interests in Lebanon, only Saudi Arabia and Israel are not wholly against the United States. Saudi Arabia could provide Lebanon with much needed financial support and appears to be making overtures of challenging Hezbollah’s Parliamentary seats in at least one region in southern Lebanon. The potential exists that Parliament may cancel the elections based on the situation and the aftermath of the strikes. How the people in Lebanon will react if the government decides to cancel the vote is unknown but it could be the catalyst needed to incite an Arab Spring-like protest within the country. Any demonstrations or unrest internally potentially gives an opening for Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, or any number of other groups to exploit the situation for their own gain.
Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has proven himself a savvy political operative with an astute ability to envision and move the group into an advantageous position without acquiescing to too many concessions. Initially, many thought, the move from terrorist organization to a political party would require Hezbollah to become more mainstream or disarm. Nasrallah found a way to avoid this, and any “Lebanonization” of Hezbollah, making the transition on their own terms to suit their own end game. Hezbollah’s only real compromise to gain acceptance as a political party was agreeing not to conduct attacks inside of Lebanon.
Hezbollah from its beginning as a terrorist organization built a reputation of being more stable and helpful than the Lebanese government. So much so that people would go to Hezbollah for essential services before trying to access aid through the government. This ability to support the people aided Hezbollah’s transition from solely a terrorist organization to a legitimate political party. The garbage crisis on 2015-2016 led to the “You Stink” movement in Beirut and brings up the question of Hezbollah’s continued influence and capacity to provide services. If they are willing and able, why allow this garbage crisis to continue? What did the party gain? If Hezbollah was unable to resolve the situation quickly, then is this an indicator that the party is not as dominant a service provider as it once was? This minute detail could be a crack in the façade of Hezbollah that opens the door for other parties to make political headway against it.
Previously, the government canceled elections due to internal unrest. Thus, Parliament scheduling the May 6th elections is an essential first step in retaking ownership of their nation. The government’s successes or failures past that point are more dependent on those elected. It seems unlikely with the election reforms that there will be a strong Parliament able to stand up to surrounding nations’ interference. Ideally, Parliament pressures Hezbollah successfully to stop working as Iran’s proxy. On paper, this sounds like a winning solution but the second and third order effects might be more detrimental to Lebanon. The country’s government and military are not prepared to counter Iran, Hezbollah, Syria, Saudi Arabia, or many other groups if they set Lebanon in their crosshairs. The next best case is the government develops and implements a plan to use economic aid to bolster the economy rather than to line the pockets of those in power.
Now is not the time or the place for the United States to take the lead in shoring up the government of Lebanon, but it absolutely can and should be part of the international community supporting a nation trying to maintain stability in a historically unstable area. The UNDP Administrator summed it up best, “supporting Lebanese unity and stability will support stability in the entire region, and it will diminish the threats to peace that we are facing today in the world, but we can only achieve this by working together.” One can only hope that after so many years of waiting, the voting electorate shows the world it is ready to step into the spotlight and catapult Lebanon forward as a model of restraint, progress, and emerging democracy. If so, then it would be a much welcome change not only in Lebanon but across the Middle East as a whole.
Turkey signals sweeping regional ambitions
A nationalist Turkish television station with close ties to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dug up a 12-year-old map that projects Turkey’s sphere of influence in 2050 as stretching from South-eastern Europe on the northern coast of the Mediterranean and Libya on its southern shore across North Africa, the Gulf and the Levant into the Caucasus and Central Asia.
Buoyed by last year’s Azerbaijani defeat of Armenia, TGRT, a subsidiary of Ihlas Holding, a media and construction conglomerate that has won major government tenders, used the map to advance a policy that has long constituted the agenda of some of Mr. Erdogan’s closest advisors.
The broadcasting of the map, first published in a book authored by George Freidman, the founder of Stratfor, an influential American corporate intelligence group, followed calls by pan-Turkic daily Turkiye, Ihlas’ daily newspaper that has the fourth-largest circulation in Turkey, to leverage the Azerbaijani victory to create a military alliance of Turkic states.
In a country that ranks only second to China as the world’s foremost jailer of journalists, Ihlas Holding media would not be pushing a pan-Turkic, Islam-laced Turkish regional policy without tacit government approval at the very least.
The media group’s push reflects Turkish efforts to capitalize on the fact that Turkey’s latest geopolitical triumph with Azerbaijan’s Turkish-backed victory is already producing tangible results. The military victory has positioned Azerbaijan, and by extension Turkey, as an alternative transportation route westwards that would allow Central Asian nations to bypass corridors dominated by either Russia or Iran.
Turkmenistan, recognizing the changing geopolitical map, rushed in January to end a long-standing dispute with Azerbaijan and agree on the joint exploitation of Caspian Sea oil deposits. The agreement came on the heels of a deal in December for the purchase from ENI Turkmenistan of up to 40,000 tonnes of petroleum a month by the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR).
The agreement could boost the completion of a Trans-Caspian natural gas pipeline (TPC) that would feed into the recently operational Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), bypass Russia and Iran, and supply Greece and Bulgaria via the former Soviet republic.
Last month, Azerbaijan agreed with Turkmenistan and Afghanistan to develop the Lapis Lazuli transport corridor that would link the war-ravaged country to Turkey. At about the same time, Kazakhstan began exporting copper cathodes to Turkey via Azerbaijan in a first step intended to capitalize on the Caucasian nation’s position as a transit hub.
Azerbaijan and Turkey’s newly found advantage has rung alarm bells among Russian and Iranian analysts with close ties to their respective governments even though the TGRT broadcast may have been primarily intended to whip up nationalist fervour at home and test regional responses.
Russian and Iranian politicians and analysts appeared to take the broadcast in that vein. Nonetheless, they were quick to note that Friedman’s projection includes Russia’s soft underbelly in the northern Caucasus as well as Crimea while Iranians took stock of the fact that the Turkish sphere of influence would border on Iran to the north, south and west.
Turkey and Ukraine have in recent months agreed to cooperate in the development of technologies with military applications related to engines, avionics, drones, anti-ship and cruise missiles, radar and surveillance systems, robotics, space, and satellites. Turkey has refused to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, home to Crimean Tartars, and criticized Russian support for Ukrainian rebels.
Most Russian commentators sought to downplay the significance of the map, leaving Andrei Krasov, deputy chairman of the defence committee of the Russian parliament’s lower house to warn that “if they (the Turks) want to test the strength of the Russian spirit and our weapons, let them try.”
With Iran excluded from TGRT and Stratfor’s projection of Turkey’s emerging sphere of influence, Iranian officials and analysts have largely not responded to the revival of the map.
Yet, Iran’s actions on the ground suggest that the Islamic republic has long anticipated Turkish moves even though it was caught off guard by last year’s Azerbaijani-Armenian war.
For one, Iran has in the past year sought to bolster its military presence in the Caspian Sea and forge close naval ties with the basin’s other littoral states – Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan.
Viewed from Tehran, TGRT’s broadcasting of the Stratfor map was the latest in a series of provocative Turkish moves.
They include Mr. Erdogan’s recital of a nationalist poem while attending a military parade in Azerbaijan that calls for reuniting two Iranian ethnic Azeri provinces with the former Soviet republic and publication by state-run Turkish Radio and Television’s Arabic service of a map on Instagram, depicting Iran’s oil-rich province of Khuzestan with its large population of ethnic Arabs as separate from Iran.
The Instagram posting came days after the disclosure that Habib Chaab, a leader of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz, or ASMLA, had been kidnapped in Istanbul by an Iraqi Kurdish drug baron in cooperation with Iranian intelligence and transported to Iran.
While senior Iranian officials talked down the Turkish provocations, Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency left little doubt about what Iran’s true sentiments were.
“Those who have greedy eyes on the territories this side of the Aras River had better study history and see that Azerbaijan, specifically the people of Tabriz, have always pioneered in defending Iran. If Iran had not helped you on the night of the coup, you would have had a fate like that of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi,’ protesters chanted in front of the Turkish consulate in Tabriz, the capital of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.
The protesters were responding to Mr. Erdogan’s poem recital and referring to the failed military coup against him in 2016 as well as the toppling of Mr. Morsi in 2013 in a takeover by the Egyptian armed forces.
Notes on Turkish Politics (5): The Need for a Vibrant Civil Society
This is the last piece of my “Turkish politics” article series. In this piece, I will try to address the role of civil society in Turkish political life and democracy in a brief way.
The role of civil society is very important in shaping the democratic institutions and processes in a polity. Turkish political culture has long been characterized by having a weak civil society and strong state mechanism. As noted in my earlier piece titled “Notes On Turkish Politics (I): Strong State Tradition”Turkey has a “strong state tradition” as first stressed by distinguished Turkish academic Metin Heper. The non-state units and grass-roots movements have been weak in Turkish political life due to a number of reasons which also lead to democratic erosion.
Civil society is related with autonomous social units and organizations like voluntary associations, private companies, private associations etc. These social units or organizations that make up civil society are based on the principle of recognition of basic human and civil rights. It is known that civil society is seen as one of the basic social bases of liberal democracy.
The historical background of Turkey from the very beginning of the Republic experienced an evident antagonism between the state and the society. The military, the high bureaucracy and some academics along with some particular media actors used to show a certain amount of distrust towards the society until the multi-party politics.
In the post-1980 period, a revival of civil society was witnessed. Turkey went through important changes in the 1980s as the free market economy policies were accepted. One of the most important consequences of this change was the development of the systems of communication and information and this development empowered civil society actors as well. Turgut Özal has been one of the influential political elites paving the way for the strengthening of Turkish civil society. Özal challenged Kemalist state tradition to some degree. As an extension of Özal’s liberal policies, a free market economy was formed and legal obstacles to political freedom were also removed by abolishing Articles 141, 142, and 163 of the 1982 Constitution, which prohibited the free expression of thought (Çaha, 2001).
The 1990s witnessed a military intervention and this “post-modern” coup narrowed the arena for civil society associations and certain identities like that of Islamic identity were vilified by the state elites.
In the early years of the AK Party rule (up until 2010 referendum) Turkey saw positive developments in terms of democratization and this played a positive role for civil society as well. However, in the last years, Turkish civil society has begun to weaken once again. A recent example of this is Turkey’s NGO bill that was introduced in late 2020. In a news article published by Duvar English, the warnings of Human Right Watch were addressed. According to HRW, the bill introduces “annual inspections of nongovernmental groups, which will severely affect their activities since the inspections frequently last months and reduce the group’s capacity to operate. It introduces severe fines if the Interior Ministry deems a group’s online fundraising unlawful.”
In one of my articles titled “Turkish Political Culture and Civil Society: An Unsettling Coupling?” published in 2011, I wrote the following about the relationship between civil society and political culture for Turkish context:
“The Turkish case indicates that the advancement of civil society is closely related to the function of and the role of state. The governance of state in accordance with the rule of law and its neutrality is necessary for the advancement of a competitive social environment where social groups can freely compete. Also, it is important to note that there is almost a direct relationship between civil society and democracy.”
Turkey needs a vibrant civil society to have a working democracy and of course civil society is only one piece of the prerequisites for democracy!
- Burak Begüm, 2011, “Turkish Political Culture and Civil Society: An Unsettling Coupling?” 19264 (dergipark.org.tr) (Access Date: 20.02.2021)
- Çaha Ömer, 2001, “The Inevitable Coexistence of Civil Society and Liberalism: The Case of Turkey”, Journal of Economic and Social Research 3, 2.
- Duvar English, (Dec. 24, 2020), “Turkey’s NGO bill threatens civil society, says HRW” Turkey’s NGO bill threatens civil society, says HRW (duvarenglish.com) (Access Date: 20.02.2021)
The Influence of Persian Racism on Status of Azerbaijani Turks in Iran
Language is the carrier of the people’s culture and is one of the fundamental national identity elements. Therefore, the culture and identity of the nation can strengthen by the powerful and widespread language. Reinforcing the language needs official and systematic support. Otherwise, in the age of informational technology and communication, the languages spoken by a small group of people may disappear under the influence of powerful languages and cultures widely used by influential ethnics and nations worldwide. Indeed, the fade or thrive of native languages depends on the government, socio-economic development, and cultural context. Deliberately, racist states fulfill the assimilation policy to decay the other native languages to reinforce imposed language. They mobilize all their resources to implement this policy by resorting to military and security forces. Iran is a diverse society with several ethnicities, languages, and cultures. In order to Persianization of the other non-Persian people like Turk, Arab, Kurd, Baloch, Lor, Persian-centered government performs the racist politics against them across the country. Turk ethnicity is the largest ethnic group in Iran that has been subjected to Persian racism and internal colonization since 1925.
There are no accurate statistics about the number of Turkish ethnicity members in Iran because the authoritarian racist Iranian state has not allowed independent censuses, and statistics are mostly based on estimates. According to the Ethnologue, more than 38 percent of Iran’s population are Turks, mainly Azerbaijani Turks who live in the northwest of Iran, and that region is known as South Azerbaijan. Since 1925, with the beginning of the Pahlavi regime, people with Turkish identity and other non-Persian ethnic groups have been deprived of primary rights like education to the mother language. This racist process has aimed to indicate and impose the language, history, culture, and identity of the Persian ethnic group as the only authentic and superior for all Iranians. Since establishing the Pahlavi regime in Iran, assimilation and alienation of Turkish ethnic groups have been continuing, and widespread protests for racist policies have not succeeded, and Turk activists’ peaceful actions have not sustained the Iranian regime from its inhumane racist behavior. Turks do not have any right to promote their culture and language. Turkish children must educate in Farsi, and all official correspondences have to be in the inflicted language. Since the formation of the Pahlavi monarchy, approximately the name of more than 500 areas like village, city, river, lake, and forest has been changed from Turkish to Persian terms. Furthermore, depriving Turk children of learning and education in their mother language is one of the main reasons for high illiteracy rates, the decline in academic performance, and a sense of humiliation of those children compared with Persian children. That racist ideology has accompanied most scholars, academicians, writers, journalists, poets, thinkers, teachers, and intellectuals’ support, and it has reached the Persian society sphere. They humiliate Turks in their writing, interviews, newspapers, and particularly in state media. For example, they analogized the Turkish people to cockroaches with feeding on toilets in the state-run Iran newspaper in May 2006 that sparked extensive protests in various Turkish cities, especially Tehran; dozens of protestors were killed and injured, hundreds of demonstrators detained and sentenced to long prison terms. Consequently, the policies that have been implemented against the Turks in Iran since the commencing of Pahlavi monarchy have been a linguistic and identity genocide for the benefit of strengthening the Persian language culture and identity. Because in their thought, Turkish language, culture, and identity are significant threats to the existence and expansion of the Persian language and culture and could jeopardize the territorial integrity.
Simultaneously, with linguistic assimilation and identity alienation policies, Persian-oriented colonial plans against the Turks have been plotted after the Raza Khan coup. Based on colonial policies, every year the bulk of the country’s budget flowed to the Persian regions to create prosperity and establish manufacturing companies and industrial centers. For instance, the comparison of Ardakan located on the desert in central Iran and Varzegan surrounded with copper and gold mines and forest represents that Ardakan is provided with many factories, but Varzegan is deprived. Overall, most Persian regions are in a good situation regarding welfare amenities, prosperity, and workplaces compared with non-Persian areas. Besides, the Turkish regions’ colonialization causes severe desperation and migration of Azerbaijani Turks to the Persian regions who confront with humiliation by racist society with a high level of supremacy. Under such conditions, they become more assimilated into the Persian language and culture and alienated from their original identity. Indeed, economic colonialization, assimilation, and alienation policies are positively correlated in Iran and reinforce each other against non-Persian ethnic groups.
Despite the repression atmosphere and oppressive politics of governing apparatuses in Iran, South Azerbaijan National Movement activists continue their peaceful struggle against the racist Iranian government’s colonial policies. In contrast, the Islamic Republic security forces raid demonstrations and activists’ homes, detain them, and sentence them to long prison terms by holding arbitrary trials on baseless and false accusations like “Propaganda against the regime”, “acting against national security” and separatism. For instance, Abbas Lesani is a famous Azerbaijani activist who was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison for his legal activities such as demanding education in the mother language at schools by the Ardabil appeal court. The supreme court of Iran rejected his objection and upheld the appeal court decision. Therefore, Azerbaijani Turk activists’ initial demands are establishing the schools in the Turkish language and ending the economic discrimination, which has hindered the equitable development of the Turkish-populated areas in Iran.
Although the linguistic assimilation, alienation, and systematic racist activities of the government to eradicate the language, culture, and identity of the Turkish society in Iran have caused the Persianization of different generations during the last century, with the awakening and spontaneity of Turks, Turkish language and culture are a critical requirement to retrieve their ethnic identity. Moreover, their national values, beliefs, culture, and identity are embedded within the language. For this reason, education in the mother tongue can play vital role for the extrication of the Turks from the bondage of Persian colonialism. Also, it can neutralize the adverse effects of racist policies against these oppressed people. However, denial, repression, and government oppression have led to an increase in identity-seeking in the Turkic-speaking regions, especially in South Azerbaijan, and it intensifies exponentially over time. The Director-General of the Civil and Personal Status Registration office recently talked to the media that 40 percent of the people names in East Azerbaijan province are in Turkish. Despite official restrictions, it demonstrates that activities to revive the Turkish language, culture, and identity continue between Azerbaijani Turks and other tribes with Turkish identity throughout Iran. On the other hand, the Iranian government’s racist policies against the Turks have intensified ethnic divisions and divergence among the Turks, and the denial policy and repression cause a gradual reduction in their desire for territorial belonging to Iran.
‘Industry 4.0’ tech for post-COVID world, is driving inequality
Developing countries must embrace ground-breaking technologies that have been a critical tool in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, or else face...
Gugu Mbatha-Raw named latest UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador
British actor Gugu Mbatha-Raw was on Wednesday appointed a global Goodwill Ambassador with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. Ms. Mbatha-Raw highlighted the...
Huge blast on the Afghanistan-Iran border
On Saturday 13 February the Islam Qala reception center owned by the IOM was demolished at the border between Afghanistan...
Overcoming The Tragedy of Plural Mother Tongue Denial in America
Sunday morning , February 21, I was in the Bangladesh High Commission in Port Louis, Mauritius.Google reminds us”Bangladesh, to the...
UNIDO works to scale up the ICT start-up ecosystem in Iran
Together with its national counterparts from the Information Technology Organization of Iran’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies and in...
Laws Still Restrict Women’s Economic Opportunities Despite Progress
Countries are inching toward greater gender equality, but women around the world continue to face laws and regulations that restrict...
Explainer: New EU strategy on adaptation to climate change
1. What is the objective of the new EU Adaptation Strategy? The Strategy outlines a long-term vision for the EU...
International Law3 days ago
How nations states are limited
Americas3 days ago
The World Should Get Rid of “Trump Inertia”
Africa3 days ago
African problems require African solutions
Defense2 days ago
The world arms sales market
Diplomacy2 days ago
China-India Vaccine Diplomacy – Will Pakistan Learn From Neighbors?
Europe3 days ago
France’s Controversial ‘Separatism’ Bill
Economy2 days ago
Capitalism and the Fabrication of Food Insecurity
Finance3 days ago
Credit to Small Firms to Boost Economic Recovery