With the ouster of Abdelaziz Bouteflika as the president of Algeria and removal of Omar al-Bashir, as the president of Sudan – some scholars are arguing that the world is about to witness a new phase of change or the “Arab Spring 2.0” that might impact the political stability in the whole Middle East region. On April 2, 2019, months-long public protests forced the exit of president Bouteflika, and on April 11, 2019, Sudan’s president al-Bashir was ousted from power by the military. The fall of longstanding regimes in Algeria and Sudan has generated anxiety among the other authoritarian regimes in the region – fearing how the protests and sudden regime change in two important member countries of “Arab League” would impact the wider Arab-world or the Middle East region.
The original “Arab Spring” was a series of mass level anti-government protests and uprising that first started in Tunisia in December 2010. Later on, the uprising in Tunisia ignited protests against the authoritarian regimes in many Arab countries. Effective use social media platforms and large-scale participation of the youth – with men and women playing equal part was one of the the salient features of original “Arab Spring”. Similarly, in Algeria and in Sudan – youth – both men and women have effectively used social media in spreading the message and motivating people to come out for participating in the protests. Particularly, women have played a pivotal role in bringing the people to the streets. The key role of women protestors in the ouster of Bouteflika and al-Bashir is a massively exciting and stimulating moment which could open a window of opportunity for women to play more active role in the domestic politics of Arab countries. Moreover, youth’s persistent demand for the change of entire political leadership in Algeria and in Sudan might trigger a chain reaction in the neighbouring Arab countries to unleash the “Arab Spring 2.0”. However, this factor could also push the authoritarian regimes of the region; Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Iran – to take more strict or punitive measures against any kind of political protests to ensure that no more leaders would be forced to leave the office.
The original or first “Arab Spring” was met with a heavy-handed response and a massive crackdown against the protests was started in many Arab countries which resulted in the arrests and prisons of large numbers of protestors. After almost a decade, the tendency to suppress the opposition through oppressive means is still a key tool of various authoritarian regimes in the Arab/Middle East countries – whether it is Saudi Arabia showing an intent to reform but contradicting its claims by killing the journalists like Jamal Khashoggi and by arresting women rights activists like Samar Badawi, or Egypt which continues to arrest journalists and civil society activists like Esraa Abdelfattahh or Ibrahim Al-Husseini or Iran which is crushing the opposing voices and protests with the methods of repression.
Nearly a decade after the first “Arab Spring”, a whole new generation is coming of age in the Arab/Middle East countries. With the memories of protests and uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria are still fresh in their minds a key question is facing them; will the mass civil society uprising that toppled the oppressive and authoritarian regimes of Bouteflika and al-Bashir inspire this new generation in the Arab/Middle East countries to stage similar popular uprisings against the authoritarian rulers in their own countries? Looking at the chaos and instability in Libya, Syria and Yemen that followed by the Arab Spring, the majority answer to this question might be negative.
Although the people of Algeria and Sudan deserve huge appreciation but the events and happenings in both countries indicate that the regime change has only resulted in the change of faces and there has been no headway made to bring the real democracy. In Algeria, Abdelkadar Bensalah a longtime ally of Bouteflika and the Senate speaker has been brought in to oversee an interim government for 90 days, and in Sudan – Vice President Lieutenant General Awad ibn Auf seized the power with a promise to hold the elections after two years. On Saturday 13 April, bending to public pressure Gen. ibn Auf reversed his decision to head the Sudan military council and named Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan as his successor but the military stated that it will stay in power for two years.
Governments and people in the Arab-world have learned the lessons from the first “Arab Spring” and they are looking at the recent developments through the lens of firstuprising to shape their policy and response. Accordingly, it is more likely that the developments in Algeria and Sudan may not spark a similar kind of chain reaction which was triggered bythe popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt or Libya. A key reason whythe developments in Algeria and Sudan might have less impact in the Middle East region is that the majority of international community which supported the first “Arab Spring” in a misperceived sense of “democratic triumphalism”, is now much more cautious in its response towards the current uprisings. A careful response of international community shows that they have also learned the lessons from the events of Syria, Libya, Yemen and Egypt. Moreover, international community encouraged the uprisings in Egypt and Libya because both countries were important centers of power in the Middle East and North Africa. Historically, Egypt has remained a traditional centre of power in the Middle East and Libya being a leading Arab country and an important member of African Union has remained a regional power in North Africa. Although, the people have forced the regime change in both countries but these changes are controlled or “pacted transitions” which are brokered by the real power holders of both countries therefore the chances for a second phase of Arab uprising are very low.
From an external perspective, key international actors are carefully observing and monitoring the changes and developments caused by the fall of Bouteflika and al-Bashir regimes. France and Italy are concerned that the exit of Bouteflika might generate instability in the whole region of North Africa. A key reason for their anxiety is the fear that a prolonged political instability in Algeria might bring a rise in the “cross-Mediterranean” migration to Europe. The ouster of al-Bashir could engender some instability in “Horn of Africa”. This is true in the sense that Sudan is part of region which is equally important for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and also for Iran and Israel.
Russia is also keeping a close eye on what is happening Algeria and Sudan as it might have some short-term geopolitical consequences for Moscow which is very keen to develop military and political ties with both countries. In 2006, Russian president Vladimir Putin visited Algeria. During Putin’s visit Russia signed major arms deal with Algeria. In July 2018, Russian ambassador to Algeria revealed that Algeria purchases almost 50 per cent of Russia’s total arms sales to Africa. On March 19, 2019, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed Russia’s concerns over the mass protests in Algeria, declaring the situation as an attempt to undermine the political stability of Algeria. Similarly, on 16 March, 2019, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia and Special Presidential Envoy for the Middle East and Africa, Mikhail Bogdanov during his visit to Sudan stressed Russia’s confidence in Al-Bashir’s leadership and stated that Russia has strong desire to strengthen its economic, political and military ties with Sudan.
Although the longstanding regimes have been removed from Algeria and Sudan but the situation both countries is still critical and precarious. The protestors are still out in the streets of Algiers and Khartoum fearing that the people in the new administrations are longtime allies of both Bouteflika and al-Bashir. The interim administration in both countries insist that they do not wish to stay in power for long time and the future of the countries will be decided by the people. But at the same, the military leaders of both countries have warned the people that they will not allow anyone to undermine the national security. This shows that the real power is still in the hands of the influential military leadership of both countries and they still holds the key to broke any agreement that will decide the future political setup in Algeria and Sudan.
US-Iran Tension: Avert any big disaster to humanity
US-Iran tension is growing to a dangerous level. Irrespective of who is right and who is wrong, but everyone agrees that it is leading toward a big disaster. Human life and natural resources are at stake. Irrespective, who will suffer more and who will suffer less, but it is human life, which is the most precious thing in this world, is at stake.
Middle-East is an oil and gas-rich area and meets the major portion of world energy demand. Any disturbance in this region will have a severe impact on the global economy. Whether one is right or wrong, will be the victim of this crisis directly or indirectly.
This war will be not like the Iraq war or the Libya War. As at that time, there was only one superpower and the world was unipolar. There was no resistance from any corner of the world. US and allies, without any resistance, conducted the war and achieved their desired results. But a lot of resistance was witnessed in case of Syrian War. The whole scenario has been changed, the calculated results were not achieved yet. Finally, the US has decided to pull back its troops. Similarly, Afghanistan case is not ideal, after spending trillion dollars, and fighting for 17 years, not gains on the ground and finally has to pull back.
It may not be limited to only US-Iran but may engulf the whole region. As traditional rivals are waiting for an appropriate opportunity to settle their old disputes. Whether, it is Arab-Iran, or Israel-Iran, or Arab-Israel enmity, may it spread to a much wider sphere than expected. It is in control of a few countries to start or refrain the escalation, but once it has been broken, it may be beyond the control of either country.
Especially, Russia and China are not sleeping at this time. They are in a strong position to offer resistance. It should not be taken an easy task like Iraq or Libya war. It is difficult to predict the exact reaction of Russia or China, but anticipated resistance.
If we expect, US or Iran to avert this foreseeable war will be not a realistic approach. As if they were to avoid any disaster, they should not have created so hype and should not have moved to this stage. They may not accept total hegemony of the US in this part of the world. They have heavy stakes in the middle-East and cannot be spectators only.
Geopolitics has been changed, regional alliances have emerged, and nations have re-aligned themselves. Much more complex changes have been witnessed after the war on terror. Public awareness has been enhanced, maybe some of the governments in this region have a different outlook, but public opinion is much more realistic and may play a vital role in the days to come. Old time’s friends may stand on the other side of the table. Some radical changes may be visible on grounds.
UN role was ineffective in the past and a little is expected in the future. In fact, the UN has been hijacked and curtailed to a very limited role practically. While one of its major mandates was to resolve the disputes among nations and avoid wars or war-like situations.
Under this serious scenario, there is a hope that all peace-loving nations and individuals, may peruse the UN and International Community do something to avert this bid human disaster. We all share one world, we have the responsibility to save this world. Any loss of human life in any part of the world is considered the loss to the whole of humanity. And the destruction of natural resources may be considered a loss to humanity. Any damage to Environment or ecology or biodiversity may be a net loss to humanity. We all are son and daughter of ADAM and share a common world, common environment, common resources. We need to protect humanity, environment and natural resources.
It is strongly appealed to the UN, International Community and all individuals who believe in Peace, must act, and must act now, and must act strongly, to avert any bid disaster to humanity.
Chinese purchases of Iranian oil raise tantalizing questions
A fully loaded Chinese oil tanker ploughing its way eastwards from two Iranian oil terminals raises questions of how far Beijing is willing to go in defying US sanctions amid a mounting US military build-up in the Gulf and a US-China trade war.
The sailing from Iran of the Pacific Bravo takes on added significance with US strategy likely to remain focused on economic rather than military strangulation of the Iranian leadership, despite the deployment to the Gulf of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as B-52 bombers and a Patriot surface-to-air missile system.
As President Donald J. Trump, backed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appears to be signalling that he is not seeking military confrontation, his administration is reportedly considering a third round of sanctions that would focus on Iran’s petrochemical industry. The administration earlier this month sanctioned the country’s metals and minerals trade.
The sailing raises the question whether China is reversing its policy that led in the last quarter of 2018 to it dramatically reducing its trade with Iran, possibly in response to a recent breakdown in US-Chinese trade talks.
“The question is whether non-oil trade remains depressed even if some oil sales resume, which I think it will. That’s the better indicator of where Chinese risk appetite has changed. Unfortunately Iran‘s reprieve will be limited—but better than zero perhaps,” tweeted Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, head of Bourse & Bazaar, a self-described media and business diplomacy company and the founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.
A Chinese analyst interviewed by Al Jazeera argued that “China is not in a position to have Iran’s back… For China, its best to stay out” of the fray.
The stakes for China go beyond the troubled trade talks. In Canada, a senior executive of controversial Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is fighting extradition to the United States on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran.
Reports that Western companies, including Kraft Heinz, Adidas and Gap, wittingly or unwittingly, were employing Turkic Muslims detained in re-education camps in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang, as part of opaque supply chains, could increase attention on a brutal crackdown that China is struggling to keep out of the limelight.
The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the crackdown but has stopped short of sanctioning officials involved in the repressive measures.
Bourse & Bazaar’s disclosure of the sailing of the Pacific Bravo coincided with analysis showing that Iran was not among China’s top three investment targets in the Middle East even if Chinese investment in the region was on the rise.
The Pacific Bravo was steaming with its cargo officially toward Indonesia as Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was touring his country’s major oil clients, including China, in a bid to persuade them to ignore US sanctions.
A second tanker, the Marshal Z, was reported to have unloaded 130,000 tonnes of Iranian fuel oil into storage tanks near the Chinese city of Zhoushan.
The Marshall Z was one of four ships that, according to Reuters, allegedly helped Iran circumvent sanctions by using ship-to-ship transfers in January and forged documents that masked the cargoes as originating from Iraq.
The unloading put an end to a four-month odyssey at sea sparked by buyers’ reticence to touch a cargo that would put them in the US crosshairs.
“Somebody in China decided that the steep discount this cargo most likely availed … was a bargain too good to miss,” Matt Stanley, an oil broker at StarFuels in Dubai, told Reuters.
The Pacific Bravo, the first vessel to load Iranian oil since the Trump administration recently refused to extend sanction exemptions to eight countries, including China, was recently acquired by China’s Bank of Kunlun.
The acquisition and sailing suggested that Bank of Kunlun was reversing its decision last December to restrict its business with Iran to humanitarian trade, effectively excluding all other transactions.
The bank was the vehicle China used in the past for business with Iran because it had no exposure to the United States and as a result was not vulnerable to US sanctions that were in place prior to the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.
China’s willingness to ignore, at least to some extent, US sanctions could also constitute an effort to persuade Iran to remain fully committed to the nuclear accord which it has so far upheld despite last year’s US withdrawal.
Iran recently warned Europe that it would reduce its compliance if Europe, which has struggled to create a credible vehicle that would allow non-US companies to circumvent the sanctions, failed to throw the Islamic republic an economic lifeline.
In a letter that was also sent to Russia and China, Iran said it was no longer committed to restrictions on the storage of enriched uranium and heavy water stocks, and could stop observing limits on uranium enrichment at a later stage.
Russian president Vladimir Putin warned in response to the Iranian threat that “as soon as Iran takes its first reciprocal steps and says that it is leaving, everyone will forget by tomorrow that the US was the initiator of this collapse. Iran will be held responsible, and the global public opinion will be intentionally changed in this direction.”
The Iran Question
Will there be war with Iran? Will there not be war with Iran? The questions are being asked repeatedly in the media even though a single carrier task force is steaming up there. The expression is old for the latest carriers are nuclear powered. Imagine the mess if it was blown up.
There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive. The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber. If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense. It is what Iran has done. Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided.
As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force: some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target. Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses. In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system. It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400. Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s. The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally. The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.
Iran has friends in Europe also. Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal. She is mustering the major European powers. Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome. President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture. In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job. In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.
So there we have it. Nobody wants war with Iran. Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets.
Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war. Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission. It won’t. The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton. He wants war. A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off.
In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans. The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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