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Riots in Iran

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Protests against the petrol price rise and rationing in Iran began on November 15 in Ahvaz, when the Iranian government announced the fuel price increase up to 300%.

 They quickly spread to major Iranian cities.

 Before the enactment of this new rule, car owners could buy up to 250 litres of petrol per month, at the subsidized price of 15,000 rial per liter, for the first sixty ones, and then at the price of 30,000 rial per litre for the additional ones.

It should be noted that currently the rial is worth0.000027 euros approximately.

The riots – strangely similar to those that gave rise to the phenomenon of the gilets jaunes in France-have erupted because the rule just approved grants a subsidized price of 15,000 rials per litre only for the first 60 litres, but obliges to pay the new price of 30,000 rials per litre after this limit.

This is unsustainable for ordinary Iranian citizens, who are forced to use cars more frequently than anyone living in Western countries’ suburbs.

Hence a 300% price rise, albeit hidden, considering that all Iranians who own a car need much more than 60 litres per month.

 The riots, which also caused some victims, initially broke out in Sirjan, but later the protests spread to Mashhad, the second largest city in Iran, and to Qods, a suburb of the capital city. They were massive and the reaction of the police, of the Armed Forces and the Basiji was not long in coming.

For Iranian consumers the issue of oil rationing is part of the strategic triangulation between Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States for the geopolitical management of this commodity.

 In September 2019, in fact, there were attacks with drones, probably launched from Iraq or, also, from Yemen – in the hands of the Houthi rebels, linked to Iran – which hit some Saudi wells.

There was unanimous condemnation of the attacks in the West, but there is another issue to consider. Currently, in the Arab and Islamic world, additional extraction areas are conquered. All OPEC countries do so, thus destabilizing oil producing countries and joining them to their extraction and price system.

Indeed, the right to plunder is established in the Qur’an. “The Spoils of War” is the title of the Surah 8 of Medina’s Qur’an, which establishes (verse 8) that “the decision concerning the spoils of war is for Allah and His Messenger”.

 The Prophet, however, was entitled to a fifth (khums) of any war booty, at least since the battle of Badr (642 A.D.,the Second Year of the Hijra).

As said in verse 8:41, however, the Prophet Muhammad was entitled to one fifth of all public finances of the Islamic tribe, while all the rest was to be equally distributed among the members of the war expedition.

This is one of the foundations of the specific “Arab socialism”.

 The Prophet was also granted a further part of the booty, as a member of the war expedition.

 We are talking about cultures in which war is inherent in political action and in the economy – unlike what happens in the West, which has removed the military clash from its horizon, at its own risk. We are not referring here only to jihad.

 In the case of spoils resulting from an agreement and not from a victory on the ground, the Prophet claimed for himself the entire booty, and the traditional comments on Surah8agree on stating that “all that the earth contains has been attributed by Allah to his faction”.

 Hence the productive areas left alone by the West or subject to possible ethnic, religious or political destabilization are Al Anfal, namely booty, and the Muslims share it among themselves, according to the complex Qur’anic rules concerning war and the sharing of its spoils, many of which are found in the Caliphate tradition common to both Shiites and Sunnis.

Nevertheless, the attacks launched on the Saudi wells last September 14, 2019 – with drones, because the war is to be waged with the updated techniques and technology that Allah has provided –  caused the temporary suspension from the market of as many as 5.7 million oil barrels a day, about half of the Saudi standard production.

 From the viewpoint of the old liberal theory of competition, however, Saudi Arabia has been greatly favoured by the sanctions which, since the beginning of the Shiite revolution in 1979, have thrown Iranian oil production into crisis.

 A severe distortion of the oil market that Iran tries to oppose with direct but, above all, indirect war methods – to which Saudi Arabia responds blow by blow.

In 1995, the year in which US President Carter strengthened the sanction regime, which had begun in 1979, after the revolutionary students’ assault  on the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the system of sanctions implied, inter alia, the prohibition to support the Import-Export Bank for transactions with Iran; the refusal to grant any commercial license to companies that broke any trade restriction rulesvis-à-vis Iran; the ban on any loan exceeding 10 million US dollars during the year, obviously by U.S. financial institutions; the prohibition of becoming an agent for bank or debt securities issued by the U.S. government in Iran; finally a ban on all the specific goods or services included in the special list of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

 In 1997, President Clinton relaxed the sanctions against Iran as a result of the election of Khatami as President of Iran, who was considered a “reformist” by the naive Western press and, above all, a political opponent of Ahmadinedjad, the future Iranian President.

 The same man who, as a university student, had warned his colleagues who were about to attack the US diplomatic offices by saying: “We must not only show hatred towards America, but also towards the atheist and materialistic Soviet Union”.

 The sanctions imposed again by the United States on Iran – with a deliberate choice by President Trump, after the US unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) of July 14, 2015, namely the P5+1 agreement to limit the enrichment of Iranian uranium – concern about 80% of Iran’s current oil exports.

 After the choice made by President Trump, France offered 15 billion US dollars, if Iran adhered again to the full formulation of the JCPOA prior to the U.S. withdrawal from the Treaty, certainly to favour Iran’s economic recovery, but certainly also to avoid the probable U.S. block.

Moreover, since President Trump has denounced the P5+1 Agreement, Iran’s official sources have stated that the minimum oil exports that Iran wants to maintain are 700,000 barrels a day, so as to later reach 1.5 million barrels a day, should the West still want to renegotiate the entire agreement of July 14, 2015.

 This is the reason underlying the restriction on consumption for Iranian citizens: that oil is needed to be sold and not to be distributed to Iranians at a subsidized price.

 It is said that the savings resulting from this new restrictive rule on oil consumption will benefit the poor people, but now all Iranians are becoming poor.

 Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia reached 12 million oil barrels a day in 2018, well over the six million that Iran exported in its pre-revolutionary phase.

The oil market is a “seller’s market”, as we used to say when we were still studying economics in universities.

Hence, after decades of commercial impositions and Western embargoes, all the Iranian oil industries – now devoid of any technological transfer and adequate investment – have seen their production levels plunge.

 It was precisely Iran that in 1974, under the Shah’s rule, brought the OPEC price to 11.58 US dollars per barrel, equal to the current 53 US dollars.

 It should also be recalled that in 1973, immediately after the Yom KippurWar, the Iranian Shah supported Israel and hence did not participate in the embargo of the OPEC Arab oil producing countries.

 Then Iran became the fourth largest oil producer in the world, after the USSR, the USA and Saudi Arabia, with a daily level of 5.7 million barrels a day. This happened in 1977, but that level was never reached again later.

Since August 2014, however, the oil barrel extraction price has systematically fallen to the current 30%.

 According to the latest data available, the oil barrel production cost sees Great Britain ranking first, followed by Brazil and Nigeria while, coincidentally, Iran and Saudi Arabia are competing for being the cheapest oil producing country, at least as far as extraction is concerned.

Some specialized analyses, however, suggest that Iran’s extraction cost is even considerably lower than the cost currently borne by Saudi Arabia.

This is an important factor of trade war between the two countries.

Neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia charge taxes on extraction, unlike the Russian Federation, currently the most taxed country among producers. The last one is Venezuela, which, apart from the current political disasters, has a very high tax burden for extraction alone.

Let us revert, however, to the economic-strategic duel between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Currently the price of Iranian oil is below the price of Saudi Arabia and of other regional competitors.

 The fact that now determines Iran’s real choices is the declared IPO of Saudi Aramco, the great Saudi oil company, a deal which is worth 1.5 trillion US dollars.

 The Saudi government plans to initially sell a small amount of shares on the Stock Exchange of the Saudi capital, before assigning at least over 5% of the company.

At the beginning of the Saudi oil company’s privatization, Prince Mohammed bin Salman hoped for a higher final value, i.e. an official pricing totalling at least 2 trillion US dollars, but it has not gone so well so far.

 Saudi Aramco’s annual net profit is about 100 billion and, at the time of the IPO, the Saudi company promised to pay annual dividends of at least 75 billion.

Later the company began a series of works for infrastructure and renewables and, above all, to redress the Saudi public debt, which has been recording a deficit since 2014.

In fact, despite Saudi Aramco’s considerable liquidity, the company took out a loan of 12 billion US dollars, all collected with long-term securities.

 Shell, however, now pays a yearly 6% of its investment value as a dividend. Hence, if Saudi Aramco were really attractive on the market, the IPO total value should fall to 125 trillion US dollars.

Furthermore, the bonds already issued by the Saudi company, are now worth 4% only. Considering that bonds tend to be worth less than the foreseen growth of equity capital, this means that the Saudi oil growth rate gets lower than that of other competing sectors. Hence, inevitably, international investors tend to see oil as a declining sector.

 If we were around the corridors of MOIS, the Iranian intelligence services, and around the intelligence offices of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, we would surely listen to considerations, ideas and proposals on the possibility of making the privatization of Saudi Aramco difficult and even a failure.

Nobody knows the exact amount of the Saudi oil reserves. This is a State secret.

Moreover, all oil companies – but this holds true also for Iran – are faced with issues triggered by climate change and the worldwide fall in demand for oil and gas.

Hence, either we proceed to theirquick replacement with far less polluting oil products – and this is the reason underlying Qatar’s new strategic autonomy – or all oil investments tend to become stranded assets.

  Therefore, in this case, the world’s investors do not place their capital in this sector, but focus on financial and productive areas with higher returns.

Also the Sovereign Fund of Norway, the largest sovereign fund in the world, is currently “decarbonizing” all its investment.

To some extent because it is fashionable and for taking a politically correct approach in the energy field, much more for a rational investment choice.

Hence, as was the case with cigarettes and tobacco products-in which the international capital is no longer interested – will the same soon happen also to oil and gas?

Therefore, if capital flight from the oil sector really takes place, while the United States is fully self-sufficient, Saudi Aramco shall separately sell other shareholdings of its oil company, even if only to fund its public budget deficit and the transformation of its domestic economy into a non-oil dependent system.

Just to put in the words of its oil Minister, Zanganeh, in Iran, however, the long embargo has turned many wells into “operational museums”.

The strategic issue, however, concerns above all the United States: in 2018, for example, in the midst of the shale oil expansion, the United States became the largest oil producing country in the world, with an average level of extraction to the tune of 15 million barrels a day.

As early as the Kippur War, following Henry Kissinger’ personal mediation, the Arab oil of the first real great post-war boom in prices was traded only in U.S. dollars, with the creation of preferential and confidential channels for investment defined in an agreement between Kissinger himself and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.

Obviously this has greatly expanded the global demand for U.S. dollars, which has enabled it to best manage its huge trade deficit while maintaining its very low rates.

 Even today, as one of the FED Governors told his colleagues of the European Central Banks, “the dollar is our currency, but your problem”.

 The United States controls all the world’s oil flows by tracking all bank transfers.

Moreover, it still maintains its military bases in 13 Gulf and Middle East countries.

This is the essential point that explains the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

 Outside the US technological and financial cycle, Iran can only play what political scientists and economists call the free rider role.

 In contemporary political theory, the free rider is the whoever, within a group, avoids providing his contribution to the common good, because he/she believes that the group can work equally well despite his/her non-involvement.

 Free riding is literally the behaviour of those who get on the bus without paying the ticket.

 In economics, free riding is a process of underproduction or over-consumption of goods.

Currently we are basically in a situation of oil underproduction, decided by the OPEC price cartel, and also resulting from under-consumption, due to the structural decrease in oil consumption in the West, considering the great transition to renewables and the economic crisis of oil buyers.

 The goods that are usually subject to free riding are those that cannot avoid not excluding non-payers.

 The oil market cannot penalise bad payers, but the point is that it cannot even sanction those who change seller.

 If anything, the punishment is geopolitical and military.

 As Alfred O. Hirschman maintains, the free rider problem typically arises – in a cyclical way – in capitalist economies, just when a producer does not consider external costs: certainly the environmental cost in the oil and gas market, but above all the political or strategic cost connected to the goods purchased.

 This is why Shiites and Sunnis are harming each other.

 This is exactly the current condition of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran, even in Pareto’s terms or of game theory.

 In the phase of Arab Springs, initially organized by the United States, Saudi Arabia – although being a U.S. stable ally throughout the Middle East – strongly opposed the operations for “spreading  democracy” staged by the United States.

 Certainly Saudi Arabia helped the Egyptian Salafists after Hosni Mubarak’s fall and later the Sunnis of various jihadist or fundamentalist origin against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Later Saudi Arabia backed almost entirely Al Khalifa’s regime in Bahrain, where the ruling class is Sunni and the great majority of the population is Shiite.

With its Islamic Awakening project, Iran instead supported and funded some strands of the “democratic” rebellion in the Middle East and the Maghreb region, above all in Egypt and Libya (Ansar al Sharia, for example, and other groups opposing General Haftar).

Hence Saudi Arabia believes that Iran has excessively expanded its area of influence throughout the Arab world, also with the Iranian support to the Palestinian groups on the Israeli border, especially after the 2006 “August war” of Hezbollah. Later there was Iran’s commitment in favour of the Yemeni Houthi and also of the rebellious Shiite crowds in Bahrain. All those operations were seen by the Al-Saud dynasty as an illicit attempt at hegemony over the entire Arab, Shiite and Sunni world.

With a view to making more oil without extracting it or being embargoed.

  Not to mention the operations of continuous destabilization that Iran pursues in the central areas of Saudi Arabia itself.These are areas that host a large Shiite minority, mainly in the provinces with the greatest level of oil extraction.

Hence if Bahrain collapses, Saudi Arabia will interpret this destabilization as the end of the cold peace between the Iran-led “Islamic Awakening” and its area of influence, not only the Shiite one.

Clumsy as usual, however, with the sanctions against Iran or through the USA, the Westerners artificially favoured Iran’s free riding.

Nevertheless, the United States has at least a real strategic interest in the region, followed, however, by the spineless EU, which anyway counts for nothing, also internally.

  All this has given Iran the possibility of making a strategy of free riding and generalized insurgency in the Persian Gulf useful.

If, however, the two competitors avoid trying to win the whole stake, i.e. the entire and very unlikely control of the Greater Middle East, they will therefore have every interest in seeking a modus operandi, which will depend above all on the stability of the Syrian regime.

 If Bashar al-Assad succeeds in stabilizing Syria, also with the help of Russia that, in the meantime is taking a good part of Iraqi oil, the trigger for a regional clash between Iran and Saudi Arabia will be avoided, and both will have every interest in negotiating an armed peace, i.e. a clear division of the areas of influence.

 If this does not happen, we will have the long war in the Greater Middle East, with an uncertain outcome which, however, will lead to two certain results: the West and EU greater dependence on Iranian or Saudi oil products, as well as the US gradual expulsion from the region and finally the continuous attack on Israel. The ultimate scenario will be the definitive jihadist destabilization of the Maghreb region.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Middle East

After 10 years of war in Syria, siege tactics still threaten civilians

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The future for Syria’s people is “increasingly bleak”, UN-appointed rights experts said on Tuesday, highlighting escalating conflict in several areas of the war-ravaged country, a return to siege tactics and popular demonstrations linked to the plummeting economy.

According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the country is not safe for refugees to return to, after a decade of war.

The panel’s findings come amid an uptick in violence in the northwest, northeast and south of the country, where the Commissioners highlighted the chilling return of besiegement against civilian populations by pro-Government forces.

“The parties to the conflict continue to perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity and infringing the basic human rights of Syrians,” said head of the Commission of Inquiry, Paulo Pinheiro. “The war on Syrian civilians continues, and it is difficult for them to find security or safe haven.”

Scandal of Al Hol’s children

Professor Pinheiro also described as “scandalous” the fact that many thousands of non-Syrian children born to former IS fighters continue to be held in detention in dreadful conditions in Syria’s north-east.

“Most foreign children remain deprived of their liberty since their home countries refuse to repatriate them,” he told journalists, on the sidelines of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“We have the most ratified convention in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is completely forgotten. And democratic States that are prepared to abide to this Convention they neglect the obligations of this Convention in what is happening in Al Hol and other camps and prison places.”

Some 40,000 children continue to be held in camps including Al Hol. Nearly half are Iraqi and 7,800 are from nearly 60 other countries who refuse to repatriate them, according to the Commission of Inquiry report, which covers the period from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021. 

Blockades and bombardment

The rights experts also condemned a siege by pro-Government forces on the town of Dar’a Al-Balad, the birthplace of the uprising in 2011, along with “siege-like tactics” in Quineitra and Rif Damascus governorates.

“Three years after the suffering that the Commission documented in eastern Ghouta, another tragedy has been unfolding before our eyes in Dar’a Al-Balad,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally, in reference to the siege of eastern Ghouta which lasted more than five years – and which the commissioners previously labelled “barbaric and medieval”.

In addition to the dangers posed by heavy artillery shelling, tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside Dar’a Al-Balad had insufficient access to food and health care, forcing many to flee, the Commissioners said.

Living in fear

In the Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn regions of Aleppo, the Commissioners described how people lived in fear of car bombs “that are frequently detonated in crowded civilian areas”, targeting markets and busy streets.

At least 243 women, men and children have been killed in seven such attacks over the 12-month reporting period, they said, adding that the real toll is likely to be considerably higher.

Indiscriminate shelling has also continued, including on 12 June when munitions struck multiple locations in Afrin city in northwest Syria, killing and injuring many and destroying parts of al-Shifa hospital.

Insecurity in areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria has also deteriorated, according to the Commission of Inquiry, with increased attacks by extremist “remnants” and conflict with Turkish forces.

Division remains

The Commissioners noted that although President Assad controls about 70 per cent of the territory and 40 per cent of the pre-war population, there seems to be “no moves to unite the country or seek reconciliation. On the contrary.”

Despite a welcome drop in the level of violence compared with previous years, the Commission of Inquiry highlighted the dangers that continue to be faced by non-combatants

The senior rights experts also highlighted mounting discontent and protests amongst the population, impacted by fuel shortages and food insecurity, which has increased by 50 per cent in a year, to 12.4 million, citing UNFPA data.

“The hardships that Syrians are facing, particularly in the areas where the Government is back in control, are beginning to show in terms of protests by Syrians who have been loyal to the State,” said Mr. Megally. They are now saying, ‘Ten years of conflict, our lives are getting worse rather than getting better, when do we see an end to this?’”

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Middle East

IAEA Director General reaches agreement in Tehran, as Biden’s clock is ticking

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IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi at a press conference. Photo: IAEA/Dean Calmaa

A meeting to resolve interim monitoring issues was held in Tehran on 12 September between the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi. Grossi was on a visit to Tehran to fix roadblocks on the stalled monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program, which is ever more challenging in a context where there is no diplomatic agreement to revive or supersede the JCPOA. Grossi said in a press conference on 12 September that the IAEA had “a major communication breakdown” with Iran. But what exactly does that mean?


The IAEA monitoring equipment had gone three months without being serviced and Grossi said he needed “immediate rectification” of the issues. He was able to get the Iranian side to come to an agreement. The news from Sunday was that the IAEA’s inspectors are now permitted to service the identified equipment and replace their storage media which will be kept under the joint IAEA and AEOI seals in Iran. The way and the timing are now agreed by the two sides. The IAEA Director General had to push on the terms of the agreement reached in February 2020.

Grossi underlined on Sunday that the new agreement can’t be a permanent solution. Data from the nuclear facilities is just being stored according to what commentators call “the continuity of knowledge” principle, to avoid gaps over extended time periods but the data is not available to inspectors.

When it’s all said and done, basically, it all comes down to the diplomatic level. The American withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2018 keeps undermining the Iran nuclear inspections on the technical level. All the inspection activities have been stalled as a result of the broken deal. The IAEA’s strategy in the interim is that at least the information would be stored and not permanently lost.

Everyone is waiting for the JCPOA to be restored or superseded. As Vali Nasr argued in the New York Times back in April this year, the clock is ticking for Biden on Iran. Iran diplomacy doesn’t seem to be on Biden’s agenda at all at the moment. That makes the nuclear inspectors’ job practically impossible.  Journalists pointed out on Sunday that the Director General’s visit found one broken and one damaged camera in one of the facilities. Grossi assured it has been agreed with Iran that the cameras will be replaced within a few days. The IAEA report notes that it was not Iran but Israel that broke the IAEA cameras in a June drone attack carried out by Israel. Presumably, Israel aimed to show Iran is not complying by committing the violations themselves.

Grossi’s visit was a part of the overall IAEA strategy which goes along the lines of allowing time for diplomacy, without losing the data in the meantime. He added that he thinks he managed to rectify the most urgent problem, which is the imminent loss of data.

The Reuters’s title of the meeting is that the agreement reached on Sunday gives “hope” to a renewed Iran deal with the US, after Iran elected a hardliner president, Ebrahim Raisi, in August this year, but that’s a misleading title. This is not the bit that we were unsure about. The question was never on the Iranian side. No one really expected that the new Iranian president would not engage with the IAEA at all. Earlier in November 2019, an IAEA inspector was not allowed on a nuclear cite and had her accreditation canceled. In November 2020, Iranian lawmakers passed a law that mandated the halt of the IAEA inspections and not to allow inspectors on the nuclear sites, as well as the resuming of uranium enrichment, unless the US sanctions are lifted. In January 2021, there were threats by Iranian lawmakers that IAEA inspectors would be expelled. Yet, the new Iranian President still plays ball with the IAEA.

It is naïve to think that Iran should be expected to act as if there was still a deal but then again, US foreign policy is full of naïve episodes. “The current U.S. administration is no different from the previous one because it demands in different words what Trump demanded from Iran in the nuclear area,” Khamenei was quoted to have said in his first meeting with President Raisi’s cabinet.

“We don’t need a deal – you will just act as if there was still a deal and I will act as if I’m not bound by a deal” seems to be the US government’s line put bluntly. But the ball is actually in Biden’s court. The IAEA Director General is simply buying time, a few months at a time, but ultimately the United States will have to start moving. In a diplomatic tone, Grossi referred on Sunday to many commentators and journalists who are urging that it is time.

I just don’t see any signs on Biden’s side to move in the right direction. The current nuclear talks we have that started in June in Vienna are not even direct diplomatic talks and were put on hold until the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections were clear. US hesitance is making Grossi’s job impossible. The narrative pushed by so many in the US foreign policy space, namely that the big bad wolf Trump is still the one to blame, is slowly fading and reaching its expiry date, as Biden approaches the one-year mark of his presidency.

Let’s not forget that the US is the one that left and naturally is the one that has to restart the process, making the parties come back to the table. The US broke the deal. Biden can’t possibly be expecting that the other side will be the one extending its hand to beg for forgiveness. The US government is the one that ruined the multi-year, multilateral efforts of the complex dance that was required to get to something like the JCPOA – a deal that Republicans thought was never going to be possible because “you can’t negotiate with Iran”. You can, but you need skilled diplomats for that. Blinken is no Kerry. Judging from Blinken’s diplomacy moves with China and on other issues, I just don’t think that the Biden Administration has what it takes to get diplomacy back on track. If he follows the same line with Iran we won’t see another JCPOA in Biden’s term. Several weeks ago, Biden said that there are other options with Iran if diplomacy fails, in a White House meeting with Israel’s new prime minister Bennett. I don’t think that anyone in the foreign policy space buys that Biden would launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But I don’t think that team Biden can get to a diplomatic agreement either. Biden and Blinken are still stuck in the 2000, the time when others would approach the US no matter what, irrespective of whose fault it was. “You will do as I say” has never worked in the history of US foreign policy. That’s just not going to happen with Iran and the JCPOA. To expect otherwise is unreasonable. The whole “Trump did it” line is slowly and surely reaching its expiry date – as with anything else on the domestic and foreign policy plane. Biden needs to get his act together. The clock is ticking.

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Middle East

Elections represent an opportunity for stability and unity in Libya

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With just over 100 days until landmark elections in Libya, political leaders must join forces to ensure the vote is free, fair and inclusive, the UN envoy for the country told the Security Council on Friday. 

Ján Kubiš, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) briefed ambassadors on developments ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections due to take place on 24 December. 

They were agreed under a political roadmap stemming from the historic October 2020 ceasefire between Libya’s rival authorities, and the establishment of a Government of National Unity (GNU) earlier this year. 

At the crossroads 

“Libya is at a crossroads where positive or negative outcomes are equally possible,” said Mr. Kubiš.  “With the elections there is an opportunity for Libya to move gradually and convincingly into a more stable, representative and civilian track.” 

He reported that the House of Representatives has adopted a law on the presidential election, while legislation for the parliamentary election is being finalized and could be considered and approved within the coming weeks.  

Although the High National Election Commission (HNEC) has received the presidential election law, another body, the High State Council, complained that it had been adopted without consultation. 

Foreign fighter threat 

The HNEC chairman has said it will be ready to start implementation once the laws are received, and will do everything possible to meet the 24 December deadline. 

“Thus, it is for the High National Election Commission to establish a clear electoral calendar to lead the country to the elections, with support of the international community, for the efforts of the Government of National Unity, all the respective authorities and institutions to deliver as free and fair, inclusive and credible elections as possible under the demanding and challenging conditions and constraints,” said Mr. Kubiš.  

“The international community could help create more conducive conditions for this by facilitating the start of a gradual withdrawal of foreign elements from Libya without delay.” 

Young voters eager 

The UN envoy also called for countries and regional organizations to provide electoral observers to help ensure the integrity and credibility of the process, as well as acceptance of the results. 

He also welcomed progress so far, including in updating the voter registry and the launch of a register for eligible voters outside the country. 

So far, more than 2.8 million Libyans have registered to vote, 40 per cent of whom are women.  Additionally, more than half a million new voters will also be casting their ballots. 

“Most of the newly registered are under 30, a clear testament to the young generation’s eagerness to take part in determining the fate of their country through a democratic process. The Libyan authorities and leaders must not let them down,” said Mr. Kubiš. 

He stressed that the international community also has a responsibility to support the positive developments in Libya, and to stand firm against attempts at derailment.  

“Not holding the elections could gravely deteriorate the situation in the country, could lead to division and conflict,” he warned.  “I urge the Libyan actors to join forces and ensure inclusive, free, fair parliamentary and presidential elections, which are to be seen as the essential step in further stabilizing and uniting Libya.”

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