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Coronavirus and Institutional Alignment for Iran’s Crisis Management

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Authors: Mojtaba Valibeigi and Elmira Sarhangi*

Within ten days ahead of the official announcement of the first COVID_19 virus disease (COVID_19) in Qom, many discussions in social media raised about the arrival of COVID_19 in Iran, but the official health authorities firmly denied the news. They attributed it to the enemy and creating fear in society for decreasing participation in Anniversary of the Islamic Revolution and 2020 Iranian legislative elections and asked people to follow the news from the official news and bases. Propaganda was made and COVID_19 has become a keyword for enemies.

For the first time on Wednesday February 19, 2020, the official news of the arrival of COVID_19 in Iran coincided with the announcement of the death of two inhabitants of Qom by president of Qom University of Medical Sciences. A day earlier, the public relations of the same Qom University of Medical Sciences released a statement and confidently denied the news of the death of two patients with respiratory complications by COVID_19.  The interval of these two pieces of news release was less than 20 hours. While the expression of the first statement was very definitive, but 20 hours later, the head of the university declared: “Peak respiratory diseases within the last three days” has caused the possibility of having COVID_19 to be investigated.

The first official report of the COVID_19 about the death of two patients in Iran lasted a few hours, and on March 2, Iran allocated the highest victims after China. Also, distance between reports of the incidence of this disease and deaths of people in other countries show a lot more time (for example, Hong Kong 13 days, Italy 21 days and South Korea 29 days). By the day of March 9, Canada, Lebanon, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, Oman, Pakistan, Georgia, China, Estonia, New Zealand, Belarus, Britain and Azerbaijan have identified people with the COVID_19, who have come from Iran. The statistics which had presented, have provoked many questions. If COVID_19 has long been already an outbreak in Iran. was the Anniversary of the Islamic Revolution and 2020 Iranian legislative election the reason behind the fact that regime deliberately declined to announce the COVID-19?Are the announced statistics of patients and victims transparent and correct? Why in dealing with an epidemic (a pandemic) disease, government adopted a strict security policy?

The people in Tehran survey shows common hints apart from their different behaviors in dealing with the COVID-19 disease including: Declaring false statistics, the number of patients is much higher and COVID-19 was earlier than what has been officially announced.

For example, 37_year_old Ramin, a bank employee, while has wearing a face mask and gloves when speaking about COVID_19 expressing his anger and upset, said: “when you live in a country, an authority said confidently something and tomorrow would say the opposite. What you think. It is clear. Always repeats a text. The virus would not have been spread if it had been announced earlier and they had given the right information. They didn’t take it seriously.”

Sarah is a 22_year_old computer student while she had no face mask, says: there is no way! All they know is slogans, not human health! why a disease should be hidden! Why Everything in our society should be hidden. There is no trust left.

Elderly men and women say: They should have announced it earlier, the death rate is much higher, but they don’t tell the truth.

45 years old Javad who works in the market while laughing says: No matter when we die, we will go whenever God wills but Islamic Governance is the means!

Antagonist’s role in Iran’s crisis

Before and after COVID_19 was officially announced, the propaganda of the government was the same, advertising war and martyrdom project. A forever necessary response that crises are related to the enemy not to decisions. It seems a common keyword of all crises! This term has also been raised by Supreme Leader, Religious and Appointed Officials, government officials from the president to the officials of Ministry of Health and Medical Education and The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). for example, we can refer to a part of the 20:30 news report, “Corona panic …” on Feb. 26th. The report says Corona is a code name for overseas media outlets to spread Corona phobia and to bring about unsolidarity in Iran. It aired the day before the first death was announced. It seemed governance structure is really looking for a conspiracy theory and enemy footprints and this is a key factor in their decisions. And in this situation, efficiency and transparency give way to security issues. From Feb. 19, 2020, the Islamic Republic of Iran acknowledged that there was a COVID_19, and by February 22, when the government announced that the coronavirus was outbreaking, how to deal with it can be called a propaganda of advertising war and secrecy.

In all layers of the Iranian Government, before acknowledging it was called as “COVID_19 Panic project” and after that “the sympathy mask of the enemies”. The propaganda known as advertising war, is an identical keyword that has always been heard in all natural crises such as earthquakes, floods, human crises, etc. in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This keyword would be found in all kinds of the crises during the 40 years, and the enemy has always tried to sign the inefficiency of the system, and we should not let the enemy get happy.

“The COVID_19 virus is our enemy effort to reduce the participation in 2020 Iranian legislative election” said Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran. And “it is the political propaganda of the enemy” and after outbreaking, “it is the sympathy mask of the enemies” said President Hassan Rouhani. “

” How much they worked against people’s participation in the elections…. In the end, the disease [Covid_19] was a good excuse. On Thursday night, the night before the election, the news of this virus and the disease was heard in Qom, for instance, [Enemy] started advertising at dawn on Thursday that ‘don’t go to the polls; never stand in the line of voting …., there is a disease, there is a virus, let’s see. That means, they used the least opportunity, and they didn’t let it waste even a few hours; immediately they began to say and permanently emphasized” Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, on the first official comment after the 2020 Iranian legislative election.

In this speech in Qom, Ali Khamenei said that the disease was a “good excuse,” and then pointed out that the enemy was going to reduce the participation in the election by exploiting the opportunity. He accused the opponents of the Islamic system of exploiting COVID_19’s virus opportunity and bringing down the participation of the people.

Ali Khamenei, in particular, pointed to the city of Qom and said the city was one of the densest election constituencies. And the participation in parliamentary elections in Qom was a 43percentturnout of voters. At the same time, Qom was the center for the outbreak of COVID_19 virus in Iran. Regardless of the main problem and the daily crisis of the people namely Covid_19 outbreak, he sought to extract the intended meaning from another crisis namely the nation’s commitment to the Islamic system. COVID_19 virus is important but after expressing Islamic commitment.

On the contrary, he said with a cheerful look: “The people of Qom went to the polls with no concern for the Corona virus and thanked them.

On the other hands, there were the chief custodian and trustee actions of Fatima Masumeh Shrine in Qom which took a different path in the face of the Corona crisis.They did not give much credit to the provincial Security Council approvals and the Ministry of Health and Medical Education instructions. Ayatollah Saeedi, asthe chief custodian of the shrine and Qom Imam of Friday Prayerand Khamenei’s representative, dismissed the Ministry of Health and Medical Education ‘s concerns as irrelevant and he cited Corona as political issue and enemy conspiracy to make Qom unsafe and he pointed out that the enemy will take that wish to the grave. As a result of this opposition, despite the closure of schools and universities in Qom, the shrine of Fatima Masume has the largest community center and public space of the city, remained open. Eventually this led to declaring because of opposition of the provincial Security Council and Crisis Management Headquarters, the shrine has not been closed.

Creating Ambiguity as a Task and Institutional Alignment

If we assume a powerful political, military or security entity for any reason has felt that COVID-19 outbreaking should not be made public at this time, or at least with delayed release. So what is the duty of the Ministry of Health and Medical Education? Maybe officially a tool to serve such a purpose that’s mean a participation in secrecy and sometimes inaccurate disclosure or at least it should be part of the strategy of ambiguity as the official reference in the COVID_19. It should be a tool to implement this task in a professional and international manner to be more believable for the audience. It seems that there is a structural work division between all governmental entities when dealing with crises in order to obscure the information and then remove from the people`s mind.

In general, what is the inherent nature of such institutions of the republic in Islamic system? Given the crisis or the system needs, it is the channel for the implementation of the demands of the Islamic system and move on the path of Islamic structure and it becomes an indispensable, inseparable, indivisible and legitimizing part of it.

And such citizenship rights are defined under the banner of the Islamic system. A clear, unambiguous and consistent definition. In other words, there are no parallel structures in the Islamic Republic but republic structures have the task of adapting to the Islamic system. And, if necessary, act as a tool for Islamic revolutionary demands and play the role of catalyst for such powerful upstream and religious entities under institutions of the republic. Accordingly, there is a particular behavioral framework in dealing with various crises and political events where propaganda and the creation of ambiguity in reality fully comprehensive and systematic manner plays a key role for restoring normality and Stability of Islamic governance structure. And institutions of the republic are considered one of its executive arms and collective values are of secondary importance and the status and value of the people are measured by the expediency of the Islamic system. Where republican system and communal values come from the help of the Islamic system and depending on the circumstances, it will be used for excellent Islamic revolutionary purposes and will respond to crises and this is how the top_down institutional alignment and not parallel, is formed.

*Regional Planning Department, Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran

Visiting Professor of School of Public Administration, University of Victoria, Victoria BC, Canada and assistant prof of Buein Zahra Tech Uni., Qazvin, Iran

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Middle East

Beyond the friendship diplomacy between Morocco and Mauritania

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Over the past decade or so, many politicians and diplomats have held that the most significant bilateral relationship has been between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. That remains true today, and it will be likely the case for long- term partnership to come, even as the sort of that relationship changes over time. Due to, diplomatic rapprochement between them and bilateral cooperation on several levels, Mauritania, tends formally to withdraw its full recognition of the Polisario Front “SADR” before the term of the current president, Mohamed Ould Al-Ghazwani, ends.

Yet, the truth is that Mauritania has unalterably shifted from the previous engagement with Morocco to the recent conflict with it on nearly all the key fronts: geopolitics, trade, borders security, finance, and even the view on domestic governance. To that extent, Mauritania was the most affected by the Polisario Front militia’s violation to close the Guerguerat border crossing and prevent food supplies from reaching their domestic markets. This crisis frustrated Mauritanian people and politicians who demanded to take firm stances towards the separatists.

In the context of the fascinating development in relations between Rabat and Nouakchott, the Mauritanian government stated that President Ould Ghazwani is heading to take a remarkable decision based on derecognized the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and Polisario Front as its sole representative and follow up the recent UN peace process through the case of Western Sahara conflict under UN Security Council resolutions.

Similarly, the United States announced that “Moroccan (Western) Sahara is an integral part of The Kingdom–a traditional Ally, and it supports the Moroccan government’s constitutional procedures to maintain Moroccan Southern provinces strong and united.” It was rapidly followed by all major countries of African, and the Arab Middle East also extended their supports to the government in Rabat. What a determined move against the Polisario Front separatism in a sovereign state!

During the Western Sahara dispute, the Moroccan Sahrawi was humiliated to the end by Polisario Front: it not only lost their identity but also resulted in the several ethnics’ claim for “independence” in the border regions within. currently, Morocco is the only regional power in North Africa that has been challenged in terms of national unity and territorial integrity. The issues cover regional terrorism, political separatism, and fundamental radicalism from various radical ethnic groups. Although the population of the “Polisario groups” is irrelevant because of Morocco’s total population, the territorial space of the ethnic minorities across the country is broadly huge and prosperous in natural resources. besides, the regions are strategically important.

In foreign affairs doctrine, the certainty of countries interacting closely, neighboring states and Algeria, in particular, have always employed the issue of the Western Sahara dispute in the Southern Region of Morocco as the power to criticize and even undermine against Morocco in the name of discredit Sahrawi rights, ethnic discrimination, social injustice, and natural resources exploitation. therefore, local radical Sahrawi groups have occasionally resisted Morocco’s authority over them in a vicious or nonviolent way. Their resistance in jeopardy national security on strategic borders of the Kingdom, at many times, becoming an international issue.

A Mauritanian media stated, that “all the presidential governments that followed the former President Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidala, a loyal and supporter to the Polisario Front, were not at all satisfied with the recognition of the SADR creation due to its fear that it would cause reactions from Algeria. however, Mauritania today is not the state of 1978, it has become a well-built country at the regional level, and the position of its military defense has been enhanced at the phase of the continent’s armies after it was categorized as a conventional military power.”

This is what Mauritania has expected the outcome. Although neighboring Mauritania has weeded out the pressures of the Algerian regime, which stood in the way of rapprochement with the Kingdom of Morocco, and the Mauritanian acknowledged that Nouakchott today is “ready to take the historic decision that seeks its geopolitical interests and maintain strategic stability and security of the entire region, away from the external interactions.” Hence, The Mauritanian decision, according to the national media, will adjust its neutral position through the Moroccan (Western) Sahara issue; Because previously was not clear in its political arrangement according to the international or even regional community.

Given the Moroccan domestic opinion, there is still optimistic hope about long-term collaboration on the transformation between Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, even considering some temporary difficulties between the two in the Western Sahara conflict. For example, prior Mauritania has recognized the Polisario since the 1980s, but this recognition did not turn into an embassy or permanent diplomatic sign of the separatist entity in Mauritania, the Kingdom has a long-standing relationship with Mauritania and the recent regional politics would not harm that, because it’s a political circumstance.

Despite the strain exerted by the Polisario Front and Algeria on Mauritania, and intending to set impediments that avoid strategic development of its relations with Rabat, the Mauritanian-Moroccan interactions have seen an increased economic development for nearly two years, which end up with a phone call asked King Mohammed VI to embark on an official visit to Mauritania as President Ould Ghazwani requested.

For decades, the kingdom of Morocco has deemed a united, stable, and prosperous Maghreb region beneficial to itself and Northern Africa since it is Kingdom’s consistent and open stance and strategic judgment. Accordingly, Morocco would continue supporting North Africa’s unity and development. On the one hand, Morocco and Mauritania are not only being impacted by the pandemic, but also facing perils and challenges such as unilateralism, and protectionism. On the other hand, Rabat opines that the two neighboring states and major forces of the world necessarily established their resolve to strengthen communication and cooperation with each other. To that end, both states would make efforts to set up long-term strategic consensus including mutual trust, reciprocal understandings, and respect to the United Nations and the current international system based on multilateralism.

In sum, both Morocco and Mauritania are sovereign states with a strong desire to be well-built and sophisticated powers. Previous successes and experiences in solving territorial disputes and other issues have given them confidence, which motivated both countries to join hands in the struggles for national independence, equality, and prosperity. In sense of the world politics, two states promise to advance the great cause of reorganization and renovation and learn from each other’s experience in state power and party administration.

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Getting Away With Murder: The New U.S. Intelligence Report on the Khashoggi Affair

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It was October 2, 2018 when a man walked into the Saudi Arabian consulate to collect some documents he needed for his impending marriage.  He had been there earlier on September 28, and had been told to allow a few days for them to prepare the needed proof of divorce from an earlier marriage.

So there he was.  His Turkish fiancée had accompanied him and he asked her to wait outside as it would only take a minute or two.  She waited and waited and… waited.  Jamal Khashoggi never came out.

What went on inside is a matter of dispute but US intelligence prepared a report which should have been released but was illegally blocked by the Trump administration.  Mr. Trump is no doubt grateful for the help he has had over two decades from various Saudi royals in addition to the business thrown his way at his various properties.  “I love the Saudis,” says Donald Trump and he had kept the report under wraps.  It has now been released by the new Biden administration.      

All the same, grisly details of the killing including dismemberment soon emerged because in this tragic episode, with an element of farce, it was soon evident that the Turks had bugged the consulate.  There is speculation as to how the perpetrators dispersed of the corpse but they themselves have been identified.  Turkish officials also claim to know that they acted on orders from the highest levels of the Saudi government.  They arrived on a private jet and left just as abruptly.

The egregious killing led to the UN appointing a Special Rapporteur, Agnes Callamard.  She concluded it to be an “extra-judicial killing for which the state of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible.”  She added, there was “credible evidence”  implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other senior officials.  

Now the US report.  Intelligence agencies conclude Jamal Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi hit squad under the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  They add that the latter has had unitary control over Saudi security and intelligence organizations and thus it was “highly unlikely” an operation of this nature would have been possible without Prince Mohammed’s authorization.

Mr. Biden’s reaction is plain.  Although the Crown Prince is the de facto ruler with his father the King’s acquiescence, Mr. Biden has not talked to him.  He called the king and emphasized the importance placed on human rights and the rule of law in the US.

President Biden is also re-evaluating US arms sales to the Kingdom with a view to limiting them to defensive weapons — a difficult task as many can be used for both, a fighter-bomber for example.

There are also calls for sanctions against the Crown Prince directly but Biden has ruled that out.  Saudi Arabia is after all the strongest ally of the US in the region, and no president wants to jeopardize that relationship.  Moreover, the US has done the same sort of thing often enough; the last prominent assassination being that of the senior Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani,  by the Trump administration.  

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US intelligence report leaves Saudi Arabia with no good geopolitical choices

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The Biden administration’s publication of a US intelligence report that holds Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi creates a fundamental challenge to the kingdom’s geopolitical ambitions.

The challenge lies in whether and how Saudi Arabia will seek to further diversify its alliances with other world powers in response to the report and US human rights pressure.

Saudi and United Arab Emirates options are limited by that fact that they cannot fully replace the United States as a mainstay of their defence as well as their quest for regional hegemony, even if the report revives perceptions of the US as unreliable and at odds with their policies.

As Saudi King Salman and Prince Mohammed contemplate their options, including strengthening relations with external players such as China and Russia, they may find that reliance on these forces could prove riskier than the pitfalls of the kingdom’s ties with the United States.

Core to Saudi as well as UAE considerations is likely to be the shaping of the ultimate balance of power between the kingdom and Iran in a swath of land stretching from the Atlantic coast of Africa to Central Asia’s border with China.

US officials privately suggest that regional jockeying in an environment in which world power is being rebalanced to create a new world order was the key driver of Saudi and UAE as well as Israeli opposition from day one to the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran that the United States together with Europe, China, and Russia negotiated. That remains the driver of criticism of US President Joe Biden’s efforts to revive the agreement.

“If forced to choose, Riyadh preferred an isolated Iran with a nuclear bomb to an internationally accepted Iran unarmed with the weapons of doom,” said Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Washington-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and founder of the National Iranian American Council. Mr. Parsi was summing up Saudi and Emirati attitudes based on interviews with officials involved in the negotiations at a time that Mr. Biden was vice-president.

As a result, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel appear to remain determined to either foil a return of the United States to the accord, from which Mr. Biden’s predecessor, Donald J. Trump, withdrew, or ensure that it imposes conditions on Iran that would severely undermine its claim to regional hegemony.

In the ultimate analysis, the Gulf states and Israel share US objectives that include not only restricting Iran’s nuclear capabilities but also limiting its ballistic missiles program and ending support for non-state actors like Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, and Yemen’s Houthis. The Middle Eastern states differ with the Biden administration on how to achieve those objectives and the sequencing of their pursuit.

Even so, the Gulf states are likely to realize as Saudi Arabia contemplates its next steps what Israel already knows: China and Russia’s commitment to the defence of Saudi Arabia or Israel are unlikely to match that of the United States given that they view an Iran unfettered by sanctions and international isolation as strategic in ways that only Turkey rather than other Middle Eastern states can match.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE will also have to recognize that they can attempt to influence US policies with the help of Israel’s powerful Washington lobby and influential US lobbying and public relations companies in ways that they are not able to do in autocratic China or authoritarian Russia.

No doubt, China and Russia will seek to exploit opportunities created by the United States’ recalibration of its relations with Saudi Arabia with arms sales as well as increased trade and investment.

But that will not alter the two countries’ long-term view of Iran as a country, albeit problematic, with attributes that the Gulf states cannot match even if it is momentarily in economic and political disrepair.

Those attributes include Iran’s geography as a gateway at the crossroads of Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe; ethnic, cultural, and religious ties with Central Asia and the Middle East as a result of history and empire; a deep-seated identity rooted in empire; some of the world’s foremost oil and gas reserves; a large, highly educated population of 83 million that constitutes a huge domestic market; a fundamentally diversified economy; and a battle-hardened military.

Iran also shares Chinese and Russian ambitions to contain US influence even if its aspirations at times clash with those of China and Russia.

“China’s BRI will on paper finance additional transit options for the transfer of goods from ports in southern to northern Iran and beyond to Turkey, Russia, or Europe. China has a number of transit options available to it, but Iranian territory is difficult to avoid for any south-north or east-west links,” said Iran scholar Alex Vatanka referring to Beijing’s infrastructure, transportation and energy-driven Belt and Road Initiative.

Compared to an unfettered Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE primarily offer geography related to some of the most strategic waterways through which much of the world’s oil and gas flows as well their positioning opposite the Horn of Africa and their energy reserves.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s position as a religious leader in the Muslim world built on its custodianship of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, potentially could be challenged as the kingdom competes for leadership with other Middle Eastern and Asian Muslim-majority states.

On the principle of better the enemy that you know than the devil that you don’t, Saudi leaders may find that they are, in the best of scenarios, in response to changing US policies able to rattle cages by reaching out to China and Russia in ways that they have not until now, but that at the end of the day they are deprived of good choices.

That conclusion may be reinforced by the realization that the United States has signalled by not sanctioning Prince Mohammed that it does not wish to cut its umbilical cord with the kingdom. That message was also contained in the Biden administration’s earlier decision to halt the sale of weapons that Saudi Arabia could you for offensive operations in Yemen but not arms that it needs to defend its territory from external attack.

At the bottom line, Saudi Arabia’s best option to counter an Iran that poses a threat to the kingdom’s ambitions irrespective of whatever regime is in power would be to work with its allies to develop the kind of economic and social policies as well as governance that would enable it to capitalize on its assets to effectively compete. Containment of Iran is a short-term tactic that eventually will run its course.

Warned former British diplomat and Royal Dutch Shell executive Ian McCredie: “When the Ottoman Empire was dismantled in 1922, it created a vacuum which a series of powers have attempted to fill ever since. None has succeeded, and the result has been a century of wars, coups, and instability. Iran ruled all these lands before the Arab and Ottoman conquests. It could do so again.”

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