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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

Biden’s Opportunity To Reset Relatons With The Muslim World Begins In Istanbul

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When President Obama delivered his famous speech at Cairo University in June of 2009, it was an historic moment. The symbolism of a sitting U.S President speaking to Muslims, and not about them, was refreshing and enormously impactful. America’s first African American President opened his speech with “I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning, between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” 

It appeared to many the world was changing and with American leadership, the global community was embarking on a new era of understanding between East and West.

Obama’s speech hit all the right notes: he acknowledged the contributions of Muslims throughout history. He recognized the common humanity between Muslims and people of other faiths. He disavowed the narrative of an inevitable civilizational divide. And he emphasized the need to support democratic reforms in the Muslim world. He reiterated the right of Palestinians to a dignified living, promised to leave “Iraq to Iraqis,” and sought to prioritize diplomacy over war in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. 

A year and half later Obama’s message would be tested by the Arab Spring. As Muslim communities across the Arab world rose up against autocratic rule demanding freedom and democracy, the Obama White House struggled to support the people. The optimism that followed his Cairo speech had fizzled.  

The pledge to establish a “new beginning” was neglected during Obama’s presidency and then destroyed by President Trump’s divisive policies. Since his inauguration, Trump has taken a wrecking ball to America’s relationship with Muslims at home and around the world. He claimed that “Islam hates us,” and on his first day in office fulfilled his campaign promise to ban visitors from several Muslim-majority countries. On election day this year, he tweeted warning that his rival, Joe Biden, will increase “refugees from terrorist nations.”  President Trump’s one serious claim of progress toward Middle East peace, the Abraham Accords, was viewed by many as little more than a last-ditch effort to deliver a foreign policy victory for Trump in time for his reelection bid. The Accords willfully left out the Palestinians, the most crucial stakeholders in the conflict, leaving a hollow agreement with few guarantees for a lasting peace. 

More than a decade after the Cairo speech, the divide between East and West seems to have only deepened.  Muslims feel the world is at war with them – fueled not only by American military actions but by the continued persecution of Muslims in Burma, Kashmir, China and elsewhere. There is a sense that Islam’s most revered symbols are under attack, and that Muslim identity is suspect in the eyes of many in the West.

However, the picture is not entirely dark. As the Trump era comes to a close, there is an opportunity for President-elect Biden to pick up where Obama left off in 2009: a chance to reset the partnership between America and the Muslim world.  This opportunity passes straight through Istanbul. If in 2009 Egypt represented “the heart of the Arab world”, to reset ties with the Muslim world today, Biden will need Turkey. 

The centrality of Turkey to the Muslim world and The East today is undisputed. Tens of thousands of Muslim dissidents and human rights defenders from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Libya have taken refuge in Turkey.  Istanbul has become a hub of diaspora intellectual activism. Because of a leadership vacuum in the Muslim world, Turkey continues to emerge as the champion of Muslims under persecution, and that role resonates with Muslims around the world. 

Turkey took the lead in launching the Alliance of Civilizations in 2005 to combat extremism and broker deeper understanding between Muslim societies and the West, this project now comprises 146 members including member states and international organizations.  The pluralistic Islam practiced in Turkey today is more representative of Muslim communities around the world and starkly different from the Wahhabi-influenced regimes of the Arabian Gulf, with whom Trump became very friendly during his tenure. 

Turkey is also a critical NATO ally, with the second largest military contribution. Trump’s continual attacks on NATO have challenged and weakened the world’s strongest military alliance. Biden will need Turkey’s assistance to strengthen NATO to meet new regional challenges, especially with Russia, as well. 

Although Turkey’s human rights record is not perfect and its democracy has been tested since the failed military coup of 2016, the government has shown commitment to democratic principles, and its institutions and civil society continue to be lightyears ahead of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle Eastern.

Turkey today can be the bridge between the West and the Muslim World, mending the deepened rift and launching that new beginning promised by Obama eleven years ago.  When Biden used the word inshallah, which means “God-willing” in Arabic, during a presidential debate, Muslims in America and abroad took note. Muslim American turnout in critical battleground states like Michigan was decisive in his favor. Biden should capitalize on the momentum of his gesture to re-engage with the Muslim world and repair America’s image around the world. The destination of his first foreign trip could even be to Istanbul, to listen and to signal change. It would represent the metaphoric start of a new chapter.

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Covid-19 Vaccine: A Mutual Partnership between Morocco and China

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Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the Kingdom of Morocco (1958), a strong and rapid strategic development of mutual ties categorized contemporary collaboration.

On August 31th 2020, King Mohammed VI held telephone talks with Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, which falls within the framework of the existing friendship between the two countries, which was strengthened through the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Establishment of the People’s Republic of China. A strategic partnership was signed by the King and Chinese President during the royal visit to Beijing in May 2016.

The phone talks between King Mohammed VI and the President of the People’s Republic of China touched on the development of bilateral relations in all fields, especially political dialogue, economic cooperation, and cultural and humanitarian exchanges. King Mohammed VI and President Xi Jinping also discussed the partnership between the two countries in combating “Covid-19”.

According to Moroccan Newsmedia, Minister of Health Khalid Ait Taleb is expressed his satisfaction with the signing up of a cooperation agreement between Morocco and China National Biotec Group Limited (CNBG) on the COVID-19 vaccine trials. This shared Moroccan-Chinese collaboration will allow the Kingdom of Morocco to be among the prior served in terms of the vaccine against the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, he added, under his Majesty, The Kingdom of Morocco would be able to take part in creating vaccines in sense of the exchange of Chinese expertise. Though, to strengthen the Sino-Morocco strategic partnership, to boost both countries’ international solidarity and promote health cooperation.

The issue of discovering an anti-“Covid-19” vaccine still raises several controversies, and altercations especially since the kingdom of Morocco issued its participation in the clinical trials of the Chinese vaccine, but without giving any details about how these trials were conducted, or, knowing its initial outcomes.

Accordingly, despite those who attempt to question it, China’s vaccines constitute a trendy choice because they are affordable and can be distributed in a substantial and more successful capacity. Yet, several states which face similar economic issues, people, and ambiance-based impediments are likely to see China’s vaccines as the obvious choice. That does not mean it will be the sole state they do trade with, as several of the states have more than one trade partner.

Though, Chinese vaccines have a competitive price and making capacity, allowing developing countries like Morocco a way out of the pandemic as fast as possible. Unlike European companies, is not only about business; China has also agreed to give billions of vaccines.

China has timely released the latest vaccines information, China’s vaccines are gaining international steam and a growing number of states are following up to obtain them. Whilst the achievements of Moderna and Pzifer are widely lauded, in the end, these companies only complete a part of the jigsaw in ending the COVID-19 crisis. Not everyone has the privilege or infrastructure to buy them. Therefore, the accomplishment of SinoVac, CanSino, and SinoPharm are set to play a significant role in making a difference for billions of people around the world.

According to Jamal Eddine Bouzidi, a doctor specializing in chest diseases, allergies, and immunology, president of the Moroccan Association for Fighting Tuberculosis and Respiratory Diseases, pointed out: “They say that the Chinese vaccine is purely safe, but to make sure of that.” You must wait for a long time because there are side effects that may appear after a period of up to two years or after months at least. Therefore, we might say that it is 100% safe. “

He added, “All vaccines that are produced around the globe go through many phases in the laboratory, then they are analyzed and checked on mammals and followed by humans. And when tested on humans, they also go through three stages; and during each stage, the number” of people subject to testing, so that the effects are discovered. Side effects of the vaccine and its effectiveness. “

Under such circumstances, The Moroccan minister noted that the vaccine, according to the statements of Chinese officials, is successful at a rate of between 97 and 98 percent, and is given in two doses with a difference of 14 days, and the antibodies are manufactured within a month and can sustain in the blood to defend the body for two years. “The vaccine experiments will originally involve volunteers as of next week,” the official said.

Ait Taleb highlighted that the agreements reached will allow Morocco to have its vaccine as soon as possible with the help of our Chinese health expertise. The signing of the agreements will allow Morocco to launch its first experience of clinical trials.

Meanwhile, Al-Bouzidi considered that what is being said is the “only guess”, indicating that the near-term side effects of this vaccine are high temperature, a little fatigue, slight pain at the injection site, and some tremors. The long-term symptoms are not yet known.

As acknowledged by Chinese officials, “Jun Mao” said the signing of the agreements paves the “excellence of strategic relations between China and Morocco in terms of cooperation against COVID-19, which is entering a new phase.” The Chinese diplomat Mao reaffirmed that Rabat and Beijing’s commitment to deepening their cooperation through the clinical trials. He said he hopes the newly-signed agreement will yield “decent results” as soon as possible for the peoples of the two countries.

In conclusion, China has big expectations for the Kingdom of Morocco as the latter has an extreme pond of resources to spur its anticipated vision and China’s economic growth. As a superpower, China’s motive in partnership with Africa through the creation of more legality and impartial world order places the East Asian giant is a powerful stand to provide more substantial aid to Africa under win-win cooperation.

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The Muslim world’s changing dynamics: Pakistan struggles to retain its footing

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Increasing strains between Pakistan and its traditional Arab allies, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, is about more than Gulf states opportunistically targeting India’s far more lucrative market.

At the heart of the tensions, that potentially complicate Pakistan’s economic recovery, is also India’s ability to enhance Gulf states’ capacity to hedge their bets amid uncertainty about the continued US commitment to regional security.

India is a key member of the Quad that also includes the United States, Australia and Japan and could play a role in a future more multilateral regional security architecture in the Gulf.

Designed as the backbone of an Indo-Pacific strategy intended to counter China across a swath of maritime Asia, Gulf states are unlikely to pick sides but remain keen on ensuring that they maintain close ties with both sides of the widening divide.

The mounting strains with Pakistan are also the latest iteration of a global battle for Muslim religious soft power that pits Saudi Arabia and the UAE against Turkey, Iran, and Asian players like Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Islamic movement.

A combination of geo- and domestic politics is complicating efforts by major Muslim-majority states in Asia to walk a middle line. Pakistan, home to the world’s largest Shiite Muslim minority, has reached out to Turkey while seeking to balance relations with its neighbour, Iran.

The pressure on Pakistan is multi-fold.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan charged recently that the United States and one other unidentified country were pressing him to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

Pakistani and Israeli media named Saudi Arabia as the unidentified country. Representing the world’s second most populous Muslim nation, Pakistani recognition, following in the footsteps of the UAE and Bahrain, would be significant.

Pakistan twice in the last year signalled a widening rift with the kingdom.

Mr. Khan had planned to participate a year ago in an Islamic summit hosted by Malaysia and attended by Saudi Arabia’s detractors, Turkey, Iran and Qatar, but not the kingdom and a majority of Muslim states. The Pakistani prime minister cancelled his participation at the last moment under Saudi pressure.

More recently, Pakistan again challenged Saudi leadership of the Muslim world when Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi complained about lack of support of the Saudi-dominated Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for Pakistan in its conflict with India over Kashmir. The OIC groups the world’s 57 Muslim-majority nations. Mr. Qureshi suggested that his country would seek to rally support beyond the realm of the kingdom.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on a visit to Pakistan earlier this year, made a point of repeatedly reiterating his country’s support for Pakistan in the Kashmir dispute.

By openly challenging the kingdom, Mr. Qureshi was hitting Saudi Arabia where it hurts most as it seeks to repair its image tarnished by allegations of abuse of human rights, manoeuvres to get off on the right foot with incoming US President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, and fends off challenges to its leadership of the Muslim world.

Pakistan has not helped itself by recently failing to ensure that it would be removed from the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force, an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog, despite progress in the country’s legal infrastructure and enforcement.

Grey listing causes reputational damage and makes foreign investors and international banks more cautious in their dealings with countries that have not been granted a clean bill of health.

Responding to Mr. Qureshi’s challenge, Saudi Arabia demanded that Pakistan repay a US$1 billion loan extended to help the South Asian nation ease its financial crisis. The kingdom has also dragged its feet on renewing a US$3.2 billion oil credit facility that expired in May.

In what Pakistan will interpret as UAE support for Saudi Arabia, the Emirates last week included Pakistan on its version of US President Donald J. Trump’s Muslim travel ban.

Inclusion on the list of 13 Muslim countries whose nationals will no longer be issued visas for travel to the UAE increases pressure on Pakistan, which relies heavily on exporting labour to generate remittances and alleviate unemployment.

Some Pakistanis fear that a potential improvement in Saudi-Turkish relations could see their country fall through geopolitical cracks.

In the first face-to-face meeting between senior Saudi and Turkish officials since the October 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, the two countries’ foreign ministers, Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Mevlut Cavusoglu, held bilateral talks this weekend, on the sidelines of an OIC conference in the African state of Niger.

“A strong Turkey-Saudi partnership benefits not only our countries but the whole region,” Mr. Cavusoglu tweeted after the meeting.

The meeting came days after Saudi King Salman telephoned Mr. Erdogan on the eve of a virtual summit hosted by the kingdom of the Group of 20 (G20) that brings together the world’s largest economies.

“The Muslim world is changing and alliances are shifting and entering new, unchartered territories,” said analyst Sahar Khan.

Added Imtiaz Ali, another analyst: “In the short term, Riyadh will continue exploiting Islamabad’s economic vulnerabilities… But in the longer term, Riyadh cannot ignore the rise of India in the region, and the two countries may become close allies – something that will mostly likely increase the strain on Pakistan-Saudi relations.”

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