Thursday, June 27, 2013

Mandela and the Morality of Political Violence

With Nelson Mandela's condition deteriorating, and reports that the iconic figure has not even opened his eyes in days and may be on life support, reporters and pundits are busily writing pieces about him, and the Twittersphere is abuzz with rumors of changes to his medical state. Wise, insightful quotes from him are shared amongst friends and strangers, and abundant praise his heaped upon Mandela for his innumerable accomplishments and importance to the South African anti-Apartheid movement. This praise is well-deserved. What most unfortunately neglect, is Mandela's early actions, and the violence of the African National Congress's military wing (towards both civilians and armed targets) before it became a part of the political system. Mandela is a multi-faceted character, and his choice to use political violence is a fascinating study.

For me, Mandela's complexities define and distinguish him. Though he was responsible for a number of fantastic achievements, he also co-founded a violent organization that murdered civilians. How should someone like him be remembered? The good things Mandela did (including post-Apartheid reconciliation initiatives) outweigh the bad, but it also seems dishonest to ignore the bad things he did and the fact that his actions may have caused harm unto others.

More than just judging him for what he did or did not do, it is important to consider the motivations behind his decision to act violently. When is political violence justified and on what scale? If one is making an argument based upon a moral issue, does this person have a responsibility to be more "moral" than the idea or group that one is opposing? Mandela provides an extensive explanation of his thinking which led to his decision to use violence as a political tool in his 1964 statement from the Rivonia trial.

I hope that writers and reporters, and in turn their readers, are able to think of and remember Nelson Mandela as an important man who contributed a lot of good to society, and as an important man who also did some morally debatable things. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Rumored Members of Rouhani's new Cabinet

This list is taken from a BBC World Monitoring translation of Sharq, an Iranian Reformist Newspaper. This appeared in the 22 June, 2013 publication of Sharq, and was translated by the BBC World Monitoring service on 24 June, 2013.

What is striking about this list is the number of reformists and members with connections to Rafsanjani. (There may be more connections that I am unaware of, but most of these people are unknown outside Iran so it is hard to know for certain).

Former members of Khatami's government are highlighted in red, former members of Rafsanjani's government are highlighted in blue, former members of both are purple, former members of Mousavi's are green
First vice-president: Mohammad Reza Aref—Reformist presidential candidate from the 1392/2013 election, and former First vice-president under Khatami
Secretary of Supreme National Security Council: Ali Akbar Velayati—Presidential candidate from 1392/2013
Ministry of Education and Training: Ali Motahhari— Son of assassinated protegĂ© of Ayatollah Khomeini, Morteza Motahhari 
Ministry of Economic and Financial Affairs: Mohammad Baqer Nobakht 
Foreign Ministry: Mahmoud Va'ezi 
Ministry of Health Care and Medical Education: Mas'ud Pezeshkian—Held same position under Khatami
Ministry of Agricultural Jihad: Esa Kalantari—Same position under Rafsanjani
Ministry of Justice: Hojjat ol-Eslam Shushtari— Same position under Rafsanjani and Khatami
Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics: Akbar Torkan— Same position under Rafsanjani (Minister of Roads in Rafsanjani's 2nd term)
Ministry of Roads and Urban Development: Ali Abdol'alizadeh
Ministry of Industries, Mines and Commerce: Mohammad Reza Nehavandian 
Ministry of Science, Research and Technology: Ja'far Tawfiqi—Same position under Khatami
Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance: Mohammad Ali Zam
Ministry of Labor and Cooperatives: Morteza Bank—Deputy Foreign Minister under Khatami
Ministry of the Interior: Hojjat ol-Eslam Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri—Same position under Mousavi
Ministry of Oil: Bizhan Namdar Zanganeh— Minister of Jihad?? under Rafsanjani and Khatami
Ministry of Energy: Habibollah Bitaraf— Same position under Khatami
Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs: Mohammad Fard
Plan and Budget Organization: Mohammad Ali Najafi—Same position under Khatami (Minister of education under Rafsanjani) 
Atomic Energy Organization: Gholamreza Aqazadeh 
Ministry of Communications and Information Technology: Ahmad Mo'tamedi 
Vice-president for Majles affairs: Qodratollah Alikhani 
Environmental Protection Organization: Ma'sumeh Ebtekar—Same position under Khatami (first female leader in this role)
Central Bank: Majid Qasemi 
Vice-president of the republic and chief of the Martyr Foundation: Hoseyn Dehqan 
Vice-president of the republic for clerical affairs: Hojjat ol-Eslam Shahidi 
Vice-president for technology: Alireza Olfat—Member of Khatami's govt
Government Secretary and Spokesman: Alireza Nateqi—Chairman of Rouhani's Campaign Committee
Ministry of Information: Ali Younesi—Same position under Khatami 
Chief of the President of the Republic's Center for Women's Participation and Family Affairs: Zahra Pishgahifard—Female
Ministry of Intelligence: Ali Younesi—Same position under Khatami (unsure if same as Information Ministry)
Chief of Cultural Heritage and Handicraft Industries Organization: Hoseyn Mar'ashi 
Consultant to the president of the republic and supervisor of the Presidency Institute: Mohammad Reza Ne'matzadeh—Minister of Labor under Rafsanjani
Consultants to the president of the republic: Dr. Mohammad Reza Sadeq, Ali Asgari, Hoseyn Faridun (Rouhani's brother)
Special inspector for the president of the republic: Hoseyn Faridun (Rouhani's brother)

UPDATE 1: American Enterprise Institute published a list on 19 June based on a report from Tasnim (a principlist paper). There are some differences and some similarities, but the list is far less complete and only has a few names. E'tedad (A reformist paper) on 20 June published an analysis with similar names. Because of the consensus between several papers with different political leanings, I feel as though its safe to say that Ali Younesi and Mouhammad Reza Ne'matzadeh are both expected to play important roles in Rouhani's government. There are some significant differences between the E'tedad and Sharq lists, though they have virtually all of the same names.

UPDATE 2: Al-Monitor has weighed in with some similar opinions although the man they believe will be the next Defense Minister (Shamakhani) is someone not mentioned by E'tedad or Sharq (AEI concurs with Al-Monitor on this selection).

UPDATE 3: Another translated text via BBC Monitoring with more of the same names, although this one also includes the figures appointed to the committee selecting/advising selection of the cabinet. These include:  Yunesi, Torkan, Ne'matzadeh, Hoseyn Rouhani (Faridun), Vaezi, Najafi, Jahangiri, Sadegh, Ashena. 

UPDATE 4: CSM picked up a Reuters story quoting Rouhani on his cabinet. Rouhani stated that the cabinet will be inclusive and moderate. This is encouraging to conservatives who may have felt as though they would be excluded, and goes along with the information from UPDATE 3 which states that the reformists wish to keep some of their representatives in the Majles rather than promote them to the cabinet to insure that their seats will remain in the hands of reformists.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Reactions to Rouhani's Big Victory

Here are my initial reactions and questions following the somewhat surprising result of the Iranian Presidential Election

1) There should be no doubts that the 2009 election was fraudulent. 
Many believe that the 2009 election where reformists Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi were slighted, was fixed in favor of the Supreme Leaders' favored candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nezhad (also known as Ahmadinejad). There were a number of inconsistencies including Mousavi being defeated in a landslide in his home province and that the election results were announced after only a few hours. This time there was clearly some sort of effort to count the ballots as the 40+ million cast took over 12 hours to count. 

2) Reformists and Moderates are still relevant in Iran
Another expectation about this election was that it would be either boycotted or have a low turnout. A mere 8 candidates were allowed to run (out of hundreds that registered and were not approved) and only 2 of these were not conservatives. Without many choices, why would anyone want to vote, especially if their vote would not be counted like in 2009? 

3) The Supreme Leader Khamenei is threatened
Hassan Rouhani has close ties to the ruling establishment (just like the other approved presidential candidates did), but he is closer to former president and pistachio magnate Hashemi Rafsanjani. As I have written multiple times, the Supreme Leader owes his current position (along with many other things) to Hashemi. Hashemi's family has been persecuted since raising questions about the integrity of the 2009 elections. This includes the assault and arrest of his daughter, and the arrest of his son. Another son was sacked as the head of the Tehran Metro. These were seen as efforts (endorsed by the Supreme Leader) to curtail Hashemi's influence. Another and probably more important step taken against Hashemi was his removal from the chairmanship of the Assembly of Experts in 2011. These all led to a situation where Khamenei is likely to be unhappy with the result and the potential power struggle with Hashemi, the only one with equal political history, influence, and revolutionary credentials.
In April Khamenei stated that any vote in the election is a vote for the Islamic Republic. He attempted to show that a high turn out validates the legitimacy of the electoral process and the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, two days before the election he changed course stating that everyone should vote even if they disagreed with the Islamic RepublicKhamenei then reversed course again saying that the original statement he made is valid. Khamenei's attempt to exploit Iranian nationalism and increase voter turnout shows that he may actually care about public opinion. The number of moderate votes will not be welcomed by Khamenei. 

4) The Supreme Leader is not THAT threatened
Despite this not being the "ideal" result for Khamenei, he also may not be so upset about it. Rouhani is a cleric who currently enjoys good relations with most parties in Iran. He did not receive as significant a mandate as former President Khatami, but due to his ties and his clerical background there is a good chance that he will be less radical than Khatami (I realize Khatami is not a liberal but this is a relative comparison). Rouhani does not have the religious stature to challenge Khamenei on clerical matters, and this will always be on Rouhani's mind. When Khamenei's handpicked candidate from the 2009 election Ahmadi Nezhad started acting in a manner which Khamenei did not appreciate. This included firing members of his cabinet who Khamenei then forced him to reinstate. Because of Rouhani's connections to the clergy, a problem like this does not seem to be likely.

5) Will the foreign policy change?
The Supreme Leader is in charge of all major foreign policy decisions and the country's armed forces, but the actions and words of the president can also have a big impact. Under Ahmadi-Nezhad, Iran's foreign policy took on an increasingly combative tone. While they had sponsored terrorism and continued to do so (see 1994 AMIA bombing purportedly green lit by President Rafsanjani, not to mention their ties to Hezbollah), Ahmadi-Nezhad's hostility towards Israel and holocaust denial was incredibly damaging to Iran's reputation. How much will Rouhani tone this down and try to bring about more diplomacy with the West? He is considered to be a pragmatist along with his close mentor Hashemi (who even at one point indicated that he was ok with US intervention in Bosnia if it was done correctly) so it would seem likely that there will be some foreign policy change. 

6) Can Reform happen in Iran?
While reformist former president Khatami is still wildly popular in Iran, he is considered by academics to have been an ineffective and weak leader during his two terms (he won both elections in an overwhelming landslide). An example about which I've written before before, was how his attempt to raise the age of marriage from 9 to 13 years. Because of opposition in the majles, this 'change' is a non-compulsory law and does not have to be enforced. Will reformists feel empowered by Rouhani's victory and make an effort to campaign for changes? Will they try to run in the next elections rather than boycotting like the last one?

7) Which way will Rouhani turn?
Will Rouhani pull a Khamenei and betray/abandon those who helped him gain power or will he respect his campaign promises and free political activists, journalists and Mousavi and Karroubi (who are still under house arrest after more than 2 years). Will he attempt to create changes in the economic system (one of the presidents key tasks)? Will he allow the press to become more free? If he does wish to and attempts to make any changes, will the Supreme Leader and the still conservative Majles allow him to, or will he be another Khatami?

UPDATE 1: mentioned Twitter posts by Khamenei on voter turnout.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Thoughts on Iran Election

Iran scholars and analysts all know that predicting an Iranian election is a bad idea. Strange things can and do happen. Polls, media and even the assertions of people on the street may not be an accurate reflection of the results from the ballot box (assuming that they have not been tampered with). 

There have been several polls conducted for the election tomorrow with a variety of results. Some show the Tehran mayor Mohammad Qalibaf (the successor to Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nezhad) with a sizable lead, while others show cleric Hassan Rouhani in the lead

The most "scientific" polling has been conducted by IPOS, a US based telephone survey company. Their polls, taken over a period of several days from 1067 Iranian residents show a trend towards Rouhani (possibly at the expense of reformist Mohammad-Reza Aref who withdrew and endorsed Rouhani), but also a high percentage of undecided voters (over 40% at last count). 

While reformists and moderates might look to Rouhani's perceived rising popularity as a sign of hope, I would urge caution. This poll is problematic for a variety of reasons. First, Iran is a very diverse country and obtaining a representative sample population is near impossible. Candidates often receive overwhelming support in their home province (another reason why the 2009 election was so suspicious is that Mousavi lost his home province in a landslide), and a sample size of only 1067 people is almost certainly less than representative. 

Another potential problem is the heightened security atmosphere in Iran. The authorities have taken significant steps to slow and filter internet access, and to filter certain text strings or phrases sent by SMS. It is not unreasonable to assume that Iranians believe that their telephone communications are insecure, may be recorded and are afraid to say something which can be used against them later. This fear may have an effect on the results of polling, as Iranians may be unwilling to share their opinions with a pollster who called them, especially from an American number. 

If the IPOS poll is to believed, the question is which way will the undecided voters turn? Of the 6 remaining candidates, 5 are conservative and one is considered to be a moderate. With so many conservatives to choose from, it is quite likely that many of these undecideds have yet to choose which conservative candidate they will be voting for? On the other hand it is also possible that the undecideds are torn between the moderate and the conservative group and the vote will be split along this line instead.

In either case I highly doubt that any one candidate will receive more than 50% of the votes in the first round (required to prevent a run-off). The run-off features the top 2 vote getters from round 1. To be guaranteed of a spot in the next round, 33.4% of the vote is required, although it is also possible in theory to receive as little as 10.1% of the vote and finish 2nd (if the top candidate receives 49.9% and the bottom 4 all receive 10%). In my estimation 25% should be enough to get to the 2nd round, though the weak polling numbers of Gharazi and the wild cards of Velayati (who was rumored to have withdrawn late last night) and Rezaei may change this. No matter what happens I am sure there will be some surprises.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Why sanction the Iranian Auto Industry?

Today the United States announced a few more sanctions on Iran intended to "further tighten U.S. sanctions on Iran and isolate the Iranian government for its continued failure to meet its international obligations."

The targets of the sanctions include the Iranian Rial, the automotive sector, and any "material support to the government of Iran". 

At first I thought it strange that the auto industry would be targeted, but then I remembered an article published by Forbes from last month about how there should be sanctions imposed upon Iran's auto manufacturing industry. 

The author's main argument for sanctions is that Iranian owned car companies enable access to 'dual-use technology for Iran's nuclear designs'. The evidence that he uses for this is that there are gas cylinders produced for hybrid cars by an Iranian owned factory in Germany. These "…included carbon fiber and hardened steel – key components of Iran’s second generation nuclear enrichment centrifuges. It also had sophisticated machinery in its inventory, which can be used both to make cylinders and manufacture centrifuges." 

The problem here is that MCS, the operator of the factory, is not an Iranian car company (though as the Iranians have clearly demonstrated, their clever usage of shell corporations make determining the true owner of any company quite difficult) although the author claims that auto companies are the shadow owners of MCS. The original Washington Post article (referenced in the Forbes piece) does not describe the factory as one which creates auto-parts, but rather "high-pressure gas tanks". In fact, the word "auto" or any of its derivatives is found only once in the article where it states: "One of the dual-use materials at MCS was carbon fiber, which is often used in the aerospace and automotive fields".

So why does the author insist on sanctioning the automobile industry? The Washington Post article states that Iran has been "scouring the world for carbon fiber". High quality carbon fiber is evidently a key part of advanced stage centrifuges and so, there apparently are already sanctions on Iranian purchases of high quality carbon fiber. According to ISIS (Institute for Science and International Security), as a result of this, Iran has begun to produce its own carbon fiber (albeit of low quality).

I may be wrong, but from what I understand of the evidence, the target of the sanctions is not the actual industry itself, but those who run it (IRGC), who are also known to have attempted to proliferate materials important for nuclear activities. Therefore the argument should not be that the industry, the cars or the materials themselves that are a problem, but rather that those who lead the industry are the problem and the reason for such sanctions.

While I think that the argument on Forbes is problematic, it may not even be connected to the new Obama sanctions. The sanctions were created by executive order rather than by Congress, so instead of having to try to force an increasingly pig-headed and obstinate House of Representatives to agree with him if he wants to remove the sanctions in the future, Obama may have created a situation where he himself is able to remove them as a bargaining chip with the Iranians.