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The ‘state of national safety’ in Bahrain

May 12, 2011 1 comment

The Kingdom Bahrain is safe, so says the man in charge. His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa announced a three month reign of safety called “a State of National Safety” to protect citizens’ lives. This March 15 announcement was made in response to popular demonstrations in that country.

European and US support for justice and human rights are armed and supposedly on the march, after all — Bahraini officials would have been sanctioned, and no-fly zones issued by these countries, and the military alliance of NATO. Surely ‘precision’ freedom rockets would have rained from the sky and made impact on government compounds if innocent people were truly at risk. There would have been talk of weapons provided to the opposition movement that is asking for a constitutional monarchy or democracy.

The State of National Safety is decreed to end on June 1. Perhaps this means national safety is being amply protected by targeting and eliminating threats.

Since mass demonstrations took place in Bahrain, threats being handled so far include special military courts being given 405 political detainees to prosecute, including 23 doctors and 24 nurses.

Here is an Al Jazeera report of raids on schools and beatings of school girls.

A lot of work went into getting things to this stage. There was “systematic and coordinated attacks against medical personnel, as a result of their efforts to provide unbiased care for wounded protestors.” The abuse ranged from threats to beatings. Hospitalised patients and detainees received a generous share of the national safety efforts as well, “including torture, beating, verbal abuse, humiliation, and threats of rape and killing; government security forces stealing ambulances and posing as medics; the militarization of hospitals and clinics which has resulted in the obstruction of medical care; and rampant fear that prevents patients from seeking urgent medical treatment.” These are documented by and quoted from Physicians for Human Rights.

Some hospitalised patients are said to have been abused by masked security officers. On the subject of masked men, they have made a couple of other notable appearances of late.

At least two groups of masked men went into action the night of May 1-2. They grabbed Matar Ebrahim Matar and Jawad Fairuz.

Matar, a member of al-Wefaq political party, was taken off the street and forced into a car at gunpoint. A government spokesperson has put it this way: Matar “has been called in for investigation.”

Before the abduction, Matar was accused of directing the killing of two security officers during the period of popular uprisings. The accusation was very dramatic. It took place on television. A man detained and charged for the death of two security officers was broadcast admitting the direction of Matar in targeting officers.

Prior to his own detention, Matar identified the bearer of the television accusation as Ali Isa Ibrahim Saqer. This man is dead now, since early April. He seems to haven been tortured to death. Fairuz, also a member of al-Wefaq who had earlier resigned from the lower house of parliament, was victim of a home invasion by men with weapons in hand, and he was taken. You can read more about this from Human Rights Watch.

The Kingdom of Bahrain has had help. Its partners include the thousand strong Saudi-led military men who entered the country to help the royal Al Khalifa family maintain control.

Mercenaries were also requested to boost the power and security of the royal family during this time of increased opposition. And it should have by now become increasingly clear that the national safety announced by the king is primarily about the maintenance of power in the hands of the royal family.

The Kingdom of Bahrain benefited from an advert to “urgently” hire military and security personnel from Pakistan. This is what the advert looked like.

Urgent Requirement - Manpower for Bahrain National Guard

Urgent Requirement - Manpower for Bahrain National Guard

Part 2 of advert

Urgent Requirement - Manpower for Bahrain National Guard

Part 3 of advert

The News, from Pakistan, in April expanded on the subject:

The Fauji Security Services (Pvt) Limited, which is run by the Fauji Foundation, a subsidiary of the Pakistan Army, is currently recruiting on war footing basis thousands of retired military personnel from the Pakistan Army, Navy and the Air Force who will be getting jobs in the Gulf region, especially in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. But sources in the Fauji Foundation say over 90 per cent of the fresh recruitments, which started in the backdrop of the recent political upheaval in the Arab world, are being sent to Bahrain to perform services in the Bahrain National Guard (BNG), and that too at exorbitant salaries. Thousands of ex-servicemen of the Pakistani origin are already serving in Bahrain and the fresh recruitments are aimed at boosting up the strength of the BNG to deal with the country’s majority Shia population, which is calling for replacement of the Sunni monarchy. Bahrain’s ruling elite is Sunni, although about 70% of the population is Shia.

[…]According to available figures, over 1,000 Pakistanis have so far been recruited in March 2011 alone.

[…]Bahrain has long been a happy hunting ground for ex-Pakistani army personnel — an estimated 10,000 Pakistanis are already serving in various security services of Bahrain.

The work of repression includes such things as demolitions. Shia mosques and shrines have been demolished. Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs Sheikh Khalid bin Ali bin Abdulla al-Khalifa, has claimed, “These are not mosques. These are illegal buildings.”

The Justice Ministry’s website had this response: “The ministry will provide legal alternatives for buildings with a licence for those cabins and facilities being removed.” (from Reuters)

Pepe Escobar writes in the Asia Times that detainees put on trial include “Shi’ite dissident Hassan Mushaimaa, leader of the opposition group Haq who has called for the overthrow of the monarchy; and Ebrahim Shareef, the Sunni leader of the secular Waad group that called for a constitutional monarchy.”

Human Rights Watch has reported that on May 3 it “received credible reports that a human rights and opposition activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who was arrested on April 9 and whose whereabouts and well-being were unknown, had been admitted to Bahrain Defense Force hospital for six days for treatment of injuries, including to his jaw and head. One person who saw him said he was unrecognizable as a result of apparent beatings in detention.”

Local media has also been targeted. For example, three editors from an opposition newspaper, Al-Wasat, are being taken to court. Their charges include unethical coverage of demonstrations.

The Al Khalija family is wielding terror, violence, and detentions in its campaign to retain a monopoly on power. This is the same family that has been ruling Bahrain since 1783.

Here is one dimension of the country’s recent history as written by the US State Department:

In the 1830s the Al Khalifa family signed the first of many treaties establishing Bahrain as a British Protectorate.

[…]The main British naval base in the region was moved to Bahrain in 1935 shortly after the start of large-scale oil production.

[…]Bahrain… declare[d] itself fully independent on August 15, 1971.

[…]Bahrain promulgated a constitution and elected its first parliament in 1973, but just 2 years later, in August 1975, the Amir disbanded the National Assembly after it attempted to legislate the end of Al-Khalifa rule and the expulsion of the U.S. Navy from Bahrain.

[…]Military exercises are conducted on a regular basis to increase the BDF’s [Bahrain Defence Force] readiness and improve coordination with the U.S. and other GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] forces. The BDF also sends personnel to the United States for military training.

[…]Bahrain’s strategic partnership with the U.S. has intensified since 1991. Bahraini pilots flew strikes in Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War, and the country was used as a base for military operations in the Gulf. Bahrain also provided logistical and basing support to international Maritime Interdiction efforts to enforce UN sanctions and prevent illegal smuggling of oil from Iraq in the 1990s. Bahrain also provided extensive basing and overflight clearances for a multitude of U.S. aircraft operating in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Bahrain also deployed forces in support of coalition operations during both OEF and OIF.

[…]Bahrain and the United States signed a Defense Cooperation Agreement in October 1991 granting U.S. forces access to Bahraini facilities and ensuring the right to pre-position material for future crises. Bahrain is the headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The U.S. designated Bahrain a Major Non-NATO Ally in October 2001. Bahrain and the United States signed a Free Trade Agreement in 2004.

What’s new in Egypt

Is there something new being introduced in Egypt, launched by a series of mass rebellions in the country and region? If something new is being introduced, then what is it?

Change from an old structure and practice of governance to the new comes in many shades and forms. Change, even if sparked by popular uprisings, does not automatically lead to a popular government nor does it have to fundamentally overturn the power of privileged associations such as broad groups of political or military elites.

What I find significant in the transformation taking place in Egypt since the removal of Hosni Mubarak from the presidency is not the purely structural details, outlines, and schema of state and government change: i.e. political offices, which leaders among the elite are in charge, etc.

The vessel of political imagination is undergoing significant change. This is the immaterial body of the imagined community.

It is a matter of re-conceiving the essence of the state, such that the concept of community and nation takes on new meaning, that old names have new significance. This is the transformation to keep one’s eye on. It is a reframing of names and concepts, leading to a new state of governance.

Egypt Revolts / Egypt Revolution

Image of Egypt's revolts from ArteEast magazine's April 2011 issue. Click on it to view the magainze in full.

In their meaning and practice, the names and categories ‘dignity’, ‘national identity’, ‘national interest’, ‘future’, ‘dream’, ‘need’, ‘government’,  and ‘popular’ are undergoing investigation, and adjustment or redefinition.

The new state exists within a situation of power concentrated in the hands of associations of the elite that compose a miniscule fraction of the total population. The significant change is not one of power being shared relatively equally across a mass of people.

 To put it another way, I mean that the state of affairs following the 2011 uprisings in Egypt has not led to a fundamentally emancipatory practice of social and political life. To paraphrase Peter Hallward’s philosophy on collective self-determination, the event has invented new ground but the walk through the “historical, cultural, and socioeconomic terrain” is not being organized by a deliberate assembly of the people even if they must be “conditioned by the specific strategic constraints that structure the particular situation.” (1)

There is certainly a new state of governance that is vigorously attempting to re-contextualize the concept of state and nation, but it is also clearly not a government of the people. The government of Egypt is a house of power compelled to transform itself by the sudden presence of what were established though previously suppressed incoherencies, inconsistencies, and contradictions in the old ‘regime’. This sudden presence of old contradictions appears as a great burden, a mountain of weight on the straining shoulders of Egypt.

It has come to the foreground through mass rebellion and demonstrations. It cannot be missed. It is plainly visible no matter where the gaze is fixed. The incoherencies are raw force, and they have broken the state such as it was. It is now time to grasp onto the event to organize change by transforming cultural, social, and political relationships into a new relation of thought and practice.

The associations that, until now, seem to have most successfully taken this opportunity in hand in order to forge the structure of the future Egypt, those associations that are (re)aligning the elements of the opportunity afforded them into a new state, reside predominantly within the elite, though thrust into motion by the muscle of the people. This new state is, so far, a state of the nation and not a new state of and for the people.

A tendency of privileging national identity has historically been the ease with which it is turned to the very serious zero-sum game of competing national blocs and powers. The national identity also competes with other conceptions of community and can provide “a cement which [bonds] all citizens to their state, a way to bring the nation-state directly to each citizen, and a counterweight to those who [appeal] to other loyalties over state loyalty.” (2). In this fashion, the ‘nationality’ may become “a real network of personal relations rather than a merely imaginary community.” (3) It introduces the possibility of privileging national interest by lauding those who are true defenders (patriots) of the nation tied to its instrumental apparition in the body of the state. This can endanger the effectiveness of critique as well as limit social and political options that are critical in practice.

Here is a glimpse of the tension prior to the uprisings that toppled Hosni Mubarak from nearly 30 years as president (from Amira Mittermaier’s book, Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination):

People can’t afford to buy anymore; the only thing left is window-shopping. We are sipping heavy tea that is bearable only with an excessive amount of sugar. But the tea is not the only thing that is heavy; so is the atmosphere. Like Ahmad, many friends during the course of my visit will explain that economically, morally, and politically, Egypt is going through a crisis. Almost everyone I talk to feels helpless, hopeless, and outraged about the ongoing war in Iraq and about the emergency laws that interdict all expressions of discontent within Egypt itself. ‘We’re living in a nightmare,’ people say when I bring up the topic of dreams.

Here’s what a Cairo taxi driver had to say, as recorded by Khaled Al Khamissi:

Education for everyone, sir, was a wonderful dream and, like many dreams, it’s gone, leaving only the illusion. On paper, education is like water and air, compulsory for everyone, but the reality is that rich people get educated and work and make money, while the poor don’t get educated and don’t get jobs and don’t earn anything. They loaf around, and I can show them to you, they can’t find anything to do, except of course the geniuses. And our boy Albert is definitely not one of those.

But I am trying with him. I pay for private lessons like a dog. What else can I do? I say maybe God will breathe life into him and he’ll turn out like Ahmed Zeweil, who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry. (4)

Another driver has this to say:

I don’t understand what they want from us. There are no jobs, then they tell us to do any job that’s going, but they’re waiting in ambush for us whatever job we do. They plunder and steal and ask for bribes and where it all leads I don’t know. Just as I spend so much a day on petrol, I have to put aside bribe money for the traffic department every day just in case. (5)

In Egypt, the practice of political power must today acknowledge the eruption of the mass response to crisis by addressing, incorporating, co-opting, redirecting, or deflecting it.

The uprisings and the resulting strain on the socio-political order were not an end to be achieved: the event is a point of departure.

The thing to keep in mind is not simply that change is taking place. It is vital to take notice of how change is taking place: what groups are and will be organizing the productions of human conditions in Egypt, and what will these conditions be? (6)

I’ll conclude with a joke as told by a Cairo taxi driver. This joke underscores the trouble with some types of change or transformation as directed by the minority who hold power. “We thank all those who voted yes in the referendum and we give special thanks to Umm Naima because she voted twice.” (7)

Sources

(1) from Hallward’s essay, The Will of the People: Notes Towards a Dialectical Voluntarism.

(2) Eric Hobsbawm, 1989. The Age of Empire, p. 149. Vintage Books.

(3) Ibid. pp. 153-154.

(4) From chapter 29 of the book, Taxi.

(5) From chapter 33 of the book, Taxi.

(6) Here, I’m adapting Peter Hallward’s some thoughts in the essay, Jacques Ranciere and the Subversion of Mastery.

(7) From chapter 33 of the book, Taxi.

Israel threatens China; Iran barred from the SCO; Israeli document calls Gaza blockade ‘economic warfare'; US to display captured war documents

Israeli officials have said they threatened war against Iran in order to try and convince China to vote in support of economic sanctions at the UN Security Council.

The New York Times broke this story: “In February, a high-level Israeli delegation traveled to Beijing to present alleged evidence of Iran’s atomic ambitions. Then they unveiled the ostensible purpose of their visit: to explain in sobering detail the economic impact to China from an Israeli strike on Iran.”

One Israeli official they interviewed said that “the Chinese didn’t seem too surprised by the evidence we showed them, but they really sat up in their chairs when we described what a pre-emptive attack would do to the region and on oil supplies they have come to depend on.”

Essentially Israeli officials boast that they tried to threaten China by showing how they could undermine its energy security and damage its economy.

China imports some 15% of its oil from Iran and is reported to have more than $80 billion invested in that country’s energy sector.

Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad will be traveling to China this week, this very day in fact, officially to take part in the Expo 2010 in Shanghai. It is expected that he will meet with Chinese officials to discuss the newly minted sanctions against it.

Meanwhile, no surprises for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting , it is will not be giving Iran permanent membership just yet.

The SCO, which has become one of Asia’s most prestigious multilateral organizations, has Russia, China, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan as members. Iran, Pakistan, India, and Mongolia are observers, and it will have Afghanistan as an honoured guest this time around.

Iran, Pakistan, and India have been interested in becoming full members. There is jostling for whether Pakistan or India, or both could become full members. But Iran is essentially barred for now. The SCO is to adopt a new document outlining admission rules. The secretary general of the SCO, Muratbek Imanaliyev, has said that “the document contains a very important thesis that states under UN sanctions cannot become SCO members yet.” So, there, Iran can only watch for now.

Apparently Tajikistan lobbied in Iran’s favour, asking that the restriction based on UN sanctions not be included. Interestingly, president Ahmadinejad was just in Tajikistan, this very Wednesday. He was there for a UN-sponsored water security conference but was supposed to have met with the Tajik president to discuss regional security, and I suppose also push for support on SCO membership.

Meanwhile, back in Israel, there’s more fallout from the commando attack on the Gaza flotilla that saw 9 people die. An Israeli human rights organization, Gisha, has legally forced the government to explain its motives for a blockade of Gaza. Apparently the blockade is not for security reasons after all, though that is what is publicly stated to garner international support. The Israeli government document attained by Gisha says that the blockade is in fact economic warfare.

“A country has the right to decide that it chooses not to engage in economic relations or to give economic assistance to the other party to the conflict, or that it wishes to operate using ‘economic warfare’.” says the government document.

And in the US, some of the spoils of war from Iraq and Afghanistan will be on display. The Conflict Research Center will allow researchers to view archived digital copies of documents captured from Saddam Hussein’s government as well as some that were captured from al Qaeda and its affiliates. The facility boasts that it has a database of “1.5 million captured records.”

These records “consist of a wide range of files, including everything from al Qaeda “pocket litter” to financial records, theological and ideological documents, strategic plans, operational guidebooks, and histories of individual operations from the Afghan war in the 1980s through the early 2000s.”

The original Iraqi documents are supposed to be returned to Iraq after digital copies are made.

Turkey in numbers: a growing population and general economy

June 10, 2010 1 comment

Here is quick and rough compilation of statistics on Turkey:

Population

Turkey’s population was estimated to be 74.8 million in 2008, up from 67.4 million in 2000. 27.3 million people are less than 15 years of age, and 6.1 million are 65 and over. (1: Country statistical profile 2010: Turkey — OECD)

68.7% of the population lives in urban areas. (2)

Education

There is 88.7% literacy among adults 15 years and older. (3)

There were 25.4 million (34.4% of the population) Internet users in 2008, up from 9.9 million (13.9%) in 2005. (4: Word Bank statistics, from Download Data spreadsheet)

Health

Spending on healthcare accounted for 5.7% of GDP in 2005 (there is an average of 8.9% in the OECD). The US spends the most on healthcare within the OECD, with 16% of GDP in 2007, followed by France at 11%.

Turkey has the lowest health spending per capita within the OECD.

The share of public spending on healthcare has increased in Turkey from 63% in 2000 to 71% in 2005 (the average in the was OECD 73% in 2005).

Between 1960 and 2007, Turkey has had increase in life expectancy of 23 years, to 71.8 years by 2007 (OECD avg of 79 years).

(5: All data for health sourced from an OECD report here)

Economy/GDP

Between 2001 and 2007, Turkey’s GDP has increased by 242% to reach $656.6 billion in 2007, to become the 15th largest economy in the world. (6: Captured on June 10, 2010 from the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey, here)

Turkey’s GDP is expected to grow by 6.8% in 2010 compared to a 3.7% average for the OECD. It shrank by 4.9% in 2009, the country’s worst recession in over half a century (7). The recession began in 2008, when the country’s GDP grew by a little less than 1%. (8)

Its GDP in 2008 was $734.9 billion. (9)

Investors in Turkey are diversifying from traditional investments in Europe to include Russia and the Middle East and Brazil as economic demand in Europe remains weak. (10)

Tax revenues made up 18.6% of GDP in 2008. (11: Word Bank statistics, from Download Data spreadsheet)

The country had gross savings at 17.7% of GDP in 2008. (12: Word Bank statistics, from Download Data spreadsheet)

About 31% of income share was held by the wealthiest 10% of the population in 2006. About 2% was held by poorest 10% in the same year. (13: Word Bank statistics, from Download Data spreadsheet) I tried to compare this the situation in the USA but the World Bank’s data spreadsheet did not have recent numbers. It did have numbers for 2000 though, which indicate that the richest 10% of the population held 29.9% of total income while the poorest 10% of the population in the US had 1.9% of income share. By all accounts this gap has since widened.

Employment

Unemployment is expected to remain a problem as the population continues to grow. (14)

Unemployment stood at 9.4% in 2008. (15: Word Bank statistics, from Download Data spreadsheet)

Trade

Trade accounted for about 26.1% of the share of GDP in 2008, up from 21.6% in 2000. (16)

At the same time, Turkey has a growing negative trade balance, importing more than it exports. (17)

Turkey imported 73% of its energy needs in 2007. (18: Word Bank statistics, from Download Data spreadsheet)

New sanctions on Iran, it’s an old story that started in 1951

The UN Security Council, on June 9, 2010, implemented new sanctions against Iran. US president Obama called this fourth round of sanctions in response to Iran’s nuclear program as “the toughest ever faced by Iran.”

The new sanctions add little in the way of increased legal barriers to Iran’s trade, energy sector, or political organizations. It does create political and diplomatic barriers because of the heavy symbolic character of the sanctions, which will likely favour growing political and economic ties between Iran and eastern countries, particularly China, as the Western investors and diplomats bump their heads against a hardening wall of rhetoric (see an earlier post for details on this).

But is it true that Iran has not seen tougher sanctions in its modern history?

The Company [the Ango-Iranian Oil Company, now BP] is confident that no oil company of repute or any tanker owners or brokers of standing will countenance any direct or indirect participation in the unlawful actions of the Persian Government. Should, however, any concerns or individuals enter into transactions with the Persian Government in regard to the oil products concerned, they are warned that this Company will take all such actions as may be necessary to protect its rights in any country. (1)

This is a statement by the precursor of British Petroleum (BP), in 1951, while they had a monopoly on oil in Iran’s south, where lie the bulk of the country’s energy reserves. In 1951, the government of prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, held power in Iran. This government, over time, challenged and succeeded in temporarily ousting the last Shah during what became a popular democratic movement that drew an astounding number of people to the streets to defend the government. Mosaddeq infuriated the British by nationalizing the country’s oil and offering new terms to the British, who were, prior to this, reaping the benefits of a monopoly on Iran’s oil to the delight of their industries and economy.

Then, as now, oil was a significant source of government income, though it is much more important to Iran’s government today since Iran only received a tiny fraction of profits from the British. The British boycott of Iranian oil in 1951 was joined by the US and others, creating a very serious financial crisis for Iran. The boycott lasted until the summer of 1953, during which prime minister Mosaddeq was overthrown by a CIA orchestrated coup and the last Shah of Iran was reimposed as an increasingly autocratic monarch.

The boycott of Iranian oil at the time was used as economic warfare to maintain Britain’s established control of Iranian oil. This British led and US supported boycott was largely successful because the times were different. Petroleum companies and tanker fleets were largely under the influence of these two countries, a situation which is not quite true today. (2)

At the time, the US State Department gave strong support to the boycott, stating that “the US Government should not make the nationalization of Iranian oil a success for others to emulate.” (3) This was a serious problem, since other countries in the region also had significant oil concessions and they might have moved to nationalize their oil or use the threat of such to increase their share of spoils from sales.

Oil in hands

The US support of Britain’s boycott caught Mosaddeq off-guard. He had expected the US to assist Iran against the perceived holdover of a colonial and imperial era following the US promise of a new post-colonial world that would not be snared by the old European imperialism which saw the world plunge into the Second World War.

At that time, Mosaddeq tried to invigorate Iran’s non-oil based economy. Some of his measures at least succeeded. He managed to somehow take Iran’s trade balance from a significant negative to a significant positive by 1953. (4) Such rapid transition was made at least partially possible because of the situation of crisis; Iran simply had no other choice than to reform its general economy or have the government face the possibility of fiscal collapse from lack of oil revenues. This doesn’t mean that life was easy for the average person. The economy was in rough shape, and people suffered because of the boycott, but the worst case domestic political and economic scenarios were avoided.

In the end, the Mosaddeq government was able to break the long trend of government deficits under the Shah, and actually had a positive net balance. Even inflation was kept to reasonable rate, performing better than the previous government which was not even hamstrung by a boycott.

As for today, perhaps the UN Security Council would have done a service to Iran by really cutting off its sales of oil, forcing the country to reform its economy and government budget. However, an effective boycott of Iranian oil is no longer possible without a declaration of war. Other countries, such as Japan, and China, have their own capacity to extract and refine oil, as well as to ferry it in their own substantial tanker fleets. So these countries’ would have to willingly join in a Western boycott of Iranian oil or their vessels would have to be blockaded by US and allied naval power.

Well, it is possible that Obama was referring to these new sanctions being the toughest Iran has faced since the 1979 revolution which saw it become the Islamic Republic of Iran, so let’s for now forget pre-revolution 1951.

In that case, president Obama is forgetting the near decade long Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.

The Iran-Iraq War

That period of long war began after an invasion by Iraq, which Saddam Hussein falsely believed would lead to a quick defeat of Iran. In that span of time, the Islamic Republic of Iran was internationally isolated and there was broad economic boycott of its products. During that period, the country not only suffered from economic sanctions, but was also burdened with the human and economic cost of a war that saw the death of one million people on both sides of the conflict.

As a child, I lived in Iran during the war. My family was comfortably in the middle class. Goods were scarce, the country was under military and economic siege. I was delighted when my family splurged every few months to buy me a single over-ripe banana, a luxury item that was caught up in the price hikes caused by sanctions and war.

Though it took a severe blow, the country’s economy did not collapse, nor did the post-revolution government collapse though it was internationally expected to fall under the weight of fiscal deficits. The war and severe sanctions put an end to the fervor of revolutionary competition for power, and what has emerged as Iran’s current political power-holders were aided by the international situation to consolidate their position: people were fighting for the very existence of the country in the face of foreign intervention, so how much would people be willing to risk internal division over the new government under the threat of national collapse and conquest?

So, let’s be clear, this is certainly not the worst economic sanctions Iran has faced in its modern history. Today’s sanctions engender tough talk, but to what end? What is the gain of distorting facts? What the US gains with such talk is the perception of Iran being faced by the toughest sanctions in its history, a narrative that flies in the face of truth. This perception serves to reinforce an increasingly hostile attitude between the West and Iran, shapes a US domestic image of jingoistic bravado that limits the possibilities of diplomacy while favouring antagonistic strategies.

This is a rhetoric that displaces facts and promises heightened tension and conflict disguised by empty gestures of a false diplomacy that doesn’t even regard the basic lessons of recent history as worth considering.

Sources:

(1) Gasiorowski, Mark J., and Byrne, Malcolm (ed.), ‘Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran.’ Syracuse University Press, 2004, Syracuse, New York, USA, p. 178.

(2) Ibid., p. 182

(3) Ibid., p. 186

(4) Ibid., p. 191

Why China supports sanctions on Iran: not much content but full of political implications

June 9, 2010 1 comment

The UN Security Council is to impose sanctions against Iran today.

These sanctions are being billed by the US as tough, effective, and the most severe Iran has yet faced.

The new sanctions, actually, add very little that is new. The passage of sanctions is opportunity for tough talk but little tangible difference is offered over previous sanctions (see the new sanctions document here).

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett pick the document apart on their site, The Race for Iran:

In the main body of the resolution, there are, literally, no sanctions limiting the capacity of the Islamic Republic to produce and export hydrocarbons.

[...]Likewise, there are no sanctions barring the extension of financial services, insurance, reinsurance, etc. to Iranian individuals and entities.

China and Russia will support this resolution since the situation will not substantially change for them in regard to their dealings with Iran. Russia will still be able to deliver sales of S300 anti-aircraft missiles, and China can still invest in Iranian business, import energy, maintain its existing financial dealing via Iranian banks (I think China often trades in hard cash anyway when it comes to purchase of oil from Iran), and maintain its growing trade with Iran.

The Race for Iran adds that:

Among the entities “involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities”, the United States was able to win the agreement of China and other Council members to include only one bank that had not been previously listed—and that bank is a subsidiary to Bank Mellat, which had been previously designated by the United Kingdom and the United States.

[...]Ostensibly, there are 15 entities listed as “owned, controlled, or acting on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps”.  But this is seriously misleading.  There is, in fact, only one Revolutionary Guard-affiliated entity captured in the annex—the Khatam al-Anbiya construction company.  The other 14 entities are all either subsidiaries of Khatam al-Anbiya or subsidiaries of subsidiaries of Khatam al-Anbiya.

What the sanctions do embody is politics rather than economics. It hardens the political and diplomatic division between Iran and the US and Europe because of the rhetoric and symbolic quality attached to the application of sanctions as championed by the West. So, the rhetoric will make it more difficult for the West to conduct diplomatic dialogue and engage in economic transactions with Iran not because of new legal barriers but from political ones.

This will support and probably hasten the growing economic ties between Iran and China as well as other non-Western countries. This is to China’s advantage since it can deal with Iran while facing decreased international, mainly Western, competition; permitting it to more easily position itself as a vital economic and political entity to Iran. Essentially, the West is cutting itself out of the picture and giving China competition free access to Iran, which is geostrategically important: it can serve as a gateway to the Middle East and Central Asia, has access to the Persian Gulf and the Straight of Hormuz, has some of the largest deposits of oil and natural gas in the world, and has the potential to serve as an energy route to transit fuels from nearby countries that are also rich in hydrocarbons.

In 2009, China beat out the EU to become Iran’s largest trading partner. Trade with China amounted to some $36.5 billion while trade with the EU totaled $35 billion. Iran’s foreign minister indicated that trade with China had risen from $400 million in 1994 to $29 billion in 2008, growing at an average annual rate of 40% in the tail end of that period. In May 2009, China’s ambassador spoke at an Iran-China trade cooperation conference, stating that “The Chinese Embassy in Tehran will continue working with Iranian companies in order to expand cooperation between the two countries.”

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicates that its important economic projects with Iran include: “energy, transportation, machinery, building material, mining, coal, chemicals, nonferrous metal, etc. The main projects are subway in Teheran, multi-functional vessels, building of oil tanker, production line of cement plant, 4*32.5 thousand KW thermal power electrical machinery units in Arak, hydroelectric generation equipment, etc.”

More than “100 Chinese state companies” operate it Iran, according to Press TV. China is said to have more than $80 billion invested in the country’s energy sector, and Iran has, since 2009, opened five trade centres in China in Shanghai, Urumqi, Beijing, Hong Kong and Guan ju.

Odd assortment of barred goods to Gaza

“Newspapers, tea, A4 paper and chocolate are among the items that have at one point been barred,” from entry into the Gaza strip, writes the Economist. Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization has a recent partial list of barred and permitted goods into Gaza.

Gisha’s site provides helpful answers to frequently questions regarding the blockade.

Israeli spy station in Turkey aimed at Iran; the Gaza aid flotilla; and China benefits from Iran sanctions

Following the operation in which nine civilians on an aid flotilla were killed by Israeli commandos, relations between Israel and Turkey have continued to take a dive. Most interestingly, The Times Online has this to say (found via Friday Lunch Club):

Israel has rejected much of the criticism of Operation Sky Winds, but the Israeli defence establishment, long friendly with the Turkish military, is extremely worried. Turkey’s government, itself religiously based, has aligned itself with public anger. Reports to the Israeli defence ministry indicated that it might close down an Israeli intelligence station based on Turkish soil, not far from the Iranian border.

“If that happens,” said a well-informed Israeli source, “Israel will lose its ears and nose, which watch and sniff the Iranians’ back garden.”

The same article also explains that the military team that confronted the aid flotilla was unused to such policing activities against civilians, and that it is more at ease with covert military missions. The example given by The Times was of an assassination it says was successfully conducted against a Syrian general.

Ehud Barak is supposed to have personally managed the flotilla operation from IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, and was watching events live through military feeds. Currently the Israeli defence minister, Barak was once the commander of an elite force that had the current prime minister, Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu under him.

The relationship between Bibi and Ehud goes back more than 40 years. Barak was a commander of Israel’s equivalent of the SAS and Bibi was one of his young officers. In 1972 they were among the commandos who stormed a hijacked Sabena jet at Tel Aviv airport. Bibi was injured by a bullet in his hand. Barak went untouched. Ever since, Netanyahu has regarded him as his mentor.

After they went into politics, Netanyahu became leader of Likud and Barak leader of the Labour party. (From the Times Online article linked above)

Iran has accused Israel of increased covert activity against it. The Iranian Press TV in January 2010 reported that “Sources in Turkey’s ruling party told Russia’s Mignews that Israeli spy agents ran an advanced electronic monitoring station from the Ankara military headquarters to keep tabs on communication networks in Iran and Syria.”

I am not certain how this allegation might be related to the Times Online revelation of an Israeli listening post in Turkey aimed at Iran.

Iran feels that the espionage is intended for use in sabotage and assassinations to slow or stop its uranium enrichment activity.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett have some great analysis on China’s approach to sanctions on Iran. They indicate that China has refused to fully oppose US-led sanctions in order to keep the US engaged within the UN Security Council and not have it be freed from the international body to go it alone. By refusing to use its veto in the Security Council, China has avoided a confrontational approach with the US and simultaneously been successful in negotiating for significant changes to each round of sanctions.

The sanctions have so far excluded any measures that would harm China’s trade and energy investments relationship with Iran.

From Race for Iran:

China succeeded in extracting extensive concessions from the Obama Administration with respect to the content of the specific measures contained in the draft sanctions resolution.  Since 2006, Beijing’s approach to the Iranian nuclear issue has been to give Washington just enough on sanctions in the Security Council to keep the United States in the Council with the issue, while watering down the actual sanctions approved so that they would not impede the development of Sino-Iranian relations.  Fundamentally, China is continuing that approach now.

[...]Not only does China buy a significant portion of its oil imports from Iran; as we have written previously, Chinese energy companies have, since the end of 2007, concluded a growing number of investment contracts for Iranian projects.  Beijing was determined that a new sanctions resolution that would not impede the implementation of those contracts or the conclusion of new contracts by Chinese companies, and the Obama Administration predictably caved on the issue.  Moreover, Beijing appears to have extracted a commitment from the Obama Administration that U.S. secondary sanctions will not be imposed on Chinese energy companies or other entities doing business in Iran. Chinese diplomats also negotiated the Obama Administration down with regard to the specific Iranian individuals and entities to be identified in the “annexes” accompanying a new sanctions resolution, to ensure that no individual or entity is included that Chinese companies might need to deal with in pursuing their activities in the Islamic Republic.

What I think is interesting here is that the sanctions seem to actually give China an edge over the US. The US continues to make it difficult for itself and its close allies (such as Europe) to maintain healthy diplomatic and trade ties with Iran. This has left a vacuum that China is handily filling in. China is becoming Iran’s leading trade partner, beating out the likes of Germany. China is also investing heavily in Iran’s infrastructure, including its energy infrastructure, which will help it secure a greater share of the valuable and scarce energy resources.

“In late May, China offered a one billion Euro ($1.2 billion) loan to finance infrastructure projects in Tehran.  Last week, it was announced that China is negotiating to extend another $1.2 billion in credit to Iran for the construction of six liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers,” according to the article posted on the Race for Iran.

China, the world’s second largest oil consumer, sources over 70% of its imported oil from the Middle East, according to the People’s Daily. According to CNN, 15% of China’s oil imports come from Iran.

With Iran and Pakistan moving ahead with a deal to run a US$7 billion natural gas pipeline into Pakistan’s Balochistan and Sindh provinces, there is talk of potential interest to set up a splinter line north and east from Pakistan to China to deliver gas to China. China, meanwhile, has heavily invested in and essentially led the construction of an energy processing and transit site in Gwadar, a significant Pakistani port city near the Persian Gulf.

Pakistan’s The News reports on the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline:

Under a deal signed in March, Pakistan will be allowed to charge a transit-fee if the proposed pipeline is extended to India. Iran, which makes $18 billion annually from the sale of gas from South Pars, sees its income to surge to at least $96 billion per annum if trans-country pipeline extends to India.

Israel’s attack of aid ships in international waters strains relations in NATO

NATO membership

The Israeli attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla that resulted in the death of 9 people has strained relations within an already tense environment in the NATO alliance.

The alliance has been especially strained by the rapidly shifting international scene following the fall of the Soviet Union, and more so following the US invasion of Iraq and continued NATO-backed war in Afghanistan. NATO was created as a response to Soviet power. With the USSR gone, it’s had to redefine its mission, a job that is not yet complete. Some complaints have been that the US has been pushing for NATO to reach and expand outside its traditional zone of influence to fill in the vacuum left behind by the Soviet collapse, moving into Eastern Europe, becoming active in the Caucasus and even Central Asia through Afghanistan. This has put stress on the alliance, with some questioning its role as an entity that is perhaps crossing the boundary from a defensive alliance to a proactive and expansionist one.

NATO is undergoing an existential crisis in trying to redefine itself following the Cold War and in the face of multiple international powers to challenge the short span of time in which the US was an uncontested superpower.

After talking to people in NATO headquarters, former British ambassador Craig Murray has said that the recent Israeli attack of the aid ships in international waters has further strained relations between NATO members:

But what kind of mutual support organisation is NATO when members must make decades long commitments, at huge expense and some loss of life, to support the United States [in Afghanistan], but cannot make even a gesture to support Turkey when Turkey is attacked by a non-member?

Even the Eastern Europeans have not been backing the US line on the Israeli attack. The atmosphere in NATO on the issue has been very much the US against the rest, with the US attitude inside NATO described to me by a senior NATO officer as “amazingly arrogant – they don’t seem to think it matters what anybody else thinks”.

Therefore what is troubling the hearts and souls of non-Americans in NATO HQ is this fundamental question. Is NATO genuinely a mutual defence organisation, or is it just an instrument to carry out US foreign policy? With its unthinking defence of Israel and military occupation of Afghanistan, is US foreign policy really defending Europe, or is it making the World less safe by causing Islamic militancy?

I leave the last word to one of the senior NATO officers – who incidentally is not British:
“Nobody but the Americans doubts the US position on the Gaza attack is wrong and insensitve. But everyone already quietly thought the same about wider American policy. This incident has allowed people to start saying that now privately to each other.”

The long siege of Gaza

The Gaza Strip has been under siege for a long time. As a result, people are out of jobs, have trouble finding adequate housing, healthcare has suffered, unemployment risen, and the economy taken a lethal beating.

Gaza is densely packed with some 1.5 million people. The Majority of Gazans are refugees who fled or were expelled from the land that is today Israel following the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. Over 3/4 of residents are registered refugees. Most Gazans live in refugee camps.

Over half of these refugees live in eight large camps. These camps depend on UN deliveries of aid for food, health, and education.

The UN states that:

The refugee camps in the Gaza Strip have among the highest population densities in the world. For example, over 80,688 refugees live in Beach camp whose area is less than one square kilometer. This high population density is reflected in the overcrowded UNRWA schools and classrooms.

In February 2009 The Word Health Organization assessed the damage following the 2008-2009 Israeli invasion of Gaza, and found that nearly half of health facilities assessed were damaged or destroyed during the attack. The same report indicated that during the war, over 430 children and 112 women were killed, while nearly 1900 children and about 800 women were injured.

The siege and suffering of the people of Gaza has been long lasting.

The BMJ medical journal published a survey in 2002 indicating that, in the Gaza Strip, “13% of children under 5 years old were suffering from short term malnutrition and almost 18% had long term malnutrition—compared with a level of about 2% in countries that the World Health Organization defines as having moderate malnutrition.” Things are bad when almost a third of children under 5 suffer from malnutrition.

Since the 2007 Hamas takeover of Gaza, Israel has greatly intensified the blockade of the Gaza Strip, cutting off the region from the outside world, and reducing to a trickle access to essential supplies.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a report in May 2010 that found “46% of agricultural lands were assessed to be inaccessible or out of production in Gaza.

The FAO report further states that:

The  Agriculture  Sector  in  the Gaza  Strip  has  the  potential  to  export  2300  tons  of strawberries,  55  million  carnation  flowers,  and  714  tons  of  cherry  tomatoes  per annum  in addition  to  locally consumed products. There has been close  to zero export  activity  due  to  restrictions  since  the  blockade.  Exceptions  to  these  export restrictions  during  the  last  winter  season  presented  little  change  with  only  2%  of strawberries and 25% of  cut  flowers of  the  total pre‐blockade potential  for export.

[...]Since January 2009, fishers’ access to fishing grounds has been further restricted to 3 nautical miles (nm) from the shore. This has resulted in a depletion of catches and revenues.

In Gaza, the majority of profits from fishing come from sardines, however, schools of sardine pass beyond the 3 nm mark and sardine catches are down 72%.

Adult  fish are mostly  found beyond  the 3 nm  limit and  therefore  fishing within  the current  zone  rapidly  depletes new  generations of  fish, with  severe  implications  for fish life‐cycles and therefore long‐term fishing livelihoods. (The previous fishing zone was 6‐9 nm before  ‘Cast Lead’, 12 nm from Bertini Commitments, and 20 nm under the Oslo Accords.

A World Bank report from 2008 indicates that “according to business associations in Gaza, the current restrictions have led to the suspension of 96% of Gaza’s industrial operations.”

Most Gazan industries are export-oriented and have purchase and supply contracts with Israeli and other firms. Gazan manufacturers rely almost entirely on imports for their inputs and until recently, about 76% of their furniture products, 90% of their garments and 20% of their food products were exported to Israel, and some to the West Bank.

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