Tag Archives: Iran

Political Sectarianism in the Middle East

Sectarian violence in middle east has been on the rise in the past 12 months. This has been particularly obvious  in Iraq has been escalating in the past 12 months, with over 21 people killed in bombings around the capital Baghdad in the last week and in the neighbours of Syria.

The Sunni/Shia divide is often pitched as conflict of religion, leaving out the deep political history that governs the tensions. The creation of these two streams of Islam were themselves created over a disagreement over the choice of political leader.

The divide is used to political advantage by those who benefit from creating animosity between communities. . For instance in Syria were the majority of rebels are Sunni Muslim, and Saudi Arabia the most powerful Sunni country is a major source of support. But in Bahrain, where the majority of the population in Shia, and the political elite is Sunni, Saudi in that case protects the political establishment.

On Tuesday (21st Jan) a Shia delegate, Ahmad Sharafeddin in Yemen was shot dead on his way to reconciliation talks. According to Reuters, Sharafeddin who was dean of law at Saana University was a member of the Houthi Shia separatist group that opposing the current pro-American Yemeni government. Another Houthi leader accused Sunni militants.

On the same day, a bomb exploded in a Shia dominated neighbourhood in Beiruit in Lebanon, killing at least 4 people and injuring many others. Sectarian tensions have been heightened because of Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian crisis.

Hezbollah, a Shia militant group, has been supporting Syrian president Assad. Iran, the largest Shia majority country, also supports Assad. Assad’s government is dominated by a small Islamic minority sect, Alawi, but the majority of the country are Sunni and supported by Saudi Arabia. The regional involvement in Syria is inflaming sectarian tensions in the already dividing Lebanon.

The cold war played a huge role in exacerbating the conflict as the Americans and Soviets manipulated tensions in order to gain support in the region. Shia majority countries such as Iran have Russia (post-revolution 1979), while Saudi Arabia and other Sunni majority countries allied with America.

Sunni Islam is hugely in the majority and is now very divided in its relationship with the US. Sunni Muslims make up it’s closest allies (Saudi, Egypt, Yemen) and those it believes to be its greatest threats, Al-Qaeda and similar groups. How America’s foreign policy has created enemies from allies is a topic for a different article but there long political history in play is often ignored not only in journalism but in academia as well. The post-colonial aspect also receives insufficient attention.

By portraying conflict between Sunni and Shia communities in the Middle East as a purely religious one presents a flawed picture without context. It is a sectarian issue, but also a nationalistic one, a class-based one and one of old political loyalties. Conflict is meaningless without context.

But much of mainstream media wishes to do just that, to portray Muslims as inherently, religiously fundamentalist and bigoted and ignore the blame that lies without outside actors’ political manipulation.

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World News 25/9/2013

Last updated: 15:35 GMT

UNITED NATIONS: The 68th Session got underway with an address from Barrack Obama which will be further discussed here.

The Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff strong criticised the US and the NSA at the beginning of her address to the UN calling it an “intrusion” and calling it a “breach of international law”.

“The right to security of a country’s citizens can never be insured by violating the fundamental human and civil rights of another country’s…” – Rousseff (03:30)

This session saw the much anticipated first speech by new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. His tone was not as conciliatory as perhaps was expected however it was not aggressive either. He highlighted that Iran wished to work to create a less militarised, more stable world but also highlighted what he felt were injustices being perpetrated against Iran such has the harsh international trade sanctions. Rouhani argued forcefully against these sanctions, saying that they violated inalienable human rights and caused widespread suffering.

Leaders of India and Pakistan and said to meet sometime today to discuss the situations in Kashmir after fresh protests and instability in the past week. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif will meet while the UN General Assembly is ongoing in New York this week.

PAKISTAN: Yesterday’s 7.8 earthquake centred on southwest Pakistan has killed at least 370 people and created a new island. The army has been sent to the region to assist in rescue efforts.

Image from http://www.express.pk

KENYA: At the beginning of the fourth day of conflict in the capital city of Nairobi there were accusations found on Twitter once again. An account linked to al-Shabab, the militant group responsible for this attack which has left at least 61 people dead, claims that Kenyan security forces used chemical weapons to end the siege and have now collapsed a floor to hide the evidence, killing 137 hostages.

Government spokesman Manoah Esipisu denied this and told the AP that the official civilian death toll remains 61 and that no chemical weapons were used. He confirmed that there was a collapse inside the shopping mall but claimed it was caused by a fire started by the militants, they believe 8 civilian hostages could be under the rubble and possible an unknown number of militants.

MALDIVES: There is global concern as a Maldivian court postpones the presidential election scheduled for September 28.

ZIMBABWE: Over 80 elephants were poisoned with cyanide in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest game park. Poachers poisoned the watering hole in order to get easy access to the ivory. Other animals were also killed but the park does not yet have definite numbers.

Iran Ending Isolationism: What would be the Consequences?

The new President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has been outspoken recently on the need for social reform in his country and with promises not to build nuclear weapons.

In the four months since Rouhani was elected as the 7th president of Iran he was released 11 political prisoners, sworn off nuclear weapons, temporarily lifted bans on Facebook and Twitter and expressed an interest in improving Iran’s relationship with the international community.

Photo: NBC/AP

It is the Ayatollah Khamenei, the religious leader of Iran, who has the final say on issues of the nuclear program and defense but Khamenei seems interested in supporting Rouhani’s move. Saying:

“We don’t want nuclear weapons, not because of pressure from the US or others but because of our belief that no one should have nuclear weapons. When we say no one should have nuclear weapons that means not for them and not for us either.” – Ayatollah Khamenei

All this comes ahead of Rouhani’s attendance at the UN General Assembly in New York today. In another interesting move by the new president he is bringing the only Jewish MP in the Iranian parliament, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, with him to New York. Not only this but there may be some kind of informal “accidental” meeting between President Rouhani and President Obama which would be the first time American and Iranian presidents had been face-to-face since the revolution of 1979.

The temporary lifting of the ban on social media sites on 16 September is more significant than it might appear at first. Firstly as it suggests that the Iranian government might be considering lifting its bans altogether but also because of what that would do to change the sense of isolationism within Iran, particularly for its younger generations.

Among the optimism there are many skeptics. Israel’s government is chief among them. PM Netanyahu and those close to him in parliament have been quick and vocal in dismissing Rouhani’s efforts as a “diplomatic deception” to distract international attention while they complete their work on nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu’s office released a statement on Thursday saying:  “One must not be fooled by the Iranian president’s fraudulent words. The Iranians are spinning in the media so that the centrifuges can keep on spinning.”

Iran’s parade of long range missiles capable of reaching Israel and the Gulf most likely did little to dampen these concerns. President Rouhani states that the weapons on show are for defensive purposes only claiming: “In the past 200 years, Iran has never attacked another country”.

This is unlikely to satisfy Israel. Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, a political ally to the prime minister, claimed: “If the Iranians continue to run, in another half a year they will have bomb capability”. But did not offer evidence to back this up.

Some commentators were reminded of Netanyahu’s memorable address to the UN last year with a cartoon bomb that was apparently meant to serve as evidence of Iran’s increasing nuclear research.

PM Netanyahu addressing the UN General Assembly AP Photo/Richard Drew

Israel might yet be right but, if they are not, what would a more open Iran mean for the dynamics of the region?

Well for one, if they cooperated with UN officials and demonstrated they were not pursuing nuclear weapons then at least some of the heavy sanctions against Iran could be lifted.  These sanctions have crippled the Iranian economy and have increased anti-Western/anti-American feeling among a portion of the population. The RT reported on the situation saying that:

“Doctors are also sounding the alarm: the trade embargo has caused shortages of food and medical supplies. The director of a cancer center in Iran says he has faced lots of problems getting modern equipment to treat cancer patients.”

Also if Iran was really willing to remain nuclear free and allow UN inspectors into its research facilities then it would go a long way to disarming much of the region.

Israel’s recent statements about Iran have only drawn further attention to their own nuclear activities, particularly in the wake of a summer of worsen relations between Europe and Israel. Israel is known to possess nuclear though its security forces refuse to confirm or deny this.

Last week Israel faced an attempt to censure Israel’s refusal to acknowledge  having nuclear arms and put them under international oversight at the annual conference of the U.N.’s nuclear agency, led by other countries in the region. 

“Israel says an Israeli-Palestinian peace must be reached before creation of a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction.” – AP

A more trusted Iran could also assist in negotiations with radical groups throughout the Muslim world, especially Hezbollah.

But a stable and cosmopolitan Iran would pose a problem for at least three countries, Israel, the US and Saudi Arabia. Israel would no longer be able to use Iran as an excuse for increased militarism and neither would the US. Not only that but Iran would no longer distract for the US ally in the region, Saudi Arabia.

While the human rights situation in the monarchy of Saudi Arabia is even worse than that in Iran, Iran has taken much of the international and media attention away from the Saudis. If this distraction was removed the media would have a greater capacity to criticise the close relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia in light of its many injustices.

But at this point it is a waiting game and we here and Global Echo will keep up to date as Iran-US-Israeli relations continue to evolve.

Orla-Jo

Iran’s Foreign Minister wishes a Happy Rosh Hashanah

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, surprised many people by tweeting ‘Happy Rosh Hashanah’ late last week for Iran’s Jewish minority. 

A tweet, apparently from Christine Pelosi daughter of US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi read: “The New Year would be even sweeter if you would end Iran’s Holocaust denial, sir.”

This was, assumedly, in reference to the former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s denials that the Holocaust took place.

Zarif then replied: “Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.”

In an interview, Zarif said Iran would not let Israel use the Holocaust “to cover up their crimes…We never were against Jews. We oppose Zionists who are a minority…We have condemned killing of Jews by Nazis as we condemn killing and crackdown on Palestinians by Zionists.”

This message was surprising given the tense relationship between Iran and Israel. Iran does not official recognise Israel as a legitimate state and supports many militant organisations who have staged attacks instead Israel.

While it is unlikely to change the realities of the political situation, this sentiment is an interesting marker of the influence of President Hasan Rouhani, a relative moderate. Given the increasing tensions of Iran’s alleged military nuclear programme and vested interests by Iran, Israel and the US in the Syrian conflict, Rouhani’s attempts at a more reconciliatory tone are perhaps optimistic, though levels of international skepticism on the subject remain high.

To any of our Jewish readers celebrating Rosh Hashanah themselves: shana tovah u’metukah from everyone at Global Echo.

Orla-Jo