Archive | January, 2018

Thoughts on #Iran Protests.

17 Jan

Thoughts on #IranProtests
Sherifa Zuhur

The significance of the Iran Protests which began December 28, 2017 and which have continued (today is January 17, 2018) despite massive arrests cannot be overstated.
People of all walks of life are challenging the leadership of the Islamic Republic and calling for an Iranian Republic. That calls into question the clerical or theocratic nature of the regime and the already dubious argument of vilayat-e faqih, or rule of the cleric.

The Islamic revolution, or rather, the revolution against Mohammad Shah Pahlavi which exploded, resulted in a struggle for power and ended up in an elevation of Islamism, has changed the Muslim world. Instead of moving forward, it has in many regards, moved backwards. Salafism has burgeoned in Sunni majority populations – a philosophy which is very close to that of the Islamic Republic, and in the GCC countries. Governments have used Islamism to defeat enemies and constrain friends. We can speculate that if Iranians were able to successfully change their form of government, this would affect the rising number of those who believe that religious rather than national identity should dictate laws, policies and systems of justice. Iran’s protesters have been shouting:

Down with (the) dictator
Hardliners, reformers, your adventure is over!
Every night will be the same (with protests) until we get back our rights
Clerics get lost!
Sayed Ali, shame on you, let go of power
Death to Khamenei, Death to Rouhani

There have been many comparisons to the 2009-10 protests, and some were self-serving arguments which basically postulated that if Islamist reformers were not involved in the Iran protests, they were suspect, and could not succeed. Many pundits claim that the Green Movement was larger, but it extended only to a few cities, whereas these recent protests broke out throughout Iran. Such arguments betray a sense of identification by some Western advisors on Iran and certain Iranians with the Islamic Republic, particularly arguments that a retraction or restructuring of the Obama administration’s-engineered Iran Deal would be catastrophic. In a thread put forth in the media, some tried to expose the ‘hand’ of hardliners in the original airing of grievances and their economic nature; but peoples’ despair clearly goes far beyond the specifics that were presented.

The ferocity of the Iranian regime in repressing its own dissidents and dual nationals has been on display for years. And yet, acts of protests are continuing. Even where the regime tried to organize counter-protests, some involving schoolchildren chanted against the government and the Basij. Strikes have taken place. The major news outlets stopped major stories after only a week to 10 days; only those keenly interested are following. One of Tehran’s Friday imam’s claimed that all those saying “no to Gaza, no to Lebanon” in a refutation of the regime’s regional policy were supporters of Netanyahu. But even this kneejerk effort to taint the protests doesn’t seem to have been effective.
It is too soon to conclude that all of this will not result – now or later – in substantive changes to Iran’s leadership and governance.

Building a One-Candidate Election.

12 Jan

Update to the below post written a few weeks ago.  The campaign now opens and the only qualifying candidates are Sisi and Ghad al-Thawra Party leader Moussa Mostafa, who is a Sisi supporter.  He agreed to run at nearly the last minute, apparently to give the campaign some semblance of legitimacy and has 20 MP endorsements (all he needed to qualify).

Although Moussa Mostafa claims he is not a “fake candidate” ( it’s hard to forget the way he treated Ayman Nour, the actual founder of the Ghad Party – back when Mubarak allowed only token opposition parties and was determined to oust Nour, and did so.

Over these few weeks, the only credible challenger, Sami Annan, who once outranked Sisi, was arrested at gunpoint on 1/23/18, abducted and formally disqualified as a candidate.  His son gave a statement saying the family had no idea of his whereabouts.  Worse than that, Annan’s would-be vice presidential candidate, Judge Hisham Geneina was attacked. His assailants tried to abduct him, but when prevented by passersby, they beat and stabbed him.  The government arrested 3 men and is claiming this was ‘just a kidnapping attempt.’

What was suspicious was: no-one was allowed to get into the ambulance with him. Geneina had been a chief auditor for Pres. Sisi and uncovered evidence of massive financial losses due to corruption.  Rather than be praised for doing his job, he was fired, and faced charges himself.

Khaled Ali dropped out of the race last week, saying that people’s aspirations for a new beginning were for now unfortunately on hold.  It wasn’t clear if he was going to be allowed to run in any case (see below)

Then came rumors that El-Sayyed al-Badawi of the Wafd would put up a candidacy; or that he was asked to do so, but the Wafd leadership voted 42 to 4 against putting up al-Badawi as a candidate.


President Sisi’s supporters started the Alashan Tabneeha (So You Can Build It) – a petition and support campaign for the re-election of Pres. Sisi to a second term. It has offices all over Egypt.  The campaign is not collecting donations, but wants to generate a sense of participation and excitement in a race that increasingly lacks strong challengers.

President Sisi himself had not yet announced his candidacy when I first wrote this post, but has now done so.  The election expected to produce a president by the beginning of April, if there’s no run-off. If there is a run-off, then the results will be announced at the beginning of May. He won the 2014 election with 96.1% of the vote; slightly less than 47.5% of Egypt’s eligible voters (53 million) participated in the election.

LT GEN Sami Anan, 69 who was fired from his post as Army Chief of Staff by ex-Pres. Morsi may run for President. Anan founded the Arabism Egypt Party in 2014. The Party has announced its decision to back him, and he has sufficient support by Egyptian MPs to run for office.

Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat, nephew of the late Pres. had announced his intention to run as well – he is a critic of Sisi’s, and resigned from parliament over violations of human rights.  However, on January 15, he announced he would not run for president, citing possible danger to his campaign workers (it’s not clear whether this means threats from Egypt’s security services or from supporters of President Sisi.

Khaled Ali, a human rights lawyer might or might not be able to run, the decision will be made known by March 7. He was charged with making a rude gesture and if convicted, cannot run in the election.  If he is permitted to run in the election, he is not expected to gain wide support outside of his liberal base.

Five days ago, Ahmed Shafiq, who had announced his candidacy from the UAE withdrew from the election. He was then deported from the UAE and appeared to be under arrest at a hotel, until he announced that he would not be running. The countering reports about his status have been further troubled by the sense that his statements were coerced. Shafiq briefly served as Prime Minister of Egypt from Jan. 29 to March 3, 2011, and he narrowly lost the 2013 presidential election to Mohamed Morsi

President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi is expected to win re-election in March. But the appearance of a mandate will be stronger if there is a better turnout. The president-elect must win 51%. That is perhaps the purpose of booster campaign, Alashan Tabneeha.

Some of Sisi’s supporters have turned against him because of human rights violations, a crackdown on civil society impacting liberals, freedom of the press, and NGOs, the decision to cede 2 islands to Saudi Arabia, and the economic austerity measures – inflation is high, the pound is worth only half what it was.

The stated goals of the Alashan Tabneeha campaign were cleansing the country of terrorism, completing Sisi’s megaprojects, ending corruption, promoting education, and protecting its leadership. It held a conference in the UAE in December, has sought support from Egyptians living in Europe and had collected 12 million signatures by Dec. 24. A number of members of parliament joined the campaign initially. Whether supporting it or not, 508 members of Egypt’s 596 member parliament are said to support Sisi.

The presidential campaign is going to be quite speedy, only one month allowed for campaigning and then elections to be held from 26 – 28th of March

Pres. Sisi faces a difficult task in the campaign against terrorists in the northern Sinai peninsula (which has been fiercely fought since the summer of 2013. Also sporadic acts of violence, sabotage and attacks on Christians have plagued Egypt’s mainland. Aspects of the counterterrorist campaign have been disputed such as the use of military trials and torture against detainees, the evacuation of Sinai residents, the exclusion of journalists from the Sinai (or their arrest) and a seeming inability to curtail the intelligence collected by the terrorists. Even these measures have failed to prevent large-scale attacks on the military and on civilians, as on Nov. 24th at the Rawdah mosque in Bir al-Abed where 311were massacred; and 9 Christians were killed at the end of December. These attacks heightened as Sisi first took over, and Pres. Morsi was arrested, then they abated somewhat, but analysts say there have been 2,000 attacks over the last three years.