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Middle East Press ( 28 Dec 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Middle East Press on Successor to Khamenei, Kenya’s Sexual Violence and Pandemic: New Age Islam's Selection, 28 December 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

23 December 2020

• Does Iran Have A Plan For A Successor To Khamenei?

By Ali Hashem

• Khamenei's Double Game With The Nuclear Deal

By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

• Kenya’s Sexual Violence Survivors Get Justice, Though Imperfect

By Naitore Nyamu-Mathenge

• Biden Needs To Build On Trump Success To Aid Iranian People

By Mariam Memarsadeghi

• Pandemic Slows Life, Changes Discourse

By A Sreenivasa Reddy


Does Iran Have A Plan For A Successor To Khamenei?

By Ali Hashem

Dec 28, 2020


Iranians hold their national flag and posters bearing portraits of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (R) and the founder of Iran's Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (L) during a rally in Azadi Square to mark the 36th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Tehran, Iran, Feb. 11, 2015. Photo by Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images.


Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is 81 years old. For years now, a report every few months raises concern about his health. He has been described as “ailing” in many media reports, though there is no proof that the man who has been ruling Iran since 1989 is really in bad health. On Dec. 15, he made an appearance in front of cameras while receiving the family of late Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and a committee organizing commemorations for the first anniversary of the general’s assassination Jan. 3 in Baghdad by US drones.

A video showing Khamenei walking in what appears to be good health and several photos showing his face released by his office were probably aimed at refuting a rumor claiming he was ill and had passed his powers to his son, Mujtaba. The rumor made headlines during the first week of December based on one source on Twitter without fact-checking the source who broke the news about Khamenei’s deteriorating health on four previous occasions between 2013 and 2020.

Khamenei made another appearance Dec. 20 when he delivered a televised speech on the occasion of National Nurses Day and the birth of the Prophet Muhammad’s granddaughter, Zeinab.

The reports of Khamenei's health and his son possibly being next in line call to mind similar reports from a different era. In the last few years of Khamenei’s predecessor and mentor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, there were similar suggestions claiming that with Khomeini’s health deteriorating the strongest candidate for his succession was going to be his son Ahmed Khomeini. His son was a mid-level cleric known to be his father’s confidant. At the time, articles cited the powers that the son enjoyed and his strong influence that made him one of the candidates for succession.

Even after Khamenei was elected as a temporary supreme leader in June 1989 following Khomeini’s death, speculation in the media continued to suggest a power struggle was ahead, putting out lists with as many names as possible, including Ahmed Khomeini once again.

“Those who suggest Mujtaba Khamenei is going to be Iran’s next [supreme] leader lack the basics of post-revolution Iranian politics,” an Iranian Principlist cleric told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. The cleric added, “The Iranians won’t accept to go back in history to the days when a ruler will bequeath the nation to his son, no matter who the father and the son are.”

According to the same source, those circulating these rumors “are creating an atmosphere of skepticism over the process of succession that whenever the time comes it should be smooth and quick, given the fact that after 40 years the revolution’s institutions are capable of managing transitions, and the number of candidates for such a role are more than enough for the members of the Assembly of Experts to choose from.”

As reported previously by Al-Monitor, the Assembly of Experts has a secret subcommission of three persons elected to put together a list of potential successors. The committee updates its list and keeps it classified until the day comes.

In a recent interview with Fars News, Ayatollah Mohsen Araki, a member of the Assembly of Experts, stressed that there are already three names on the list and they remain classified. He noted that being a member of the assembly is not a condition for being on the shortlist.

Araki explained that the list will be reviewed and those who qualify for leadership will be registered in a secret and confidential manner, so that they can be presented to the Assembly of Experts whenever necessary.

Another source, who leans more toward the Reformist camp, agreed that the idea of Mujtaba Khamenei succeeding his father is more of a dream to some “radicals.” He added, “They are aware that in a country like Iran this is difficult, though it is known that the election of a successor will need the blessing of the current leader’s strong son, the seminary in Qom, and the IRGC. The 1989 succession saw Ahmad Khomeini — along with Hashem Rafsanjani — emerging as kingmakers.”

The health of the supreme leader is always a topic of analysis in the media, with many thinking that Iran’s direction is decided based on who is chosen. This has prompted many to put out lists of candidates over the past years, with names such as late Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, Ibrahim Raisi, Sadegh Larijani, Hassan Khomeini, President Hassan Rouhani, Ahmad Khatami, among others, scattered in the media; each had or still has the qualifications that makes them a contender for supreme leader. However, a very important factor is missing in these reports, i.e., “the supreme leader is alive and isn’t ailing, and if there’s nothing from God he can just live as other clerics do,” a source close to the house of the supreme leader told Al-Monitor. “We know he is healthier than both [outgoing US President Donald] Trump and [President-elect Joe] Biden, and they will continue to spread rumors because this reflects their wishful thinking.”

However, some of those who have the qualifications and are potential candidates, or lobbies backing them within the establishment, seek to position themselves in a good place ahead of the anticipated battle. This is well portrayed in the political battles that are being fought on the sidelines of Iranian politics. Following the December 2017 demonstrations, despite the social and economic instigators, there were accusations aimed at the Principlists that they lit the first spark in an attempt to hit Rouhani hard and end any chance in the future of him seeking the top position. Rouhani’s victory in the 2017 election over Raisi was also seen as a hurdle in the latter’s path to becoming the country’s supreme leader in the future. Some analysts also suggested the accusations of corruption aimed at one of Sadegh Larijani’s aides are aimed at diminishing his chances of becoming Khamenei’s successor.

Other candidates who aren’t known to the public, or not in the spotlight for the position, might rise to the scene as a surprise for observers, but they will be in the slow process of manufacturing Iran’s future leader. A look back at how Khamenei ascended to the highest post could be useful.


Khamenei's Double Game with the Nuclear Deal

By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

December 28, 2020

Although six world powe

rs (the US, the UK, Russia, France, China and Germany) were parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for an easing of sanctions, the two major players were, and still are, Iran and the US.

That is why when US President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the pact, it fell apart. Tehran ceased to comply with the agreement despite entreaties from the other signatories. The re-imposition of US sanctions on Iran’s energy, banking and shipping sectors hit its economy the most, as foreign corporations were reluctant to do business with Iran because of the potential repercussions.

Joe Biden has made it clear that he intends to rejoin the nuclear deal when he becomes US president.  Since Iran’s Supreme Leader enjoys the final say in the country’s major foreign policy issues, his stance on the nuclear deal will determine whether the nuclear agreement can be resurrected under the Biden administration. So, what is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s position?

In the next few months, he will probably play a double game. In public, he will be warning the Iranian authorities not to hold negotiations with the US because Washington cannot be trusted. Khamenei has already started his campaign of criticizing the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. “I did not believe in the way the JCPOA was done, and I have made this clear to the president and the foreign minister on many occasions,” he said last week.

This is a classic Machiavellian tactic employed by Iran’s Supreme Leader in order to evade accountability and responsibility when some policies fail. He does not want to show weakness and loss. He shrewdly claims that his role as a Supreme Leader does not include “intervention in executive affairs” unless the hold on power of the Islamic Republic is in danger. “I believe the leader should not meddle in executive affairs unless there is a risk that the entirety of Revolution’s movement is endangered,” he says.

But the reality is that Iranian presidents and foreign ministers have an extremely limited amount of power overTehran’s foreign policies, all of which must be signed off by the Supreme Leader, directly or indirectly.  

In addition, by publicly showing his opposition to the nuclear deal or any negotiations with the US, the 81-year-old supreme leader is attempting to establish his legacy of anti-Americanism. He wants to appeal to his hardline base and his proxies and militia groups abroad, and to show that he is consistent, resilient, and brave in opposing the “Great Satan.”

Nevertheless, beneath Khamenei’s facade lies the truth — not only does he wants to rejoin the nuclear deal, he is desperate to do so. In private, he is almost certainly instructing Rouhani and Zarif to revive the agreement when Joe takes office on Jan. 20.

Between 2013 and 2015, when Iranian officials were holding meetings with US authorities to finalize the nuclear deal,  Khamenei employed the same modus operandi. He publicly suggested that he was not favor of making deals with Americans, but Rouhani and Zarif could not, and would not, have reached such a critical international accord without the approval of the supreme leader.

Khamenei knows one of the main requirements for US sanctions to be lifted is the revival of the nuclear deal. He is extremely concerned about Iran’s fate if sanctions persist. There have been several major widespread protests against the regime in the past few years. For the first time, people began chanting “Death to Khamenei” and demanding that he step down. People in other countries such as Lebanon and Iraq, where Tehran exerts significant influence, have also protested against Iran’s interventions in their internal affairs. The regime’s popularity in the Middle East has reached a new low.

The supreme leader is also witnessing how the sanctions have substantially cut off the flow of funds to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and its cronies and terror groups across the region. This is why he has said: “If we can remove the sanctions, we must not delay even one hour.”

So Iran’s supreme leader is shrewdly criticizing the JCPOA in public, while in private he both needs and wants to bring it back to life.


Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business.


Kenya’s Sexual Violence Survivors Get Justice, Though Imperfect

By Naitore Nyamu-Mathenge

25 Dec 2020

The women gathered around the table as they had done so many times before, united by their shared trauma and wounds. But this time, it was different. This was the moment these survivors of sexual violence had waited for, a wait of 13 years. Two bowed their heads and clasped their hands in prayer.

Moments later, a judge from Kenya’s High Court appeared on the screen of their shared laptop to deliver his judgement in a landmark case seeking to hold the Kenyan government accountable for sexual assaults that occurred during widespread violence following the contested 2007 presidential election. As the judge read the decision aloud, the survivors sat in disbelief; some cried, others were stunned into silence. They could hardly believe that their pain and suffering had finally been acknowledged.

“This has been a great day for us, the court has heard us,” one survivor exulted. “The wait has been very long but worth it. We have been recognised as survivors of SGBV [sexual and gender-based violence]. No one can ever say that our experiences were not real. We feel vindicated.”

The judgement in favour of four of the survivors was a watershed moment for justice in Kenya, the first time that the government has been held responsible for its failure to investigate crimes of sexual violence that took place during the 2007-2008 post-election violence period. It also marked the first time ever that the government was ordered to compensate survivors for the harms they suffered.

“It has been a very long and difficult journey,” said another survivor. “But we have stuck together and today we are happy that the judgement was issued. The court has heard us today.”

The decision – fittingly delivered on December 10, International Human Rights Day – is momentous not only for the four women who have waited so long for the case to be adjudicated, but also for its implications for future prosecutions of these heinous crimes in Kenya and globally.

The case was brought in 2013 by (eight survivors – six women and two men), three Kenyan NGOs, and the international nonprofit, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), where I lead the Kenya office. It was the legal end of the road for the survivors: all other efforts to secure justice – including through the International Criminal Court – had failed.

But what the judgement made abundantly clear is that local mechanisms can hear and deliver judgements in cases of sexual and gender-based violence. Like the ground-breaking 2017 case in which a Congolese mobile court sentenced 11 men to life for crimes against humanity for the rape of dozens of small children, the case in Kenya is emblematic of the growing recognition of domestic processes as a venue for pursuing and securing justice.

As international justice mechanisms falter, we may be seeing the emergence of a novel legal approach focused on domestic, civil lawsuits to seek accountability for atrocities.

Make no mistake: The process was extremely difficult and excruciatingly long, especially for the survivors – who endured unthinkable violence in 2007-2008, filed this case in 2013, and were then subjected to more than seven years of bureaucratic delays, frequent judge changes and countless setbacks. This month, their persistence finally yielded justice.

Despite this important decision, however, justice was imperfectly served in Kenya. Three of the women survivors whom the court awarded were violated by police officers and members of the state security system. The other survivor who was awarded was violated by a non-state actor, but she had reported the case to the police. The four other survivor-petitioners – two women and two men – were attacked by members of gangs, but because they did not report their cases to the police, the court did not acknowledge the state’s responsibility nor award them compensation. This is a profound tragedy.

Identifying the state’s responsibility for crimes committed by state agents is an important and long overdue first step. But we must go further. The state has a clear responsibility to protect civilians and investigate violence from all actors.

For PHR and our co-petitioners, the struggle for accountability and justice continues. As one survivor said: “We all started this journey together as survivors of SGBV. Sticking together has helped us get this judgement. We will continue supporting the rest of the survivors who did not get any compensation from the court because we know they, too, were violated.”

It is critical to persevere not only for the four survivor-petitioners whom the High Court failed to serve, but also for the hundreds and hundreds of Kenyans still suffering, 13 years later, from the unrecognised horror that was inflicted on them in the 2007-8 post-election chaos, and for the survivors all over the world who endure the lasting trauma of sexual violence and dare to hope for justice.


Naitore Nyamu-Mathenge is head of the Kenya office of Physicians for Human Rights.


Biden Needs To Build On Trump Success To Aid Iranian People

By Mariam Memarsadeghi

28 December 2020

Five years after the Iran deal, many of the policy minds from the Obama era are headed back into government as US President elect Joe Biden prepares to step into the White House.

They say they are ready to re-enter the Iran deal, but despite partisan polarization, they cannot be oblivious to failures of their old policy. Following the deal, as the US provided massive injections of US dollars to the regime – totaling over $150 billion, with $1.8 billion in pallets of cash – the regime’s sponsorship of the annihilation of the Syrian nation was put on overdrive; its global terror, imperial dominion, proxy wars, and killing of American soldiers expanded; and nothing of the financial windfall delivered to the mafia state reached the people. While the deal was still in place, Iranians saw their livelihood plummet, in fact, and risked their lives to rise in protest in over 100 cities throughout the country.

Four years of the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign against the regime, combined with an increasingly unified Israeli and Arab front, as well as an Iranian society mobilized against any prospect for government-led reform and instead for wholesale, democratic overthrow mean the incoming Biden team wields tremendous leverage on the Islamic Republic.

Patience and strategic use of this leverage can make for a much better deal. This better deal should be one that addresses the full scope of security concerns while investing in development of that ultimate guarantor of peace and security – a free Iran.

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Sanctions on the regime have targeted not only Iran’s threat to American interests and international security, but also the violation of the people’s most basic liberties. These violations are intensifying as the regime is doubling down on its decades long practice of executing innocents and taking foreign nationals as hostages. Though the sanctions hurt average Iranians, they have been welcomed by Iran’s leading dissidents at great personal risk, and the Iranian people’s protests, strikes and other acts of civil disobedience have taken aim squarely at the regime, not the US or its sanctions policy. It is common for Iranians to speak about the pain of sanctions as the price they willingly pay to be rid of their tyrants.

If there is to be lifting of sanctions, it should be only gradual, as calibrated rewards for improvements in human rights. Modeled on the experience of the Helsinki Accords between the West and the Soviet Bloc, opportunities for economic and political openings for the regime should be conditioned on clear, independently verified fulfillment of human rights demands.

Additionally, there are concrete steps the Biden administration can take to ensure that its Iran policy maximizes America’s chances to secure its interests while giving the Iranian people every chance to secure theirs.

Even barring the effect of crippling sanctions, the regime’s own internal contradictions, its endemic corruption and ineptitude, severe repression, and gross negligence of the COVID crisis make a repeat of nationwide protests a near certainty.

Future protests can result in democratic change or more massacres; much depends on the reaction from the US government. The Biden administration must learn from former US President Barack Obama’s betrayal of Iranians during the Green Movement and be ready to stand with the people in words and deeds. The Trump administration provided rhetorical support to the democratic opposition, but practical, strategic planning is needed to take advantage of the openings that will invariably be afforded by new civic mobilization and to prevent violent repression. The Biden administration should engage with the democratic opposition on this planning and devote up-front the coordination and resources needed to help foster peaceful transition to democracy.

A democratic Iran will mean a Middle East region freed from the terror and corruption of an imperial Islamist state. Thousands of those who have courageously waged the struggle for this future are in Ayatollah Khamenei’s dungeon today. But countless more, with their welfare plummeting and no hope for life under the regime, continue to fight. They deserve America’s support. Just as the Solidarity movement in Poland was aided by the US because of its existential potential to bring down communism, Iranian worker unions and civic networks must be aided in their struggle for fundamental change away from Islamist backwardness and toward a free, peaceful Middle East. To facilitate this, the State Department’s grantmaking to groups and NGOs focused on helping Iranians should be realigned away from longer term, development-oriented programming to initiatives aimed at usurping opportunities for political change.

To provide nuts and bolts assistance during peak civic mobilization, the Biden team should provide what the Trump administration promised but did not deliver: Nationwide emergency internet access when the regime shuts down service. This will effectively be a lifeline to keep the people’s movement alive when it reaches its tipping point.

To ensure the Iranian people have access to quality news about their own movement and to ensure American values and support are conveyed directly, Voice of America Persian service must be rehabilitated. In its current state, with barely a sliver of audience, it is a waste of the American people’s tax dollars and discredited in the eyes of the very Iranians it is meant to honor and amplify – the country’s courageous dissidents. The Trump administration promised such change, but VOA Persian service remains as feckless as ever.

Another missed opportunity during maximum pressure was the immigration policy for Iranians. The Trump administration pledged to boot out from the US regime-affiliated individuals – but never did. The Biden administration should do so while lifting the Trump travel ban on ordinary Iranians who love America.

The Iranian democracy movement is fully deserving of American support. In its commitment to unity and bipartisanship, the Biden administration can put forth an Iran policy that melds the best of the Democratic and Republican foreign policy traditions to provide unambiguous backing to courageous Iranian women and men risking their lives for a free future.


Pandemic Slows Life, Changes Discourse

By A Sreenivasa Reddy

December 26, 2020

Despite optimism on vaccines. the new year is likely to be more of the same.

Every end-of-the-year stock-taking I have read so far threw up the same conclusion: We are bidding adieu to a year that was the most unusual and one-of-its-kind in history and its legacy will live on for many years to come. The havoc wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic has upended our lives in a big way and altered our ways of thinking.

The much-neglected discipline of epidemiology has become a trending science. Mask-wearing, sanitisers and social distancing have become the key concepts of the virus discourse. Despite optimism abounding on account of vaccines, the new year is likely to be more of the same. Virus protocols will continue and easing up will be very gradual and cautious.

Just at this moment last year, we were on the cusp of a large outbreak, though we did not realise its severity. This year too, we are seeing the emergence of variants of the same virus with super capacity to spread and infect more. Are more lockdowns and closures on the way? Hopefully not, though which way it will pan out is difficult to say. At the moment the isolated UK is battling it out.

The UAE has experienced its fair share of pandemic woes. It has been able to rein in the virus after a few months of closures and sterilisation measures. Our office lives went online and we perfected the art of working from home which will remain a permanent legacy of the pandemic. Our learning curve has been swift.

Experiences of expatriates have been mixed. Most of them are safe and sound thanks to the strict measures put in place by the UAE. But some of them experienced distress after losing jobs and businesses due to prolonged closures. A few of them missed their loved ones as they were stuck in their country due to curbs on air travel at the height of the pandemic. Some of us could not say final goodbye to the near and dear ones who fell prey to Covid-19 and other diseases in our home country.

Social distance, a misleading term to denote a safe physical space between each other, has altered our lifestyle. It taught us the virtues of shunning hugs and handshakes. Sanitisers and masks are now part of any travel kit. Liquids of varying intensity are being used to cleanse our hands of contamination. Colourful pieces of cloth cover our mouth and nose to save us from the floating virus aerosols. These accoutrements will remain part of our livery for foreseeable future.

The pandemic-hit world continued to deal with long-term issues of climate change and space travel. Though emissions were temporarily reduced due to lower economic activity induced by the coronavirus, the greatest number of storms in Atlantic were a rude reminder of the changing climate dynamics. A record 30 named storms had developed in the Atlantic, some of them making a landfall in the US and Latin American coasts, causing big material and human losses.

Though man-made carbon emissions were down by 7 per cent, total emissions rose due to a ghastly wildfire season in the US and elsewhere. This year is slated to become hottest year on record. All those who believe in climate science are celebrating the exit of climate sceptic US President Donald Trump. Joe Biden, who was pocked in a highly polarised election, has promised to bring the US back to the Paris climate treaty, which should bolster efforts to save the earth from impending perdition.

Space exploration projects, though slowed down by the virus, continued affirming the determination of the man to discover new frontiers of the universe. Spaceships kept travelling to the International Space Station (ISS) with astronauts on board. The UAE has successfully launched its Mars probe Hope which is now on its way to the red planet. SpaceX, a private player in the US, began its trips to the ISS and is nursing big ambitions to reach the moon and Mars.

The US has shortlisted a group of 17 astronauts who will be part of its ambitious Artemis programme which plans to set up space labs on the moon, and launch missions from there to Mars and beyond. China has made great strides in the space sector this year and its probe brought back rocks from the moon successfully. If this automated process of mining extraterrestrial objects is perfected, man may never need to plunder Earth’s resources to meet his burgeoning needs. I was left wondering about the futility of these space dreams at a time when man was unable to defeat an invisible, microscopic virus which has been holding the world to ransom for a year.

On a personal level, we tended to connect more with our immediate family members due to the work-from-home policy. Netflix, Amazon Prime and many other streaming websites enriched our lives by creating unforgettable experiences at home. Hit shows such as Panchayat, Paatal Lok, A Suitable Boy, Breathe into the Shadows left an abiding impression. The Crown, the one I am seeing at the end of the year, is mind blowing. The characters are so vivid, so earthy and so real. This new mode of entertainment has come to stay in our lives.

To sum it up, virus has snatched one whole year from our lives with no assurance yet that the coming year is not hostage to it. Life will never be the same again even after we put a conclusive end to the pandemic.