Archive for August, 2012

EDWARD SAID

August 21, 2012

What Edward Really Said

Bahman Bakhtiari

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SHAI FELDMAN: THE ISRAELI DEBATE ON ATTACKING IRAN IS OVER SHAI FELDMAN

August 21, 2012

“For all practical purposes this weekend ended the Israeli debate on attacking Iran. What tipped the scales were two developments. The first was the decision of the country’s president, Shimon Peres, to make his opposition to a military strike public. The second was an interview given by a former key defense advisor of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, questioning for the first time publically whether his former superior and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are fit to lead Israel in time of war.”

THE MIDDLE EAST CHANNEL

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THE KEY WATER INDICATOR PORTAL IS ONLINE!

August 21, 2012

UN-Water has created a portal to view maps, tables, and charts on indicators, at either country or global level, as well as additional geographic information. This portal is easy to operate and puts additional details one click away. 

Visit the portal today! 0

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August 18, 2012

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The Economist: Iran and sanctions When will it ever end?

August 17, 2012

For ordinary Iranians, daily life goes from bad to worse

Aug 18th 2012 | from the print edition

THE last time fruit and chicken were luxuries in Iran was back in the 1980s, when the country was fighting against Iraq. On the whole, Iranians believed that their young Islamic Republic needed protecting from Saddam Hussein and his Western backers. Non-combatants in the big cities generally accepted shortages and other privations with patriotic stoicism.

Two-and-a-half decades on, Iran again gives the impression of a country at war even if, for the moment, the guns are silent. Prices of basic food, clothes and electronic goods have soared as a result of international sanctions and a plummeting currency; the rial has more than halved in value over the past year. Nobody believes the official figure of 24% for the annual rate of inflation. Civil servants have been reduced to moonlighting in menial jobs to make up for their shrinking buying power.

The solidarity of the 1980s is conspicuous by its absence. Last month a limited sale of subsidised chicken prompted mini-riots. To engage a taxi-driver in conversation in the capital, Tehran, is to invite a tearful jeremiad against life’s iniquities. Even the fasting month of Ramadan, the traditional time for restraint and pious introspection, seems often to be abused as people smoke or munch openly in violation of official propaganda. “How can I fast for 18 hours a day,” asks a bazaar trader, “when my nerves are shot to bits?”

The country’s leaders have belatedly acknowledged that their insistence that Iran must enrich its uranium in defiance of the West is causing pain. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called for an “economy of resistance” based on self-reliance. If meat is not available, says one Friday prayer leader, people should make do with traditional egg soup.

In fact, Iran is much richer than it was in the war years of the 1980s. On paper at least, it earned a plentiful $120 billion from oil revenues in the financial year ending in March 2011. Some of the lucre has gone to finance the pro-poor subsidies beloved of the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but big sums have also found their way into the pockets of senior clerics, former Revolutionary Guard commanders and well-connected businessmen at the heart of the economic elite. Porsche says it sold more cars in Tehran in 2011 than in any other city in the Middle East.

Politics and economics are notoriously mixed. Shortly before Ramadan, a sumptuous open-air wedding party for the son of a very rich businessman was invaded by masked riot police who had apparently been dispatched at the instigation of a political foe. To the screams of guests, the police fired tear-gas and pulverised crystal fixtures as the inhabitants of neighbouring apartment blocks looked on in horrified fascination.

The worst effects of oil sanctions are only now starting to be felt, as a European Union embargo against Iranian crude takes effect, buyers such as South Korea and Turkey move their custom from Iran to other suppliers (Saudi Arabia, in the main), and payments are delayed because of Iran’s exclusion from a system of electronic bank transfers. Oil receipts are thought to be down by one-third on the beginning of the year, while the industry struggles to acquire equipment and to build storage to hold the growing lake of oil for which buyers have not been found.

Paying the price

The supreme leader disapproves of Iran’s dependence on hydrocarbon revenues and has called for investment in the country’s non-oil economy. But speculation offers better returns. Industrial units on Tehran’s southern fringe lie idle as investors buy foreign currencies or fixed assets as a hedge. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is hard to find Iranians who argue that their travails are a price worth paying for nuclear self-sufficiency as a barrier against foreign-inspired regime change.

This is what their leaders insist, but they do their cause little good by squabbling among themselves. Less than a year before he is due to step down, Mr Ahmadinejad seems to be losing a power struggle with rivals who enjoy the support of Mr Khamenei. On July 30th four men believed to be associates of the president’s most controversial ally, Esfandiyar Rahim Mashaei, were sentenced to death for their role in a bank fraud said to have been worth $2.6 billion. Rumours suggest Mr Mashaei may himself be a defendant.

The president has accused his political enemies of deliberately stoking inflation in order to harm him. Parliament plans to deny the government a role in staging next year’s elections, the plan apparently being to “elect” a candidate more fully obedient to the supreme leader, whom obsequious disciples now consider quasi-divine.

The Islamic Republic now seems to be more disliked than at any time since the revolution of 1979 that ended the monarchy, for which some people are showing nostalgia. Back in 2009, middle-class Iranians launched a pro-democracy agitation in response to Mr Ahmadinejad’s fraudulent re-election, yet many poor and pious Iranians stayed on the sidelines when the protests were crushed. Since then, however, dissatisfaction has spread. In the words of a middle-aged father trying to get his son to Canada: “Why should he stay? To watch the country tip into chaos?”

Fear as well as loathing

Hanging over all such calculations is the fear that Israel or America may attack Iran’s nuclear sites and set off a wider regional conflict. Iran seems to base its foreign policy on the assumption that, whatever the results of on-off nuclear negotiations conducted with the UN Security Council’s five permanent members plus Germany, the West is bent on toppling the regime. As evidence of this, Iran cites not only sanctions but also the assassination of five scientists associated with the nuclear programme and the infiltration of a computer worm, presumably by America and Israel, into its main enrichment plant.

The Iranians also fear that they could lose Syria as an ally to America if Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, is overthrown. On August 4th 48 Iranians were kidnapped near the Syrian capital Damascus by rebels claiming that their victims were on a military mission. Iran says the hostages are pilgrims and has asked Turkey and Qatar, which have good relations with the rebels, to intervene to get them freed.

Iran’s loyalty to Mr Assad is partly meant to counter the stance of its regional rival, Saudi Arabia, in favour of Syria’s rebels. Hardliners in Tehran have been cock-a-hoop over recent unrest in Shia-majority provinces in eastern Saudi Arabia. For their part, besides hoovering up customers for Iran’s oil, the Saudis are said to have executed several Iranian convicts who had been languishing for years in a Saudi jail.

Ordinary Iranians are suffering from policies of confrontation on which they have not been consulted. In 2006, when George Bush’s administration and its European allies drafted the first batch of punitive measures against Iran, the talk was of “smart” sanctions targeting only Iran’s nuclear activities. The reality, six years on, is of a people tested to the limits of their endurance while under the shadow of another perceived threat: that today’s almost-war will become tomorrow’s real one.

New Evidence That Israel Is Bluffing About Iran

August 16, 2012

By Robert Wright           The Atlantic

Israel to world: This time we mean it!

Given the number of times Israeli officials have convinced journalists to report that Israel is really, really, really going to bomb Iran pretty soon unless somebody takes the problem off its hands, you’d think that nobody would pay attention to these alarms any more.

Maybe that explains why this time around Israeli officials have cranked the volume up louder than ever. (See the first few paragraphs of this Jeffrey Goldberg post for a partial summary of the media blitz, which has continued since he wrote them.) This volume has led credible analysts–such as former Obama pentagon official Colin Kahl, interviewed here by Laura Rozen–to say that this time Israel does seem to mean it.

But in the past 24 hours two pieces of evidence have emerged suggesting that, once again, Israel isn’t broadcasting its actual intentions, but, rather, trying to influence President Obama–not necessarily trying to get him to bomb Iran now, but at least trying to get him to amp up his threat to do so if necessary.

First piece of evidence : Israeli journalist Ron Ben-Yishai conveys a clear message from an unnamed Israeli official in the first sentence of a piece on Ynet: “Israel may rule out a unilateral attack in Iran should the US toughen its stance with regards to the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, a senior official in Jerusalem claimed.”

What does “toughen its stance” mean? It could mean that Obama has to redefine his “red line”–the line that if crossed by Iran would bring American military action. Specifically: The line could move from Iran’s actually trying to build a nuclear weapon (where Obama currently has it) to Iran’s possessing mere nuclear “capability,” (which, as I explained here, is a concept so vague that it could be used to justify bombing now even though Iran isn’t close to having a nuke).

But it could be–as Time‘s Tony Karon and Foreign Policy‘s Blake Hounshell suggested on Twitter–that Israel is just hoping for a high-profile reaffirmation of Obama’s existing red line. In particular: Obama could say at the UN General Assembly meeting in September what he’s already said: that America would use military force to keep Iran from actually getting a bomb. (One side benefit for Netanyahu, Karon suggested, would be to distract the world from a Palestinian attempt to use the General Assembly meeting to again raise the issue of statehood.)

Second piece of evidence : The Times of Israel, citing Israel’s Channel 10, reports that Israeli and White House officials are “working to arrange” a meeting between Netanyahu and Obama this fall at which Obama will agree to “attack Iran by June 2013″ if “the Iranian nuclear weapons drive has not halted by then.” The suggestion that American officials have more or less signed on to this deal may be total nonsense–but the point is that if so it’s probably nonsense leaked by Israeli officials who hope to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. So it’s yet more evidence that their hope is to get action out of Obama, not to bomb Iran themselves.

None of this means that Israel couldn’t possibly wind up bombing Iran in the next few months. Bluffs can be hard to back away from, and a bluff this loud makes for a particularly embarrassing climbdown. But the calculation seems to be that Obama, in high-anxiety pre-election mode, will deliver at least enough rhetoric–if only a more high-profile or in some other sense more binding articulation of things he’s already said–to make for a graceful climbdown.

Personally, I hope Obama doesn’t deliver.

I understand why Israelis, both for historical reasons and because of their current geopolitical environment, are themselves in high-anxiety mode. But the fact is that the Iran threat is exaggerated in the minds of many Israelis along all three dimensions: (1) Iran’s proximity to actually having a deliverable weapon (at least two years, and we’d know long before that if Iran embarked on an attempt to actually build one); (2) the chances of a nuclear Iran launching a nuclear strike (which even Ehud Barak, lately competing with Netanyahu for the title of alarmist-in-chief, acknowledged is roughly zilch back when his political station permitted candor); and (3) the extent to which possession of a nuke would give Iran greater ability to throw its weight around–which is only slightly more than zilch, as Paul Pillar has powerfully argued. (Also, there’s the fact that bombing Iran–whether the U.S. or Israel does it– will not keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon in the long run, but will ensure its determination to do so.)

A country situated in a hostile environment, as Israel is, needs to be coolly rational and to avoid freaking out in ways that could spin out of control. A true friend of such a country would try to abet the rationality and would not indulge the freaking out. If Bibi Netanyahu has to endure an embarrassing climbdown, that will teach him a valuable lesson. And if he can’t endure the embarrassment and does something as unfathomably reckless as bombing Iran within the next few months–which I consider very unlikely–then the chances of keeping him from starting a war were never very good to begin with.

ROBERT WRIGHT – Robert Wright is a senior editor at The Atlantic and the author, most recently, of The Evolution of God, a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. More

 

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New Arab Constitutions Shaped By Diverse Islamic Interpretation

August 15, 2012

AL MONITOR

 

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IRAN HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT: THE STATUS OF YOUTH IN IRAN

August 14, 2012

Human Rights Report

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MAJORITY OF ISRAELIS OPPOSE STRIKE ON IRAN

August 13, 2012

Forty-six percent say that Israel should not attack Tehran’s nuclear plants; support for prime minister drops to 34% from 46% three months ago.  THE TIMES OF ISRAEL

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English text of President Morsi’s new Egypt Constitutional Declaration

August 12, 2012
Morsi’s Constitutional Declaration abrogates 17 June constitutional addendum, grants president full executive and legislative powers, puts constitution-drafting process under president’s control
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