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Hiatus

As you can see, CUMINet has unfortunately been discontinued for quite a while. We hope that other obligations will allow us to resume work sooner or later!

Best regards,

The CUMINet team.

REFERENDUM ON THE HORIZON IN TURKEY – IMPLICATIONS FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF A DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL CULTURE

by Daniella Kuzmanovic

After the Turkish parliament approved a comprehensive package of amendments to the Turkish constitution late Thursday, all things now point to a referendum on the amendments. What are we then to think of the prospect of a referendum on these changes to the Turkish constitution? No doubt the amendments in themselves are significant steps towards political democratization, and so is asking the voters for their opinion. Nevertheless, I have trouble making up my mind when it comes to whether the referendum is a good or a bad thing under the current circumstances. Let me share some of my considerations on the issue with you.

A referendum on amendments to the constitution where voters actually have something to vote about, will in itself be a significant step in relation to political democratization and liberalization in Turkey. Any step that can potentially increase the Turkish voters’ notion of having-a-say on the future political culture of the country is welcome, not least given that the past couple of years have made more and more Turks ask themselves, whether they actually have any influence on what is going on in their country. There is a real danger of a couple of generations of Turks becoming completely alienated and disengaged from national politics. The last time there was a referendum on the constitution was back in 1982. After the 12th of September 1980 military coup the military junta had a new constitution prepared, which despite a number of revisions is still in function. The constitution was among other designed to control not least civil politics by creating a range of institutional checks and balances that secured the influence of state organs and thus of the kemalist-statist military-bureaucratic-judiciary elite. When the voters were subsequently asked to vote on the constitution in 1982, the vote was de facto a choice between continued military rule or a return to some sort of civil politics, since a return to the latter required acceptance of the new constitution. Hence, the Turks accepted yet another (the third) constitution prepared not through a democratic political process but by an authoritarian elite’s desire to restructure Turkish politics (even the more liberal constitution after the 1960 coup was created in this manner, even though it created an at that time unprecedented political liberalization in Turkey).

Almost needless to say, a likely ‘yes’ to the amendments in a referendum will create a legitimacy around the political democratization process in Turkey, and send a clear signal to the statist military-bureaucratic elite and their supporters. The high-profiled amendments in the package are after all particularly aimed at undermining the ability of the Kemalist statist elite to control civil politics – such as including more members in the Constitutional Court and restructuring the HSYK (Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors) – as well as aimed at continuing the process of bringing military personnel within a framework of the rule of law – such as making it possible to prosecute those involved in the 1980 military coup, or consolidating the civic prosecution of military personnel. A clear ‘yes’ with a good margin of the voters will furthermore signal that the amendments to the constitution are truly the wish of the Turkish nation rather than just the ambition of the ruling party, the AKP. It would be a significant signal of the desire of the Turkish people to move towards more political democratization and liberalization.

In other words, for those of us who hope the future for Turkey holds a development of a more democratic political culture, the amendments in themselves as well as the prospect of a referendum seem like significant steps on the way. On the other hand, I hold certain reservations as to just how beneficial a referendum will be given the circumstances, context and political climate in Turkey today. Moreover, a referendum pushes the prospect of getting a whole new constitution into a distant future.

During this week’s debates on the critical amendments in the Turkish parliament – not least the amendment making it more difficult to close political parties which was rejected and withdrawn from the package – there were at least two kinds of opposition. One (CHP and MHP), reflects a deep-seated skepticism towards the motives of the AKP with regard to carrying through political reforms. Such opponents fear that the constitutional amendments will make it impossible for the state to control the AKP, hence consolidating the power of the party and possibly paving the way for a complete pro-Islamist take-over and an undermining of the founding principles of the Turkish state. The other (BDP), points out that even though the amendments are a step in the right direction more democracy and a consistency with regard to removing anti-democratic passages is needed. Among other BDP suggested that the very problematic ten percent threshold in national elections should be lifted, in return they would have voted in favour of the amendment regarding party closures. (I will not speculate on the motives of the 12 members of the ruling party who also abstained or voted against the party closure amendment).

Even though the above mentioned reservations express different kinds of opposition they both put a question mark behind the motives of the AKP. Are they in fact pursuing national interests or only their own interests? Needless to say that this question will also be the main theme of a referendum on the amendments, just as the so-called true nature of the ruling party has been the main theme in the on-going struggle between various statist and political parties in Turkey. In that sense the referendum will only contribute to further polarization of the Turkish population in a situation where democratic dialogue is already handicapped. I fear that a referendum, which prime minister Erdoğan and AKP will do their outmost to win and where the stakes are high, will not provide a context for improving the possibility for democratic dialogue in Turkey. Fresh in mind is also the attempt of the AKP to draft a new constitution a couple of years back. Even though the people AKP put to design this constitution were highly skilled and aimed to create a democratic constitution, the process around the draft was marked by secrecy and closed-door policy rather than dialogue and inclusion in the draft process. An obvious mistake, if the aim of the AKP was to create a democratic culture and signal the wish for increased plurality and inclusion of the plural in national politics.

An additional issue is that a referendum on the amendments will most likely mean that any notion of getting a whole new constitution will be pushed into an indefinite future. For one you don’t hold referendums on such issues every other day. On top of that next year is election year in Turkey. The need for a new constitution has, though, been pointed to again and again, just as it has been pointed out that amendments, no matter how many, are not sufficient to create the institutional framework necessary to underpin a full-blown democratic political system in Turkey. Keeping in mind that the draft for a new constitution could not make any headways in Turkey due to the way it came into being and the general political climate of suspicion, we have to recognize that a referendum on the amendments are, alas, the second-best option. But at present it is the only option, and when all comes to all better than nothing.

The Muslim Internet

by Sune Haugbolle.

My review of Gary R. Bun’t recent book, i-Muslims: Rewiring the House of Islam, has just been published by H-Net. Despite my criticisms (it’s a review, after all), I hope it also conveys my admiration for Bunt’s untiring work to make sense of the Muslim Internet. I highly recommend his webpage Virtually Islamic.

Here is the review:

Not so much a “new media” anymore, after twenty-odd years the effects
of the Internet are discernable everywhere. It is spewing out an
outrageous amount of information, which has become part and parcel of
our daily lives linking phenomena in the real world with virtual
information and representations, just as it is linking people with
each other in truly different ways than before. Some things remain
the same, however, and scholars of Internet-based media face the
basic problem of the social scientist. Namely that, since as Max
Weber said, social reality is infinite, the most difficult choices
are methodological. What do we do with all this information, and how
can we study media flows, the incessant stream of ephemeral material,
in a way that provides more than a snapshot of the media? One answer
is to adopt an approach modeled on the Internet itself by forming
research networks that document and analyze particular phenomena on
the Net. Others link the Internet to an emergent historiography of
mass media and modernity dating back to the printing press, which can
be a healthy antidote to the hype about new media. Finally, with
regard to other mass media like cassette tapes and television,
anthropologists such as Charles Hirsckind and Lila Abu-Lughod have
adopted an ethnographic approach that goes close to the processes of
production, usage, and network formation.

To date, hardly any research of this sort has been done on the
Internet in the Middle East, although the topic is often commented
on, particularly in relation to Islam. Gary Bunt’s _iMuslims_ should
therefore be welcomed as one of the first major works that tries to
develop a coherent analyses of the ways in which Muslims around the
world use the Internet and the impact it is having on the duties and
rituals of Islam. Building on his own work of more than a decade
published in _Virtually Islamic: Computer-Mediated Communication and
Cyber Islamic Environments _(2000, also the name of his Web page),
and _Islam in the Digital Age_:_ E-jihad, Online Fatwas, and Cyber
Islamic Environments_ (2003), as well as the limited existing
literature, Bunt explores diverse aspects of online Islam, from
Islamic textual sources to blogging and jihadism. _iMuslims_ is more
grounded in the age of Web 2.0; hence the reference to mobile media
like iPhones and iPods, and more broadly to the integrated role of
information technology and mediatized social networks in the life of
Muslims in the book’s title. Bunt clearly shows that as scholars of
Islam and the Middle East, we cannot afford to ignore the Web, or to
treat is as incidental to politics, culture, and social life. The Net
revolution must be constantly analyzed. As Dale Eickelman, Jon
Anderson, and others pointed out in the mid-1990s, the Internet has
from the very beginning transformed how Muslims interact and practice
their creed. Since then, Internet media have become increasingly
user-oriented and mobile, and more and more people even in developing
countries have gained access to their riches, resulting in ever more
Islamic material online.

The Muslim Internet, writes Bunt, is essentially a number of venues,
or environments–playgrounds where new actors are drawn into the
discursive and symbolic contestation over Islam. His term for these
virtual places for Muslims to communicate and engage in
reformulations of their creed is “cyber-Islamic environments,” or
CIEs. The first chapter, “Locating Islam in Cyberspace,” includes a
spider web-like diagram illustrating the complex ways in which Web
2.0 is giving shape to CIEs. Although it is hard to distinguish where
non-Muslim media end and Muslim media begin in this diagram, it is
clear that everything from chat rooms, blogs, and vlogs (video
blogs), to social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, and flikr
can be given an Islamic coloring on today’s Internet. Through this
process, Bunt argues, Islam is developing into an open-source system
that allows non-elites the opportunity to participate in the
reformulation of their creed. To some extent, this transnational
development in the age of globalization, theorized by Peter
Mandaville, Olivier Roy, and others, can be seen as a return to the
formative period of Islam when Islamic scholars collaborated across
boundaries. The forging of new interpretations, communities, and
global networks brings with it a number of challenges and dangers,
many of which are accentuated by the Internet.

At the same time, Bunt stresses the barriers that prevent the
formation of a transnational community, in terms of language,
sectarian orientation, and government censorship. While English was
the language of choice in the early CIEs, today Arabic, Persian and
Urdu, as well as numerous smaller languages compete for attention.
None of them are likely to become a lingua franca, even if Arabic
CIEs dominate. Furthermore, limited Internet access in most
Muslim-majority countries means that only select social groups are
connected to the new ostensibly open-source Islam. In terms of
digital opportunity, the GCC countries rank as high as some European
countries, while Yemen and Sudan are at par with most African
countries. These unequal opportunities have serious implications,
allowing some states to become power centers in the new Muslim public
sphere, while others are backwaters, even if this power does not
emanate from the state itself. Nation-states, even formally Islamic
ones like Iran and Saudi Arabia, are busy policing CIEs, which
engenders subversion. As Bunt argues, the latter is often the more
important kind of activity online, as the Net gives otherwise
marginalized groups a space for expression. Islamic bloggers and
programmers, just like (and often in tandem with) secular ones, are
finding ways to express dissent, even in repressive states like
Syria.

An interesting question is to what extent subversion and disagreement
has the potential to translate into actual debate about the common
good (_al-maslaha_), be it political or religious, in a diffuse
public arena like the Internet. This theoretical debate about a new
(real or idealized) public sphere and the particular role of the
Internet, has been dealt with extensively by, among others, Armando
Salvatore and Dale Eickelman. Bunt is mainly concerned with the great
multiplicity of CIEs and less with power relations involved in the
contestation over _al-maslaha_. For instance, in chapter 3 he
discusses how the sources of Islam, the Qur’an and the _sunna_, have
become mass-mediated and in the process are changing the way Muslims
use these sources and construct expert knowledge. For example, Bunt
details how the main duties of ordinary Muslims, the five pillars of
Islam, have become reinterpreted through various software that makes
it possible for more and more devout Muslims to connect and create a
shared set of practices and beliefs. Equally, the Web facilitates
praying, Muslim dating, fasting, and not least, counseling. Most of
these are perfectly prosaic quotidian aspects of Muslim life which
have become easier to perform because of the Net.

However, the Net also showcases conflicting interpretations, and this
is where the question of _al-maslaha_ becomes critical. Perhaps the
most critical effect of new media on Islam is the way in which they
challenge traditional religious authority. Men with less training
than traditional _ulama_ have emerged on television and computer
screens, offering alternative roads to _fiqh_. Perhaps even more
critical, Wiki counseling now makes it possible for a democratic
concept of _al-maslaha_ to emerge which bypasses Islamic
institutions. Of course, _ulama_ and Islamic centers of learning like
al-Azhar University also use the new media to resists the challenge
mounted against them. But CIEs generally favor dissenting voices. A
recent example is the October 2009 _niqab_ affair in Egypt, where the
Grand Shaykh of al-Azhar University Muhmmad al-Tantawi’s ban on
_niqab_s was met with a virulent Internet campaign from devout Muslim
students who ridiculed the learned man. Such (counter)public
undermining of an Islamic authority would have been unthinkable
before the Internet age.

In chapter 3, and throughout the book, one is left with questions
about the political implications of the plurality that Bunt
describes. Who stands to gain from the dispersion of Islamic
authority? What is Saudi Arabia’s role? What is al-Azhar’s? Do the
apparently organic developments of authority that Bunt describes
dovetail with existing, highly politically charged attempts to
create, maintain, or resist an Islamic international? These are
obviously open questions, but not all of them are raised.

The last two chapters of the book deal with what Bunt calls jihadist
online forums. The development of Al-Qaida from the mid-1990s has a
close affinity with computer networks and is closely linked to the
Web. The connection between jihadists, salafis, and the Internet is
the most researched area of CIEs, often motivated by security
interests. But even if jihadi research often takes place in a grey
zone between academia and security services, its extensive use of
collaborative research and number-crunching may still hold lessons
for the study of other Internet phenomena. Through Bunt’s insightful
description of jihadi milieus online, it becomes clear that jihadi
networks showcase both highly sophisticated network models for
publicity and communication, and examples of how the Net has become
an open-source entry to formulations of Islam. Jihadis put these
tools to use most places in the world today, but particularly in Iraq
and Palestine (treated separately in the book’s final chapter). He
provides plenty of examples of online radicalism, but also of the
many intersections between Islamic radicals and groups with other
agendas. Indeed, as Bunt stresses, the pressing need to map and
understand cyber-jihadis should not make us blind to the many
peaceful ways Muslims use the Net, or indeed the many other ways
Muslims live their lives.

At the end of the day, many Muslims are first and foremost media
users. In the emergent research on Islam and new media there is a
tendency to fall into the old Orientalist trap of particularizing
social processes which Muslims actually share with everyone else. In
addition, Muslims also use non-Islamic media, including Web-based
ones. A case in point is the blogosphere, dealt with in chapter 4. As
Bunt notes, Muslim blogs can sometimes be hard to differentiate from
other blogs. What characterizes the blogs he describes is often not
so much Islamic content as the way in which they interact with other
CIEs. The interactivity–the creation of Islamic pathways on the Net
through RSS feeds and other links–may be the key to understanding
the effect of blogs. However, the fact that some blogs interact with
other CIEs does not completely resolve the problem of
particularizing. Many, if not most, of the bloggers quoted in Bunt’s
overview of the most vocal or active Muslim countries in the
blogosphere, debate social affairs rather than religion as such. In
fact, many Muslim bloggers prefer not to be identified as Muslims,
but rather just young people, bloggers, or activists.

_iMuslims_ is the best overview of the Muslim Internet to date. It is
up-to-date, comprehensive, and should be compulsory reading for
students and scholars of Islam, media, and politics in the Middle
East. However, the paradox between, on one hand, identifying Muslim
public spheres energized by new media, while, on the other hand, also
admitting that they intersect with secular issues, aesthetics,
traditions, and forms of expressions, is never completely resolved in
_iMuslims_. Perhaps the most glaring illustration of the problem is
when Bunt categorizes the communist, Shiite professor Asad Abukhalil,
known as the Angry Arab, as part of the Islamic blogosphere (p. 173).
Of course Abukhalil regularly comments on Islamic topics, but so do a
large list of bloggers, hacks, and ordinary people on the Net. In
fact, the Angry Arab is one of the most secular Arab blogs. Would
Abukhalil mind being labeled an iMuslim? The term itself is  not
convincing; it sounds a little too much like a different species.
Could we for example imagine a book called _iChristians_, other than
perhaps about very fundamentalist Christians online? By subsuming
every phenomenon in Muslim contexts, or related to Islam, under an
Islamic heading, we risk underwriting claims about Islam as the
primary, sometimes the only valid, identity marker. The more
interesting debate concerning mass media, perhaps, is how we as
scholars can come to grips with contestations and intersections
between revivalist Islam and secular modernity.

The Lost Utopia

by Sune Haugbolle.

Last week in Ramallah, while relaxing in between interviews and trips around the West Bank, I had the pleasure of reading the Swedish journalist and author Goran Rosenberg’s L’utopie perdue. Being present on the West Bank with its gruelling checkpoints, its towering Separation Wall, and its tense, tense atmosphere of suffering and mutual hatred – and being present inside Israel too for that matter, with its pervading fear and securitisation – nothing seemed more fitting to describe the situation than that feeling of a lost utopia.

The book, originally written in Swedish, is not yet translated into English, but should be. It is an excellent account of Rosenberg’s departure from post WWII Sweden to Israel in the 1960s, his involvement with youth movements including periods spend in Kibbutzim, and then his eventual disenchantment with Zionism. Intermixed with the personal narrative is the story of Zionism, from the European enlightenment and its Jewish followers who saw universalism as a way to break out of the Ghettos, to the subsequent Romantic turn which left Jews on the margins of European nationalist intellectual currents. In this historical development, Rosenberg emphasises the way in which Jews internalised European anti-Semitism to create the utopia of the strong, unaffected, son-of-the-soil settler who would build the new country through hard labour and be a thousand light years removed from the grey, downcast Ghetto Jew. Rosenberg lived this ideal in the early years of the young country, amidst the fervour of other idealist supporters of “muscular Zionism.”

His realisation of the parallel tragedy of the Palestinian people on which the country was built is one of the things that begin to make Rosenberg away from his ideals.

Being in Ramallah, somehow Rosenberg’s description of lost utopia put things into relief for me: the ideals of strength on which the state of Israel was built; the incredible hopes; the perceived need to create an Iron Wall to protect these hopes from enemies, and the inevitable feeling (for anyone with the slightest sense of reality) that things have gone awry since the 1990s – it all added layers of explanation to the tragedy that is Israel and Palestine.

Rosenberg’s book intersects with one of the latest pieces in the New York Review of Books by Tony Judt, the Jewish American historian who is suffering from near complete paralysis but continues to write remarkable short pieces of memoirs. In it he describes his youth in a kibbutz in the 1960s and the influence of what he calls Labour Zionism. The primary influence of having lived the ideological fervour of those years was to make him, “perhaps a bit prematurely,” suspicious of identity politics in all forms.

It is possible to shed the utopia and critique it and explain it from the outside. Judt has in fact been a longstanding critic of Zionism and written a number of articles which made him a target of Zionist sympathisers in the past, including a majestic 2003 defence of a binational state.

Now, his latest series in NYRB has brought a number of personal attacks on Judt that quite shamelessly link his “self-hating” “anti-Semitism” to his disease. The attacks come from the British Neocon Anthony Julius (in an interview with the Guardian), and Middle East scholar Martin Kramer. The comments are quoted on Mondoweiss blog, and include Martin Kramer ostensibly saying on his Facebook profile that “Tony Judt has become a metaphor for Jewry before Israel: a disembodied amalgam of grand ideas, unable to act in the physical world or move about freely to create or defend, incapable of self-sustenance, and therefore utterly dependent on the good will of others. The loss of muscularity that he wishes upon the Jews as a collective, fate has imposed on him as an individual. As ironic as it is tragic.”

If this is an accurate quote from Kramer, it isn’t just mean, it is despicable. And it brings back the point that the utopian need for of a strong Jewry, the internalised anti-Semitism of modern Zionism, which Rosenberg and Judt historicise, is so deep in the bones with many Jews inside and outside of Israel that for them it seems to justify any means and transgressing any boundaries, be they military or moral.

Gaza? It’s more than that!

Guest post by Poya Pakzad, Independent Analyst, Denmark.

There is no longer any virtue in reviewing the premeditated US-Israeli massacre in Gaza from December to January. Virtually no disparity exists between the human rights organizations inside Israel or abroad. The record is unambiguously clear. Israel disrupted the “six months of lull”; maintained its “illegal blockade”; committed “grave breaches of international humanitarian law” and denied any attempt at continually offered nonviolent alternatives. As always, Israel reflexively denies any allegation without providing counter evidence. [1]

It’s hardly a challenge to lay bare this methodical pattern in the gladly forgotten record of Israeli aggressions.

No, one must refuse to plunge into this discussion. The largely manufactured hullabaloo serves for the most part to sidetrack attention from the rather palpable steps towards peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

It bears crucial notice that an international consensus on a two state solution to the conflict has long subsisted in an otherwise changing world.  The following assessment is an attempt to elucidate this accord and two immediate discrepancies. (1) Why has the conflict not been settled? And (2), what is the efficacy of the resuscitated appeal for a one state solution? Each question merits a study much beyond the scope of this piece. The purpose of the subsequent text is to inform as well as incite an exchange.

The provisions of the broad agreement are based on the central diplomatic document, issued against the backdrop of the six day war, entitled UN Security Council Resolution 242. The preamble states that there can be no acquisition of territory by force in accord with customary international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. The basic interpretation is a settlement along the “green line” with “minor and mutual adjustments” to uncurl the arbitrary cease fire lines.

The resolution further stipulates that all states in the region have a right to “live within secure and recognized borders.” The latter has been reiterated for decades, even as US-Israeli rejection of the conditions has been the chief motor of occupation since the seventies.

Surprisingly, the right of Palestinians to self determination remained unspoken between the partition of 1947 and the first unanimous international call in the seventies. The change is worth paying attention to. In 1973 the PLO tacitly agreed to a formula of full Israeli withdrawal and full Arab recognition in a General Assembly resolution. Yet another call was made informally through the Security Council in 1976, explicitly putting a Palestinian state on the international agenda. Israel flatly rejected it and the United States effectively vetoed.

In 1980, a Security Council Resolution repeated these legal obligations, the US vetoed and since then US-Israeli rejectionism has been consistent. A change occurred on the other side however, as the Palestinian National Council accepted the two state settlement in 1988 from tacit approval to formal advocacy. This put the US and Israel in total international isolation, deeming every departure point of “peace process” negotiations as a rejection of the consensus.

Today the consensus enjoys the support of authoritative political, legal and human rights bodies. The most representative political body in the world, the General Assembly, presents the modalities of the settlement each year and the vote has been identically lopsided every time. The entire state system is on one side and Israel with the US along with South Pacific atolls on the rejectionist side. In 2004 the International Court of Justice, the highest authoritative legal body in the world, rendered an advisory opinion on the wall Israel has built in the West Bank. The court judged the wall to be illegal; confirmed the illegality of “territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force” and deemed Gaza, the West Bank including East Jerusalem to be “occupied Palestinian Territory.” [2]

What might come as a surprise to the devoted reader of the press is the fact that Hamas since 2005 has been more forthcoming to this consensus than Israel. The first document Hamas signed when they were elected freely and fairly was the so-called Prisoner’s Document in which Hamas declares their agreement with Fatah on the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders – incidentally supported by 77 % of the Palestinian population. It has since been conceded, even by NY Times, that Hamas is willing to negotiate along the lines of the Saudi Peace Plan and to recognize Israel de facto but not de jure. All 22 Arab states have signed the Saudi Peace Plan, which is essentially a transcript of Resolution 242 – including non-Arab states such as Iran. [3]

What has been recognized as the most contentious aspect of the conflict, namely the right of return, has surprisingly not been the most disputed issue during negotiations. At Taba, they accepted a “pragmatic settlement” which wouldn’t change “the demographic character of Israel.” The main problem has been Israel’s unwillingness to have a 1:1 land swap, i.e. the “minor or mutual adjustments” [4]. The right of return is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Resolution 194 of 1949. It is unambiguously supported by the international community, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International (and also in principle by Israeli Jews, who established their own state on the notion of that very right.)

American presidents including Barack Obama have demonstrated time and again, that they are not honest brokers. The institutional permanence of vast diplomatic, economic and military support suggests state guidelines across the political spectrum. The doctrine of policy deems Israel a “strategic asset” in the heart of the energy producing region, serving as “cops on the beat,” effectively “educating” the “savage Arab” into submission. This course of action serves to strengthen US-Israeli intransigence against Palestinians and renders the international corpus of rules null and void. It doesn’t require a doctorate to discover US hegemony in the region and the European Union toddling behind, maneuvering where it can, and obeying where it must.

This can be exemplified by comparing reactions towards state violations of customary norms, such as “serious breaches of the prohibition to use force”, the “right to self determination” and fundamental standards of human rights and humanitarian law. When the Security Council fails to perform in accord with Article VII owing to “the Tyranny of the Veto”, the General Assembly typically doesn’t hesitate to assert its duty by calling for the implementation of economic, financial and diplomatic sanctions, notably in the case of South Africa. Such comparisons can be found in an exhaustive study by Marc Weller and Barbara Metzger from Cambridge University. They conclude a “double standard” granting Israel “complete immunity” from reflexive remedies with regard to Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo and East Timor such as “arms embargo,” “sanctions” and “international presence” of monitors and peacekeeping forces. [5]

Israel’s latest defiance of the Council’s calls has likewise been backed by US President Barack Obama’s administration. US support has continued and been amplified apart from Obama’s rhetorical superfluities. The near unanimous European euphoria over the election of Obama is a back hand admission of both its recognition of the double standard and its awareness that it isn’t able to do much without the consent of the Super Power. [6]

Recognizing this milieu of inaction and “facts on the ground”, elements of the left (and extreme right for dissimilar reasons) lends support to the proposal of a one state solution based on the egalitarian principles applied in South Africa and elsewhere. It requires a shift of paradigm terminologically replacing “occupation” with “Apartheid.” Indeed apartheid is a component of the occupation, yet annexation is a far worse crime than any comparable stage of colonization in South Africa. Annexation is an altogether different sort of imperialism, suggesting practically no alteration of behavior even if historical Palestine was to be developed into one state. A single state is no guarantee; take a simple look at the existing ones!

Arguments for a one state solution is usually based on justice – acknowledging quite accurately that the two state solution is far from just. Yet, justice, apart from discussions in academic seminars, is limited in the real world by the fact of feasibility. No one says that Hopi Indians should renounce their claim to their ancestors’ land, but then, no one advocates it either. The arguments become tautological: “No settlement is acceptable unless it’s acceptable.”

If there is a series of steps leading to the one state solution it should by all means be discussed. Trying to create an environment conducive to this settlement today seems impossible and may well be a recipe for further conflict. The idea of boycotts and divestiture requires the active participation of important actors within Israeli society. The struggle in South Africa took decades to establish with mayors already committed to civil disobedience and corporations agreeing to the “Sullivan conditions.” If such a strategy will look like an attack on Israeli society it is likely to be counterproductive. I have seen serious debate regarding the efficacy of the two state settlement. How can you divide Cis-Jordan for example? How can Palestinians realize a “rump state”? Yet, as an interim solution, far from the final status anathema it has become, the struggle for normalization, fulfillment of rights and integration shall continue.

[1] Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “The six months of the lull arrangement,” December 2008 |Human Rights Watch, “Precisely Wrong,” June 2009 | Human Rights Watch, “Rain of fire,” March 2009 | Amnesty International, “Israel/Gaza: Operation “Cast Lead”: 22 days of death and destruction,” July 2009 | Bt’Selem, “Guidelines for Israel’s Investigation into Operation Cast Lead,” February 2009.

[2] International Court of Justice, ”Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” 2004.

[3] Avi Issacharoff, “Poll: 77 % of Palestinians support the Prisoner’s Document,” June 2009, Ha’aretz | Mouin Rabbani, “A Hamas Perspective on the Movement’s Evolving Role: An Interview with Khalid Mishal: Part II,” Summer 2008, Journal of Palestine Studies vol. 37 | Avi Issacharoff, “Meshal: Hamas backs Palestinian state in ’67 borders,” April 2008, Ha’aretz | Amira Hass, “Haniyeh: Hamas willing to accept Palestinian state with 1967 borders,” September 2008, Ha’aretz | Middle East Online, “Hamas calls for Palestinian state in 1967 borders,” June 2009 |Hamas, “We Do Not Wish to Throw Them Into the Sea,” February 2006, Washington Post | Jay Solomon & Julien Barnes-Dacey, “Hamas Chief Outlines Terms for Talks on Arab Israeli-Peace,” Juli 2009, Wall Street Journal.

[4] Ron Pundak, “From Oslo to Taba: What Went Wrong?,” Autumn 2001, Survival p. 31-45, The International Institute for Strategic Studies.

[5] Marc Weller & Barbara Metzger, “Double Standards,” September 2002, PLO Negotiations Affairs Department | for further deliberations see: Yoram Dinstein, “War, Aggression and Self Defense,” 4th ed., 2005, Cambridge University Press p. 302 and David Cortright & George A. Lopez, “The Sanctions Decade: Assessing UN Strategies in the 1990s,” 2000, Lynne Rienner.

[6] The Bush Sr. administration went beyond rhetoric objecting to illegal settlement by denying economic support for them. Oppositely, Obama administration officials state that such dealings are “not under discussion” and that any pressures will be “largely symbolic”: Helene Cooper, “U.S Weighs Tactics on Israeli Settlement,” May 2009, NY Times | Grant F. Smith, “$2.775 Billion in US Aid Supports Israeli Nuclear Weapons Program,” June 2009, Online Journal.

Iranian Realities

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

There are so many things that should be said and done right now, and I do not know where to start. I have already recommended sites that live-blog and cover the events, as they unfold, much better than I would be able to do (here, here, here and here). I still recommend them and still warn against possibly exaggerated numbers and statement, with rumors and unconfirmed reports ticking in constantly. The following text will most certainly also be outdated in a few hours or days … it is extremely difficult to blog on current events while history is being written and taking constant surprising turns. Yet, I hope there are some general points for consideration that may be of interest to our readers.

A crucial debate right now is of course whether or not Friday’s presidential elections were fair, rigged or actually a coup. There seems to have emerged two (or probably several) points of view among Western observers. I am in no position to evaluate which one is correct, but there are persuasive arguments and ‘circumstantial evidence’ to back up both sides, which I recommend everyone to take a look at. It is a question not only of the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy, but also that of the protest movement; and it is a crucial question for discerning a prudent way for other governments to tackle the situation.

Two counterproductive arguments are circulating: that Western analysts’ chock over the election is a result of their own wishful thinking about a reformist change in Iran; and that ‘we should accept this fact no matter how difficult it is’. The first gleeful argument seems to neglect the fact that most analysts actually refrained from predicting the outcome of the Iranian elections for a reason, which is ever more clear now: that Iranian politics cannot be predicted. Furthermore, both arguments dismiss and insult the belief and reality of millions of Iranians who are so evidently voicing their protests these days and asking the world NOT to accept the government’s ‘facts’.

With the above disclaimers, I personally do not think that all adds up. There are good reasons to be suspicious towards the statistics presented by the Interior Ministry of Iran. While one possibly cannot dispute the statistical probability of an overall Ahmadinejad victory, there are simply too many irregularities to accept it as a fair victory (summed up by Gary Sick and Juan Cole here and here, with additional Cole comments here and some analysis here). Even IF the statistics are correct, those ruling the Islamic Republic today (Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and their allies), have done a terrible job at convincing people of their democratic ethics. Musavi will soon present his list of ‘evidence’ for fraud. However, I think it is highly unlikely that the Guardians Council – under the control of clerics appointed by the Leader and obviously supportive of Ahmadinejad – will ever admit to massive fraud. We may see a recount end in a, say, ’52% win for Ahmadinejad’ – or even a new round of elections. But they will not change the basic feeling expressed by many Iranians these days. And this leads to my main point:

That – whatever the reality behind the elections – a huge segment of the Iranian population will never accept it as ‘reality’, or as representative of the Iran, they believe to exist. These days, the deep-running cleavages in Iranian society – not between poor and rich, not between young and old, not between North Tehran and the villages, but between conflicting cultures and worldviews – have once and for all become painfully clear. This is not a battle between ‘Islam’ and ‘modernity’: it is a battle over how to define modern Iran and Iranian identity. The protesters are not anti-Islamic, pro-democracy revolutionaries: they are Muslims who believe their democratic rights have been taken from them.

Similarly, we should resist another counterproductive tendency among observers: to forget the many millions of Iranians who not only voted for Ahmadinejad but believe in him as a historic leader and role model for all Muslims. These millions also see their fight for change as something that is shaping history these days: they see themselves as real reformers, re-revolutionizing the revolution to keep it alive, purging it of corruption to keep it healthy. Most importantly, they feel duty-bound to forcibly resist a coup attempt led by Rafsanjani, Musavi, morally corrupt individuals and traitors guided from abroad.

We should not forget that a massive pro-Ahmadinejad segment is part of Iranian realities these days, even though they get less media attention. The peril of overexposure (and implicit cheer) for the protest movement is, alas, to forget certain other realities on the ground. I am quite sure that unless the pro-Musavi protests intensifies over the next 48 hours, we will soon witness a massive show of force from that part of Iranian society. They are not just ‘paid-for mobs’: they are Iranians who are acutely concerned for their families, their nation and humanity.

I believe (and personally hope) that, in the end, Iranian unity will prevail, and that one day – maybe even sooner than we expect – the main slogan on the streets will become âshti-ye melli, National Reconciliation. The common shared ‘reality’ will, at the end of the day, be that of a centuries-old ‘Iranian nation’ – no matter how intense and irreconcilable the domestic polarization seems right now. In their coverage of the campaign, many journalists and observers called Ahmadinejad’s campaign nationalist. Well, Musavi’s was too. Specific notions of nationalism might be contested but basic patriotic pride is a feeling shared by Iranians on both sides of the spectrum – and outside of Iran.

So, right now, the ‘reality’ of the election may simply be that there was no ‘winner’: Khamene‘i announced that the Islamic Order had won, Musavi supporters that the will of the people of the Republic had prevailed. Both claims are now severely undermined; both systems are threatened.

The republic, founded through a dramatic historical process initiated by brave and visionary proto-democrats over a hundred years ago, is split in two. The republic will have to rise from the ashes to reclaim its legitimacy and authority at some stage, whether in its current form or another. The question is when and how Iranians will be able to settle their internal scores and rebuild their nation.

Reactions to yesterday’s event in Iran

There are so many interesting analyses out there, but here’s a handful to get started with:

Tehran Bureau: ‘Another coup for the Hardliners’ and ‘Faulty Election Data’ (UPDATE: The statistical evidence of the TehBureau article is questioned here)
Abbas Djavadi: ‘An Electoral Coup in Iran
ISN: ‘Iran: Ahmadinejad’s Palace Coup
Ali Akbar Dareini, Anna Johnson: ‘Iranian Election Results: Ahmadinejad Declared Winner
Blake Hounshell: ‘Game over in Iran?
Juan Cole: ‘Stealing the Iranian Elections
TIME/CNN: ‘Protests Greet Ahmadinejad Win in Iran: “It’s not possible!”

Furthermore, I recommend niacINsight where they are liveblogging on reactions to yesterday’s political event in Iran. Here, you can read about following reports and rumors: Khatami’s brother has been arrested together with many other leading figures of the reformist wing; leading politicians and clerics going to Qom to deliberate with Sources of Emulation; Rafsanjani to resign? etc etc…

UPDATE:

There are now many reports – most of them verified – of a huge clampdown on reformists: Mohammad-Reza Khatami (the former president’s brother), Zahra Eshraqi (wife of Mohammad-Reza and Khomeini’s granddaughter), Mohsen Mirdamadi, Zahra Mojaradi, Saed Shariati, Zohre Aghajari, Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, Mostafa Tajzadeh, Behzad Nabavi, Taqi Rahmani, Emad Bahavar, Mohsen Aminzadeh, Ahmad Zeidabadi … practically all prominent reformists have been arrested. UPDATE: Farda denies that Aminzadeh and Tajzadeh have been arrested.

It has also been reported that Karubi, Musavi and Gholam-Hosein Karbaschi are in house arrest; UPDATE: however, Karubi has just spoken in Tehran, allegedly. UPDATE: Musavi is not under house arrest, according to Newsweek article (see below), but deliberating with Rafsanjani.

There have been clashes between protesters and security forces throughout Iran and in many universities. The mobile phone network is closed, internet speed is extremely low, access to main internet sites such Facebook and Youtube is closed, etc. etc.

I recommend following articles:

Tehran Bureau: ‘Widespread Clashes in Tehran

Gary Sick: ‘Iran’s Political Coup‘ (highly recommended reading)

Brian Ulrich: ‘Rise of the Military

MideastAnalysis: ‘What Happened in Iran?’

Maziar Bahari / Newsweek: ‘“It’s a Coup d’État!”

… and that’s it for today! Apparently, Ahmadinejad’s supporters are going to rally and celebrate tomorrow at Tehran’s giant Mosalla mosque. Musavi (who is not, after all, under house arrest – it seems!) has called for his supporters to show up at his headquarters at 12:30 Tehran time.

UPDATE 2, Sunday:

Rafsanjani’s resignation was nothing more than a rumor, his son has stated; Mohammad-Reza Khatami, Mohsen Mir-Damadi, Behzad Nabavi and Sa‘id Shari‘ati have either been released or never arrested; and Musavi or Karubi are not under house arrest. Whether all these rumors are spread by those in power or by the reformists themselves is hard to say. Nonetheless, there seems to be quite a few reformists and ‘religious nationalists’ (melli-mazhhabi) still behind bars.

Ahmadinejad likens the unrest to a football match – and we can expect massive rallies in favor of the president today.

Iranian Presidential Elections 2009

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

With so many interesting developments in Iran right now, I will try and update this post every time I come across news, headlines and blog entries I find interesting. The elections on Friday for the Presidency of the Islamic Republic has finally heated up and the net is buzzing with interesting stuff.

Last update: Sat, June 13

As everyone is probably aware now, Mahmud Ahmadinejad has been announced the winner of the 2009 Iranian presidential elections by authorities. The ‘landslide victory’ sees Ahmadinejad winning 62.63% of over 40 million votes. The reformist-endorsed frontrunner, Musavi, gained 33.75%, Mohsen Rezai 1.73% and Mehdi Karubi 0.85%. Iran’s Supreme Leader has hailed the ‘record turnout’ of more than 80% of the eligible voters. Ahmadinejad has announced that he will speak to the people tonight.

The Interior Ministry has rejected all ‘rumors’ of fraud and has stated that it is willing to give the candidates a chance to recount all the votes.

However, Musavi and Karubi maintains that there has been widespread manipulation. Karubi has released a statement in which he states that fraud has been of such ‘ridiculous and unbelievable’ dimensions, that it is impossible to speak of. He stated that the election had been ‘engineered’ and rigged, and that he will not stay silent. ‘This is only the beginning of the story’, Karubi announced.

Musavi has called the elections for ‘a great game’ rigged in advance, and expressed his protest with ‘clear and numerous violations on the day of election’. He has stated that he ‘will not surrender’ to this dangerous scenario. Musavi promised that he will ‘reveal the secrets behind this process’ and calls on his ‘green wave’ to continue the fight against ‘traitors’. At the same time, he called on his supporters not to act ‘blindly’.

Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad-supporters took to the streets in many Iranian cities last night and today to celebrate the victory in a ‘national festival’.

The pro-Ahmadinejad website RajaNews has described the elections as Ahmadinejad’s victory over Rafsanjani. Fars has reported that Khatami, Musavi and Karubi visited Rafsanjani today for an emergency meeting. There can be no doubt that Ahmadinejad’s supporters see their victory as a crushing defeat of Rafsanjani, his family and his allies.

However, there are also numerous reports of protests in the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities. Opposition websites, talking of a ‘coup d’état’, report fighting between protesters and anti-riot forces (pictures here and here). BBC has brought a film clip from Tehran today and there are several other similar amateur footage of what appears to be large crowds protesting the results (here and here)

Ahmadinejad-supporters state that ‘riots and unrest’ is ‘planned’ by a ‘control center’ of reformist politicians such as Mohsen Aminzadeh and Mostafa Tajzadeh. RajaNews claims that these politicians are commanding ‘rascals and scoundrels’ to create street riots in Tehran.

It is often stated that Iranian politics is full of surprises – this is certainly an understatement today.

There are and will be hundreds of different analyses and views appearing the next couple of days; however, I will not be able to do the same moment-for-moment update, I have done the last couple of days. I will certainly try to post a round-up of links later tonight. I recommend those interested to visit some of the sites mentioned in Blogroll.

Update 23: Fri, June 12

State-run media: Ahmadinejad wins with large margin

Iranian Students News Agency has announced that 30% of the ballots have been counted, and that Ahmadinejad leads with 68%, followed by Musavi with 28%. These ballots seem to be from the countryside.

UPDATE 1: IRINN has just announced 67% to Ahmadinejad, 30% to Musavi.

UPDATE 2: ISNA has announced: 66% to Ahmadinejad, 31% to Musavi, 1% to Mohsen Reza‘i and 0.8% to Mehdi Karubi. This is based on more than 21 million votes.

Update 22: Fri, June 12

Musavi AND Ahmadinejad announced as winner – and other news

Mir-Hossein Musavi has announced himself the certain winner of the elections.

IRNA, the state-run news agency, has announced Ahmadinejad the winner with a large majority of the votes.

Tehran’s governor has announced that any political gathering tonight is illegal.

Pro-reformist news agency Khordâd-e now alleges that Tehran’s public prosecutor has threatened to shut down the publishing houses of those newspapers who will print Musavi’s victory in tomorrow’s newspapers.

The first official statistics is from North Korea where 15 Iranians voted. Ahmadinejad won.

Update 21: Fri, June 12

Voting ends

The Interior Minister of Iran has announced that voting ends at 22 PM (in five minutes). This command seems to be in contradiction with earlier announcements that province governors were allowed to keep voting stations open until the last voter…

‘Attack’ on Musavi offices etc. – More reports of fraud

A violent attack on Musavi’s headquarters in Qeytariyeh, Tehran, has been reported by pro-Musavi web sites. Furthermore, pro-Musavi websites report of widespread vote fraud and manipulation in Esfahan.

Update 20: Fri, June 12

Election time prolonged

Iranian TV has just announced that the Interior Minister has allowed the provincial governors to keep voting stations upon until the last voter has cast his/her vote.

UPDATE: A spokesman for the Guardians Council has announced that there will be printed more ballots.

Update 19: Fri, June 12

Historic turnout – Rumors of fraud – Early predictions

By all accounts – state-run media, oppositional web sites, eye witness accounts and Western journalists’ reports – there has been a historic turnout for today’s elections in Iran. There are many unverified rumors of fraud and manipulation from inside and outside Iran. There are also reports of overcrowded voting stations and a lack (!) of ballot papers.

As far as I can gather (my connection to IRINN is down now), voting stations are due to close right now (9 PM Tehran time). On pro-Musavi websites, commentators have already announced a historic victory for Musavi, even breaking a 30 million vote record. I haven’t yet seen Ahmadinejad-supporters announce a victor, not even on Raja News (as could have been expected).

UPDATE: The semi-official pro-Ahmadinejad news agency Fars has announced that ‘a justice-seeking candidate’ has won win 60% of the votes.

Update 18: Fri, June 12

Voting time prolonged

The time for voting has been prolonged until 8 PM (yes; I have noticed that it is now 8 PM in Iran – but TV has not announced that voting has ended yet…). 20 million ballots have been cast so far, according to Guardians Council via IRNA.

UPDATE: State television has just announced that voting will continue for one more hour (until 9 PM Tehran time).

Update 17: Fri, June 12

Police forces: Show of power under way in Tehran

IRNA reports that a spokesman of the Niru-ye entezâmi police force has just announced a major maneuver in Tehran’s squares. This ‘Power Maneuver’ is aimed at securing ‘order’ until all votes have been counted. He added that so far, there had been no signs of unrest.

Update 16: Fri, June 12

‘Attacks’ on reformist websites – ‘Fraud’ in expatriate elections

Amir Kabir University Newsletter, autnews.us, reports a ‘new wave of filtering’ against critical websites such as that of the ’1 Million Signature Campaign for Womens Rights’, the pro-reformist Âyandeh News, the pro-Karubi Tribun and the pro-Musavi Nowruz. There are still rumors of the text message system being closed down.

The are also several reports/rumors of ‘fraud’ at voting stations for Iranians in Germany, Dubai and Malaysia. I still haven’t had time to read the ‘reports’ in detail.

Update 15: Fri, June 12

Candidates vote – and other news

Mir-Hosein Musavi: “Until the end of voting, we will all stay awake (/alert)”

Mohsen Rezai: “After the elections, fraternity and serious cooperations must be established” (Source: Tabnak).

Mehdi Karubi: “These elections are exceptional” (Source: IRNA).

It seems as if text messaging services have been shut down in many places (or at least by some companies). Pro-Rafsanjani website: ‘Ahmadinejad’s government has closed SMS text message services’ (Source: Aftab). According to ILNA, Musavi has demanded the services be opened again.

It seems that controversial Grand Ayatollah Montazeri will leave his semi-official home arrest to vote, for the first time in twenty years, today. He has apparently stated he will vote for Karubi. UPDATE: Apparently, Montazeri’s son, Hojjatoleslam Ahmad Montazeri, has rejected rumors that the dissident cleric is voting for Karubi.

When Rafsanjani had cast his vote: ‘There is no better trust than the vote of the people’.

The election committee: Any kind of political gathering is forbidden until the results of the elections has been announced (Source: IRNA).

Ayatollah Jennati, after casting his vote: “The Guardians Council will execute its supervision duty with force and power” (Source: ISNA).

(Pro-Ahmadinejad) Fars News: Participation in villages will pass 90% (source: Fars).

Update 14: Fri, June 12

Khamene‘i votes – Revolutionary Guard warns

Khamene‘i has just cast his vote and held a short speech. I only caught some of it on a poor online TV connection from Iran, but as far as I gathered he warned against lies being distributed by SMS.

Update: Khamene‘i: “Hopefully the best candidate will  be elected”; “Some elements may try to create tensions”; rejects rumors that he has answered Rafsanjani’s letter.

The Revolutionary Guards have released a strong-worded communique. Without directly referring to Musavi’s letter to Khamene‘i (see below), the letter is clearly aimed at Musavi, whom the Guard has ‘reserved its right’ to complain over. The Guards strongly reject this candidate (Musavi)’s claim that Basij and Revolutionary Guards will interfere illegally in the elections as ‘baseless accusations’. The Guards claimed that they had tried to overlook ‘wicked actions’ in the past, but that the latest actions were too much to disregard. The Guards were particularly annoyed with Musavi’s claim that there is a developing split between the commanders and the ‘healthy body’ of Basijis and Guards (Source: Fars News).

Update 13: Thur, June 11

Quiet before the storm?

In Iran, it seems like quiet before the storm (as Robert Dreyfus describes here). No campaigning was allowed on this the latest day before elections. Maybe now is a good time to remember that even though the election frenzy has been of historic proportions this week, nothing is certain. Even though overconfident supporters on both sides have prematurely claimed a massive victory, there is still good reason to believe that the two main candidates will have to enter a second round.

Ahmadinejad is still the hero of many millions of Iranians, and he is supported by significant forces across Iran. Musavi has only recently become the front figure of what is often described as the ‘reformists’, but as I have written earlier, he does not define himself as a reformist – at least not in the Khatamian sense.

If voters do turn out, as expected by most observers, in huge numbers – and if there is no serious unrest or overt military intervention – there will certainly be one winner: the Islamic Republic of Iran, once again endowed with legitimacy through public participation.

Update 12: Thur, June 11

Musavi’s letter to Khamene‘i – Fears of unrest

Musavi has written a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. In the letter, he asks the Leader to intervene to assure that no official bodies manipulate the elections. Musavi writes that the recent election frenzy shows that there will be a massive turnout for the elections, which will strengthen national unity and give Iran international respect. Nonetheless, Musavi warns, some ‘official institutions are not welcoming this pure, popular movement’.

As examples he enumerates: 1) Members of the Guardian Council and election supervisors have openly supported Ahmadinejad; 2) Interior Ministry has violated and interfered in Musavi’s right to station his own representatives at certain polling stations; 3) There is evidence of intereference by some Basij and Revolutionary Guard personnel; 4) The current president has used government facilities and resources in his campaigning and tours around Iran. Musavi finally calls on Khamenei to use his powers to ensure that officials and election supervisors stay neutral.

Furthermore, the internet is full of rumors. It is of course impossible to keep track of them and to verify them, so I will only deal with them briefly:

From the ‘reformist’/anti-Ahmadinejad coalition, there are reports/rumors of secret plans for widespread Basij/Revolutionary Guard interference in the elections and the possibility of a military coup d’etat. Musavi’s own election headquarters have issued another letter, in which Musavi warns of planned attempts to create unrest and riots in order to destroy the ‘reformists” image. Another rumor states that Ahmadinejad will be ‘assassinated’ in order to create an emergency situation in which the president’s supporters can take over.

From the Ahmadinejad front, there are reports/rumors of plans to use a Musavi defeat as pretext for launching a Western-backed ‘velvet revolution’. The pro-Ahmadinejad Raja News reports that after Rafsanjani’s letter, Musavi-supporters are violently attacking Ahmadinejad-supporters and normal people. There is a sense on hard line and pro-Ahmadinejad weblogs that foreign powers are planning to take over Iran through Musavi; and that Ahmadinejad’s victory will be a ‘final’ answer to Rafsanjani. Indeed, the elections are now often described as a showdown between Khamenei/Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani/Musavi.

No matter what, there will be massive security measures for tomorrow’s elections. The security head of the elections has announced there will be 20,000 security force members in Tehran alone, and Shahâb News has reported that 22 army helicopters will assist across the country.

Update 11: Thur, June 11

Abbas Palizdar apologizes to Rafsanjani

Palizdar – who became known last year when he spoke at an Iranian university as a representative of Ahmadinejad’s government and accused a wide range of high-ranking clerics for mafia-like corruption, and who was then imprisoned and sentenced – has allegedly written an apology to Rafsanjani.

This is of course hard to verify, but several websites have reported on the letter. Apparently, the letter was first published on the website of Mehdi Khaz‘ali, allegedly Palizdar’s close friend. In the letter, Palizdar takes back his accusations against Rafsanjani, claiming that Rafsanjani’s family was not even in the files he was investigating for fraud and corruption. ‘I mentioned [Rafsanjani's corruption] without any documentation, based on unconfirmed hearsay from those close to Ahmadinejad’, Palizdar writes. ‘Therefore, I apologize to His Highness with this letter’.

Update 10: Wed, June 10

Ahmadinejad defends himself on TV, claims opponents rely on ‘Zionist’ statistics

Iranian state-run media gave Ahmadinejad 20 minutes of live TV to ‘defend himself against accusations’ tonight. He stated that not only himself, but all of Iran has been insulted by his opponents. Ahmadinejad defended himself against his opponents’ main slogan: that Ahmadinejad is a liar. He stated that he is courageous and never afraid. He repeated all his main statistic ‘evidence’, showing colorful charts, rhetorically asking ‘is this a lie, is that a lie?’, finally concluding that ‘no, they are not lies’.

He argued that, just like Imam Ali, it is his duty to expose anyone who has taken from the public treasury (read: Rafsanjani). Ahmadinejad also defended himself against his critics’ outrage with his attempt to question Musavi’s wife’s academic credentials by saying that this is not a personal matter of the Musavi family.

Instead, Ahmadinejad stated that his opponents had manipulated his words in videos circulating in Iran. He stated that his opponents had used statistics from Transparency International to prove that corruption has gone up in Iran; but that Transparency International bases its surveys on ‘Zionist’ companies. He blasted his opponents for ‘hitting the nation in the head’ with information obtained from ‘four Zionist companies’. Indeed, Ahmadinejad declared himself the ‘flag-bearer of the fight against corruption’.

Ahmadinejad said that his opponents knew they had already lost the elections, and he called on people to maintain their calm. He apologized that he didn’t have time to visit all provinces, and thanked everyone. He finished with a poem by medieval poet Hafez:

Gar bovad ‘omr be meykhâne resam bâr degar – bejoz az khedmate rendân nakonam kâre degar

(something along the lines of: ‘If my life permits me to return to that wine-house again / I will not do anything else but serve the astute’ [sorry for uninspiring translation!]). And then, Ahmadinejad finished with: ‘Be proud, my nation. Wa‘s-salâm w ‘aleykom wa rahmatollâh’.

Update 9: Wed, June 10

Violence in Shiraz

It is reported on Twitter and on reformist websites that ‘plain-clothed’ supporters of Ahmadinejad have violently attacked a pro-Musavi rally. The pro-reformist web site mowj.ir has reported that police does not try to prevent these attacks. Allegedly, around ten people have been wounded and the offices of the Campaign of Support for Khatami and Musavi have been raided. The web site claims that 3,000 Ahmadinejad supporters who waited for Ahmadinejad at a sports stadium tonight had gone into the streets to fight Musavi-supporters when they heard Ahmadinejad had cancelled his appearance at the stadium.

Some pictures of female pro-Musavi supporters in Shiraz can be seen here.

Update 8: Wed, June 10

Ahmadinejad ‘fleeing’ university

This video allegedly shows Ahmadinejad leaving Sharif Technological University’s mosque in great haste as pro-Musavi students shout ‘Liar! Liar’ and ‘Ahmadi, bye bye!’.

Update 7: Wed, June 10

Rafsanjani meets with Khamene‘i

The pro-Rafsanjani news website Âftâb claims that Rafsanjani had a meeting with Iran’s Leader last night after his historic letter against Ahmadinejad appeared. The website did not describe what happened but quoted an ‘informed source’ that Rafsanjani had expressed his ‘complete satisfaction’ with the meeting that had been ‘constructive’.

Update 6: Wed, June 10

Some interesting headlines from Iranian media this morning

Âftâb News (pro-Rafsanjani): ‘Musavi will win in first round’ (note: This news agency has announced that an ‘opinion poll’ by ‘a university group’ last week showed that Musavi will win with 54% of the votes in the first round of the presidential elections on Friday).

Irân (pro-Ahmadinejad daily): ‘The president, before a magnificent gathering of people in Mazandaran: The country is not in danger – the interests of those who speak the language of power is in danger’ (link). (Note: This is one of Ahmadinejad’s responses to Rafsanjani’s letter).

IRNA (state news agency): ‘Ahmadinejad: “The revolution is strengthened with the punishment of those who rob the public treasury”‘ (link). (Note: this is another response to the letter).

E‘temâd (pro-reformist daily): ‘A reformist tsunami in the streets of Tehran’ (link).

Jomhuri-ye Eslâmi (often pro-Rafsanjani daily): ‘Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi: “Candidates and their supporters should not make statements that can threaten the whole system [of the Islamic Republic] or Islam”‘ (link).

Kayhân (state-run daily, seen as Khamene‘i’s mouthpiece): ‘This warning is serious: The last scenario act of the extremists [i.e. Musavi and Karubi supporters]: Unrest after defeat’ (link). (Note: it is alleged that Musavi/Karubi-supporters have realized they will be defeated by Ahmadinejad, and are now planning widespread riots and unrest).

Raja News Agency (pro-Ahmadinejad): ‘Ayatollah [Mohammad] Yazdi in response to Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s letter: “By God’s grace, the country has a Leader [Khamene‘i] who is like the Imam [Khomeini]” – “Those who provoke unrest and riots are either traitors or ignorants”‘ (link). (Note: In short, this prominent cleric states that he does not see any of those great dangers Rafsanjani has alluded to in his letter).

Update 5: Wed, June 10

Pictures from Khatami’s pro-Musavi rally in Mashhad

More pictures here.

Update 4: Tue, June 9

Special air time for Ahmadinejad

Even though the debate series between the candidates is over, Sedâ-va-Simâ (the state-run TV & Radio) has decided to give the current president an additional 45 minutes of live air time tomorrow (Wednesday). Âyande News claims that Ahmadinejad actually stayed behind in the studio after his heated debate with Mohsen Reza‘i yesterday to record his own ‘one-man debate’.

Update 3: Tue, June 9

Yâs-e no daily once again suspended

This afternoon, the reformist daily Yâs-e no was suspended. The daily, which is allegedly privately funded, has been closed several times before. It has recently been supportive of Mir-Hosein Musavi, and its latest front page before it was closed today (less than 72 hours before the elections) carried a picture of Musavi with his arms in the air and a huge headline stating ‘We are winning’.

Update 2: Tue, June 9

Clear support for Ahmadinejad

State-owned and Leader-controlled daily Kayhân‘s front page today further testifies the support Ahmadinejad is receiving from high up. The headline speaks of ‘the nation’s unprecedented, million-man tsunami’ in support of the president.

Kayhan 'Tsunami'

Update 1: Tue, June 9

Historic letter from Rafsanjani to Khamene‘i

In a strong-worded letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamene‘i, former president and powerful cleric Ayatollah Hashemi-Rafsanjani has demanded an inquiry into ‘accusations’ and ‘insults’ against leading figures in the Islamic Republic.

Rafsanjani is referring to Ahmadinejad’s recent spate of allegations against Rafsanjani, Nateq Nuri and other prominent clerics. The current president has accused Rafsanjani and his family for acting like a mafia and for supporting Musavi in his attempt to remove Ahmadinejad from power. Rafsanjani has written that Ahmadinejad’s accusations are also aimed at the Leader himself and at Imam Khomeini. He has also written that Ahmadinejad’s statement are ‘full of wrong claims’ and ‘pure lies’; and that popular outrage with ‘existing conditions’ is now being displayed on the ‘squares, streets and universities’.

This is a very interesting development. It is normally assumed that the Leader indirectly supports Ahmadinejad and this seems like an attempt to ‘warn’ Khamene‘i of Ahmadinejad’s power that can even threaten such high-ranking figures as Rafsanjani – and therefore also, one day, the Leader. Furthermore, there can, with this letter, no longer be any doubt that Rafsanjani is throwing all his weight behind Musavi.

On the other hand, Ahmadinejad can use this letter to prove his ‘conspiracy theory’ that he is actually fighting against ‘three governments’ (that of Musavi, when he was prime minister; and those of Rafsanjani and Khatami, when they were presidents). It may thus also have a reverse effect.

You can read the full text [Persian] here. On the importance of the ‘Rafsanjani Mafia’-theme in Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric, read this [English]. UPDATE: TehranBureau has another excellent piece, this time on Rafsanjani’s letter.

Election Frenzy in Iran

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

There have been so many interesting developments up to the Iranian presidential elections that I don’t know where to start. I guess the most important development is the fact that Iran is witnessing an election frenzy not seen in many years. From skeptical forecasts and early pessimistic judgments on the prospects of Ahmadinejad’s opponents, many people – most notably Tehran’s young – have moved to almost ecstatic joy and overly confident expressions of political activism. To Mir-Hosein Musavi’s supporters – and they are clearly growing exponentially in numbers – Ahmadinejad will face a crushing defeat on Friday.

Over the last week, Iranian state TV aired a series of live debates between the four candidates. It is of course disputed who won the debates. Ahmadinejad was, as always, a master speaker and extremely self-confident. Yet his attempts to vilify his opponents were very disgraceful. He even waved an intelligence file of Zahra Rahnavard, Musavi’s wife, in the face of his opponent, claiming she did not have the right credentials for filling her post as university chancellor. In each show, Ahmadineajd threatened to reveal ‘dirty secrets’ and he ridiculed his opponents’ track records. He also implied that Rafsanjani and his mafia-like family is behind Musavi.

Even though they lacked Ahmadinejad’s knack at rhetorical twists, his opponents were sometimes successful in portraying Ahmadinejad as an incompetent manager who manipulates statistics. Musavi even called Ahmadinejad a liar in front of the 40 million viewers.

No matter what, the TV debate series was historical in its own right. And they have helped to intensify the election fervor.

Yesterday, a massive rally allegedly stretched all the way from Meidun Rah-Ahan in southern Tehran to Meidun Tajrish in the north. A ‘Green Human Chain’ of Mir-Hosein Musavi’s supporters walked and drove the 20 km. distance, celebrating what they now see as the end of Ahmadinejad’s period as president.

Most were dressed in green T-shirts, shawls, improvised hats – green being the color of Musavi’s campaign. They were carrying placards, posters and banners clearly condemning Ahmadinejad and ridiculing his recent statements in the debates: ‘A Liar is God’s Enemy’ and ‘2 + 2 = 10’. They carried pictures of Musavi, and in particular, the now famous shot of Musavi holding his wife’s hands – a picture that seems to have had particular positive significance to female voters.

Most strikingly, perhaps, were the many placards that resembled newspaper front pages, reading ‘Ahmadi Raft’ (Ahmadi[nejad] has gone). This placard is made to resemble the historic headline that read ‘Shâh raft, Emâm umad’ (The Shah has gone, the Imam has come), printed during the Islamic Revolution. Another placard, in English, read ‘A New Greeting to the World’. I recommend the following picture series (123) and this video from yesterday’s rally.

At the same time, the rumor bazaar is – surprise, surprise – overloaded. One rumor alleges that Interior Ministry officials, in an open letter, have complained over a fatwa by Ahmadinejad’s mentor, Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, which legitimizes election fraud. Read more here.

Another theme is the Ahmadinejad election system’s alleged breakdown. There are rumors that the president’s election offices are closed and that his press secretaries are ‘unavailable’. Ahmadinejad didn’t show up for a major rally today. And his website has been hacked by Musavi supporters.

It is wise to keep in mind that Ahmadinejad is far from defeated. He still has a very strong base among the poor, the Basij and veteran families, in mosque networks and in several provinces. Yet, it is also impossible to rule out that Musavi can win. For the first time, Musavi appears a very serious contender for presidency. No matter the result, Friday will be a historic day for the Islamic Republic of Iran.

AN AWFUL LOT MUST BE HAPPENING AROUND THE CLOCK IN TURKEY

By Daniella Kuzmanovic

According to the Turkish newspaper Posta (May 23, 2009) the famous, or notorious depending on who one asks, singer, entertainer and TV star Ibrahim Tatlıses intends to establish a national news channel in Turkey. The name will be either ‘Tempo Haber’ (Tempo News) or ‘Haber 63’ (News 63). Tatlıses’ business interests are widespread and include among other entertainment, food, transport, hotels and a music TV station. Tatlıses has apparently applied to the Turkish national Radio and Television Board (RTÜK) in order to obtain a broadcasting license for his news station.

Judging from numbers, establishing a news channel has become quite the thing to do in Turkey during the past decade. The first 24 hour national news channel, NTV, was launched in 1996. Today there are around ten TV channels that can be considered as national news channels, including CNNTürk and Haber Türk. In addition, all major national channels such as the private ATV, Show, or Kanal D and public TRT have extensive news coverage as part of their daily programs. The various national news channels seem to represent both a variety of business interests, and a variety of political-ideological outlooks. Turkish media market is dominated by a few large holding companies, which each have one or more news station in their portfolio. Moreover, the various channels represent various ideological outlooks ranging from right-wing nationalist, Kemalist, conservative, pro-Islamic to liberal. If Turkey’s biggest star should not then have his own news channel, who should?

Considering that the population of Turkey is approximately 72 million around ten news channels is quite a lot. Turkey actually rivals the US when it comes to the number of national news channels. So, either one can conclude that a lot must be happening around the clock in Turkey, and that Turks are unusually interested in socio-political affairs; or one can suspect that the bouquet of news channels reflect something else. Turkey does have its fair share of events and happenings but not more so than other countries. That Turks should be unusually interested in socio-political affairs would also be hard to sustain, given that social scientists have pointed to the general lack of interest in politics in the traditional sense, i.e. party politics, national political debates etc. This is particularly predominant among youth (the median age of Turkey is under 30). The lack of interest in traditional politics stems, among other, from the conscious depoliticization of Turkish society in the wake of the 12th of September coup (1980) – which made associating with the realm of politics into something bound to cause you trouble – a lack of being able to identify with the current political establishment in Turkey dominated by elderly males, but also reflects a general trend in youth culture across the globe, where leisure, consumption and entertainment has moved to the foreground.

Thus, the many news channels in Turkey must presumably be explained along other lines. As I am not an expert on financial or holding company strategies I will refrain from speculations as to the advertising money a ‘Tatlıses branded’ news channel could attract, or how holding companies within the entertainment industry spread their investments. This undoubtedly also plays into Tatlıses’ interest in establishing a news channel. But it has also been pointed out by some of the comments on Tatlıses’ new endeavor that he is bound to loose money on this adventure. Hence, other reasons, which are not solely economic, must be taken into consideration. One of these reasons is the perception of possessing power, which is associated with being one of the major players within the media industry in Turkey. And if anything owning a 24 hour news channel on top of all one’s other media interests signals an intention to be a ‘media tycoon’ and thereby influence the socio-political and economic agenda of the country. As mentioned Turkish media is dominated by a few large holding companies. The biggest of those is the Doğan group, which of course has a news channel in their portfolio (CNNTürk). So does the Çukorova group (Sky Türk), the Doğuş group (NTV), the Feza / Samanyolu group (Samanyolu haber), Ihlas holding (TGRT haber) etc. Turkuvaz being a notable exception but they do own the prominent TV station ATV and Sabah newspaper. Also state-owned TRT has a news channel (TRT2).

There is an on-going controversy between the Doğan group and the Turkish government. The Doğan group is known to be anti-AKP, and is presumed to use its stronghold in Turkish media to oppose the government. Doğan has become involved in an enormous tax case. Earlier this year the holding company was fined for tax evasion and ordered to pay around half a billion dollars. Doğan has of course dismissed the case as being a government led attempt to crack down on opposition. The case clearly indicates the kind of power media is perceived to have in Turkey, and also indicates that media are not considered to be relegating objective news but are rather seen as stake-holders in on-going political-ideological clashes in the country. The media sector is not only characterized by being in the hands of few holding companies. Moreover these holding companies support various political-ideological segments of society, and make sure that all kind of media including newspapers, TV, radio and publishing houses are available to the particular segment they cater.

Tatlıses can, hence, write a new page in the history of the poor migrant from Urfa who became one of Turkey’s biggest stars because of his ‘sweet voice,’ developed into a business tycoon, and then attempted to run for parliament. Now he attempts to add new aspects to the public perception of him as a man of power by moving into the serious part of the media market. Of course, this apparent move has immediately been met with a range of joking comments as to who will be news anchors in this new channel, including suggestions of fellow arabesk music stars or the oriental dancer Tatlıses has had an affair with and who has featured in his TV shows.