Monthly Archives: June 2009

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The Sabah family that dominates the cabinet is expected to remove him rather than see one of its own face a public thumbs-down in a no-confidence vote set for July 1.


DUBAI, June 24 (Reuters) – The ups and downs of parliamentary democracy in Kuwait are being used by Gulf Arab rulers to discredit the idea of representative government that dilutes their immense powers, analysts say.


A new episode in the soap opera of Kuwait‘s system began this week with an attempt by parliamentarians to force out the interior minister, who is a member of the ruling family.


The Sabah family that dominates the cabinet is expected to remove him rather than see one of its own face a public thumbs-down in a no-confidence vote set for July 1.


Last month the former British protectorate of 3.2 million — one of the world’s largest oil exporters — held its third elections in three years, part of a protracted tussle for power between the ruling-family and elected parliamentarians.


But the trend in the Gulf, from commentary in state-dominated media to official statements, has been to cite Kuwait — unique in its wide, free vote for a parliament with teeth — as an argument for more dynastic and autocratic rule.


The violence following Iran‘s recent elections has also raised Gulf fears of instability, giving another reason for no change.


Islamist and tribal deputies stand accused of holding back government development plans by voting down legislation proposed by cabinet and seeking no-confidence votes in Kuwaiti ministers.


“In recent months there was a lot of glee and schadenfreude about Kuwait‘s political problems. Many articles were written about the mess that Kuwait‘s democracy had got them into,” said British academic Christopher Davidson, a Gulf specialist.




Gulf countries often cite “khususiyya”, or special characteristics, to justify limiting popular participation in government and prefer to avoid the word “democracy”.


In 2006 elections to the Federal National Council of the United Arab Emirates, for example, less than one percent of the country’s native population was eligible to vote.


“Our leadership does not import ready-made models that may be valid for other societies but are certainly not suitable for our society,” Dubai ruler and UAE vice-president Sheikh Mohammed said in an interview in April this year.


Western governments, who back the Gulf ruling families, also look askance at the sight of Islamists spoiling plans for economic liberalisation in Kuwait or gaining a say elsewhere.


“The way things go are not encouraging with development (projects) blocked by deputies. Even Kuwaitis are embarrassed about their democracy,” said a Western diplomat in Riyadh.


Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef said this year the Gulf’s largest country at 25 million people had no need for elections to its advisory Shura Council, and last month the absolute monarchy delayed municipal council polls for two years, snuffing out for now a brief democracy experiment.


Islamists opposed to relaxing clerical influence were the main winners in the Saudi municipal vote in 2005, which was held after Western pressure to democratise. Now many Gulf Arab liberals look to the ruling families to protect them from the Islamists, who have popular support.


Saudi intellectual Abdullah al-Ghaddami said Western-allied Gulf governments would always brand the strongest opposition force, Islamist or otherwise, as an obstacle to progress.


“If we’d had elections 40 years ago the socialists and leftists would have won, since that was predominant then. Now it’s the Islamists,” he said. “Democracy cannot impose results that it wants. That’s another form of dictatorship.”




Analysts and democracy activists say the wrong lessons are being drawn from Kuwait‘s system, where deputies are seeking public accountability from ministers resistant to the concept.


Parliament does not form cabinets, and the prime minister, deputy prime minister, defence minister, foreign minister, information and interior are all in Sabah hands.


Assembly deputies are voted in as individuals since political parties are banned. The Emir has the power to pass legislation by decree and has suspended parliament three times, including for years on end.


Yet still government websites tout Kuwait as a “thriving democratic society with a democratic government”.


Turki al-Rasheed, a Saudi columnist who has observed Kuwaiti elections and ran a programme to encourage Saudis to vote in 2005, said ruling family members could not have it both ways.


“You cannot have royal protection and be a salaried employee,” he said, dismissing the idea that Kuwait set a bad example for democracy in the region. “We don’t want decoration, we want to question people who call the shots.”


He said the Emir and his prime minister should appoint ministers based on merit rather than on bloodline.


Whole cabinets have resigned rather than have senior al-Sabah members appear before the elected body, which triggered last month’s elections as well as numerous cabinet reshuffles.


Ultimately, in Gulf Arab countries it is the ruler, his family and their commoner allies who dispense with petrodollar revenues and decide the thrust of foreign and domestic policy.


Kuwait is an enlightening example in the region and it should stay glowing despite the pressure that anti-democracy governments exert on it,” said Emirati blogger Ahmed Mansoor.


(Additional reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)

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Still, the ayatollah and Ahmadinejad must hear the roar of the rapids ahead. Millions of Iranians, perhaps a majority of the professional class and educated young, who shouted, "Death to the dictatorship," oppose or detest them. How can the regime maintain its present domestic course or foreign policy with its people so visibly divided?

Given its monopoly of guns, bet on the Iranian regime. But, in the long run, the ayatollahs have to see the handwriting on the wall.

Let us assume what they insist upon – that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the June 12 election; that, even if fraud occurred, it did not decide the outcome. As Ayatollah Khamenei said to loud laughter in his Friday sermon declaring the election valid, “Perhaps 100,000, or 500,000, but how can anyone tamper with 11 million votes?”

Still, the ayatollah and Ahmadinejad must hear the roar of the rapids ahead. Millions of Iranians, perhaps a majority of the professional class and educated young, who shouted, “Death to the dictatorship,” oppose or detest them. How can the regime maintain its present domestic course or foreign policy with its people so visibly divided?

Where do the ayatollah and Ahmadinejad go from here?

If they adopt a harder line, defy Barack Obama and refuse to negotiate their nuclear program, they can continue to enrich uranium, as harsher sanctions are imposed. But to what end – adding 1,000 more kilograms?

If they do not intend to build a bomb, why enrich more? And if they do intend to build a bomb, what exactly would that achieve?

For an Iranian bomb would trigger a regional arms race with Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia seeking nuclear weapons. Israel would put its nuclear arsenal on a hair trigger. America would retarget missiles on Tehran. And if a terrorist anywhere detonated a nuclear bomb, Iran would risk annihilation, for everyone would assume Tehran was behind it.

Rather than make Iran more secure, an Iranian bomb would seem to permanently isolate her and possibly subject her to pre-emptive attack.

And how can the Iranians survive continued isolation?

According to U.S. sources, Iran produced 6 million barrels of crude a day in 1974 under the shah. She has not been able to match that since the revolution. War, limited investment, sanctions and a high rate of natural decline of mature oil fields, estimated at 8 percent onshore and 11 percent offshore, are the causes. A 2007 National Academy of Sciences study reported that if the decline rates continue, Iran’s exports, which in 2007 averaged 2.4 million barrels per day, could decrease to zero by 2015.

You cannot make up for oil and gas exports with carpets and pistachio nuts.

If Tehran cannot effect a lifting of sanctions and new investments in oil and gas production, she is headed for an economic crisis that will cause an exodus of her brightest young and quadrennial reruns of the 2009 election.

And there are not only deep divisions in Iran between modernists and religious traditionalists, the affluent and the poor, but among ethnic groups. Half of Iran’s population is Arab, Kurd, Azeri or Baluchi. In the Kurdish northwest and Baluchi south, secessionists have launched attacks the ayatollah blames on the United States and Israel.

As they look about the region, how can the ayatollahs be optimistic?

Syria, their major ally, wants to deal with the Americans to retrieve the Golan. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are hostile, with the latter having uncovered a Hezbollah plot against President Hosni Mubarak.

Hamas is laser-focused on Gaza, the West Bank and a Palestinian state, and showing interest in working with the Obama administration.

Where is the Islamic revolution going? Where is the state in the Muslim world that has embraced Islamism and created a successful nation?

Sudan? Taliban Afghanistan? Somalia is now in final passage from warlordism to Islamism. Does anyone believe the Al-Shahab will create a successful nation?

As for the ayatollahs, after 30 years, they are deep in crisis – and what have they produced that the world admires?

Even if the “green revolution” in Iran triggers revolts in the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia or Egypt, can Iran believe Sunni revolutionary regimes will follow the lead of a Shia Islamic state? How long did it take Mao’s China to renounce its elder brother in the faith, Khrushchev’s Russia?

When one looks at the Asian tigers – South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia – or at the China or India of recent decades, one sees nations that impress the world with their progress.

Iran under the mullahs has gone sideways or backward. Now, with this suspect election and millions having shown their revulsion of the regime, the legitimacy and integrity of the ayatollahs have been called into question.

Obama offers the regime a way out.

They may exercise their right to peaceful nuclear power, have sanctions lifted and receive security guarantees, if they can prove they have no nuclear weapons program and will cease subverting through their Hezbollah-Hamas proxies the peace process Obama is pursuing between Israel and Palestine.

If Iran refuses Obama’s offer, she will start down a road at the end of which are severe sanctions, escalation and a war that Obama does not want and Iran cannot want – for the winner will not be Iran.

Pat Buchanan was twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the Reform Party’s candidate in 2000. He is also a founder and editor of The American Conservative. Now a political analyst for MSNBC and a syndicated columnist, he served three presidents in the White House, was a founding panelist of three national TV shows, and is the author of seven books.

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One of Iran’s wealthiest and most powerful men, a former right-hand man to the father of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Mr. Rafsanjani was an outspoken critic of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the campaign and a supporter of the opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi.

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has been absent from public view since he voted June 12.

CAIRO — Even before his daughter and four other relatives were briefly detained on Sunday, one of the big mysteries to envelop Iran since the disputed presidential election has been the role of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

One of Iran’s wealthiest and most powerful men, a former right-hand man to the father of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Mr. Rafsanjani was an outspoken critic of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the campaign and a supporter of the opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi.

His absence from public view, coupled with the provocative, though temporary, detention of his family members appears to have escalated an internal battle between two classes of Iran’s political elite. Even if the street protests are stopped, the split threatens to paralyze the state and undermine the legitimacy it has tried to construct since the 1979 revolution, analysts say.

“I see the country’s political elite more divided than anytime in the Islamic Republic’s 30-year history,” said Karim Sadjadpour, a political analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Rafsanjani, one of the republic’s founding fathers, the man who made Khameini Supreme Leader, is now in the opposition.”

Mr. Rafsanjani, who leads two powerful state institutions, has been working behind the scenes to find a compromise solution to the disputed June 12 presidential election, a relative said Sunday. The detention of his family members, this relative said, was a pressure tactic on the part of his opponents.

It seems clear that the 75-year-old is at the center of a fight for the future of the Islamic Republic. Mr. Rafsanjani’s vision of the state, and his position in his nation’s history, is being challenged by a new political elite led by Mr. Ahmadinejad and younger radicals who fought Iraq during the eight-year war.

Mr. Ahmadinejad and his allies have tried to demonize Mr. Rafsanjani as corrupt and weak, attacks that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has not strongly discouraged. On the other side, opposition leaders, especially Mr. Moussavi, have received support from Mr. Rajsanjani, political analysts said.

“It has become an extremely dangerous, zero-sum game,” said an expatriate political consultant who asked not to be identified because his family lives in Iran and he was afraid of retribution.

It is a quirk of history that Mr. Rafsanjani, the ultimate insider, finds himself aligned with a reform movement that once vilified him as deeply corrupt. Mr. Rafsanjani was doctrinaire anti-American hard-liner in the early days of the revolution who remains under indictment for ordering the bombing in of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in 1994 when he was president. But he has evolved over time to a more pragmatic view, analysts say.

He supports greater opening to the West, privatizing parts of the economy, and granting more power to civil elected institutions. His view is opposite of those in power now who support a stronger religious establishment and have done little to modernize the stagnant economy.

Beyond the clash of ideas, the battle is also personal.

“At a political level what’s taking place now, among many other things, is the 20-year rivalry between Khamenei and Rafsanjani coming to a head,” Mr. Sadjadpour said. “It’s an Iranian version of the Corleones and the Tattaglias; there are no good guys and bad guys, only bad and worse.”

It is not clear what leverage Mr. Rajsanjani can bring to this contest. If he speaks out, the relative said, he will lose his ability to broker a compromise. Mr. Rafsanjani leads two powerful councils, one that technically has oversight of the supreme leader, but it is not clear that he could exercise that authority to challenge Ayatollah Khamenei directly.

Yet even in his silence, Mr. Rafsanjani’s pedigree presents a problem for Ayatollah Khameini.

In his Friday sermon, the supreme leader appealed for unity among the elite. He mildly criticized Mr. Ahmadinejad for his personal attacks on Mr. Rafsanjani. But the leader also made it clear that even revolutionary credentials could not save political leaders if they go too far, a clear threat to Mr. Rafsanjani, analysts said.

“If the political elite ignore the law — whether they want it or not — they would be responsible for the chaos and bloodshed,” Ayatollah Khameini said. “I urge old friends and brothers to be patient and keep control of yourselves.”

Mr. Rafsanjani has been in opposition before. In the days of the shah, he was a religious student of Ayatollah Khomeini at the center of Shiite learning, in the city of Qum. He was imprisoned under the shah, and became so closely associated with the revolutionary leader he was known as “melijak Khomeini,” or “sidekick of Khomeini.”’ After 1979, he went on to become the speaker of Parliament.

There, Mr. Rafsanjani established himself in a role that would continue for decades. “Just as the ayatollah had come to personify the revolution, Rafsanjani came to personify the state,” wrote the author and Iran expert, Robin Wright, in her book “In the Name of God, The Khomeini Decade.”

Mr. Rafsanjani later served two terms as president and was instrumental in elevating Ayatollah Khamenei to replace Ayatollah Khomenei in 1989.

People who worked in the government at the time said that Mr. Rafsanjani, as president, ran the nation — while Ayatollah Khameini followed his lead. But over time the two grew apart, as Ayatollah Khameini found his own political constituency in the military and Mr. Rafsanjani found his own reputation sullied. He is often accused of corruption because of the great wealth he and his family amassed.

He was so damaged politically that after he left the presidency, he failed to win enough votes to enter Parliament. In 2002, he was appointed to the head of the Expediency Council, which is supposed to arbitrate disputes between the elected Parliament and the unelected Guardian Council.

And in 2005, he ran for president again but lost in a runoff to Mr. Ahmadinejad. He was then elected to lead the Assembly of Experts. The body has the power to oversee the supreme leader and replace him when he dies, but its members rarely exercise power day to day.

One political analyst said the key to understanding Mr. Rafsanjani is in a book that he wrote about, Amir Kabir, the prime minister under Nasserdin Shah, who was killed in 1852 but was widely regarded as Iran’s first modern reformer. Mr. Rafsanjani wants to go down in history as a modern day Amir Kabir, the analyst said.

And that may explain his decision, for now, to stay silent and aloof from the street clashes as well as the leadership that many believe stole an presidential election.

“He is the question mark right now,” said the expatriate political analyst. “A lot of people are hoping that he is the guy who can mend it.”

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“We don’t want this regime to fall. We want our votes to be counted, because we want reforms, we want kindness, we want friendship with the world.” — Ali Reza, an Iranian actor, on the sidelines of protests in Tehran.

OUTWARD LOOKING Mir Hussein Moussavi supporters campaigning.

WASHINGTON — Could there be something to all the talk of an Obama effect, after all? A stealth effect, perhaps?

As the silent protests in Tehran dominated television screens around the world last week, a peculiar debate in Washington erupted. On one side, a handful of supporters of President Bush said Iranian protesters had taken to the streets because they were emboldened by President Bush’s pro-democracy stance, and the example of Shiite democracy he set up in Iraq. On the other side, some of President Obama’s backers countered that the mere election of Barack Obama in the United States had galvanized reformers in Iran to demand change.

Both of those arguments gave the United States an outsize role at the epicenter of an unfolding story that most experts, and a great many Iranians who talked to pollsters, said was actually not about America at all; it was about Iran and its own problems, notably a highly disputable vote count and the performance of its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“We have to be a little humble about our understanding about what’s going on in Iran,” said R. Nicholas Burns, who was a State Department under secretary for President Bush. “There’s been massive disappointment in Ahmadinejad’s stewardship over the years.”

Even so, something else was also at play: the wistful comments of many Iranian protesters who dreamed of better relations with the world. That strand of thought, however slender among the other huge issues, was evident at the protest demonstrations on behalf of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s principal challenger, Mir Hussein Moussavi. Sign after sign at his rallies was emblazoned: “A new greeting to the world.”

“Behind closed doors, most Iranian officials have long recognized that the ‘death to America’ culture of 1979 is bankrupt, and that Iran will never achieve its enormous potential as long as relations with the United States remain adversarial,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He and others argue that many Iranian pragmatists and moderates believe that their country in 2009 is facing a now-or-never moment.

“If Tehran’s hardliners are incapable of making nice with an American president named Barack Hussein Obama who preaches mutual respect and wishes them a happy Nowruz, it’s pretty obvious the problem is in Tehran, not Washington,” Mr. Sadjadpour said.

During the Bush years, Iran’s regime was able to coalesce support by uniting the country against a common enemy: President Bush, who called Iran a pillar of the “axis of evil” in a speech that alienated many of the very reformers whom the United States was trying to woo. For much of his administration, even as he strengthened Iran by toppling Iran’s nemesis Saddam Hussein, Mr. Bush struck a confrontational public line against the Iranian regime.

The result, according to many experts here and in Iran, was that Iranians, including reformers, swallowed their criticism of the hard-line regime and united against the common enemy. Iranians withreformist sympathies even began advising Americans to stop openly supporting them, lest that open them to attack as pawns of America.

Mr. Obama seemed to be taking that kind of advice to heart last week — to a fault, perhaps, as even some Democratic allies said. He kept his remarks about the Iranian election so cool and detached that Republicans quickly attacked him as showing weakness in the defense of democracy.

On the other hand, he had already put in play a tool that the reformists could use in their internal debate — the notion that this could be the best time in many years in which to seek better relations with America.

Even before he was elected, Mr. Obama struck a conciliatory note towards Iran, saying that the idea of not talking to adversaries was “ridiculous.” And while the substance of his Iran policy does not vary that much from Mr. Bush’s — the United States still seeks to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, still criticizes Iran’s support for militant Islamist organizations, still allies itself staunchly with Israel — he has taken pains to flavor that policy with different atmospherics.

He has offered direct talks between his administration and the Iranian regime, without preconditions. He has videotaped a message directly for the Iranian people, on the celebration of Nowruz, the 12-day holiday that marks the new year in Iran. In the video, with subtitles in Persian, he directed his comments not just to the Iranian people but to Iran’s leaders, and referred to Iran as “the Islamic Republic,” further flagging a willingness to deal with the clerical government. He even went so far as to quote from the vaunted Persian poet Saadi, dead for 700 years now.

Mr. Obama has also removed the ban against American diplomats around the world consorting with their Iranian counterparts. And in his Cairo address June 4, he accepted responsibility for America’s part in the enmity between the United States and Iran.

“In the middle of the cold war, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government,” Mr. Obama said — a reference to the 1953 coup in which an Iranian prime minister, under whom Iran had nationalized its oil industry, was overthrown and the now-despised Shah was restored to power.

The response to Mr. Obama’s overtures from the Iranian alliance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad has been, largely, silence.

But Afshin Molavi, an Iran expert at the New America Foundation, said that the vast majority of Iranians today want better relations with the United States, and middle-class Iranians in particular, he said, were hoping that the Iranian regime would capitalize on Mr. Obama’s much talked about unclenched fist.

Even though Mr. Moussavi shared the leadership’s commitment to Iran’s nuclear program, many middle-class Iranians believed that he would be better able than Mr. Ahmadinejad to strike a warmer relationship with Mr. Obama, said Mr. Molavi, author of “Persian Pilgrimages: Journeys Across Iran” (Norton). “When the election results were announced, for the Iranian middle class, it was not only an insult and an injustice, but it dashed their hopes for a U.S.-Iran rapprochement and told them that they would continue to be isolated in the world.”

In his campaign, Mr. Moussavi used many tactics that echoed Mr. Obama’s. He pledged to re-engage politically with the United States; he used posters of himself and his wife side by side, and he hired a young chief strategist who said he looked to the Obama campaign for ideas. Mr. Moussavi, like Mr. Obama, even used social networks on the Internet to campaign. And once the count was in, his supporters found new uses for the networks in their uniquely Iranian fight.

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The leader of "Al-Qaeda" Osama bin Laden sharply criticized the new American president. He called his policy hostile to the Muslims, and also made the US administration responsible for growth of anti-Americanism in the world.

Publication time: 4 June 2009, 16:43

US president Barack Obama delivered a speech at Cairo University on Thursday. In his speech the US president raised a question on existing discords between the West and the Islamic world, spoke about the struggle against the so-called “extremism”, talked about the military conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, as well as the Iranian nuclear issue.

Addressing to Muslims around the world, the US president said that the cycle of suspicion and discord between the West and the Islamic world must end.

“I have come here to seek a new beginning, – Barak Obama said. – I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust”. “In order to move forward, we must say openly and listen to each other”, the head of the White House emphasized.

The US president has also said that America would continue the open war with the so-called “extremism, which poses the great threat to the peace and security of America”.

“We reject the killing of innocent people – he said. – Whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind”.

We would want to remind that according to estimations of independent observers, the US have killed about 1 million civilians in Iraq. During the blockade of Iraq at the time of Saddam Hussein, more then 2 million children have died in Iraq because of starvation and diseases.

Obama touched upon an issue of Palestine, saying that the US would never turn its back on the Palestinian aspiration to get a state of their own.

“The existence of two states is the only resolution to the Palestinian problem”, – said the American president, having stressed at the same time that “the Palestinians must abandon violence”. Obama did not mention about violence from “Israel’s” side.

The head of the White House said that all problems with Islamic countries must be dealt with through partnership and collaboration.

“We must face these problems squarely and discuss them openly”, Obama emphasized.

Meanwhile, the leader of “Al-Qaeda” Osama bin Laden sharply criticized the new American president. He called his policy hostile to the Muslims, and also made the US administration responsible for growth of anti-Americanism in the world.

The new appeal of bin Laden, dated for the visit of Barack Obama to the East, distributed by Arab TV channel Al-Jazeera the day before. It has been broadcasted almost simultaneously with the arrival of Obama in Riyadh.

“Obama has sowed new seeds of hatred, and the fruits would be reaped by the American people”, bin Laden said.

According to him, the new president follows the steps of his predecessor, “following the policy George Bush in antagonising Muslims”.

Bin Laden has also accused the United States in campaign of “killings, fightings, bombings and destructions”, as a result of which millions of Muslims from the Swat Valley in north-west Pakistan had to leave their homes.

Such policy can become “the foundation for long wars”, the leader of “Al-Qaeda” warned.

He urged Muslims not to wait for positive changes from Obama’s presidency, and warned Americans to be prepared for the consequences of the White House’s policies.

The White House responded to this statement. According to the American side, bin Laden has circulated his new statement in order to divert attention from the speech of US President Barack Obama in Cairo. The White House is not surprised by this attempt, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.

Let us remind that US officials have repeatedly stated that the visit of the new head of the White House to the East is urged to strengthen Washington’s contacts with the Islamic world.

“The American president is seeking to establish a dialogue with the Muslim world and to overcome the vigilance from both parties, as well as to improve the image of the United States and make efforts to reach a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians”, BBC Russian reports.

Two most important allies of Washington in the region – Saudi Arabia and Egypt – are included in a route of Obama’s east tour.

The day before Obama held talks with Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, and then left for Egypt.

Meanwhile on the eve, the visit of US president to the East has been commented by other leader of “Al-Qaeda” Ayman al-Zawahiri. In particular, he called Obama a criminal, and said that he is not welcome in Egypt.

“Once Obama arrives in Egypt, he will be received by the floggers, thieves, and corrupters: those who made Egypt a location for international torture in the American war against Islam.

He will be received by those who besieged and are besieging Gaza. He will be received by the angels of punishment, the forgers of elections, spreaders of vice, and the cowards of Egypt, who handed over Wafa Constantine and her sisters to the monastery prisons to be tortured or killed, in fear of the wrath of America, and to flatter them.

America, whose Ministry of Foreign Affairs issues an annual report on religious freedoms in the world.

But they pressed the Egyptian Government to hand over Wafa Constantine and her sisters. They overlooked hypocrisy in apparent complicity. It is those corrupt ones who will welcome Obama.

Only the corrupt individuals will welcome Obama. As for the noble, pure and righteous men of Egypt, they will despise him in the name of God, and consider him an international criminal and an opportunistic politician who serves the Zionist plan…”, al-Zawahiri said.

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"Netanyahu wants to put us in a situation where he looks like he offered something, and we said no," Erekat said. "Netanyahu’s speech was very clear. He rejects the two-state solution."

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian officials sought U.S and European help to salvage foundering peacemaking on Monday after tough terms laid out by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but they stopped short of refusing to resume negotiations.

Palestinian disappointment was echoed in capitals across the Arab world, where leaders accused Netanyahu of setting more obstacles in the path of an already stymied peace process.

Laying out his Mideast policy in a speech Sunday, Netanyahu bent to U.S. pressure and backed down on decades of opposition to Palestinian statehood. He invited the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world to resume peace talks.

However, he removed from the negotiating agenda the fate of Palestinian refugees displaced by Israel’s 1948 creation and said Israel would retain sovereignty over all of Jerusalem _ two issues previous Israeli governments had agreed to negotiate.

Netanyahu also said he would keep building in Jewish settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians, despite a U.S. demand for a complete freeze. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he would not resume talks unless Israel honored previous pledges to halt construction.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Netanyahu’s speech was so riddled with conditions that he “left nothing for negotiations.”

But he said the Palestinians didn’t want to be cast in the role of rejectionists and didn’t rule out the resumption of talks that broke off late last year.

“Netanyahu wants to put us in a situation where he looks like he offered something, and we said no,” Erekat said. “Netanyahu’s speech was very clear. He rejects the two-state solution.”

Erekat said he contacted American, European and Russian mediators in the wake of the speech and urged them to hold Israel _ along with the Palestinians _ to their obligations under previous peace plans. Israel is required to halt settlement construction, while Palestinians must rein in militants.

Netanyahu’s move came after months of pressure from Washington to endorse Palestinian statehood, as successive Israeli governments before his have done. “There are new international circumstances that demanded I make a decision,” Netanyahu told a party meeting on Monday. “This is the policy I chose.”

In Washington, Robert Gibbs, a spokesman for President Barack Obama, welcomed Netanyahu’s conditional acceptance of Palestinian statehood as an “important step forward.”

But he suggested more needs to be done, saying the U.S. would work with all sides to make sure they fulfill the obligations “necessary to achieve a two-state solution.”

The European Union also said Netanyahu’s endorsement was a step in the right direction.

At the same time, Netanyahu’s nationalist tone, tough conditions and vague language on peacemaking appeared to avert a crisis in his hawkish coalition, where there was strong opposition to the U.S. pressure.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the most powerful hard-liner in Netanyahu’s government, said the prime minister’s speech outlined “the balance between our aspirations for peace and the aspiration for security.”

In his speech, Netanyahu called on Arab leaders to meet with him “any time, any place.”

But he pointedly avoided mentioning an Arab peace initiative that offers to trade normalized ties with the entire Arab world for a complete Israeli withdrawal from lands captured in 1967, a demand Israel rejects.

He demanded Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state _ another way of saying Palestinian refugees must give up their hopes of returning to lost homes inside Israel.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a key mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, said that demand “will further complicate the situation and scuttle any chance of peace,” according to the state news agency MENA.

In Jordan, the pro-government Al-Rai daily ran an editorial titled, “Netanyahu offered rotten merchandise. Nobody will buy it.”

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman described Netanyahu’s speech as “intransigent when it comes to dealing with peace or regarding the solution for Palestinian refugees.” Saudi Arabia’s state-run Al-Nadwa daily said “every paragraph of Netanyahu’s speech makes us more pessimistic.”

The Arab League’s undersecretary general for Palestinian affairs, Mohammed Sobeih, said the speech might satisfy “extremists in Israel” but was “too far from what peace needs.”

The Syrian news agency published a call on world powers to force Israel to stop settlement construction. In Beirut, Hezbollah, another bitter enemy of Israel, said the speech disappointed “so-called moderate Arabs” who were hoping for peace with Israel.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who brokered the landmark 1979 treaty between Egypt and Israel, said his experience in the region shows that no differences are insurmountable. But he criticized key points in the speech _ Netanyahu’s intention to keep all of Jerusalem and his demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, which Carter said would make it hard for Obama to rally Arab support.

Carter reserved his harshest words for settlements. “If Israeli continues to expand the settlements,” he said, “then the prospects for peace will be greatly diminished, if not made almost impossible.”


Associated Press writers Amy Teibel, Ben Hubbard and Joseph Marks contributed from Jerusalem. Omar Sinan contributed from Cairo, Bassem Mroue contributed from Beirut and Donna Abu-Nasr contributed from Riyadh.

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No U.S. denunciation of what took place in Iran is as credible as the reports and pictures coming out of Iran. Those reports, those pictures are stripping the mullahs of the only asset they seemed to possess – that, even if fanatics, they were principled, honest men.

The Obama policy of extending an open hand to Iran is working and ought not be abandoned because of the grim events in Tehran.

For the Iranian theocracy has just administered a body blow to its legitimacy in the eyes of the Iranian people and the world.

Before Saturday, the regime could credibly posture as defender of the nation, defiant in the face of the threats from Israel, faithful to the cause of the Palestinians, standing firm for Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful nuclear power.

Today, the regime, including the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is under a cloud of suspicion that they are but another gang of corrupt politicians who brazenly stole a presidential election to keep themselves and their clerical cronies in power.

What should we do now? Wait for the dust to settle.

No U.S. denunciation of what took place in Iran is as credible as the reports and pictures coming out of Iran. Those reports, those pictures are stripping the mullahs of the only asset they seemed to possess – that, even if fanatics, they were principled, honest men.

Like Hamas, it was said of them that at least they were not corrupt, that at least they did not cheat the people.

No more. Today, in the streets of Tehran and other cities, they call to mind “Comrade Bob” Mugabe in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will never recapture that revolutionary purity he once seemed to possess as the man of the people who was elected president in the upset of 2005. Today, he appears, as the New York Times puts it, “as the shrewd and ruthless front man for a clerical military and political elite that is more unified and emboldened than at any time since the 1979 revolution.”

There are other reasons Obama should not heed the war hawks howling for confrontation now.

When your adversary is making a fool of himself, get out of the way. That is a rule of politics Lyndon Johnson once put into the most pungent of terms. U.S. fulminations will change nothing in Tehran. But they would enable the regime to divert attention to U.S. meddling in Iran’s affairs and portray the candidate robbed in this election, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, as a poodle of the Americans.

When Nikita Khrushchev bathed the Hungarian revolution in blood, Ike did not break relations. Khrushchev was at Camp David three years later. When Deng Xiaoping and Co. ordered the tanks into Tiananmen Square, George Bush I did not break relations. When Moscow ordered Warsaw to crush Solidarity, Ronald Reagan did not let that act of repression deter him from seeking direct talks to reduce nuclear weapons.

Again, let us wait for the dust to settle.

By now, even Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei must recognize that the Iranian revolution is losing the Iranian people. This is the third of four straight presidential elections where the turnout has been huge and the candidate who promised reconciliation with the West and an easing of social strictures won a landslide among the student young. Those are the future leaders of Iran.

Which way the regime will now go is difficult to predict.

After Tiananmen Square, the Chinese rulers who ordered in the tanks sought to reconnect with the disillusioned young by opening up to the West and building a neo-capitalist economy.

Iran, in economic straits with U.S. sanctions biting, its oil and gas reserves dwindling, could try the same route. Seize the opposition’s best issues by seeking accommodation with America.

More likely, the regime, backed by the hard-line military, will try to reconnect with the masses and regain its reputation as defender of Islam and the nation, by defying the Americans, denouncing Israel and pressing forward with Iran’s nuclear program.

The dilemma for America is that the theocracy defines itself and grounds its claim to leadership through its unyielding resistance to the Great Satan – the United States – and to Israel.

Nevertheless, Obama, with his outstretched hand, his message to Iran on its national day, his admission that the United States had a hand in the 1953 coup in Tehran, his assurances that we recognize Iran’s right to nuclear power, succeeded. He stripped the Ayatollah and Ahmadinejad of their clinching argument – that America is out to destroy Iran and they are indispensable to Iran’s defense.

With the mask of patriotism and the legacy of true revolution lost through this election fraud, Iran’s regime stands exposed as just another dictatorship covering up a refusal to yield power and privilege with a pack of lies about protecting the nation.

Saturday’s election not only revealed the character of the Iranian regime. It also revealed that time is on our side. If the people of Iran can defy this regime, it is no threat to us.

As with the other revolutionary and totalitarian regimes, from the Soviet Union of Lenin and Stalin, to the People’s Republic of Mao, to the revolutionary Cuba of Fidel, America outlasts them all.

And the ayatollahs, too.

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Restoring relations with the United States is a top priority as Iran votes in an election that could put reformists in charge. And it will be a huge challenge for the Obama administration, says Robert Dreyfuss.

Foreign policy is front and center in the Iranian electoral debate. It’s clear from countless discussions I’ve had in Tehran this week that many Iranians blame Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for isolating Iran, creating a needless confrontation with the United States, provoking a harsh set of economic sanctions that has crippled Iran’s oil, aviation, and computer/IT industries.

Those Iranians want the next president, whoever he is — and all signs continue to suggest that Mir Hossein Mousavi will be the winner — to make restoring Iran’s relations with the United States a top priority.

Of course, that might be difficult.

I spent much of Wednesday morning in discussions at the Iranian foreign ministry. For two hours, I spoke with Ali Akbar Rezaie, the director-general of the ministry’s office responsible for North America. He credits President Obama for his efforts in Cairo and elsewhere to put an end to the “civilizational” conflict between the West and Islam. “Compared to anything we’ve heard in the last 30 years, and especially in the last eight years, his words were very different,” he says. “People in the region received the speech, from this angle, very positively, with sympathy.”

He seemed to hint that the election would set the stage for a real Iran-United States dialogue. “After the election we will be in a better position to manage relations with the United States. We’ll be at the beginning of a new four-year period, and the political framework will be clear.”

But the devil is in the details, he suggests. On the nuclear issue, the biggest stumbling block so far, he says that Obama was, well, fuzzy. While Obama said that Iran has the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy, he said nothing — either way — about Iran’s right to enrich uranium on Iranian soil. From Iran’s point of view, says Rezaie, the fact that Obama didn’t rule out (or condemn) the possibility of an Iran-based enrichment program is a good sign. “But it is still vague for us. It is not clear whether he omitted that point intentionally or not. We don’t know what he has in mind.”

Of course, negotiating the details of a solution to this thorny problem is precisely the point. During my visit, a number of well-connected Iranians have said that if the United States creates a hospitable climate for relations between the two countries — for instance, were Obama to stop saying that “all options are on the table” including military action — the whole process might move forward more easily. “From a technical point of view, there are many things that both sides can talk about, but those points won’t be tabled as long as there isn’t enough political will, on both sides,” says Rezaie. “I understand it’s difficult to define the right level of political will, but it should be enough to convince the other side that it is serious. So far we have seen good words [from Obama], but it’s not enough yet.”

At least five separate, very influential Iranian officials and former officials have said that the key is for the United States to deal directly with Ali Khamenei, the Leader, rather than worry about who is president. (Of course, were Ahmadinejad to be ousted on Friday, it would be infinitely easier for Obama to sell the idea of talking to Iran to a skeptical US public.)

Sadegh Kharazi, Iran’s former ambassador to France, expressed frustration about America’s seeming unwillingness to deal directly with Khamenei. “The audience for the United States should be the Leader,” he says. “After the election, the United States can work directly with the Office of the Supreme Leader. They know people who work with the Office of the Supreme Leader.” Among them, he and other Iranians suggest, are Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser to Khameni, and Kamal Kharazi, Sadegh Kharazi’s uncle and head of Iran’s Council on Foreign Relations. Both served as foreign minister previously. Perhaps half a dozen other leading Iranian figures can serve an intermediary, Iranian sources say.

“In Iran, the Iranian leadership — the president, the Leader, everyone — looks at Obama very positively,” says Kharazi. “But we need a comprehensive plan from him. … If Obama makes a practical gesture, Iran would immediately respond.”

Currently, Kharazi is a chief foreign policy adviser to Mousavi’s campaign. When I met him yesterday. he was exhausted after a long campaign swing to southwest Iran, where he addressed a 10,000-strong Mousavi rally in Iran’s oil capital of Ahwaz. He laid out for an eight-point plan for rebuilding US-Iranian relations, including “transparency of Iran’s nuclear program,” i.e., strengthened safeguards to prevent the diversion of uranium into military use and a more stringent inspection regime.

Several other Iranians, perhaps less constricted by their official and semi-official positions were even more blunt about the problem.

Saeed Laylaz, a private businessman and economic analyst, earlier served in a top post in Iran’s ministry of industry, until he ran afoul of President Ahmadinejad. He’s on a personal campaign now to make sure the United States understands how to deal with the highly complex political system in Iran.

As we talked, he received a steady stream of phone calls from friends in Iran’s far-flung provinces about the election outlook. Laylaz calls Ahmadinejad “stupid” and blames him for mismanaging Iran’s faltering economy, including squandering $300 billion in oil revenue over the past four years that was “wasted and looted.” But he is beside himself over America’s inability to understand that power in Iran lies in the hands of Khamenei, not Ahmadinejad.

When Obama sent his remarkable Nowruz New Year’s greeting last February, Iranians were stunned, he says. “People were excited and surprised. We realized that the US dialogue with Iran has changed basically and dramatically.”

But Laylaz says that the United States blew it. Very quickly after Obama’s message, Khamenei responded with a public statement welcoming improved US ties and, he says, laying what he calls a “roadmap” for better ties. “But Mr. Khamenei’s response did not get the appropriate reaction in the United States.” For instance, he says, Khamenei raised the question of Iran’s frozen assets held in the United States dating back to 1979, a sum that amounts to something like $8 billion to $12 billion now, according to Laylaz. “Obama could have asked for a report about those frozen assets,” he says. Doing so, even quietly, would have sent an enormous signal to Khamenei that his message was heard loud and clear.

There are minefields aplenty in the coming US-Iranian dialogue. Both sides are hugely suspicious of the other, and there are real, underlying issues that reflect conflicting interests between Washington and Tehran. On both sides, there are radicals and hardliners intent on sabotaging the prospect for better relations. In Iran, whatever happens in the election, there is bound to be a period of political instability during which the losing side (or sides) may not accept defeat quietly.

But every day Tehran looks greener, as the Green Wave of the Mousavi campaign gathers momentum. Politics is getting raucous, with Ahmadinejad hurling accusations of corruption at his rivals, and their backers, including the powerful, wily former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Last night, Rafsanjani struck back, issuing a blistering letter attacking Ahmadinejad. It’s an unprecedented display of vitriol, and increasingly it’s looking like it’s Ahmadinejad and a few cronies against… well, everyone else.

Robert Dreyfuss is a contributing editor to The Nation magazine, and the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Metropolitan).

Copyright © 2009 The Nation

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The arrogance and the preachings are out but two things American still stand out, and that is the United States is a world super power and that American loyalty to Israel is undiminished. Other things can change but not these two.

1. Finally Obama, the black President of the United States has made his much awaited speech outlining his views and policies on Islam, the Muslims and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a carefully crafted speech and certainly it is different from those of George W. Bush or even other US Presidents.

2. The arrogance and the preachings are out but two things American still stand out, and that is the United States is a world super power and that American loyalty to Israel is undiminished. Other things can change but not these two.

3. Hamas is asked to give up terrorism because like the struggles of the blacks of America and South Africa, violence achieves nothing. This is not quite true, at least with other national struggles for freedom and justice. The white Americans themselves fought a war against the British and another war to prevent the break-up of the United States.

4. Elsewhere the struggles for freedom and justice e.g. the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution just to name two, all involve violence.

5. It is not the Palestinians who choose violence. It was the Jews who violently seized Palestinian land, massacred the Arabs and expelled them from their country. With no one prepared to restrain the Jews, the beleaguered Palestinians had to resort to violence. The world, the United Nations, even fellow Muslims have deserted them.

6. I am against violence but when Israel seized more Palestinian land, build settlements, impose military rule, divide the Palestinians with high walls, barred the Palestinians from using roads built by the Israelis on Palestinian territory, denied the Palestinian right to a homeland, denied the right of return of the expelled Palestinian while upholding the rights of return of Jews who for centuries had been citizens of other countries, labelled Palestinians as terrorists while exonerating the Israelis for the massive attacks on Gaza and other places, left the Palestinians helpless when attacked by the Western-armed Israeli Military Forces, incarcerated thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails, unnecessarily provoke the Palestinians by Sharon’s visit to Jerusalem and many, many more assaults and provocations, is it any wonder that the Palestinians resorted to violence?

7. And now they are asked to stop violence to respect agreements. But what about the Israelis? Shouldn’t they be told to stop their massive violence; shouldn’t they be told to respect agreements and all the UN resolutions, such as those against their setting up settements on Palestinian soil, the occupation of land beyond the UN set boundaries for Israel?

8. Obama stresses America’s strong bond with Israel. It is unbreakable. He recognises the aspiration for a Jewish homeland “rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied”.

9. But what is the tragic history? It is that of European persecution of the Jews, of the regular pogroms culminating in the Holocaust? It is not the doings of the Muslims. Certainly not the doings of the Palestinians.The tragedy was caused by the Europeans through the ages.

10. Obama must know that before there was the United States, the Jews invariably fled to Muslim countries to seek refuge from European persecution. The Muslims did not turn them back. Before Israel there were millions of Jews in Muslim land. Even today quite a few are still there.

11. The Muslims have never been part of the tragic history of the Jews. Why then must they pay the price for the tragedy caused by the Europeans? Had the Europeans offered part of Europe or America for a Jewish state, there would not be the sustained violence that we see in West Asia. But the Europeans expropriated Arab Palestinian land to give to the Jews. Can an injustice in West Asia atone for injustice in Europe? The Muslim Arabs have to pay for the asylum they provided the Jews by having their land taken away to give to the Jews.

12. To make matters worse the Palestinian Arabs, Christians and Muslims, were violently expelled from Palestine. Israel is to be a racist state for Jews only.

13. America accepts people of different races and religious affiliations. But it supports the exclusivity of Israel as a Jewish state.

14. The Palestinians had tried conventional ways of getting back their land. But conventional ways had failed. They have been forsaken by Arab and Muslim countries. Everytime they try on their own they lose more land because the Europeans and Americans gave military support to Israel.

15. It is only after the failure of conventional wars of liberation that they resorted to unconventional attacks. Can they be blamed? Even the tiny mouse when driven into a corner will fight literally with tooth and nail.

16. We can label the methods of the cornered Palestinians terrorism. But they are themselves terrified and those who inflict terror on them cannot be less of a terrorist than them. State terrorism is no less terrifying than terrorism by irregulars. Indeed State terrorism is more terrifying as we witnessed in Nazi Germany and in Cambodia.

17. I will admit that Obama has brought change. It is a relief after eight years of Bush. But there is an area that he cannot change and that is the blind support for Israel. He has no choice. He will become a one-term President of the United States if he does not.

18. For all the talk about democracy in America, the American majority have no power to choose their President or their Government. That power lies with Israel. They can deny this. But that is the truth. The Americans have become the proxy of the Jews. The Americans will pay a heavy price for this.

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As Iranian voters cast their votes today, clinging to hopes of change, sources indicate that security forces are planning a massive crackdown on expected protests once the winner is named

UPDATE: As Iranian voters cast their votes in record numbers today – clinging to the hope that change has finally arrived for them –  there are two alarming new developments that do not bode well for the democratic movement.

First, according to usually reliable sources, security forces are preparing for a massive crackdown on the protestors, once the winner of the contest is announced.

Second, in a highly symbolic departure from past norms, the office of the Supreme Leader has issued an official disclaimer about alleged promises made to Hashemi Rafsanjani by ayatollah Khamenei. The Supreme Leader also warned today against “ill-wishers” who spread malicious rumors and are lodged everywhere, adding “they may be found everywhere, in all agencies and groups.”

Experts believe that since the Supreme Leader is not known as someone to bank on the losing side, this can be interpreted, with moderate confidence, as a sign that Mahmood Ahmadinejad is considered as the next president of the Islamic Republic.”

The date of 3 June 2009 will be remembered in Iran as a milestone in all the country’s tumultuous 30-year history. On this day, as a record 50 million Iranians were watching a much-anticipated presidential debate between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his chief reformist rival, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the incumbent president broke with the past and unleashed devastating personal attacks on several high-ranking clerical opponents, several former officials and Mousavi’s own wife.

Iran’s third-highest authority and Mousavi’s ally, Aliakbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who seemed to be the principal target of the attacks, was variously portrayed as venial, corrupt and traitorous.

The charges of theft, impropriety and perfidy were so shocking that at midnight, right after the debate’s conclusion, up to a million people poured out into the streets of the capital in spontaneous demonstrations of support of, or opposition to, Ahmadinejad – mostly the latter.  

Ahmadinejad and his supporters kept up the momentum with similar accusations in several other appearances and statements against other former associates of ayatollah Khomeieni.

“Iran is a transformed country after this,” one Iranian cleric told ISN Security Watch. The cleric, who insisted on anonymity, said that for nearly three decades, the Iranian public, particularly its youth, had not heard such words uttered by its leaders.

“Ahmadinejad has raised the stakes too high for his own good,” he said.

The cumulative effect of the charges and the highly polarizing nature of the election itself have completely changed the country’s political landscape.

Daily, millions of excited Iranians have been demonstrating, partying and arguing their points in thousands of small and large gatherings in the country’s urban centers. Several cities, such as Ahwaz, have seen their largest recorded pro-reform rallies in history. Amazingly, the over-repressive Law Enforcement Agency has largely left the scene and the streets are witnessing extraordinary instances of mass catharsis.

After me, the deluge

There are strong indications that beyond the dirty political mudslinging tactics or the mass fervor, something far more sweeping and significant may be in the works in Iran: a forcing out of power of important sections of the old guard – Iran’s political-clerical elite, those associates of ayatollah Khomeini who made the revolution possible – and their replacement by the young crop of neo-fundamentalist cadres and activists aligned with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who considers Hashemi Rafsanjani and his reformist friends a major hindrance to his grand plans and policies.

Many people believe that Ahmadinejad’s devastating blows are primarily election-related. There may be some truth in this, but his knock-out punches cannot be attributed entirely to electioneering only for the simple reason that according to experts in Iran, had he not engaged in such dangerous maneuvers, many people would have boycotted the vote as usual and he would have won the election with a safe margin.

Three days before the historic 3 June debate with Mousavi, Ahmadinejad had declared that he would soon expose the names of “economic mafias.” This wasn’t the first time he had threatened to do so. In the last four years, he had made at least nine such threats without living up to them. He has chosen to do so now for several important reasons.

First, the accused have no way of responding to their accuser during the election season. On 5 June, citing the urgency of the election season for the nation and in response to Rafsanjani’s written request for a rejoinder on the national radio and TV (IRIB), IRIB chief, General Ezatollah Zarghami, refused to allow Rafsanjani and the others accused the opportunity to respond. Meanwhile, as has been abundantly clear in street conversations, millions of ordinary Iranians have now accepted some of these allegations as incontrovertible fact.

Second, the extraordinary corruption charges have broadened and energized the Neo-Right’s social base to unprecedented levels not seen since the 1980s.

Third, Ahmadinejad is implicitly shifting blame for his economic difficulties to his rivals by claiming that they have blocked his populist agenda. This is a reprise of 2005 election tactics which successfully tapped into the economic resentments and grievances of lower- and working-class Iranians.

Fourth, Ahmadinejad’s last four years have been marked by a near-paralysis of his government’s policies thanks in part to entrenched opposition from other factions against his radical vision. The highlight of this was last March when the parliament rejected his radical comprehensive economic reform plan, which envisioned axing tens of billions of dollars in state subsidies and giving huge cash handouts to dispossessed or pro-Ahmadinejad constituencies. By all indications, the anti-Ahmadinejad front was intent on acting even more determinedly under Ahmadinejad’s second term. 

Fifth, during the last four years, both Rafsanjani and ayatollah Khamenei have waged a proxy war against one another, with Ahmadinejad as their common foil. Ayatollah Khamenei used Ahmadinejad as a battering ram against Rafsanjani whenever it suited him, and Rafsanjani in turn cited Ahmadinejad’s shortcomings as a way to question the Supreme Leader’s wisdom with regard to several policies.

In this context, this can be considered a masterstroke by the Supreme Leader against his old rival.

A new alignment

Ahmadinejad, whose political acumen is routinely underestimated by his opponents, is fully backed in this by very powerful forces in Iran – chief among them are most of the Revolutionary Guards’ leadership and rank and file, the Basij militia.

For instance, a pro-Ahmadinejad 300,000-strong political rally on 8 June at Tehran’s Mosala Mosque Complex, hundreds of buses full of Basij militiamen, who constitute one of RGCI’s five sub-sections, were brought to the rally en masse.

A website published by dissident conservatives subsequently obtained the text of a directive sent by a RGCI base to Basij section heads in which each militia man was required to mobilize 80 other individuals for the rally. During the rambunctious and rowdy rally, the hysterical crowd broke into brand new religious and political chants in complete unison. One of these was “Death to Hashemi [Rafsanjani].” Another one was: “Ahmadi, Ahmadi, you are the Leader’s follower” and “the looter of the country’s coffer must be executed.”

The frenzied crowd – with its new organizational and political make-up – gives a clear indication of where the powers that be would like to steer Iran: a new radical-fundamental movement headed by former officers of the Revolutionary Guards Corps.

On 9 June, Rafsanjani sent an extraordinary letter to the Supreme Leader decrying what he called a frontal attack on the old revolutionary cadre; thus throwing the ball in the Supreme Leader’s court. In this letter, Rafsanjani publicly asked the Supreme Leader to condemn Ahmadinejad before the 12 June election since, in his words, the “fomenters of this dangerous scheme would otherwise add fuel to the fire.”

As of this writing, the Supreme Leader has not denounced the attacks on his former friends, which include a top member of his own staff, giving credence to rumors of his support for Ahmadinejad’s demarche.

On 10 June, the Revolutionary Guards’ paper, Sobh-e Sadegh, ran a front-page article in which it condemned Rafsanjani’s letter as a pretext for a velvet-type counter-revolution. In tandem with this, a well-organized campaign is under way to defeat Mousavi by linking him to Rafsanjani.

On the same day, hard-line clerics marched against Rafsanjani in the holy city of Qum. Two days earlier, a crowd attacked and destroyed the facade of the building that houses the Expediency Council, which Rafsanjani chairs.

For the Friday poll, which will see one of Iran’s largest turnouts, the reformists have devised a plan to monitor the vote. In the first round of the election in 2005, the Revolutionary Guards undertook a massive vote-stuffing attempt, which changed the outcome. There are signs that the same will be repeated this year – that is, unless the Supreme Leader personally intervenes.

There are also reports that many high-ranking ayatollahs are making public stands against attacks on Rafsanjani and other fellow-clerics. Several, like ayatollah Javadi and Jafari, have said they would now vote for Mousavi instead of Ahmadinejad.

The next few days will be critical. The police have forbidden further displays of political loyalty in the streets. With several million people having experienced the joys of freedom in the streets of Tehran and other cities, it will be interesting to see how the government can contain popular anger once Ahmadinejad is announced the winner.  

Kamal Nazer Yasin is the pseudonym of an Iranian journalist reporting for ISN Security Watch from Tehran.

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Ahmadinejad has not disappointed his supporters in the election campaign. More importantly, he has startled and demoralized many of his enemies. His combative style, independence of mind and unflinching belief in his ideas and political programs have been the key feature of the election.

If there was ever any doubt that the Islamic Republic offers a genuine form of democracy, the 2009 Iranian presidential election campaign has surely put the record straight. Iran is gripped by election fervor and Friday’s poll offered a genuine choice. The outcome will have profound consequences for the country, the region and beyond.

Predicting the results of Iranian elections is notoriously difficult. Both the 1997 and 2005 polls produced surprising results. The former propelled the reformist Mohammad Khatami to the presidency while the latter witnessed the rise of the incumbent Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

While the majority of well-informed and well-connected Iranian journalists insist that former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi – despite his poor elections campaign – will clinch a victory, it would be foolish to write off the formidable Ahmadinejad, who in the past two weeks of campaigning has displayed remarkable political skills and stamina.

The futility of predicting outcomes notwithstanding, the election campaign has exposed the deep divisions inside the labyrinthine and impossibly complex circles of power in the Islamic Republic. The rules of the game – carefully worked out over three decades – were repeatedly broken (most of the time by the incumbent president), signaling an irrevocable divide in the regime.

In the long term, the formalization of fundamental divisions can lead to two outcomes; either the emergence of a political culture that transcends the idiom, sensitivities and self-perception of the Islamic regime (ie regime change – albeit peacefully) or the beginning of genuine party politics and the significant broadening and deepening of the democratic dimension of the Islamic system.

The current institutional mechanisms and ideological parameters can no longer contain the deep divisions and tensions that divide the inheritors of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The combative president
Ahmadinejad has not disappointed his supporters in the election campaign. More importantly, he has startled and demoralized many of his enemies. His combative style, independence of mind and unflinching belief in his ideas and political programs have been the key feature of the election.

Ahmadinejad came on top during all the televised debates with his three opponents. His combative spirit, pugilistic style of debating and remarkable grasp of detail demolished his opponents one after another. While many people would still question his suitability for the presidential role, at the very least now they know why he reached the top in the first place.

The televised debates – unprecedented in Iran – were not so much an opportunity to test the candidates’ policies and political programs, but were instead a fascinating window to the deep-rooted and multi-faceted divides in the Islamic Republic.

At the personality level, there is a divide between first-generation revolutionaries and second-generation types, exemplified by the comparatively young Ahmadinejad, who is 53. During his explosive TV debate with his main opponent, former premier Mousavi, Ahmadinejad claimed (partially correctly) that three (former) governments are ranged against him. He was referring to the Mousavi administration in the 1980s and the Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami presidencies in the subsequent decades.

At the political level, the debates indicate a fascinating realignment of factional alliances in the regime. Powerful elements from across the ideological spectrum are now opposed to Ahmadinejad (lending credence to the embattled president’s cries of encirclement and a wide-ranging campaign to oust him). Naturally, the president’s enemies have swung behind his strongest rival, giving rise to the oddest political moment in the three-decade history of the Islamic Republic.

The strangest alliance of all is between Mousavi and his erstwhile foe Rafsanjani (himself a former president and current head of the Expediency Council). It was Rafsanjani who engineered the downfall of Mousavi in the summer of 1989 in what amounted to a ruthless political assassination. Moreover, throughout the 1980s, Rafsanjani was critical of the economic policies of the former prime minister, which he decried as left-wing and injurious to the Islamic regime’s deep-rooted attachment to private property and individual commercial enterprise. [1]

If three decades of experience is any indication, these alliances of convenience will not last long. The grandees of the Iranian establishment have long memories; more importantly, they have competing constituencies.

Ahmadinejad’s resounding victories in the televised presidential debates should not be underestimated. He took on some of the most formidable personalities in the establishment (past and present) and systematically deconstructed their motivation, connections and political programs (or lack of). If political skills were the only attribute required for the presidential role, then Ahmadinejad deserves a resounding victory. In some respects it is a tragedy for Iran, that more than 30 years after the revolution, the country’s most formidable politician is a self-obsessed and quixotic populist, with an insatiable will to power.

Ahmadinejad has powerful enemies and detractors not only in Iran but across the global community. But there is only one set of opinion that really matters in this debate, and that is the collective assessment of Islamic Republic supporters and sympathizers. While Ahmadinejad has plenty of supporters in the rank-and-file of the revolutionary faithful, he has at least an equal amount of opponents.

It is relatively easy to criticize Ahmadinejad’s economic policies, which have driven up inflation and left vast swathes of the urban middle classes reeling, without bringing significant tangible benefits to the urban and rural poor. It is equally easy to criticize his government’s political and social program, especially the clampdown on civil society, independent professional journalists and amateur bloggers and so-called citizen journalists.

But the real critique goes much deeper than that, and was evident throughout the president’s aggressive debating style with his three opponents. Despite his remarkable grasp of economic and political details, Ahmadinejad lacks far-sighted insight into the delicate factional balance that keeps the entire post-revolutionary order viable. It is precisely this balance – that is tirelessly worked through and reinforced day by day – which at a more abstract and strategic level bridges the gulf between ideology and politics in the Islamic Republic, and reconciles (albeit grudgingly) the system’s Islamic and democratic dimensions.

In the absence of more robust institutional arrangements (that can handle greater levels of democracy), upsetting this delicate balance can have grave consequences. Under less fortuitous times it may even trigger system collapse. It is this fundamental insight that mobilizes opinion against Ahmadinejad within regime circles and the outer circles of sympathizers and supporters.

Reformists at crossroads
The lively presidential campaign has exposed the weakness of Ahmadinejad’s opponents. None of the three, Mousavi, former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Mohsen Rezai and former Majlis (parliament) speaker Mehdi Karroubi, have put forward anything that even remotely resembles a coherent political and economic program. Instead, the challengers (with the exception of Rezai) focused their campaign on character assassination.

Mousavi is the strongest contender – thus attracting widespread support from unlikely quarters – but the campaign has revealed him to be overly grey, remarkably uncharismatic and lacking political skills. Mousavi virtually collapsed during the TV debate with Ahmadinejad, proving no match for the latter’s pugilistic style of debating.

Despite his glaring weaknesses, Mousavi continues to maintain cross-factional support, if only because he is the only man capable of ousting Ahmadinejad. But as stated earlier, this broad cross-factional support would likely disintegrate shortly after he assumed office, if Mousavi manages to win in the first place.

But in the event of victory, Mousavi would face more formidable challenges. He has already upset key elements in the Islamic left – which constitutes his core base – through his choice of allies and election campaign postures. His open alliance with Khatami has raised eyebrows, not so much because of what Khatami stands for, but because the former president is widely regarded as a failure.

Moreover, Mousavi’s election team has consistently tried to woo the constituency that 12 years ago mobilized behind Khatami; namely, a certain type of young people (especially young women) who espouse a range of political and socio-cultural demands that if put into practice would amount to abolishing the Islamic regime.

Furthermore, Mousavi’s statements about foreign policy, especially his seemingly unconditional acceptance of negotiations with the Islamic Republic’s arch-enemy, the United States, has rankled the deepest reaches of the Islamic left, who historically have constituted the most anti-American elements in the regime.

And yet despite these glaring weaknesses, Mousavi can yet become a successful president. His administration would self-consciously project itself as reformist (in line with the program and self-perception of the Islamic left since 1989), but Mousavi is unlikely to mimic the discourse and language of Khatami. His administration would be reformist from an institutional point of view, with less emphasis on cultural change and certainly no insistence on esoteric themes such as “dialogue among civilizations”, which was the hallmark of the Khatami presidency.

The problem is not that the divisions in the Islamic Republic are now too deep (they have been deep from day one), the real point is that these divisions (in all its embarrassing detail) is now fully public. Ahmadinejad broke any remaining taboo by accusing the grandees of the establishment, in particular Rafsanjani and former Majlis speaker Nategh Nouri, of widespread corruption on live television.

The fights at the top hint at more ferocious jockeying for power and position at lower levels. The current institutional order – especially the watchdog and oversight mechanisms employed to control politics as exemplified by the Council of Guardians – will not be able to handle the tensions and political conflicts that lie ahead. The only viable solution is to go beyond factional politics and encourage the establishment of genuine political parties in Iran. This in turn requires the broadening and deepening of the country’s democratic spaces.

But no one should underestimate the Herculean task that lies ahead. Aside from restoring normalcy to the functioning of government, the new reformist administration must secure consensus across the board, and work to convince key stakeholders that strengthening the system’s democratic component will not come at the expense of its Islamic identity and worldview. Khatami failed miserably in this endeavor, but Mousavi has a greater chance of success, owing to his administrative and management skills and residual cross-factional support.

While it is expected that many of his election allies will abandon him, nonetheless a residual core of revolutionary sympathizers from across the ideological spectrum (including the ideological right) will remain loyal to Mousavi, if only because he is a symbol of revolutionary continuity.

All of this may prove to have been mere speculation in the very near future, when the election results come out. Despite widespread predictions to the contrary, the formidable Ahmadinejad may yet clinch victory, and not necessarily by a narrow margin.

Iran’s democratic spaces may be embattled, but they are very real. The events of the past four weeks have made this abundantly clear. The Islamic Republic – despite all its contradictions, weaknesses and petty authoritarianism – can sincerely claim to be a democracy of sorts. The outcome of this presidential election, more than any other, will have a significant impact on the everyday life of ordinary Iranians. Some Iranians may feel the choice is between the least-worst option, but even the most cynical would readily agree that the choices are real, and they have consequences.

The choice is between stability and reform as opposed to volatility and superficial change. For Ahmadinejad’s opponents, the greatest worry is that the notoriously unpredictable Iranian electorate may deliver yet another stunningly surprising result.

1. For a list of 40 statements made by Rafsanjani against the Mousavi administration in the 1989-1991 period (ie immediately after Rafsanjani ousted Mousavi as premier) click here.

Mahan Abedin is a senior researcher in terrorism studies and a consultant to independent media in Iran. He is currently based in northern Iraq, where he is helping to develop local media capacity.

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd.

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The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his main pro-reform opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, have accused each other using Hitler-like propaganda tactics in order to win on Friday. The president’s harsh allegations against his rivals, including Mousavi, during Wednesday’s rally indicated that the mudslinging between the candidates was not slowing down.

TEHRAN, Iran —  Iran’s hard-line president accused his election rivals of using “Hitler” smear tactics to sway voters ahead of Friday’s national vote — adding that they should face jail for insulting him.

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his main pro-reform opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, have accused each other using Hitler-like propaganda tactics in order to win on Friday. The president’s harsh allegations against his rivals, including Mousavi, during Wednesday’s rally indicated that the mudslinging between the candidates was not slowing down.

“No one has the right to insult the president, and they did it. And this is a crime. The person who insulted the president should be punished, and the punishment is jail,” Reuters quotes Ahmadinejad speaking to supporters outside Tehran’s Sharif University.

“Such insults and accusations against the government are a return to Hitler’s methods, to repeat lies and accusations … until everyone believes those lies,” he said.

Ten of thousands of supporters jammed a Tehran street with cries of “Mousavi is a liar” and “Mousavi bye-bye” — a take on the “Ahamdi bye-bye” that’s become a staple of opposition rallies. Women in long black robes, known as chadors, wore Iranian flags tied around their necks or underneath their head covering.

“They applied the methods of (Josef) Goebbels, propaganda minister of Hitler,” Ahmadinejad told thousands of Iranian-flag waving supporters. “They used this method of psychological war against our nation.”

Insulting senior officials, including the president, is a crime in Iran carrying a maximum two-year jail sentence.

The race is neck-and-neck and has displayed Iran’s deep political divides. Ahmadinejad has accused Mousavi’s supporters of corruption. Mousavi accuses Ahmadinejad of isolating Iran with his attacks on the United States, his combative line on Iran’s nuclear policy and his questioning of the Holocaust. He has also hammered Ahmadinejad for letting Iran’s economy stumble despite the nation’s vast oil and gas reserves.

Earlier this week, Ahmadinejad insisted that inflation stood at 15 percent — lower than the 25 percent widely reported by financial officials. On Tuesday, Ahmadinejad admitted that inflation was 25 percent.

But he also accused Mousavi of lying about the state of the economy.

“With the grace of God, the Iranian nation will send them to the bottom of history,” he said.

The outcome will have little direct impact on Iran’s key policies — such as its nuclear program or possible acceptance of Washington’s offer for dialogue — which are directly dictated by the ruling Islamic clerics. But Ahmadinejad has become a highly polarizing figure on the international stage with his comments on the Holocaust and call for Israel’s demise.

A change of government could ease Iran’s isolation and give Washington and others a freer hand to build ties with Tehran and engage in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The United States and others fear Iran could eventually seek nuclear weapons, but Iranian officials say the country only seeks peaceful reactors for electricity.

In western Tehran, supporters of the president flocked to Azadi St. — or Freedom St.— to catch a glimpse of him and hear one of his final speeches before heading to the polls on Friday. No public campaigning is allowed the day before the vote.

At Wednesday’s rally in western Tehran, Ahmadinejad said he’s confident he’ll be re-elected despite the huge rallies in support of his opponent.

Two other candidates are in the race: former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei and former parliament speaker Mahdi Karroubi. In the increasingly tight race, their level of support could play a swing role — with Rezaei expected to draw conservative voters and Karroubi pulling in moderates.

Many of Ahmadinejad’s supporters said they would vote for him because he fights for the common man and champions Islam — images promoted in his campaign propaganda. Several of the posters handed out at the rally showed him praying, having dinner with a rural family and comforting an elderly man.

“He’s very brave and a real Muslim. He says what is right and he doesn’t get frightened by anyone,” said supporter Mariam Nouri, 38, who had a red, white and green ribbon tied on her wrist.

Mousavi’s backers have also been flocking to the streets in recent days to show their support, and a few wearing green wristbands — Mousavi’s campaign color — gathered around the fringes of Ahmadinejad’s rally.

Thousands of Mousavi supporters, many of them young people, packed into nearby Freedom Square later Wednesday for a rally. Security was tight at the demonstration with riot police surrounding the square and a police helicopter flying overhead.

Mousavi did not attend that rally, but made a final campaign foray into Ahmadinejad’s provincial strongholds. Thousands greeted him at a university in Loristan, southwest of Tehran, and crowds gathered to hug him at another town in that province.

Hundreds of women draped Iranian flags around their necks and several young men painted their faces in the red, white and green colors of the flag — Ahmadinejad’s campaign symbol. About a dozen men stood on a nearby rooftop as Ahmadinejad spoke, frantically waving large Iranian flags in the air.

Mousavi has made Iran’s struggling economy a hallmark of his campaign, accusing Ahmadinejad of manipulating statistics that hide the extent of the nation’s fiscal problems despite its vast oil and gas reserves.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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The western countries and the international financial institutions then were the only sources that were able to offer these supports to the countries of the region.

Part I

The annual joint session of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) was held in Washington last month. Reportedly, this joint session, the first after the global economic recession began last October, has been a controversial meeting of these two prestigious international financial bodies ever since their inception in Brettonwoods in 1945. The member states and particularly the developing nations reportedly did strongly criticize the weak feat of these two in facing up to the economic crisis they are now painstakingly challenged with and called for stronger and more serious action on the part of these bodies.

Without elaborating the agenda of these joint sessions and the debates and occasionally harsh exchanges between the representatives, it is worthreferring to my article, “The Role of International Financial Institutions in Development and Resolving Crises” published on April, 25, 2009 on Press TV’s website.

In the article I did refer to this fact that “… however the lapse of time and rapid and drastic changes in the global economy did prove that these financial bodies and particularly, the IMF and its recommendations and advice cannot but spark off an economic crisis and sometimes even have adversely political implications for the members and particularly the developing countries …”

In the recent joint session of the IMF and WB, the deep dissatisfaction of developing nations in bracing the economic crises and financial problems heightened and practically was clearly demonstrated and it is pretty easy to anticipate that unless these two powerful bodies do more strongly, since they have not done do thus far, the developing nations, and probably developed economies will seek other strategies and devices to combat future economic turmoil and ways and means to advance their own development.

It is unequivocal that overtime, both bodies will lose the confidence they deserve for addressing the global economic and financial problems, particularly now that they have the international (both financial and political) support to predict and prevent likely future crisis.

The Southeast Asian economies have taken the first regional initiative after the present global economic crisis. China, Japan, the Republic of Korea together with the ten ASEAN member states have reached an agreement to establish a foreign reserve pool worth USD One hundred and twenty billion to cope with the future probable economic crises.

These countries actually did launch this financial regional cooperation ever since 1997, when the economic crisis seized countries of the region. Then, the urgent strong protectionism policies did sound pretty unavoidable; that is the financial protectionism policies proved to be quite necessary. The western countries and the international financial institutions then were the only sources that were able to offer these supports to the countries of the region.

The great lesson that the 1997 economic crisis taught the South East Asian countries was that they did take the initiative and were determined to rely on their own capabilities and resources for taking preemptive measures and protective measures to cope with the crises.

Strong criticism on the IMF and WB because of their weak performance and lenient capacity to cope with the turmoil on the one hand and the outbreak of the recent economic crisis, unprecedented since the 1930s on the other, and the bitter reminiscence of the past crises particularly the 1997 predicament in East Asia, all encouraged the nations in this area to work out a regional collective arrangement. The initial capital of this common fund these nations established has been estimated to be about USD 80 billion and they have planned to increase it to USD 120 billion until the end of this year. China and Japan will reportedly pay USD 39 billion and the Republic of Korea’s share will amount to USD 19 billion. In fact these three countries will finance 80 percent of the money the fund needs at present.

The objectives of the fund, as have been defined by the founders, are to provide financial and foreign currency, including impending and urgent aid and support if a crisis erupts in any member country and take joint and unified currency policies in the region.

In this way, they will relatively thwart the drastic economic fluctuations and secure the stability and trade resilience of their own region. Because in addition to the formidable waves implicated by the economic crises, the acute dangers created through the floatation of foreign hard currencies and in particular, the US dollar will aggravate the bad economic waves.

Meanwhile, we need not to lose sight of the particular motivation of the founders of the fund, as well as their diverse political, economic and social conditions. Although in any grouping, even regional ones, those differences are pretty obvious and unavoidable. China the largest financier of this new fledgling fund as well as the greatest economic power in the region will overshadow the new regional arrangement. This Asian economic giant will spare no effort to uphold this grouping and secure the stability of the economic region. China is pretty capable of elevating the economies of the region to their highest. The conditions in East Asia are heralding a new situation in this region and undoubtedly it is still the beginning.

Part II

Do these conditions exist in other regions in the world as well as in the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) region? Can these regional moves be a replica and practical in other regions? If, by and large, the regional grouping is a good action, why has it not lived up to the expectations in some cases?

I do believe that the deep cognition of the countries in any region and understanding their actual economic and financial potentials as well as political and cultural motivations may properly answer our questions.

As I previously pointed out in some of my essays over the past couple of months, “REGIONALISM” would bring about either stability or economic development. Fortunately, to guarantee those two objectives the conditions do exist in our region, like the Economic Cooperation Organization.

In terms of economic stability, the countries of the region, being deeply aware of their political, social, cultural and economic circumstances, can close ranks to challenge any global economic crisis that may emerge since security of their existence is at stake in terms of economy and their people being better off. So they do not definitely spare any effort to find sound and timely solutions to the probable tensions, preventing the crisis from gaining large dimensions and thus they do not allow foreign factors to streamline their own economies.

Besides, I have already explained in my articles that the countries of this body (ECO) may be able to establish an “economic crisis management system” that is in conformity with the region’s imperatives, and can be developed in the years to come. As we can see, when this has been discussed at an international scale, particularly after the recent economic crisis erupted, this will be much more feasible at the regional level. Thus this regional system would be of great assistance for bracing international challenges and crises.

As far as the economy and growth of the regional states is concerned, the regional financial grouping is a promising mechanism for these countries. Some of the member states are rich in oil and gas and others do posses tremendous potentials for economic growth and prosperity, provided that those resources and capabilities are used up appropriately.

Other regional potentials are: trade, business, international transport roads, tourism, historical sites, maritime lines, oriental and indigenous handicrafts industries and common historical background.

Besides, although the member states of ECO are in different phases of economic growth, there is satisfactory ground for them to integrate their potentialities thus setting up a system upon which they can use “relative advantages” to complete their economies. This is not an unprecedented undertaking.

However, this is not an easy task to carry out. No other region, like that of ours’ can replicate exactly what other regions such as South East Asians have just started. We need to ponder on the challenges that the countries of the region face. Of course, this should be without political and ideological motives overshadowing this economic and financial process. Because it seems as if this paradigm has been considered and very important in any economic grouping throughout the last several decades.

Certainly, we do have challenges and opportunities over the years to come, and regional grouping for dealing with economic crisis is not that simple too. We need to ponder the opportunities as well as the challenges that do exist in the ECO region:

-A number of its member states are oil rich and certainly that can serve their economic growth objectives. However, as all we know oil prices are pretty sensitive to global economic changes and seem unstable. Iran, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are among this category. Undoubtedly these countries with their huge oil and gas reserves have far too great an impact on the policies and the future of ECO.

-Some other countries of the ECO region are somewhat economically prosperous with widespread trade relations with others, in particular with Europe. Turkey, being one of the constituents of ECO, falls within this group. It is decades that this country, given her economic situation has been seeking membership of European Union. This is a strong point not only for Turkey but for the whole region.

-The other member, being also a constituent of ECO, is Pakistan, with a population of more than one hundred million. It is a good source of talented manpower, as well as being a vast market and having good grounds for development of the region. There are much more economic potentials that do exist in other countries of the region that can be of great help to advance the progress of the area. However, despite all these potentials and capabilities, there are obstacles that cannot and should not be ignored.

Firstly, there are some non economical turbulences in some of the ECO member states that need to be worked out and a long time solution is quite unavoidable, for laying the proper ground for economic prosperity and growth. Otherwise, any economic integration with even the best and the most resources and capabilities will be in vain.

Secondly we need to focus on this hard fact that before benefiting a regional integration and cooperation, every member country of this economic body has to put their own house and economy in order first. Otherwise, any economic disorder in a certain member will destabilize the economies of the whole region. We cannot ignore the fact that economies of all countries are closely interactive.

Now, given all these existing opportunities and challenges in the region, what system do we need to work out to cope with the future economic crises. We must not lose sight of the fact that other regions and the new Asian financial grouping have had some of the problems just mentioned but they started the work trying to work out the problems.

It seems that time has come also for all the countries in our region to proceed and take initiatives. It is the job of politicians, economists, sociologists all scholars, experts and any specialist that may be of help to accomplish that objective.

It is my suggestion that this move be a kick start and be done at the first opportunity in all ECO member states. Others have already started the move and unless we get something done, then the consequences will definitely be worse for the whole region next time.

The author is a senior international and economic expert

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Is Obama unaware that Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia run prisons that make Guantanamo look like The Breakers at Palm Beach?

© 2009 

Despite his boldness, Barack Obama seems as fated to fail as were Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter. And for the same reason: a belief in his own righteousness and moral superiority, and a belief that his ideals and his persona count mightily in the modern world.

Wilson declaimed about America’s fight to “make the world safe for democracy” when in harness with the British, French, Russian, Japanese and Italian empires, all slavering to feast on the carcasses of the Hohenzollern, Habsburg and Ottoman empires.

By 1920, Wilson was a tragic failure, mocked by ex-allies and reviled by former enemies for having dishonored his own 14 Points.

Jimmy Carter declared in 1977 that “we have gotten over our inordinate fear of communism that caused us to embrace any dictator who shared in that fear.” So, we undermined Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza and the shah, and got the Sandinistas and the Ayatollah Khomeini.

As for Barack, he behaves on the world stage like some Ivy League kid ashamed of the people he came from, letting one and all on campus know that he is nothing like his benighted family with its sordid history.

In Cairo, he confessed that America had a hand in dumping over the regime in Iran in 1953. He did not mention that the United States forced the retreat of Josef Stalin’s army from Iran in 1946.

Obama’s goal? Replace the Judeo-Christian values that gave birth to the “land of the free” with failed radical leftist beliefs – get Brad O’Leary’s “The Audacity of Deceit”

For the 100th time, he declared, “I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.”

Is Obama unaware that Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia run prisons that make Guantanamo look like The Breakers at Palm Beach?

How many Guantanamo inmates plead to be sent home to Muslim countries?

In Trinidad, Obama sat for 55 minutes enduring Daniel Ortega’s diatribe against the United States for mistreatment of Castro’s Cuba and for the Bay of Pigs. Obama protested that he could not be held responsible for something that happened the year he was born.

Why could not he say to Ortega: “We also intervened in the Dominican Republic in 1965 to block a communist takeover, and in Grenada in 1983. The only problem with the Bay of Pigs is that we should have done it right and removed the odious Cuban dictatorship, and put Fidel, Raul and Che up against that same wall where so many patriots perished and spared the Cuban people 50 years of tyranny and the prostitution of their island into a base camp for the greatest despotism of the 20th century.”

What is the matter with Obama that he cannot defend our Cold War conduct and Cold War presidents like Ike and JFK?

Answer: Obama cannot, because at heart he buys into the anti-American narrative that ours is a deplorable history – of genocide against the Indians, of slavery and segregation, of robbing Mexicans of their land and of disrespecting our Latin neighbors.

Obama is determined to make the requisite apologies to show the world he does not condone the sins our fathers committed.

Thus, as Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation has cataloged, Obama has apologized to Europe for our having “shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.” He apologized to Latin America for our having been “disengaged and at times … sought to dictate.”

He told the Turks that we are “working through our own darker periods in our history. … Our nation still struggles with the legacy of slavery and segregation, the past treatment of Native Americans.”

Obama, however, did not ask the Turks to confess to their own “darker periods,” which might have taken some time.

Obama is the anti-Reagan. Where Reagan ever spoke of the greatness and glory of America, her history and heroes, her capacity to make the world all over again, Obama is like a dismal parson, forever reminding us – and everyone within earshot – of our own and our fathers’ sins.

Obama is not only demoralizing Middle America, he is driving away the God-and-country patriots who are sick of hearing this rot from professors and journalists, and prefer not to hear it from their president. He is ceding moral high ground to regimes and nations that do not deserve it.

If Obama believes he can build himself up by tearing America down, he is mistaken. Cynical foreigners will view it with snickering contempt, patriotic Americans with disgust. What kind of leader is it who talks down his own country on foreign soil?

America’s performance in the Cold War was hardly flawless. But does anyone deny that we were on the right side, that the Soviet Empire and Mao’s China and communist Vietnam and Castro’s Cuba were on the side of tyranny – and that the neutrals were by and large irrelevant or worse in that great cause?

A nation is an extended family. While families fight and quarrel, often bitterly, you do not take the family quarrel outside the family.

You don’t hang the family’s dirty linen on the communal clothesline.

Obama, however – like some Hollywood actress seeking sympathy and public approbation with her tell-all biography detailing how she was abused by her father – trolls for popularity with America’s adversaries by reciting for the benefit of the world all the sins his country has allegedly committed.

When did this become the duty of the president of the United States?

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Is it “better than nothing” or “well it’s something” or even “it’s about time”? Which is it?

Is it “better than nothing” or “well it’s something” or even “it’s about time”? Which is it? Kian asked.

Which is what? What are you on about again?

Recovering from a heart attack induced by the absolute shock to his system of the Saudi foreign minister’s latest comments on Israel, Mokhtari faintly replied: Prince Saud al-Faisal says Washington should cut off its aid, to Tel Aviv, should it continue its occupation of Arab land; and then the intrepid Press TV Columnist lost consciousness and drifted back into a coma.

Political writers who leave their comfortable first world lives to return home to the third and developing worlds to highlight humanitarian issues must generally suffer from dementia; or so the conventional reasoning goes. But they should at least ensure that they possess strong, healthy hearts.

Take Prince Saud al-Faisal’s interview with Newsweek magazine for instance. In an about turn ‘smart enough’ to impress even a British Army Sergeant Major, Faisal has said that Washington would be held “responsible” for Israel’s actions if its unquestionable support for Tel Aviv continues.

No, believe me; you don’t? OK, here’s direct quote from the prince of heavy crude: “If you give aid to someone and they indiscriminately occupy other people’s lands, you bear some responsibility.”

Somebody sound the sirens the man has gone madder than a first world writer in the third world highlighting humanitarian issues; IT MUST BE BAD. Quick, get a straightjacket!!

If one culprit in the Arab world can be named that has consistently failed to come to its other Arab brothers’ help over the last sixty years, its Saudi Arabia.

Even during the 1973 Yum Kippur War, with its tankers sailing through the Suez Canal, Saudi refused to order its ships to dock at Alexandria and supply fuel to the Egyptian Army stranded in the middle of the Sinai Desert and facing Ariel Sharon’s armored brigades and tank regiments. Sharon ordered his army through the gap left wide open by stranded Egyptian tanks toward Cairo and left his armored brigades to finish off the Egyptians. Thousands of Egyptian soldiers waving white flags were summarily executed.

Oh, but one Muslim leader did attempt to help Egypt; the former Shah of Iran. He ordered his high fleet of oil tankers heading for the US, to turn and set course for Alexandria. But his tankers got there too late.

Why is it that Iranians always feel compelled to help their neighbors when they know they will only get abused in return?

But anyway back to the story; Faisal has gathered up the courage after a rift appeared between Washington and Tel Aviv over the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state.

Al-Faisal has said in the interview to be published on June 15,
“The United States has the means to persuade the Israelis to work for a peaceful settlement… Arab states could only consider relations with Israel as an incentive…the normalization of ties would not be realized unless Tel Aviv retreated from occupied lands.”

But Faisal is wrong. The US does not possess the means to “persuade the Israelis to work for a peaceful settlement.”

Because over the past, every time the US has attempted to force Israel into undertaking its obligations to the international community, Israel has gone for one of America’s many soft spots.

One such American soft spot is the sale of advanced weapons to the United States’ arch foes. Israel has on occasions done this directly or indirectly through its myriad of front companies.

The trick has worked for Israel every time before and there is a good chance that Tel Aviv will seek to repeat its blackmail of Washington. So we wonder how long it will be before Israel employs its favorite tactic of advanced weapons sales to China and other US adversaries.

The US must establish parameters for a carrot and stick arms and trade embargo on Tel Aviv. Should Israel choose to play ball the sanctions can be relaxed; should it opt for hardball the sanctions can be tightened up.

So it is not a case of “it’s better than nothing.” It is neither “well it’s something” nor even “it’s about time.”

It’s “well we’ve heard it all now”; carrot and stick? Against Tel Aviv?

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People were hopeful that Obama’s speech would mark a sharp break with the Imperial America as represented by the administration of George W. Bush. And it did, and Obama clearly signaled a new US approach to the Middle East and beyond, says Robert Dreyfuss.

I watched President Obama’s Cairo speech from Dubai, the sprawling and frenzied city of gold and shopping malls on the shores of the Arabian Gulf.

Based on early returns from a decidedly unrepresentative sample of Arab public opinion, Obama hit a home run. I agree. In Dubai, at least, and in its media, Obama’s speech was topic one, two and three all week.

That’s good and bad. Obama’s arrival in Saudi Arabia and Egypt was greeted in two ways. First, it had the trappings of a visit by an all-powerful but distant Great White Father — okay, he’s black, but anyway — on whose words the fate of the Arab and Muslim world hangs — which is understandable in light of the fact that American troops and sailors are everywhere. And second, in contrast, sophisticated Arab opinion was truly hopeful that Obama’s remarks would make concrete the sharp break with the Imperial America as represented by the administration of George W. “Crusader” Bush. I think the latter prevailed. Obama was appropriately humble, and he laid down important markers that signal a new US approach to the Middle East and beyond.

And, as CNN reported, “No one threw a shoe at his head.”

He acknowledged the current state of tension, along with the history of colonialism and Cold War power politics that treated Muslim nations as chess pieces. He correctly laid the root of the tension on the Muslim world’s reaction, especially among conservatives and the Islamic right, to “modernity and globalization.” He acknowledged that a speech doesn’t change everything. He quoted the Quran, and he spoke eloquently of the West’s (and the world’s) debt to Islamic civilization. “I have known Islam on three continents,” he said. And he added: “Islam is part of America.” Words, true — but words that I have been waiting for a long time to have heard from a president of the United States.

With Osama bin Laden’s recent communiqué still echoing, Obama drew out the contrast between Islam and bin Laden’s version of “violent extremism.” He said that the United States has no designs on Afghanistan and no plans to establish permanent bases there. And on Iraq, he said the same: “We pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources” — i.e., oil. And he reiterated that all US forces will be out of Iraq by 2012. (All of this, of course, will require some insistence by American voters and the “Arab and Muslim street” to hold Obama to his promises.)

But it was on Palestine that Obama hit the gong:

For more than 60 years they’ve endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations — large and small — that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

How long has it been since a president spoke movingly about Palestinian suffering? And in a speech so high profile, even game-changing?

He even nodded to Hamas, acknowledging that Hamas has support among the Palestinians, and — amazingly — did not refer to the organization as a “terrorist group.” And, of course, he kept up the pressure on Israeli expansionism by yet again slamming the settlements in the occupied territories — an issue, that likely as not, will bring down Bibi Netanyahu’s right-wing government.

On Iran, Obama stated clearly that Iran has the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Indeed, it is precisely that issue that will be at the core of the coming U.S.-Iran dialogue, since for Iran its ability to enrich uranium on Iranian soil is a no-compromise concern. Yet there are plenty of ways to finesse, regulate, and internationalize that.

On democracy, Obama said that “there is no straight line” to create representative governments in the Muslim world, such as Egypt — meaning that he won’t push too hard, a la Bush and the neoconservatives, for instant democratic transformation. I think he hit precisely the right note.

His closing was pure Obama:

The Holy Koran tells us: “O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.”

The Talmud tells us: “The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.”

The Holy Bible tells us: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God’s vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.

Okay, it’s a speech. But it’s a good start.

Robert Dreyfuss is a contributing editor to The Nation magazine, and the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Metropolitan).

Copyright © 2009 The Nation

(Distributed by Agence Global)

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According to the mighty Wurlitzer in the White House press office, this week’s penitent presidential venture to the Middle has been "historic" and a "new beginning" for our relationship with Islam.

Washington, D.C. —  According to the mighty Wurlitzer in the White House press office, this week’s penitent presidential venture to the Middle has been “historic” and a “new beginning” for our relationship with Islam. Unfortunately for President Obama — and his campaign promise to make a major speech in a Muslim capital — Usama bin Laden didn’t play along. That’s the trouble with homicidal megalomaniacs: They very often don’t abide by the rules of “acceptable behavior.”

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As the “Grand Apology Tour” swept into Saudi Arabia, the Al Qaeda terror chieftain released yet another audio-taped diatribe, condemning “U.S. aggression” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Though Obama’s carefully scripted “grand gesture” before a thoroughly screened audience in Cairo was simultaneously translated into a half-dozen tongues and broadcast around the world, it wasn’t enough to push the bin Laden commentary off Islamic Web sites. That’s because bin Laden “gets it” and Obama doesn’t.

Usama bin Laden doesn’t make any apologies for who he is or the violence he advocates. He is a vicious religious extremist and is proud of the sanguinary carnage he has wrought against thousands of innocent Muslims, infidels in general, and Americans and Jews in particular. He knows his audience is but a tiny fraction of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims and is well aware that if only one tenth of one percent become “jihadis” he will have succeeded. Bin Laden doesn’t want to be liked; he wants to be feared.

President Obama on the other hand, is desperate for affirmation, thus his repeated references to his “Muslim father” and “the Holy Koran” in an effort to “bond” with his Islamic audience. To demonstrate empathy with “our Arab allies” and show improvement from his predecessors, he did not visit Israel and pointedly condemned Israeli settlements which, he said, “undermine efforts to achieve peace.” To further establish how “different” he is, Obama has become very deft at distorting the truth to serve his own ends.

He has been practicing the lines he used on this “Muslim Outreach Expedition” for months. In April, while in Turkey, Obama baldly stated that “we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation.” He stressed, however, that the U.S. will “convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world — including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans.”

“Shaped” and “enriched” are not words that spring instantly to mind when visiting Ground Zero in New York City or the West Wall of the Pentagon.

As the White House embarked on this “new chapter of engagement between the U.S. and the Muslim world,” they changed the presidential job description and stretched the facts. “I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States,” Obama told his Cairo audience, “to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.” He also told an interviewer, “If you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.” Sorry, Mr. President, but that’s not even a stretch, it’s just a bald-faced fabrication designed to ingratiate yourself with your “audience.”

The 1,209 mosques in the United States claim slightly more than 2 million members. There are 48 Muslim-majority nations on Earth. Even tiny Oman (population: 2.7 million) has more Muslims than the USA, as do more than two-dozen other Muslim-minority countries. We do have more than Iceland (Muslim population: less than 500).

Note to White House staff: These are called facts. The president needs to stick to them. Usama bin Laden and the Ayatollahs in Tehran (Muslim population: 63 million) know better and they see his grasping for approval as what it is: weakness.

Obama’s plaintive promise of “mutual respect” and his utopian hope that a “peace agreement” between Israel and the Palestinians will keep the Iranians from using nuclear weapons or Islamists from wanting to kill Americans is beyond naïve — it is dangerous.

Some of the Sunni Muslims Obama met with and spoke to in Riyadh and Cairo undoubtedly want to believe that this “enlightened” American president will protect them from extermination by a Shia Muslim-Persian bomb. Others may even hope that he can help prevent their heads from being removed by bin Laden’s minions. More likely, the pragmatic among them will get quietly to work assembling their own nuclear arsenals.

Endless apologies to everyone for everything the United States has done “wrong” or “failed to do” denies the reality of our past and present enemies and denigrates the American people. Just prior to the president’s departure for meetings with Saudi King Abdullah and the “group hug” with Muslim leaders in Cairo, an abortion doctor was murdered and two U.S. soldiers were gunned down in front of an Arkansas recruiting office by a Muslim “convert.”

Before getting on Air Force One, Obama took time out to tell a French television reporter, “I think that the United States and the West generally, we have to educate ourselves more effectively on Islam,” and ordered the U.S. Marshals Service to start protecting abortion clinics. Too bad he didn’t do the same for military recruiting stations.

— Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of “War Stories” on FOX News Channel and the author of “American Heroes.”

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I would be very frustrated if I were Obama having this conversation with you. You’ve got Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu saying he won’t budge, and you saying "we made our offer. Take it or leave it."

The day after President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo offering a “new beginning” in relations between the United States and the Muslim world, NEWSWEEK’S Christopher Dickey sat down with the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Saud al-Faisal, to discuss the speech and its implications. Excerpts:

You’ve seen presidents–and promises for peace–come and go. Is there anything different about Obama?
We haven’t tested this yet, but he showed sincerity in his talk. Different people came away with different impressions, but for me it was positive, balanced, comprehensive and many parts of it were very personal and touching. It hit the right tone from the opening salutation, Assalaamu alaykum, to the quote from the Qur’an at the end.

President Obama is very good at atmospherics.
But the key point was that America is changing policy. It is not the same America. He talked about humility, not power. He talked about democracy—that the United States wished the world to be democratic—but is not going to force the world to be democratic. If he was looking for converts to his way of thinking, I think he achieved it with the audience there, and with audiences everywhere in the Arab and Muslim world.

People were looking for concrete statements.
We told him this when we saw him before the speech. But we did not expect him to be so specific. He called Israeli settlements in the West Bank “not legitimate”—and this is more important, and stronger, than “not legal,” which has often been repeated. He could have done more on atomic weapons, because proliferation is not going to resolve itself.

What are Arabs prepared to do now that Obama has come out so firmly against Israeli settlements?
The speech is one stage, but it has yet to be translated into actions. Arab countries have learned through 60 years of experience with Israel that it’s not the agreement you reach with them; it’s the implementation.

Now you have an American president who understands you, as you say. What is it you actually expect him to do to pressure Israel?
The United States has the means to persuade the Israelis to work for a peaceful settlement. It needs to tell them that if it is going to continue to help them, they must be reasonable and make reasonable concessions.

Should the United States cut off aid to Israel if it doesn’t comply?
Why not? If you give aid to someone and they indiscriminately occupy other people’s lands, you bear some responsibility.

I would be very frustrated if I were Obama having this conversation with you. You’ve got Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu saying he won’t budge, and you saying “we made our offer. Take it or leave it.”
What can we do more than that? The land that is occupied is in the hands of Israel. We don’t have anything to offer Israel except normalization, and if we put that before the return of Arab land we are giving away the only chip in the hands of Arab countries.

When Obama talked about his commitment to religious freedom and women’s rights, did you think he was pointing the finger at Saudi Arabia, which has none of the first and little of the second?
We don’t mind talking about these things. We are moving in our reform process quite significantly—and indeed he mentioned Saudi Arabia in quite a positive light when he talked about King Abdullah’s interfaith dialogue.

In Washington, much was made of the image of President Obama leaning down in front of king Abdullah when he first met him.
Yes, he bowed. But remember, he is also of a culture that respects age. It was not demeaning or servile bowing to somebody. When you see an older person, you respect him. I think those who made a fuss about it would do well to take such good manners to heart.