dinsdag 22 februari 2011

Is the balance of power in the Middle East shifting away from the US?


In een vorig artikel [1] is een video opgenomen van Peter Lavelle’s CrossTalk van 18 februari op het Russische satellietkanaal RT onder de titel “Is it Iran’s turn?” (is [na het verdrijven van de leiders van Tunesië en Egypte] nu Iran aan de beurt). Daarin komt de Iraanse professor Mohammad Marandi [2] aan het woord. Samenvattend zegt die dat de regering in Iran steunt op een ruime meerderheid, wat ook blijkt uit Amerikaans verkiezingsonderzoek in Iran voor en na de verkiezingen. De recente demonstraties in Iran zijn niet gericht tegen het regime, maar uitgelokt door oppositieleider Mousavi, die zijn claims dat de verkiezingen zijn vervalst niet hard wist te maken. Wat aan tegenstanders van het regime overblijft is een harde kern die zich aansluit bij de monarchisten die worden gesteund door terreurorganisaties als de Mujahideen-e-Khalq [3].

Volgens de professor houdt de VS de democratatie in het Midden-Oosten tegen. De VS wil geen vrijheid in de regio, een vrij Egypte betekent onrust in Israel, een vrij Saudi Arabië of Bahrein stelt een probleem voor de Amerikaanse belangen in de regio. Het machtsevenwicht in het Midden Oosten is aan het verschuiven ten nadele van de VS. De VS, dat zijn beleid heeft gebonden aan Israel, probeert wanhopig om de status quo te handhaven. Het ziet daarbij Iran als een sta-in-de-weg. In de toekomst, met nieuwe actoren - die zich verzetten tegen de Amerikaanse buitenlandse politiek - in de regio, wordt het voor de VS immers moeilijker om met Iran de confrontatie aan te gaan.

Gegeven het belang van dit onderwerp tegen de achtergrond van de recente gebeurtenissen in het Midden Oosten, volgt hieronder een zo letterlijk mogelijke transcriptie van de uitspraken van professor Marandi.

If I read the Washington Post or the New York Times in the US, your country is on the verge of having a crisis or revolution. It is people’s power, a repetition of Egypt and Tunisia? Are you getting ready to pack your bags to leave?

I think if you have been reading the Washington Post or the New York Times, or if you have been watching ABC, NBC or CBS, and CNN at least for the last couple of decades, you will have been thinking that for the last three decades now the US has constantly said that in Iran the situation is deteriorating. But the facts on the ground are that the Islamic Republic has strong popular support and that there are different political organizations and groups in the country, with very differing ideas about how the country should be run, but the political establishment is very stable and, as you saw during the anniversary of the Revolution just a week, five, six days ago, there were mass rallies throughout the country, simultaneously held, and in Tehran there were between two to three million who participated, but none of these are shown in the Western media, and obviously this is not going to change.

Where is the discontent? Is it economic, is it ideological? What is it?

When you look at the polls carried out in Iran both before and after the elections, you see that a very strong majority of Iranians support the political establishment, and before the elections of course there was no crackdown, there was no violence on the streets, so no one can really say that at that time people were afraid to express their ideas. And at that time, Mr Ahmadinejad had strong support among people in Iran, especially outside of Tehran. After the elections, in Tehran there was instability, more or less in the Northern part, there was serious discontent among certain sectors of society. But that was largely because of the accusations that were made by Mr Mousavi about fraud. But after a while, when Mr Mousavi failed to provide any evidence whatsoever, most people distanced themselves from him. Right now, that which is left is a hard core of people who align themselves effectively with monarchists who have the support of terrorist organizations like the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, which by the way have offices in the US and throughout Europe under different names. Despite the fact that they have killed over ten thousand Iranians, twelve thousand if I am not mistaken, and they aligned themselves with Saddam Hussain for a couple of decades.

The fact is that Iran is a far more open society, even by Western standards, and the US and the West are not exactly very open these days anymore. But it’s a far more open society than any of its neighbours. When you look at the people who take to the streets, as I said, during the anniversary of the Revolution, they are basically the ordinary people on the street. The problem that the Americans have, and Westerners, is that they usually listen to a sort of pro-Western elite, that what they surround themselves with, and they misread Iran. And that is the same problem that I think they have throughout the Arab World. They thought Egypt was stable, because they were listening to people who studied in the West, spoke English, who surrounded them, spoke to them. If they thought that the Egyptian political establishment is stable, they miscalculated there as well.

Are people tired of having the Islamic Republic of Iran, and I am stressing the Islamic part? If it were not for the religious aspect, then you would say: tough luck, everybody has distress because of the global recession.

First of all, I would like to disagree with what your previous guest said. I did not vote for Mr Ahmadinejad, and said this on numerous occasions. There is no doubt that he is highly popular throughout the country, every province that he goes to he is like a rock star. You have tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people who surround him. These are no organized pro-regime demonstrations; if that was the case the Egyptians could have done that. No, it is obvious that’s not the case. The same is true with Tehran. Of course he is not as popular in Tehran as he would be in the provinces, but he has in fact been very successful economically, especially with the recent reforms in the subsidies, where a lot of people thought there would be a great deal of tension, but it turned out to go forward very smoothly, and personally I am impressed by what happened, despite the fact that I am still critical of his administration. Iranians, if you look at polls carried out by Americans - forget the polls carried out by Iranians, they will say that these were done by the “regime” - so carried out by Westerners, do not show his. And I think it is somewhat racist to say that people go to these pro-government, pro Islamic Republic rallies, for cakes or drinks. You know, crossing Tehran, which is a huge city, is very difficult and tiresome and cumbersome, to go for a cake or a drink, to think that people would do that I think is pretty outrageous.

Is the Green Movement a revolutionary movement? Don’t the people want a voice in the power structure, to determine their destiny, economic policy, foreign policy, nuclear programme?

I think most Iranians would disagree, because after all I did not carry out the polls, Americans have both before and after the elections, and also the election in Iran, the previous elections and the elections before that, the turnout has always been high in the country. I think it is also significant to take into account the fact that Mr Ahmadinejad travels throughout the country, he is treated like a rock star, there is no doubt about it, the footage is there, the people are there, they, especially the more impoverished, the low and lower-middle classes, see him as someone supporting them and backing them. I think that basically the problem is, I go further than what your good guest said. I would say that the US is deterring democracy. The US does not want freedom in the region, because a free Egypt would mean trouble for Israel, a free Saudi Arabia, a free Bahrain, would be trouble for American interests in the region.

Just today, a large number of Bahrainis were killed. When you look at the small population of Bahrain, relatively speaking it would be something like a thousand people dying in Tehran, the 6, 7 or 8 people who were killed, because the population in the country is only half a million. But what is the US position on Bahrain? Bahrain is an ally; it calls on both sides to refrain from violence. That is extraordinary. So there is no doubt that the US is deterring democracy, and the fact that the US is actually pushing so hard for so called regime change in Iran is one reason why the Green Movement has no longer any popularity in the country. The fact that the [US] State Department is behind it, supporting it, the fact that they are funded, the fact that they have aligned themselves with terrorist organizations and organizations backed by the US, does not make them more popular.

And that’s one of the reasons that just the other day a couple of, the spo…, representative of the reformist faction in parliament, he made a statement in parliament condemning Mr Mousavi and Mr Karroubi and so on. That shows how isolated these two gentlemen are. The point though, the really significant point, is that the balance of power in the region is shifting away from the US. The US, because it has bound its policy to Israel, is desperately trying to keep the status-quo. It sees Iran as a major problem, it sees that in the future it will have more difficulty confronting Iran, because there will be new actors in the region, which will be against American foreign policy and it is trying desperately to overthrow the regime of the Islamic Republic, but it will fail.

Hillary Clinton came out a few days ago saying what kind of Egypt America would like to see. Wouldn’t the Egyptians say: hands off, leave us alone? Double standards are not the sole preserve of Washington. The Iranians supported the pro-democracy movement in Egypt, but kept silent about crushing the pro-democracy movements in Tehran.

… [the demonstrations in both countries] are not the same. People who rioted in Tehran were deterring democracy, they were trying to overthrow a president that was elected by the majority. And the people who voted for Mr Mousavi, most of them, by far the majority of them, my own colleagues, have completed distanced themselves from him. [That’s] the problem that Mr Mousavi has, and the so called Green Movement has. I am not saying that all the popular protests in Iran are by and large the work of Washington, that they are a conspiracy by outstanders to overthrow the regime. If you look at the polls, Care Free Tomorrow [4], all say Ahmadinejad won the vote.

[1] zie “Het domino effect van de opstand in Tunesië
[2] zie voor achtergrondgegevens over professor Marandi het artikel "Marandi takes on the Media" van Hamed Aleaziz
[3] Wikipedia: "People's Mujahedin of Iran"
[4] de professor bedoelt Terror Free Tomorrow, The Center for Public Opinion, zie “Results of a New Nationwide Public Opinion Survey of Iran before the June 12, 2009 Presidential Elections

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