Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

Trump out on a Limb over Iran

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th May, 2018

Trump IranWith much fanfare, Donald Trump today carried out his threat to withdraw the United States from the Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or Iran Nuclear Deal). While this move will be loudly welcomed in Tel Aviv and Riyadh, Washington can be left in no doubt about the displeasure of most of the rest of the world, including the other JCPOA signatories, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Indeed, because the Europeans knew what was coming, the EU as a whole — through the High Representative, Federica Mogherini — immediately declared its disapproval. Emmanuel Macron has failed to win Mr Trump over on the issue when he was in Washington recently, and the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, flew to the US capital specially over the Bank Holiday weekend to make the case for staying in the agreement, but to no avail. But if President Trump believes the Europeans and others will now meekly fall in line behind him on this then he is sorely mistaken. The deal took several years of careful negotiation before it came into force in 2015, with Barack Obama a keen supporter. One can’t help feeling that a major motivation for Trump’s behaviour was to have the chance to make a swipe at his predecessor. But like a school bully, Trump is in the wrong on this — out on a limb, indeed, for all the cheers from his recently appointed cohorts Mike Pompeo and John Burton. The other signatories will now work with Iran to try to keep the agreement on track. The US President, meanwhile, has been sent to stand on the naughty step — and probably wearing a dunce’s hat too.

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Iran Protests

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 2nd January, 2018

8F9C6AB2-8F5A-439B-86AD-97F53DC39D7BOver the New Year holiday many of my thoughts have been with the people of Iran, where protest demonstrations have been taking place in many towns and cities, in some extreme cases descending into riots. I am all in favour of people taking to the streets to voice their grievances if they feel their views are not being heard through other channels, and indeed President Hassan Rouhani has endorsed that right of expression, even if some of the country’s religious leadership have been more condemnatory. It is sadly not surprising that some in the religious hierarchy have alleged that the protests have been orchestrated by Iran’s “enemies”, notably Saudi Arabia and the United States, though witnesses on the ground suggest rather that these have been spontaneous uprisings by predominantly young people (mainly but not exclusively young men), protesting about unemployment, high prices and the difficulties experienced by ordinary Iranians despite the country’s huge oil and gas wealth. Most of those youngsters would still have been schoolchildren when the (much larger) “Green” protests took place in 2009 following a widely contested election result. Unfortunately, it only nourishes the conspiracy theorists when Donald Trump and numerous Israelis (sic) tweet messages of support for the demonstrators. The actions of some militants, such as setting fire to police kiosks and even a bank) do nothing to help their cause, but similarly heavy-handed tactics by the security forces can only widen the breach between the representatives of authority and Iran’s young population. I love Iran and have travelled widely in the country, both before and since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The people are some of the most hospitable on earth, as well as among the most well-educated, rightly proud of their country’s long history and rich, diverse culture. So I sincerely hope that many of the young people protesting now get much of what they want, peacefully, and that the regime in Tehran opts for negotiation and not violent confrontation in the way it responds to what is going on.

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Is the GCC Unravelling?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 11th November, 2017

C0F4FE57-2826-47BC-B8AE-6C6F8B4B45BCThe Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, more commonly known by its previous name, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), has been in existence since 1981 and aims at a degree of economic integration between Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE and Oman as well as cooperation in other fields, but some of its more ambitious plans have been quietly shelved. Following the launch of the euro there was talk of moving towards a single GCC currency, to be called the khaleeji (Gulfi), but Oman said it would need to opt out and enthusiasm waned elsewhere. Then at the time of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, tentative moves were made to bring two other Arab monarchies, Jordan and Morocco, into the fold, despite neither being in the Gulf. However, the one obvious geographical absentee absentee is Iraq, which overthrew it’s short-lived monarchy in 1958, was never a serious contender while Saddam Hussein was in power and has been equally unpalatable to the Sunni Arab monarchs since Shia-dominated governments have been in charge in Baghdad following the 2003 US-led invasion. When there was stronger than usual unrest among Bahrain’s majority Shi’i population in 2011, Saudi Arabia and the UAE sent in troops to help the Al Khalifa monarchy quash it. Since then, Iran has been the focus of much of the GCC’s animosity, notably from Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as Tehran’s rival for regional hegemony. But since this summer, another deeply complicating factor has emerged: the embargo of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, mainly because of the activities of the Doha-based TV channel, Al Jazeera, and Qatar’s alleged cosying up to Iran (with which it shares a gigantic gas field). Kuwait has been trying to mediate, while the wily ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos, is keeping well out of it. The Saudi Foreign Minister the other day downplayed the importance of the row, but it has inevitably made the facade of GCC unity crumble. And if the standoff continues for long, the GCC would be in real danger of unravelling.

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Liberal International Executive in Georgia

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd May, 2016

imageLiberal international held its first-ever Executive Committee in the South Caucasus republic of Georgia this week, fortuitously coinciding with the 38th anniversary celebrations for our host party, the Republican Party of Georgia. Security issues were at the fore outside of the purely administrative session, including a trip to the “separation line” — where Geirgian troops face encroaching Russians, who have taken over South Ossetia and occasionally push forward their barbed wire barrier, separating Georgian farmers from their land and cutting them off from friends and family on the other side. On Friday night a fading party came over and killed one young Geirgian man. The Georgian Defence Minister, Tinatin Khidasheli, was a keynote speaker. Slovenia’s former Defence Minister, Roman Jakic — recently one of LI’s Treasurers — made the point that NATO cannot say it has an open door policy and then turn people away, which offers a potentially challenging situation with regard to both Georgia and Ukraine.

imageLooking further afield, there was a debate on whether the world can unite successfully in its fight against ISIS/Daesh. But I was especially interested in a session on the implications of the nuclear deal with Iran. Former Belgian junior Foreign Minister, Annemie Neyts, echoed my feelings by arguing that we need to engage with the Iranians and to recognise their historical importance, while not keeping our eyes off the security ball, whereas Dan Kucawka from Argentina took a much more hawkish position, basically asking how we can trust a country whose forces are helping Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. All in all, the world seems a more troubled place than it did a decade ago, though one of the positive developments has been the expansion of Liberal International to take in new member parties, not least from Africa.

 

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Happy New Year, Saudi-style

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 2nd January, 2016

Embedded image permalinkThe Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long had one of the highest levels of capital punishment implementation in the world, but this year it has really excelled itself by welcoming in the New Year by executing 47 individuals today in various parts of the country. The official reason is that these people were convicted of terrorism; having not been present at the trials I cannot comment on the legitimacy of the verdicts, however there are several important points to make about the sentences. The first, of course, is about the death penalty itself. In the European Union, it is not allowed. Indeed, any country aspiring to join the EU must remove capital punishment from their statute books; Turkey, for example, has done this. But the European objection to the death penalty is global in its concern, not regional, which is why governments such as the UK’s should be taking a public stand. They do it against ISIS/Daesh, correctly, and they should do it against that key Western “ally”, Saudi Arabia. David Cameron please note.

Nimr al-NimrSecond, there is the question of the impact of today’s executions, both inside Saudi Arabia and in the wider Middle East. Notably, one of those executed was a prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. This will not only inflame passions among Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority, concentrated in the Eastern Province, but has already brought howls of outrage from the most significant Shia-majority country in the region, Iran. Saudi Arabia and Iran are already fierce rivals in the Middle East (and are supporting opposite sides in the conflict in Yemen) and this latest development will only make things worse. Moreover, it is likely to exacerbate tensions between Sunni and Shia communities across the Gulf and the Middle East. If the government in Riyadh wished to cool passions in the restless Eastern Province they have alas succeeded in doing the opposite.

Cameron Saudi 4Finally, there is the question: should this be our business, or something just for Saudis themselves to comment on? I believe the answer should be an unequivocal “yes, it is our business”. Apart from the objection in principle to the death penalty, discussed above, there is the fact that there are particularly strong ties between the Desert Kingdom and Great Britain, both between the governments and between the two royal families. This relationship is something that should be reviewed. Behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure has had no effect. The number of executions (many of them public beheadings) went up last year and after today’s executions (some by beheading, others byfiring squads) 2016 looks like being a record year. It is time for Britain and other Western countries to make it clear that we believe that human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, including the extraordinary number of executions, are not acceptable in the 21st century. The Saudi monarchy seems intent on bringing about its own downfall, and if/when that happens, we should not be seen to have failed to take the side of humanity and justice.

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Iran Lays out the Welcome Mat

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 30th December, 2015

Espinas Palace hotelThe successful conclusion of nuclear talks with Iran earlier this year means that the Islamic Republic has been losing its pariah status with much of the previously critical world. This should lead to far more inter-action between Iran and erstwhile enemies, including the “Great Satan”, the United States, and bilateral improvements in visa regimes. The head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organisation, Masoud Soltanifar, expects that this warming of relations will lead to a sharp rise in the number of foreign tourists to his country, and in preparation for this, Iran has been building no fewer than 125 4-star and 5-star hotels to cater for the anticipated influx. A number of leading international hotel corporations have been involved in this frenzy of building, including France’s Accor Group and the UAE-based Rotana.
PersepolisAs someone who has travelled very widely in Iran, I can testify that it is indeed a treasure-house of cultural heritage, from the atmospheric ruins of Persepolis to the historic tea-houses of Isfahan and the rose gardens of Shiraz. It’s true that the capital Tehran is one of the most congested and polluted cities on earth, but even there there is much to enjoy, from the large downtown bazaar to the jaw-droppingly vulgar complex of palaces inhabited by the last Shah. Of course, 36 years after the Revolution that ousted the Shah, this is still a strict Islamic Republic in which women have to cover themselves, mixed swimming pools are a no-no and you won’t find anything stronger than a non-alcoholic beer to drink.  But for anyone who is willing to accept those cultural differences Iran is about to lay out the welcome mat and share its treasures with the world.

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International Human Rights Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th December, 2015

Human Rights DayThe Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly 67 years ago today, but the fight for rights is as necessary as ever, not just in totalitarian states and conflict zones round the world but even in so-called mature democracies. Each International Human Rights Day (IHRD), 10 December, is a useful moment to take stock of the situation worldwide and the picture in 2015 is particularly depressing. Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are on the rise as part of the collateral damage to the war against ISIS/Daesh and other Middle Eastern and North African conflicts; countries including China, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Iran continue to implement the death penalty, in many cases for “crimes” that would not even be considered as such in much of the world.

capital punishmentThe theme of this year’s IHRD is “Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always”, which at many levels is so broad as to be almost meaningless in campaigning terms, but the idea was to commemorate the 50th anniversary next year (sic) of the adoption of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Despite being equally broad-brush, these covenants are considered important frameworks for putting pressure on governments that are denying their people a decent livelihood or suppressing their freedoms.

amnesty pngOf course, despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not every country or society agrees on their definition. Uganda, where I am at present, continues to harass LGBTi activists, for example, with the tacit support of much of the local population. Apostasy is still a capital crime in Saudi Arabia, while freedom or religion (and the freedom to choose) is a core value of democratic societies. Double standards are moreover evident in so many fields and it is not always the Western democracies that are innocent. They were right to express outrage at Russia occupation/annexation of Crimea, for example, yet most (with a few honorable exceptions such as Sweden) have remained relatively mute about Israel’s 48-year occupation of Palestine; Russia is the subject of sanctions, Israel hardly at all.

However, that does not mean we should give up in despair. NGOs in particular have an important role to play in furthering economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political ones — not least in holding governments to account. But governments, such as Britain’s, also should not shirk their duty to stand up for what they say support, and the same goes for the European Union. So even if IHRD may seem vacuous at times it is important to remind us of all that needs to be done to promote human rights, both individually and collectively.

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A New Era in UK-Iran Relations

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd August, 2015

UK Iran 1The British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is in Tehran today, reopening the Embassy that has been closed for four years following its invasion by demonstrators. Given the recent progress in international negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions this was an inevitable and welcome step. Though Brtain’s engagement in Iran has not always been positive there are strong reasons for the UK — and indeed the European Union — to have closer working relations with this important Middle Eastern power. Commercial opportunities are obvious, but trade should not be the only focus for attention. If there is going to be a regional settlement of Syria’s ongoing civil war then Iran is going to have to be involved. Similarly, wider regional insecurity as well as the fight against ISIS, require closer contacts with Tehran. In particular, it would be helpful to reduce the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which has been a central cause of the recent events in Yemen.

UK Iran Britain can also usefully use its influence to try to calm Israeli rhetoric against Iran and vice versa; yesterday, in an interview, the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak confirmed that Israel had considered attacking Iran four times over the past decade. Iranian propaganda against what it refers to as the “Zionist entity” is often poisonous, but Israel would find itself in a less ignominious position if it withdrew from occupied Palestine. There is, however, one other major issue that could be an impediment in the way of much closer British-Iranian relations and that is human rights. The Islamic Republic has a poor record in a number of areas, including the treatment of its Ba’hai minority, Kurds, political dissidents, LGBT population and others. And although the UK Foreign Office recently downgraded its emphasis on a worldwide campaign against the death penalty it should not let this issue drop off the agenda in discussions with Iran.

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Oman’s Quiet Diplomacy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 9th November, 2014

Oman flagOman is probably the most low-key of the Gulf states, certainly when compared with the UAE’s Dubai or Qatar. But it is the one with the greatest sense if history; for centuries, Omani merchants were key players across the Indian Ocean and down the East coast of Africa and its navy was a force to be reckoned with. For the first two decades of my life, it was largely a closed country, as the old Sultan was mistrustful of modernity and the West — understandably if one reads how the Omanis were mistreated by the Portuguese and then outmanoeuvred by the British. All that changed in 1970 when Sultan Qaboos took power, and he started to use the country’s oil-wealth to build up its infrastructure, as well as to raise the living standards of his people. Moreover, while some of the other Gulf States have trumpeted with great fanfares their activities in international diplomacy, Oman has done so quietly. It was one of the first Arab states to accept that someone who had been to Israel should not therefore be a prohibited visitor. And today there are efforts underway to further the Western dialogue with giant neighbour Iran, with the US and the EU represented at the highest diplomatic level at talks in Oman’s capital, Muscat (which I left this morning to fly to Salalah). Sultan Qaboos himself is unfortunately detained by medical treatment in Germany, so unable to greet the participants, as I am sure he would have wished. He will also miss National Day celebrations here on 18 November. But when he went on the radio on Wednesday to say he is doing OK, cars full of flag-waving young men took to the streets of Muscat in celebration. Oman may not pass the Westminster-model democracy test, but on so many levels it is an undoubted success, including in its quiet diplomacy. And many Omanis say they like things the way they are — so long as Sultan Qaboos is in charge.

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Newroz in Finsbury Park

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd March, 2014

Newroz Finsbury ParkThis afternoon I stood in bright sunshine on a stage in London’s Finsbury Park, speaking to a crowd of several thousand Kurds, to mark the festival of Newroz. In traditional Kurdish villages, people would jump over a fire at Newroz, but as I said in my speech, although there was no fire in front of me I could feel the fire in the people before me. They are right to be proud of their long history, culture and language, and to struggle for greater rights in the Middle East. In recent years I have been to Amed (Diyarbakir) and surrounding districts in predominantly Kurdiah areas of south-eastern Turkey, monitoring elections, though I won’t be able to go to cover the local elections in Turkey next month as I’m staying in London to campaign for the European elections. I said to the crowd it is important that they — if they have British or other European Union passports — vote on 22 May for a party that supports the rights of minority peoples and is committed to Britain remaining in the EU, or otherwise urge their neighbours and friends to do so. Apart from Sarah Ludford MEP (who also has a longstanding interest in Kurdish issues) and myself, on the LibDem list for London we also have a Turkish Kurd, Turhan Ozen. The situation in Turkey is frustrating in that Recep Tayyip Erdogan made some significant moves towards recognising Kurdish rights but like so much of his policy, this has often been a situation of one step forward, one step back. In Syrian Rojava the situation is critical for many Kurds and in Iran several Kurdish leaders have recently been executed or harassed. Only in the Kurdish region of Iraq (KRG) — which I visited this time last year — is the situation markedly better. So Kurds have a lot to struggle for. But as I concluded in my short speech, today is a day for celebration. Newroz Piroj Be!

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