Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’

Iran, Islam and Democracy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd April, 2019

Iran-Islam-and-Democracy--653x1024Contemporary Iran is much maligned and little understood in the West, especially in Washington, where the Trump administration (like several of its predecessors) views Iran as the devil incarnate. Of course, the Islamic Republic returns the compliment by frequently calling the United States the Great Satan. Each country has good reason to object to some aspects of the society and government found in the other. Yet international relations would be much smoother, and the world safer, if both made a greater effort to work out what makes the other tick. Hence the great value of Ali M. Ansari’s monumental Iran, Islam and Democracy (Gingko, £30/$44.95). Through his close examination of the leadership records of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hassan Rouhani in particular, the author presents a penetrating view of the complexities and tensions within Iranian politics, far different from the two-dimensional picture proffered by Donald Trump or Binyamin Netanyahu.

The very name “Islamic Republic” illustrates a contradiction at the heart of the system in Iran. Republics — particularly those influenced by French or indeed American revolutionary thought — are inherently bottom-up societies in the sense that ultimate authority derives from the people. But religious societies in contrast are usually top-down. For much of Iran’s history a patrimonial shah or king was in charge, with a firm hand on the driving wheel, and even after the last shah was overthrown in 1979, a new top-down type of authority was imposed, by the Ayatollah Khomeini and since his death, Ayatollah Khamenei. This new authority has the added status of being in principle God-given and it is significant that the spiritual Leader of Iran takes precedence over the elected President, even when the latter has clearly been the Leader’s intellectual superior (not something one could say about Ahmadinejad).

There is an ongoing dialectic between conservatives and reformists within Iranian society and one of the most stimulating parts of this significant book is an extended examination of the record of and expectations regarding the comparatively “liberal” Mohammad Khatami (previously published as a separate volume, now supplemented with additional and more recent texts). Just as conservatives in the country’s religious hierarchy sometimes exaggerate the “threat” of reformist politicians and intellectuals — periodically leading to the closure of allegedly offensive newspapers and magazines — so the West has often put undue faith in the ability of reformists and in particular the Green Movement to affect rapid change. Things move slowly in Iran, where the ousting of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953 still rankles. But even revolutions evolve with time. And it seems clear that if the outside world wants Iran to become more “normal” in its internal and external behaviour, then engagement rather than confonrtation is likely to produce better results.

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Engage with Iran, Don’t Isolate It

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th April, 2012

Iran has said it supports the UN special envoy Kofi Annan’s Peace Plan for Syria, which is a welcome development and highlights the fact that any workable settlement may only be possible with Iran’s active diplomatic engagement. Tehran has long been Bashar al-Assad’s closest ally and one of the reasons it was able to endorse the Annan Plan was that that does not call for the removal of Assad, even if that is what many Syrians and Western countries, including Turkey, would prefer. So far, the Assad regime has remained deaf to pleas to end the assaults that have cost thouands of civilian lives as well as fuelling an inevitable armed opposition. But if Assad will listen to anyone, it would be the Iranians. And there is a wider point at stake here. Iran historically was a major regional power, indeed once the centre of a great empire. Recently, it has been trying to reassert its influence, not only in Iraq, which now has a Shiite-led government, but more widely. However, the policy of Washington and the EU — not to mention Israel — has been to isolate Iran and indeed subject it to punitive sanctions, because of the country’s nuclear programme, which may or may not be working towards the production of a nuclear weapons capability, according to who you believe. Certainly Iran’s Gulf neighbours don’t want to see a nuclear-armed Iran and two of them — Bahrain and Qatar — play host to US military forces. However, most of the Arab states in the Gulf are nonetheless engaging with Tehran, as they recognise that whatever differences they may have with the current government there, engagement is more likely to produce a modus vivendi than belligerency. This is a lesson the West could usefully learn. Of course there are many aspects of the Islamic Republic which leave Western governments uncomfortable, not least regarding human rights and President Ahmadinejad’s comments about the Holocaust, but that should not blind people to the fact that through engagement it is possible to work with countries which have totally different political systems or religious beliefs towards achieving common aims.

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We Don’t Need a War with Iran

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 4th December, 2011

The rhetoric between London and Tehran has been escalating alarmingly; a metaphorical bucket of cold water needs to be thrown over the situation before it bursts into flames that could otherwise cause conflict across the Middle East and beyond. There was no excuse for the protestors’ assault on the British Embassy copound in Tehran the other day; under the Vienna protocols, diplomatic premises are inviolate and host nations must help protect them. The fact that the Iranian Foreign Ministry apologised for the incident shows the government is aware of that, though the assault itself — in which there was some damage to the building, documents were scattered and embassy staff had to seek sanctuary in a safe room — means that at least someone in a position of authority in Iran sanctioned the protest. The British Embassy staff later left Iran and Iranian diplomatic personnel in London were expelled, receiving  heroes’ welcome when they returned home, underlining the theatrical aspect of the affair. But the context is much more serious than theatre.

The embassy assault was in reaction to Britain’s racheting up financial sanctions against Iran in the wake of a somewhat ambiguous report from the IAEA about the real nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. The government in Tehran disputes claims that it is trying to develop nuclear weapons capability, and there needed to be more incontrovertible evidence to the contrary before Britain raised the stakes in this increasingly dangerous stand-off. Passions are running hgh in the Islamic Republic among those who feel the country is surrounded by the US and NATO forces and is living under the threat of a pre-emptive strike from Israel. Israel, meanwhile, is nervous about President Ahmadinejad’s claim to want to ‘wipe Israel off the map’. Germany has reportedly sold (at a discount) submarines to Israel that are capable of launching nuclear missiles. The final, explosive element is the intensifying civil war in Syria, whose despicable régime is a firm ally of Iran. The combination of these ingredients makes a regional conflagration, into which Western powers could be drawn, only too plausible. At this juncture, everyone concerned would be well advised to bear in mind Winston Churchill’s dictum: “Jaw jaw is better than war war”.

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Brazil’s Nuclear Cooperation with Iran

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 11th February, 2010

As the United States is preparing a new Resolution to submit to the UN Security Council regarding Iran’s nuclear programme, the government in Tehran has announced that it has begun 20% enrichment of uranium at the plant in Natanz, under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Last Sunday, the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, announced the uranium enrichment and denounced what he called ‘the enemies of Iran’ for trying to halt his country’s nuclear and technological development. US President Barack Obama has voiced common fears in the West that Iran is aiming to achieve nuclear weapons (a situation that would particularly alarm countries on the other side of the Persian/Arabian Gulf, as well as Israel). But not all countries in the Americas see things Washington’s way, Brazil being a notable example. Since last November, President Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ Da Silva and his Ministers have been exploring nuclear cooperation actively with Iran and this week, the Brazilian Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim, declared, in defence of this collaboration, that the Iranians ‘have the right to a peaceful programme of nuclear development, just like other countries.’  That is a line which finds great resonance in much of the developing world, as well as among Tehran’s close friends and allies, who point out that (a) the United States is the only country ever to have used nuclear weapons, and (b) Israel is the only country in the Middle East to possess nuclear weapons, in defiance of the non-proliferation treaty. Indeed, the Israelis bombed Iraq’s main nuclear facility when it looked as if Saddam Hussein’s scientists were on the way to weapons-grade production.  And the Israelis have made clear that they would be prepared to do the same to Iran — which is why the United States has despatched missile-carying ships to the Gulf, in the hope of cooling the Israeli hotheads.  But many Latin Americans, at least, ask whether there aren’t double standards at play on this issue.

[photo: PressTV]

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Ahmadinejad Harms the Palestinian Cause

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st April, 2009

mahmoud-ahmadinejadThe Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, looked smugly satisfied when British and other Western delegates to the UN anti-racism conference in Geneva walked out yesterday, once he started his anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish rant. While his uncompromising words — including yet another questioning of the reality of the Holocaust — may have played to a certain radical gallery, they were disastrous for the Palestinian cause. As a result of his intervention, once again Israel and Jews worldwide can portray themselves as victims, whose very existence is threatened by Iran. The Palestinian issue, which the Iranian leader was supposedly highlighting, was effectively sidelined, as so often is the case.

There are many reasons to criticse Israeli policy; I do so often myself. There was no justification for the sickening scale of the assault on Gaza earlier this year, for example. But to couch such criticism in terms that play into the hands of those who cry ‘anti-semitism’ anytime Israel is scrutinised is counter-productive. Far from helping the Palestinian cause and their just struggle for dignity, freedom and statehood, Ahmadinejad has put it back. And he has persuaded the rational world — if it wasn’t persuaded already — that he is anti-semitic himself. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was right to attack the speech as contrary to the very purpose and spirit of the conference. Maybe Ahmadenijad thinks his display of arrogance will improve his chances of being re-elected in the forthcoming presidential elections back home. But actually he has damaged the reputation of Iran, as well as doing the Palestinians a disservice.

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