26 July 2015

Sunday Reads

Deep apologies for not writing the continuation articles in the Iran series; will finish them shortly. For now, please enjoy reading these articles.
  • Do people become more prejudiced as they grow older? (BBC)

19 July 2015

Sunday Reads

  • The man who was there. (BBC)
  • Films... rising life and liberty. (Hindu)
  • An interview with the Islamic State's architect of death. (Der Spiegel)

17 July 2015

The Iran Explainer: Sanctions & Impact

Yesterday, I posted an Explainer on the Iranian political system. Today's post focuses on the sanctions imposed by the United Nations, the United States and the European Union. It also focuses on the impact of such sanctions on the floundering Iranian economy.

Read The Iran Explainer: Backgrounder on Political System

A Brief History of Sanctions against Iran
Punishing Iran for its consistent refusal to stop its nuclear weapons programme, the United Nations imposed punitive sanctions, which are in addition to the sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States.

The UN sanctions prevent all members and international financial institutions from entering into new commitments for grants, financial assistance, and concessional loans, to the Iran, except for humanitarian and developmental purposes. The UN ratified four rounds of sanctions against Iran between 2006 and 2010; these sanctions include a ban on the supply of heavy weaponry and nuclear-related technology to Iran, a block on Iranian arms exports, and an asset freeze on key individuals and companies, and mandates cargo inspections to detect and stop Iran’s acquisition of illicit materials.

The EU imposed its own restrictions on trade in equipment which could be used for uranium enrichment and put in place an asset freeze on a list of individuals and organizations, who it believed, were helping advance the Iranian nuclear programme. In 2011, the EU also banned the export to Iran of key equipment and technology for the refining and production of natural gas.

In 2012, the EU, which until then accounted for about 20% of Iran’s oil exports, banned the import, purchase and transport of Iranian crude oil. It also froze assets belonging to the Central Bank of Iran, and banned all trade in gold and other precious metals with the bank and other public bodies. It also banned the import, purchase and transport of natural gas from Iran.

As for the U.S. sanctions, they have been in place since 1980. The two countries have had no diplomatic relations since 1980 after the U.S. embassy in Tehran was stormed by Islamist students during the Islamic Revolution. (The 2012 Oscar Award winning film, Argo¸ revolved around this incident.) The U.S. imposed successive rounds of sanctions for Iran’s support for international terrorism, human rights violations and refusals to co-operate with the IAEA.

The U.S. sanctions also ban almost all trade with Iran, including purchase and sale of energy resources. However, the sanctions carry exceptions only for activity “intended to benefit the Iranian people”, including the export of medical and agricultural equipment, humanitarian assistance and trade in “informational” materials such as films.

Impact of sanctions in a nutshell

As always I have used pretty simple language. 
This weekend, either on Saturday or Sunday, Early next week I will post the third part of this four-part series on the Iranian nuclear deal. 

16 July 2015

The Iran Explainer: Backgrounder on Iranian Polity

In a major breakthrough, Iran and the P+1 agreed, on 15 July 2015, on a comprehensive nuclear deal, which is designed to halt advancements in Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting economic sanctions and bringing Iran back into the global political and economic mainstream.

P+1 represents six of the world’s most powerful nations – Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States (permanent members of the UN Security Council) and Germany.

The original name of the nuclear deal is ‘
Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)’. The official document detailing the JCPOA uses E3/EU+3 (China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States) to describe the negotiating parties that sat at the table with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In a multi-part explainer series, I will focus on this landmark nuclear deal. In the first part of this Explainer on Iran, I will focus on the Iranian political system.

Brief Backgrounder on Iranian Political System
Iran, the world’s largest Shia Muslim nation, is a powerful force in the Middle East. Iran has the world’s fourth largest reserves of oil and second largest reserves of gas, which make it a formidable power in the global energy market. In a world that is ever thirsty for energy, Iran is often seen as a force with a huge bargaining power.

Iran and its Neighbourhood
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Iran, which sees itself as a regional superpower, aims to become the voice of the highly divisive Islamic world, a status that is now claimed, for all practical purposes, by Saudi Arabia.

In 1979, Iran witnessed an Islamic Revolution, which ousted the pro-West monarchy. The Islamic Revolution brought the clergy to power, which used all possible administrative means to purge the country of pro-West elements.

Even for an Islamic country, Iran has a highly complex and deeply hierarchical political governance system. The system combines Islamic theocracy with democracy. The State’s Supreme Leader is the Ayatollah, who is appointed by an elected body. For all practical purposes, the Supreme Leader is accountable to none.

With a Clerical Administration in power, the system is peopled in large numbers by ultra-orthodox religious hardliners. In a closely-knit system such as the Iranian Clerical polity, it is important to populate it with the ‘right’ kind of people – people who are loyal to the Supreme Leader and the ‘political and religious beliefs’ that define the State.

To this end, the polity is peopled in large numbers by ultra-orthodox religious hardliners. Religion plays a dominant role in the way the country is governed; in fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that religion colours everything about the behavior of the Iranian State – towards its citizens and towards the international community.

It is also true that the ultra-conservative Clerical regime is torn by various factions, which are pulling in different directions. The heroes of the Islamic Revolution still control all the key institutions of the State machinery. The hardliners control the judiciary, while the Council of Guardians is the watchdog of the country’s constitution. The hardliners also rule the roost when it comes to controlling other powerful institutions like the Revolutionary Guards and the Ansar-e-Hezbollah (a sort of Islamic vigilante).

When it comes to domestic affairs, the Clerical administration, dominated by hardliners, uses violence, intimidation, arbitrary detention, and extreme religious laws to silence the voice of its political opponents. In simple words, a once-liberal Iran has now become a laboratory in which the State uses draconian laws to circumvent any kind of dissent against its gross acts.

Since 1979, the Iranian Clerical regime has exhorted the ordinary Iranians against the United States, who it calls “The Great Satan”. In fact, the post-Revolution generation of Iranians, also called the War Generation (born during the 1980-88 war between Iran and Iraq) displays a marked resentment toward the U.S. for its alleged duplicity. They accuse the U.S. of having turned a Nelson’s Eye when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein used chemical and biological weapons against Iran during the eight-year war.

Tomorrow: A Brief History of Sanctions in The Iran Explainer: History of Sanctions.

12 July 2015

Sunday Reads

Return of the Sunday Reads.

  • The rise and fall of Quaaludes. (BBC)
  • How leaders can remain optimistic during tough times. (Fortune)