Category Archives: Theocracy

Iran at a Brezhnev Crossroad: an Aging Revolution, a Younger Unhappy Population, a Sistani Alternative…….

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On the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted this:
” @khamenei_ir
Dear prideful nation of #Iran! The greatness of your gatherings today, which, according to precise calculations, was more populated and morepassionate than previous years, was a resolute response to the enemies and oath-breakers….”
“Relying on their distorted false perceptions of Iran and Iranians, the enemies had spent all their propaganda efforts on trying to turn this year’s revolution celebration frigid or probably anti-revolution. You’ve exhibited the livelihood & dynamism of the revolution in practice…..”
Feb 11, 2018

This year’s anniversary of the last of the great popular revolutions of the twentieth century has been surrounded with interesting domestic developments. We know what happened with the other two revolutions, in Russia and China. In Russia they openly gave up on the ideology; in China they still pretend that the Communist system of Chairman Mao exists, but only as a means to legitimize one-party rule of a new oligarchy. In Iran, Ali Khamenei is trying to keep the flames of the old aging revolution alive. Did I leave out Cuba?

In a nation that is younger and wants more freedoms, more accountability, in an age of spreading social media and access to opinion. What to do?
Violent repression, for example Egyptian Sisi style, will not work anymore in Iran. During the recent protests a few weeks ago, many of the security forces were noticeably sympathetic to the protests. More subtle forms of protest continue. There will be more periodic protests; for years now people have been testing the limits of the freedoms allowed. And these limits have also expanded.

There has been gradual and incremental but unannounced openness by the regime, forced by the people. Giving in more publicly and at once will eventually open the floodgates to more encroachment of the feared global culture, and more demands for more openness and more freedoms.

What to do? Perhaps a Chinese solution? But the Chinese regime is now agnostic: politically Communist in the name of the one ruling party; economically and socially capitalistic and oligarchic to boot.

The Iranian ayatollahs pride themselves on some kind of “purity”, along the model of the old stubborn Soviet regime in the Brezhnev era, when all the revolutionary thrill was gone from the younger generation. But Iran is not a Soviet-style closed system: freedom of travel and emigration has never been curtailed. Social media thrive, as do international satellite television. Expatriate non-political Iranian exiles are freely allowed back into the country. All that has allowed a sort of safety valve but also created demands for more.

Rouhani is trying some short-term solutions. But that would only underline the need for a longer-term deal between the people and their government. The weak point is the position of the Supreme Leader. Chairman Mao is dead in China, but Ayatollah Khamenei is an unelected veto-holder. He is in a way selected by an elected assembly created to gate-keep access to power. But even so, he shares power with various other centers of power: the elected president of the republic (Rouhani), the elected and contentious parliament that takes its powers very seriously, other various senior clerics (more senior than Khamenei).

Then there is the ultimate theological marja’iya (last recourse in Shi’a theological matters) located in Najaf (Iraq). Najaf, where Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani is located, is like the Rome for Shi’a Muslims.

Ali Sistani does not support the idea of rule by the clergy, nor do many others, possibly most Shi’as. It is unlikely that this political ideology chasm between Najaf and Tehran/Qom will ever be closed on Tahran’s terms. If there is a closing, it will be Tehran and Qom moving closer to the Najaf school of thought in governing. A largely Islamic but diverse state with elected civilian non-clerical rule. That was the case in Iran under Mossadegh until August 1953, when his overthrow was engineered by Western intelligence agencies (CIA and British intelligence).

Iran has had at least one case of a Gorbachev in the past four decades. Khatami was paralysed by a conservative parliament, and the Supreme Leader. Rouhani may manage things better, but he has only a couple of years left of his presidency.

Meanwhile, the people, especially in the cities, will continue to chip away at the restrictions imposed by the clerics. The trend towards more openness will continue and accelerate; unless Donald Trump is talked by the hawks in the US Senate/Congress and by the Israeli likud and a couple of despotic Arab kings to start a new war. That will immediately lead to consolidation in Tehran. It happened before when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq started the eight-year war. He lost, but so did the people of Iran.

Oh, and forget about the regime change nonsense being peddled by frustrated hawks and chickenhawks in the USA. Remember: the 1953 Western intervention led to the current situation…….


Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Roger Cohen on Eschatology, Ayatollahs, the Mahdi, the Rapture, and God’s Promise to Congress……

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“First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, he has no power to conclude them because the supreme leader, who is basically keeping the chair warm for the Prophet, controls all matters of domestic and foreign security and is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. (By the way, the supreme leader, whose name is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, thinks your letter to us is a sign your political system is “disintegrating” — if that’s any help.) So, in effect, the president is standing in for the supreme leader, who is standing in for the hidden imam, who disappeared in the ninth century but could show up whenever. We hope that is clear. In the case of a nuclear accord, it would no doubt be debated by our Majlis, a unicameral consultative assembly or parliament with 290 members, but the debate would not make a whole lot of difference to anything……….”

I admit it is funny, this tongue-in-cheek dabbling in Eschatology, assured to piss off the dour mullahs. A few mistakes: he does not keep a seat warm for the Prophet, nobody believes he will rise again: Roger Cohen got the wrong guy. It is Lent, but ‘His’ body did not rise and vanish, it is still buried in the old grave at Madinah. Unless the Saudi princes remove it to build a mall or a hotel.

But it comes from someone who possibly believes that GOD has promised all of Jerusalem and the West Bank to a certain ‘chosen’ people. Or most people around him do believe in some version of it. Someone who often writes about a Congress and Senate most of whose members also believe in it. As well as believe that when the Rapture occurs at the end of time, all others, especially the Jewish people, and maybe even Al-Qaeda and ISIS killers, will convert to the true faith and start speaking English and join mega-buck churches………..
Still, he makes the point……..

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum                         Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter


The Islamic State: ISIS Morphs into a Caliphate, World Cup Goes On……

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Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (another tale mentions Islamic State of Sham or Levant instead of little Syria) is no more. A new state called The Islamic State was born. A nutjob of a Wahhabi cutthroat who calls himself Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi just interrupted the World Cup games to announce that he has become the new Muslim Caliph (Khalifa) of the new state. Thus he preempted the three other potential claimants who aspired to the job: Turkey’s Recip Erdogan, the King of Morocco, the King of Saudi Arabia. Most of the world did not pay immediate attention as they were in a state of shock at the garbage-time penalty the Mexico-Netherlands referee awarded the latter and the Costa Ricans completely frustrated and defeated the Greeks in Brazil.

A leader of the rival Wahhabi gang, Al Nusra Front, a guy named Abu Maria Al Qahtani, pooh-poohed this declaration by the interloper and pretender of ISIS (or ISIL). Apparently he was angling to declare himself the new Caliph, even with the handicap of a name like Abu Maria.

What should we make  of all this? To start with it is a clever move, not specifying fixed borders for the state. This Abu Bakr (or even Abu Maria) could be holed up in a cave and it would still be The Islamic State to his fans. He could be in jail awaiting execution and he would still be in The Islamic State.

Some tribal Wahhabi Salafis on the Persian Gulf, the usual suspects who funded and preached for the Syrian Jihadists, have already started a support group for this new Wahhabi state. They call it the “Popular Drive for the Nusra of the Iraqi People”.


Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Tars Tarkas of Arabia: From Revolutionary Spring to Reactionary Sectarianism ……….


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It seems a sorry outcome after the Arab Spring raised the cry of equal citizenship and democracy around the region………… The clearest support for rebellion in Syria has come from overtly anti-Shia, militant Salafi groups that have been gaining strength in Lebanon for many years. Based originally in Palestinian camps, especially Ain el-Helweh in Sidon, they have been hardened by battle experience in Iraq and have expanded operations, especially in Tripoli. Mikati recently confirmed that the authorities had arrested a group within the army plotting to attack military bases; the Lebanese media reported that the militants were part of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an al-Qaeda affiliate. Ahmad Moussalli, professor of political science and Islamic studies at the American University of Beirut, argues this may be only the beginning of the story. “It would be surprising not to uncover more al-Qaeda-affiliated Salafi terrorist cells,” he says. “Keep in mind that the Salafis do not recognize the legitimacy of the Lebanese state and its security and military personnel. Now, these groups are emboldened by the opposition in Syria, given that the opposition is largely composed of Islamic forces supported by Salafi Wahhabi states, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as other Islamic and Western states. The Salafi condition is going to be a major problem that the Lebanese government has to face before the north of Lebanon turns into a hotbed for al-Qaeda and other Salafists under the pretext of fighting the Syrian regime.”…………..

If the history of the demise of the ‘Arab Spring” is ever written by an impartial person (unlike me), perhaps Tars Tarkas from Barsoom (Mars), he or she will note the following:

  • Early in 2011, the Iranian mullahs improbably and brazenly claimed that the uprisings were inspired by their own theocracy. Their claims were self-serving but wrong: if any Iranian movement inspired the Arab uprisings, it was probably the 2009 Green movement. Few Arabs want to be ruled by a theocracy, and that is also the case in majority Shi’a countries like Iraq and Bahrain. That is probably also true of the Saudis, who are already ruled by a theocracy.
  • The Arab uprisings started as mainly secular movements for freedom and equality and better economic conditions. As this piece I quoted notes, it has descended into sectarianism, by deliberate design and not by accident.
  • The Arab uprisings started at a time when three or four oil-rich Arab states dominated the League of Arab Potentates. With the unraveling of the stagnant regime in Cairo and the fall of the outspoken Qaddafi, with Iraq being deliberately kept out of the Arab circle, the field was open for the princes. 
  • Money is being used to support various Islamist groups that owe allegiance to different dynasties. The Salafis’ first and only true love are the Saudi princes (and their palace ulema and muftis). This is especially true of the Salafist movements on the Persian Gulf, basically a Saudi fifth column. It also extends to Egypt and the Levant and Libya. 
  • Money is also being used to softly blackmail countries like Egypt and Tunisia, possibly others, to keep them in line. Billions of Saudi and other aid money are promised, to Egypt for example, but none of it has actually been paid. Pending some policy ‘modifications’ vis-à-vis regional issues. The Egyptians have already complained of being promised aid without the funds actually materializing.
  • The Saudis have been ready, from a media and propaganda side, for the Arab uprisings. Over the past two decades, Saudi princes and their retainers and surrogates have been buying up and establishing vast Arab media networks. The names define an Arab media “Who is Who”: Alarabiya, Asharq Alawsat, Al-Hayat, MBC, LBC, Orbit, Rotana, etc etc etc. All that besides other media whose ‘services’ they purchase. All these outlets dominate Arab airwaves and satellites and they have had one message since at least 2003: sectarianism. The al-Saud princes know that sectarian tensions and divisiveness are the best way to divert attention away from real political and economic issues, especially on our Gulf of Sectarianism. 
  • Now the Arab Spring looks more like an Arab winter, with the most despotic, most regressive, most reactionary dynasties dominating the “Arab System’ as never before. The Saudis and Qataris and others call the shots, for now. They are even adopting their own Arab uprisings in places like Syria (as they did in Libya), calling for the Western powers to repeat the ‘liberation’ of Iraq. 
  • All this can be deceiving: once the Arab rebellions ‘win’, once some form of elected regimes are in place, the remaining depots, in the Arabian Peninsula and Bahrain and other places, will begin to feel the pressure. Money can buy you love for a limited time: one hour, one night, one week, or maybe longer.


Adonis of Syria: Secular Reactionaries and Islamo-Fascist Revolutionaries……


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The renowned Syrian poet Adonis (nom de plume) opines that he understands why many Arab ‘progressives’ are against the Arab revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Syria. He said that some may be right in warning that these uprisings are creating Islamic Fascist states (Islamo-Fascist sounds like the favorite term of the American Republican extreme right wing for Muslims).
Adonis told an Austrian newspaper that the recent movements are now being led by Islamist fundamentalists and fascists and represent a move back toward the Middle Ages. He said that as an example, Tunisia had a secular system established by Habib Bourguiba but that Tunisia now has an Islamic regime. He added that the ‘opposition’ in his country, Syria, wants to change the regime form a military dictatorship to a religious dictatorship. He said that Arab elections now lead to Islamist rule and that even Hitler came to power at first as a result of elections.

Arab states that had successful uprisings are becoming fundamentalist; that is a fact. But then most Arab states that have had no successful uprisings are fundamentalist anyway. Unless you think that Saudi Arabia is a secular democratic kingdom.

(Adonis. I wonder, when he was young, if he was what some American females woiuld call a hunk.)


Mullahs, Princes, and Islamist Potentates: Prince Turki and Fitna……….

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Prince Turki al-Faisal, chairman of the board of the King Faisal Center for Islamic Research Studies called on Iran to stop spreading sectarian divisions (Fitna) among Gulf GCC citizens. He emphasized that these countries are not part of any dispute with the “international community” about its nuclear program. He made his statement in a speech to the Conference on National Security and Regional Security in the GCC, held in Bahrain………..”

I don’t know about this. No doubt the Iranian mullahs have pursued their own goals toward influence through interference in some Arab states: mainly in Iraq and Lebanon. Like all theocrats, the mullahs are no sweethearts in the pursuit of their goals. But the prince is being deliberately unfair and misleading toward the Shi’a citizens of the Gulf states. Prince Turki is hinting here that Iran is responsible for the popular uprisings in Bahrain and in Qatif. He is using the discredited al-Khalifa excuse of painting the peoples of Bahrain and Qatif as Iranian agents simply because they refuse to accept the current apartheid policies of the al-Saud and the al-Khalifa despots.
Yet no regime in the Middle East is as sectarian as the Saudi and Bahraini regimes, no regime has resorted to as much sectarian divisiveness and hatred as the Saudi Arabian. The vast semi-official Saudi media (all owned by princes and their retainers and tribal in-laws) has waged a campaign of several years spreading sectarian hatred wherever they could. No other regime in recent history has spread so much suspicion and hatred. Especially in the Gulf GCC states, but they have also tried well beyond the Gulf from Syria and Lebanon to Egypt and North Africa. All with the help of their local Salafi fifth columns and their Muslim Brotherhood tribal allies. (Most Gulf Muslim Brothers are very close to the Saudi princes, unlike those in Egypt and other places. Some like the demagogue Yusuf al-Qaradawi are close to the Qatari shaikhs, a few others are close to the UAE Abu Dhabi shaikhs).
It is the old divide-and rule policy once attributed to the British imperial power.


Human Rights and Education: Iran and her Baha’is……….

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“People apply for university and their applications are turned down, even though they have strong results from secondary school,” said Elise Auerbach, Iran specialist for Amnesty International USA. “They can’t get credentials, so they’re barred from pursuing all sorts of professions. They can’t be doctors, lawyers, university professors or scientists.” In response, Baha’is have improvised a decentralized, semi-underground college known as the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE). Since 1987, BIHE has run classes in the living rooms and kitchens of Baha’i homes, on the sweat of volunteer Baha’i professors, many of whom lost their jobs in Iranian universities over their religious beliefs……….. According to David Hoffman, founder of a campaign to support Iran’s Baha’is in their quest for higher education, the college has produced about 2,000 graduates, one-in-ten of whom have gone on to postgraduate study abroad at one of 60 universities outside Iran recognizing BIHE coursework………… In May, more than 30 Baha’i homes across Iran were raided as part of a crackdown on BIHE. The institution was subsequently declared illegal, according to human rights groups, and seven professors and administrators were last month sentenced to four and five years each, for being involved in an illegal group intending to commit crimes against national security…………..

Bahai’s are the most officially discriminated against religious minority in Iran. Christians and Jews predate Islam and they are recognized as such. Zoroastrianism is the original religion of ancient Persia and it also predates Islam and Christianity and is recognized as such. Zoroastrianism is sort of like the “Red Indians” of Middle East religions, mostly displaced by Islam and Christianity. Bahai’s seem to receive most of the ‘religious’ wrath of the regime because they were Muslims until the new faith was create in the 19th century. The mullahs consider them apostates, and Muslim clergy, be they Shi’a or Sunni or Salafi or Tea Party, hate apostates. Come to think of it, all clergy from all faiths dislike apostates, or at least frown upon them.

Fatwa: Quranic Cure vs. Obamacare, about Freud………….

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Alquds Alarabi quotes Saudi media reports that a Saudi cleric (they call him ‘Aalim Deeni) has issued a fatwa that it is alright for non-Muslims to be cured through the Quran. Shaikd Dr. Ali al-Twuaijri, professor at the Holy Quran College at Islamic University said that the Quran has several benefits as a method of cure through the use of its verses. He added that is “behooves a Muslim to rely on the Holy Quran for his cures from physical and non-physical illnesses”
Fine and dandy, no doubt the Quran has many “preventive” health benefits if followed, most holy texts do. Now non-Muslims have access to the Quran as well. But I assume non-Muslims have always had access to the Quran: nothing stopping me from using the Bible or Torah if I wish.
Then there is the sensitive of the issue of the royal princes, the so many Custodians of the Holy Shrines, and their sidekicks, who eschew Quranic preventive lifestyles as well as cures for the worldly cures of Mayo Clinic or the many other exclusive medical centers in the West. All at state expense, of course. They also eschew Quranic method for recuperation and convalescence for the worldly diversions of resorts in North America, Europe and parts of North Africa.
Now about Sigmund Freud and Obamacare………


A Tea Party in Iran During Ramadan: Religious Repression and Waning Piety………

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Even in the heart of the Islamic republic, fully observant Muslims may not be in the majority. Iran’s police chief estimates that as many as half of Tehran’s citizens eschewed fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, the most recent of which ended in late August, the Iranian media reported Monday. Speaking to journalists at the International Press Fair in Tehran, Brig. Gen. Esmael Ahmadi-Moghaddam said that 20% to 50% of the capital’s population failed to fast during the holy period of contemplation and prayer. Should law enforcement intervene? Not a good idea, said Iran’s top cop. “Police would interfere only when it happens in the public,” he was quoted as saying. Police officers, he said, cannot compensate for society’s failure to imbue proper Muslim practices in much of the population……………

I imagine many people, especially young Iranian people, may have been turned off Islamic piety by so many clerics running their lives. It can easily happen when ruled by dogmatic repressive clergy who take away many freedoms: young people (probably wrongly) tend to equate the repression with Islam. Of course that is as wrong as equating some unique American version of “Christianity” with the Republican (Tea) Party or equating Judaism with the Israeli social Salafis and the Likudniks.
Maybe what they need in Iran is a dedicated intrusive religious police, something like the Saudi Commission for the Propagation of Vice. Then they can crash into people’s homes to catch them eating and drinking, and possibly fornicating, during Ramadan.