Iran cuts social media access as unrest turns deadly

Access to Telegram, which the government has accused of fomenting violence during the protests, was cut on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 31 December 2017

Iran cuts social media access as unrest turns deadly

TEHRAN: Iran cut access to social media on Sunday in a bid to head off further protests after days of unrest that saw two people killed and dozens arrested.
The interior minister warned protesters will “pay the price” as footage on social media showed thousands marching across the country overnight in the biggest test for the Islamic republic since mass demonstrations in 2009.
The spate of demonstrations began in second city Mashhad on Thursday over high living costs, but quickly spread throughout the country and turned against the system as a whole, with slogans such as “Death to the dictator.”
Lorestan province deputy governor Habibollah Khojastehpour told state television that two people were killed in clashes in the small western town of Dorud late on Saturday, but denied security forces were responsible.
There were no signs of major protests during the day on Sunday, though officials appeared to be bracing for unrest after dark.
In an apparent attempt to stave off more unrest, the authorities began blocking access to photo sharing and online messaging services on mobile phones, including Telegram, which the government accused of being used to foment violence, local media and Telegram’s CEO said.
After an initial silence, state media has begun showing footage of unrest, focusing on young men violently targeting banks and vehicles, an attack on a town hall in Tehran, and images of a man burning the Iranian flag.
“Those who damage public property, disrupt order and break the law must be responsible for their behavior and pay the price,” Interior Minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli said on state television.
“The spreading of violence, fear and terror will definitely be confronted,” he added.
US President Donald Trump said the “big protests” showed people “were getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism.”
“Looks like they will not take it any longer,” he wrote on Twitter, warning that Washington is “watching very closely for human rights violations!“
British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said he was “watching events in Iran with concern.”
Iranian authorities have sought to distinguish anti-regime protesters from what they see as legitimate economic grievances.
“Do not get excited,” parliament director for international affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian wrote in a tweet directed at Trump.
“Sedition, unrest and chaos are different from gatherings and peaceful protests to pursue people’s livelihoods,” he said.
But there have been reminders of the continued support for the regime among conservative sections of society, with pro-regime students holding another day of demonstrations at the University of Tehran on Sunday.
They had outnumbered protesters at the university the day before, although online videos showed significant protests around parts of central Tehran later in the evening.
The total number of arrests from the protests around the country remained unclear.
An official in Arak, around 300 kilometers (190 miles) southwest of Tehran, said 80 people had been detained there overnight.
Police have so far taken a relatively soft approach to the unrest, and there has been no sign that the powerful Revolutionary Guards have yet been deployed.
President Hassan Rouhani has so far not made any statement since the protests started.
He came to power in 2013 promising to mend the economy and ease social tensions, but anger over high living costs and a 12-percent unemployment rate have left many feeling that progress is too slow.
Unemployment is particularly high among young people, who have grown up in a less restrictive environment and are generally considered less deferential to authority.
“Rouhani has run an austerity budget since 2013 with the idea that it’s a tough but necessary pill to swallow to manage inflation and currency problems and try to improve Iran’s attractiveness for investment,” said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.
“But choosing years of austerity immediately after a very tough period of sanctions is bound to test people’s patience,” he told AFP.
Since the ruthless repression of the 2009 protests against a disputed presidential election that gave hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term, many middle-class Iranians have abandoned hope of securing change from the streets.
But low-level strikes and demonstrations have continued, with bus drivers, teachers and factory workers protesting against unpaid wages and poor conditions.


Dick Cheney: Upcoming decade bleak if US adopts ‘disengagement’ policy

Updated 10 December 2019

Dick Cheney: Upcoming decade bleak if US adopts ‘disengagement’ policy

  • Former US vice president sounds warning during panel discussion on ‘The global order 2030’
  • Remarks seen as indirect criticism of President Trump’s pledge to pull forces out of Syria

DUBAI: Dick Cheney, one of the most influential vice presidents in US history, has warned that “American disengagement” from the Middle East would only benefit Iran and Russia.

The 78-year-old politician’s warning came during a speech at the Arab Strategy Forum (ASF) in Dubai, an annual event in which the world’s leading decision-makers address global challenges and opportunities in “a precise, balanced and politically scientific manner.”

Cheney’s remarks could be seen as indirect criticism of US President Donald Trump’s pledges to pull forces out of northern Syria.

Addressing conference delegates, he cited the withdrawal of US troops from Syria and the 2015 lifting of sanctions against Iran during Barack Obama’s presidency, as events that amplified instability in the region.

“Our allies were left abandoned, and no one wants to feel that way again,” said Cheney, who was chief executive of Halliburton between 1995 and 2000 and held high posts in several Republican administrations.

The former VP’s remarks came during the forum’s concluding session titled, “The global order 2030: The Unites States and China,” which was attended by Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

Joined by Li Zhaoxing, a former Chinese foreign minister, in a candid panel discussion, Cheney offered his views on the world order in the next decade within the context of Iran’s regional ascendancy, China’s rise and Russian ambitions in the Middle East.

“I am not here to speak on behalf of the US government, or to speak to it,” Cheney said, adding that his talking points reflected concerns he suspected everyone shared.

“For decades, there’s been a consensus of America’s influence in the world and how to use it,” he said, citing instances where US disengagement had caused the political situation in the Middle East to implode.

“Humanity has benefited from America’s protectionism of the world and its relationship with its allies in the region.”

According to him, the upcoming decade would be bleak should the US adopt a disengagement policy, with the pressures most felt by supporters and partners in the Middle East.

Turning to the role that the US and China would play in the global status quo by 2030, Cheney said there were still concerns over China’s reputation.

“We had hoped that there would be a political evolution in China, but that hasn’t happened yet,” he added.

Li said: “China will never learn from a world superpower and will never try to be hegemonic,” citing as examples China’s strong relations with the UAE and the wider Arab world, and the impact of the Belt and Road Initiative (a global development strategy) on Chinese foreign policy.

“History is the best teacher, but the US has forgotten its own history. You don’t keep your promises,” added Li, directing his statement at Cheney.

Cheney said that since the end of the Cold War, the US had expected that its policy toward China would have had a beneficial effect on its behavior and helped to deepen bilateral relations.

“It was disappointing to see that these expectations were not borne out – China has only grown richer, the regime has become more oppressive, and instead of evolving, it became more assertive,” he said.

In a separate ASF meeting at the Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Center, Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, discussed Iran’s policies in a session titled, “The race for relevance and influence in the region: GCC, Iran, Turkey and Russia.”

Sadjadpour said he expected in the next 10 years to see the arrival of “an Iranian Putin” with a military background as the country’s next leader.

“After 40 years of a clerical regime and a military autocracy, there is now a rise of Persian nationalism. This is a shift from the sheer revolution ideology,” he said.

Sadjadpour said there had been an evolution of “Shiite Arab” identity during the past two decades, with the focus more on religion than nationality.

Under the circumstances, he noted that Sunni Arab powers had an important role to play in welcoming Shiite Arabs into their fold “and luring them away from Iran.”

The analyst added that the future of the Arab world could not be explored and forecast without considering a growing mental health crisis. “Today, hundreds of millions of people in the region suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and the effects of this will be with us for decades to come, resulting in issues like radicalism.”

He said there was a need for training thousands of counselors in the field of mental health in order to reach out to those whose lives had been robbed by extreme violence and conflicts.