Iran deploys Revolutionary Guards to quell “sedition” in protest hotbeds

Demonstrators attend a pro-government rally in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Iran. Tens of thousands of Iranians took part in pro-government demonstrations in several cities across the country (AP)
Updated 03 January 2018
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Iran deploys Revolutionary Guards to quell “sedition” in protest hotbeds

LONDON: Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have deployed forces to three provinces to put down an eruption of anti-government unrest after six days of protests that have rattled the clerical leadership and left 21 people dead.
The protests, which began last week out of frustration over economic hardships suffered by the youth and working class, have evolved into a rising against the powers and privileges of a remote elite especially Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Defying threats from the judiciary of execution if convicted of rioting, protests resumed after nightfall with hundreds hitting the streets of Malayer in Hamadan province chanting: “People are begging, the supreme leader is acting like God!“
Videos carried by social media showed protesters in the northern town of Nowshahr shouted “death to the dictator” — an apparent reference to Khamenei.
In a sign of official concern about the resilience of the protests, the Revolutionary Guards commander, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said he had dispatched forces to Hamadan, Isfahan and Lorestan provinces to tackle “the new sedition.”
Most of the casualties among protesters have occurred in those regions of the sprawling Islamic Republic.
The Revolutionary Guards, the sword and shield of Iran’s Shiite theocracy, were instrumental in suppressing an uprising over alleged election fraud in 2009 in which dozens of mainly middle-class protesters were killed. Khamenei condemned that unrest as “sedition.”
Anti-government rallies, held in defiance of the pervasive security services, have called for the downfall of the Islamic Republic, posing one of the most sustained challenges to the established order of the major oil-exporting state since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the US-backed Shah.
In a state-sponsored show of force aimed at countering the outpouring of dissent, thousands of Iranians also took part in pro-government rallies in several cities on Wednesday morning.
State television broadcast live footage of rallies in cities across the country, where marchers waved Iranian flags and portraits of Khamenei, Iran’s paramount leader since 1989.
Pro-government marchers chanted, “The blood in our veins is a gift to our leader (Khamenei),” and, “We will not leave our leader alone.” They accused the United States, Israel and Britain of inciting protests, shouting, “The seditionist rioters should be executed!“
In the Shiite holy city of Qom, pro-government demonstrators chanted “death to American mercenaries.”
On Tuesday, the 78-year-old Khamenei had accused Iran’s adversaries of fomenting the protests.
RARE ANTI-GOVERNMENT OUTPOURING
US President Donald Trump, who has sought to isolate the Tehran leadership, reversing the conciliatory approach of predecessor Barack Obama, said Washington would throw its support behind the protesters at a suitable time.
“Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government. You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!” Trump wrote in the latest of a series of tweets on Iran’s turmoil.
The protests seem to be spontaneous, without a clear leader, cropping up in working-class neighborhoods and smaller cities, but the movement seems to be gaining traction among the educated middle class and activists who spearheaded the 2009 revolt.
More than 100 Iranian woman activists voiced support for a new uprising in a statement on Wednesday. Several prominent Iranian lawyers, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, urged Tehran to respect people’s right to freedom of assembly and expression, guaranteed under the constitution.
Some labor unions as well as minority Kurdish opposition groups have also thrown their weight behind the protests.
In Geneva, the UN human rights chief urged Iran to rein in security forces to avoid further violence and respect the right of protesters to freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly.
Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said hundreds of Iranians had been arrested in the past week, and called for “thorough, independent and impartial investigations of all acts of violence.”
Hamidreza Abolhassani, a regional judicial official, said a European citizen had been arrested for leading rioters in the Borujerd area of western Iran and was suspected of having been “trained by European intelligence services.” The detainee’s nationality was not given.
The outburst of dissent is the most serious since Iranians took to the streets in 2009 over accusations of vote-rigging in the re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a conservative hard-liner, over two reformist challengers.
ROUHANI UNDER PRESSURE
The protests have heaped pressure on President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who championed a deal struck with world powers in 2015 to curb Iran’s disputed nuclear program in return for the lifting of most international sanctions.
Many of the protesters are fuming over what they see as the failure so far of Rouhani’s government to deliver on promises of more jobs and investment as a dividend of the nuclear accord.
Anger over economic stagnation and reputed graft within the clerical and security hierarchies has been building since last month. Thousands joined a hashtag campaign on Twitter and other sites to vent frustration over the dragging pace of reforms to tackle high unemployment and grant more social freedoms.
Khamenei and Rouhani have vowed to crack down on high-level corruption and create economic prosperity for all Iranians.
But there have been few changes. The Revolutionary Guards, for example, still control a vast, lucrative economic empire.
While more than 20 million out of 80 million Iranians live below the poverty line, the wealthy, including relatives of government officials, import tens of thousands of luxury cars every year, causing widespread resentment.
Trump has said in tweets that Iranians have lost patience with alleged graft and what he called a terrorist regime.
Trump must decide by mid-January whether to continue waiving US sanctions on Iran’s oil exports under terms of the nuclear deal he opposed. But if reimposes sanctions, he risks worsening the economic pain of Iranians he has vowed to help.
“If the Americans’ sympathy with Iranians were real, they would have not imposed cruel sanctions on the our nation,” Jafari, the Revolutionary Guards commander, said on Wednesday.


PLO expects less overt racism from a Gantz administration

Updated 20 September 2019

PLO expects less overt racism from a Gantz administration

  • Retired general Benny Gantz is contesting the Israeli leadership from PM Benjamin Netanyahu

AMMAN, Jordan: A senior PLO official told Arab News that no substantive difference will occur with a possible Benny Gantz administration in Israel but “it will most likely have less overt racism.”

PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi noted that the head of the Blue and White party in Israel has not shown any significant interest in a major change of policy toward Palestinians. “Given the fact that he competed with (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu on who has been tougher with Palestinians and he didn’t oppose Netanyahu’s threat to annex the Jordan Valley, I don’t expect any serious change on the ground and for sure no change in regards to Jerusalem.”

On the other hand, Riyad Al-Maliki the Palestinian foreign minister called on the world community to engage with the “golden opportunity” for peace being offered by Palestinians saying president Mahmoud Abbas offers to negotiate with any new head of state in Israel. “We respect the results of Israel’s democratic elections and we are willing to sit with whoever establishes a new government to renew peace negotiations,”
Al-Maliki said.

The head of Palestinian diplomacy continued in a statement issued in Oslo on behalf of the Palestinian president saying that “this is a strong and clear statement to the Israeli society and the international community that the Palestinian leadership is ready for talks with the other side and that this is a reassurance that we have never rejected any chance for negotiations, a position that president Abbas assured US President Donald Trump in his four meetings with the American leader.”

SPEEDREAD

The head of the Blue and White party in Israel has not shown any significant interest in a major change of policy toward Palestinians.

While awaiting the Israeli response to this Palestinian peace overture, Ashrawi predicted, that a Benny Gantz administration might have a softer public stand regarding Palestinians.  “I expect less overt racism and violent military rhetoric from him,” she said.

The senior Palestinian official at the same time also expected that some small “living conditions” changes could occur if the opponent of Netanyahu became prime minister. “We are realistic and therefore we don’t expect an epiphany or an about-turn, nor do we expect a full commitment to a just peace, but it is possible that a different government in Israel might carry certain steps to ease pressure on Palestinians.”

The recent period has seen a major escalation by the Netanyahu government both verbally and in policy toward Palestinians and the Palestinian government. 

Ashrawi expects that the Israeli policymakers are aware of how “volatile” the situation has become under Netanyahu in recent years. Ashrawi told Arab News that a new Israeli government might want “to defuse this volatility” and make certain improvements on various levels, including the Gaza siege or on the movement of people and goods. 

“But we will not ask for such improvements,” she said.