Ebadi urges world action to weaken Iran rulers on revolution anniversary

In this file photo, Iranian Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi speaks during an interview in London, Britain. (Reuters)
Updated 08 February 2019

Ebadi urges world action to weaken Iran rulers on revolution anniversary

  • Shirin Ebadi has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of Iran’s clerical leadership
  • Iran’s defiance in facing US sanctions and pressure is likely to be a top theme at the revolution’s 40th anniversary celebrations

PARIS/LONDON: Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi said she first had doubts about the 1979 Islamic Revolution when members of the Shah’s regime were executed on the rooftop of a school housing its leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
She has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of Iran’s clerical leadership, 40 years after Khomeini returned from exile in Paris on a special Air France flight to ecstatic crowds on Feb. 1, 1979.
But as Iran commemorates the rise of Khomeini, who won the support of millions opposed to the US-backed Shah’s lavish lifestyle and ruthless secret police, her criticisms of its current rulers are compounded by frustrations about US policy.
US sanctions designed to undermine Iran’s ruling theocracy have only hurt ordinary Iranians who face widespread hardships, said Ebadi, a human rights lawyer and former judge who has been living in exile in Britain since 2009.
“The economic sanctions are not to the benefit of the people. They make the people poor,” she told Reuters.
“However, those who are close to the regime benefit from economic sanctions because it gives them the opportunity to gain dirty money. So it’s good for them.”
Iranian officials were not immediately available for comment. The country has said it is increasing efforts against corruption, and the hard-line judiciary has tried and executed several traders in recent years, accusing them of “disrupting and corrupting the economy” under the sanctions.
Iran’s defiance in facing US sanctions and pressure is likely to be a top theme at the revolution’s 40th anniversary celebrations culminating next Monday in a nationwide rally.
But Ebadi’s memory of those days diverges from the official version. She recalled the chaos of the early days of the revolution, which Iranians hoped would deliver greater freedoms and prosperity after decades of dictatorship.
“Unfortunately, it started a day after the revolution, when in a five minute court session they sentenced to death the heads of previous regime,” said Ebadi, recalling her early doubts.
“And (they) executed all of them on the rooftop of the school in which Khomeini was residing.”
There was more disenchantment for Ebadi when tens of thousands of women took to the streets in 1979 to celebrate International Women’s Day. Supporters of Khomeini, who had said women should wear the hijab in governmental offices, attacked women who were uncovered with sticks and batons.
Four decades later, signs of instability have re-emerged, albeit not on the scale of 1979.
Last year, Iran cracked down on protests over poor living standards and corruption in over 80 cities and towns. The unrest posed the most serious challenge to its clerical leadership since a 2009 uprising over disputed presidential elections.
Some Iranians called for the fall of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who in turn blamed “enemies of the Islamic Republic.” Small, sporadic protests continue over issues such as unpaid wages, but nothing on the scale of last year.
Iranian officials say protests and criticism of the Islamic Republic are driven by external forces intent on destroying it.
While Ebadi dislikes severe economic sanctions of the type imposed by Washington, she believes that with enough international pressure of a different kind, the West can force Iran’s clerical establishment from power.
“In my view, it’s very likely because at the beginning of the revolution, 90 percent of Iranian population wanted this regime,” said Ebadi. “And now, if you take another poll through free elections, you will see that 90 percent of people don’t want the regime any more.”
To bring that about, “the world has to do things which weaken the Iranian government,” said Ebadi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.
She gave as an example restrictions on Iran’s use of satellites, arguing this would stop its ability to broadcast propaganda television programs in non-Persian languages.
While she has no plans to return for now, Ebadi hopes to go back to Iran one day, “whenever the conditions are such that I as an advocate of human rights and as a lawyer can work there.”


Water-scarce Gulf states bank on desalination, at a cost

Updated 12 December 2019

Water-scarce Gulf states bank on desalination, at a cost

  • For Oman and other Gulf states dominated by vast deserts, obtaining fresh water from the sea comes at a high cost
  • In Sur, water for residents and businesses comes from a large desalination plant

SUR, OMAN: “We have water, and it’s the most important thing in a house,” says Abdullah Al-Harthi from the port city of Sur in Oman, a country that relies on desalination plants.
But for Oman and the other Gulf countries dominated by vast and scorching deserts, obtaining fresh water from the sea comes at a high financial and environmental cost.
In Sur, south of the capital Muscat, water for residents and businesses comes from a large desalination plant that serves some 600,000 people.
“Before, life was very difficult. We had wells, and water was delivered by trucks,” the 58-year-old told AFP. “Since the 1990s, water has come through pipes and we’ve had no cuts.”
But these benefits — relying on energy intensive processes that produce carbon emissions — do not come without a cost, particularly as global temperatures rise.
The United Nations says 2019 is on course to be one of the hottest three years on record.
And there is another impact: the desalination plants produce highly concentrated salt water, or brine, that is often dumped back into the ocean.
Researchers say more than 16,000 desalination plants around the globe produce more toxic sludge than freshwater.
For every liter of freshwater extracted from the sea or brackish water, a liter-and-a-half of salty slurry is deposed at sea or on land, according to a 2019 study in the journal Science.
All that extra salt raises the temperature of coastal waters and decreases the level of oxygen, which can conspire to create biological “dead zones.”
The super-salty substance is made even more toxic by the chemicals used in the desalination process.
Oman’s bigger neighbors produce the bulk of the brine.
More than half comes from just four countries — Saudi Arabia, at 22 percent, United Arab Emirates with 20 percent, and smaller shares by Kuwait and Qatar, according to UN data.
“Brine production in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar accounts for 55 percent of the total global share,” according to the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health.
It said new strategies are needed “to limit the negative environmental impacts and reduce the economic cost of disposal.”
This would help “to safeguard water supplies for current and future generations.”
At the Sur plant, “almost no chemicals” are used during the pre-treatment phase, as the water is naturally filtered through the cracks of karst rocks, said Mahendran Senapathy, operations manager at French company Veolia which runs the plant along with an Omani firm.
There are other ways to safeguard freshwater supplies, from encouraging savings and efficiently to recycling wastewater.
Antoine Frerot, chief executive of Veolia, said wastewater recycling will help resolve the problem of water scarcity.
He also pointed out that “reused water is less costly,” nearly one third less than that won through desalination.
Omani authorities continue to mount campaigns urging people to use water wisely, mindful that other demands — especially the energy sector — also guzzle up large amounts.
Across the Gulf, huge amounts of water are used not just for homes, gardens and golf courses, but also for the energy sector that is the source of the region’s often spectacular wealth.
On the edge of the Arabian peninsula’s “Empty Quarter,” the world’s largest expanse of sand, lies the Khazzan gas field, operated by BP and the Oman Oil Company.
The method used to extract the gas here is hydraulic fracturing — more commonly known as fracking — said Stewart Robertson, operations manager at the site.
The method requires huge amounts of water. The site is supplied by a facility that provides 6,000 cubic meters of water a day, extracted from an underground aquifer 50 kilometers (30 miles) away.
Fracking involves directional drilling and then pumping water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to fracture rock and release the hydrocarbons.
The rock formations that hold the gas are “like a big sponge with lots of little holes in it,” said Robertson, explaining that fracking is the process “to open those holes slightly to take the gas out.”
So the more the region extracts oil and natural or shale gas, “the more they need water,” said Charles Iceland of the World Resources Institute.
“The Middle East is projected to need more and more energy,” he said. “So that means the situation is going to get worse.”
“On the other hand,” he said, “if they can produce power using solar photovoltaic technologies, which are getting reasonably priced in the Middle East, that would take care of a lot of the problem because solar PV doesn’t need much water.
“You need just some water to clean the solar panels.”