“The Genealogy of Protest in Iran: Lessons from History”

My latest piece in The Fletcher Forum of International Affairs: “The United States would be wise to heed the lessons of history and let Iranians determine their own fate as any further intervention—whether soft or hard—could easily derail Iran’s organic political evolution in unforeseen ways. Soft intervention by way of presidential statements in Washington or at the United Nations in support of dissent would enable the Iranian government to cast its dissidents as part of an American plot. Any hard military intervention would provoke a nationalist backlash that would sideline calls for change from within.”

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“Iran Among the Ruins: Tehran’s Advantage in a Turbulent Middle East”

Dean Vali Nasr in Foreign Affairs: “Some observers see Iran today, with its use of militias and insurgents abroad, as the United States saw the Soviet Union or China at the height of its revolutionary fervor—as a power intent on using asymmetric means to upset the existing order and sow chaos. Iran’s goal is to “expand its malign influence,” Mattis said at his confirmation hearing, “to remake the region in its image.” But Iran is closer to modern Russia and China than to their revolutionary predecessors. Like them, it is a revisionist power, not a revolutionary one. It opposes a regional order designed to exclude it. Iran’s methods often defy international norms, but the national interests they serve, even when at odds with those of the United States, are not uncommon. Iran’s view of the world is shaped less by the likes of Lenin and Mao than by those of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. And it is driven less by revolutionary zeal than by nationalism.”

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“A somber revolutionary anniversary in Iran”

AlJazeera: “According to an official poll, the underlying causes of the widespread discontent in the recent protests were social and political. The head of Strategic Analysis Centre, Hessamudin Ashna, said that the polls show 60 percent of the population want reform but another 31 percent want ‘substantial changes’.”

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“Israel’s ‘Safe Zone’ Is Creeping Farther Into Syria”

The Intercept: “The safe zone appears intended to keep the Syrian army and its Iranian and Lebanese allies as far away from Israel’s border as possible, as well as solidify Israel’s control over the occupied Golan Heights. Israel seized the Golan from Syria in 1967’s Six-Day War. Expanding a buffer zone would likely make any negotiations over the return of the Syrian territory more difficult in the future, because the Golan Heights will be surrounded on both sides by areas with significant Israeli influence.”

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“The Fire That Fueled the Iran Protests”

Prof Asef Bayat in The Atlantic: “How do we explain the eruption? Among the numerous observations, two broad explanations stand out. The first views the unrest as a prelude to a revolution. The other understands it as an example of how Iranians typically air their public concerns. The reality, however, seems different. Neither simply an extension of routine protests, nor a prologue to revolution, what transpired in Iran recently was an extraordinary popular revolt. At its core: The “middle-class poor,” the rising angry class produced by a neoliberal age in which people’s welfare is left to the mercy of the market. With the opening of Iran’s economy, this class has benefited from educational opportunities, but failed in the job market; their expectations are high, but their livelihood less certain. With a disposition distinct from both the middle class and the poor, this disenchanted and restless class is poised to haunt indifferent authorities.”

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“Iranian opposition cleric accuses Khamenei of abuse of power”

Reuters: “‘You have been Iran’s top leader for three decades, but still speak like an opposition,’ Karroubi said in an open letter to Khamenei published on Saham News, the official website of his reformist political party.”

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“Rouhani moves to leverage unrest to loosen IRGC grip on economy”

Al-Monitor: “In the aftermath of the recent protests in Iran, public announcements about a concerted effort to get the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Iranian army (Artesh) to divest from the economy seem to signal that President Hassan Rouhani remains firmly committed to his agenda. Indeed, unlike the past — when civil unrest was quickly assumed by default to weaken moderates as the security state stepped in — elite responses to the protests have this time acknowledged grievances. Believed to have initially been instigated by hard-line foes who sought to undermine him, Rouhani is now using the protests to leverage his efforts to restrict the influence of unaccountable centers of power.”

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“US and Saudi Arabia arms significantly enhanced Isis’ military capabilities, report reveals”

The Independent: “An extensive field investigation into the origins of Isis’ weaponry in Syria and Iraq has found that weapons supplied by the US and Saudi Arabia to the Syrian opposition often ended up in the jihadis’ hands, enhancing the “quantity and quality” of their armaments. While most weapons in Isis’ arsenal were captured from the Syrian and Iraqi armies, Conflict Armament Research (CAR)’s report, published on Thursday, found that the number of US and Saudi supplied weapons in Isis’ arsenal goes ‘far beyond those that would have been available through battle capture alone’.”

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“Trump Admin Commits to Forever War in Syria against Iran”

Informed Comment: “Since the al-Assad regime has won the civil war, it does not feel it needs to make a grand political compromise with the rebels, who only have three significant pockets of resistance left: Idlib Province in the north, the East Ghouta neighborhood in the vicinity of Damascus, and Deraa south of the capital. All together, these three account for about 2 million people. The YPG Kurds of the north and northeast constitute another 2 million, but they are not rebels against the regime per se and probably would be willing to rejoin Syria if it were reformulated as a federal state with substantial states’ rights. They also now rule over about a million Arab Syrians in Raqqa. So the remnants of the rebels rule about 11 percent of the some 18 million Syrians still inside the country. The YPG Kurds have about 16 percent of the population. That is 27%. Let’s say there are rebel pockets amounting to another 3%, giving the regime 70% of the population. Tillerson says Damascus only rules half the territory, but that statistic is irrelevant since the eastern desert is thinly populated It is like the US government losing control of Wyoming, which is a big place but, no offense, few people live there. And remember that the 11% that is Kurds, while they are not under government control, have been willing to cooperate with the Syrian Arab Army against the Arab fundamentalists and would likely do a deal with Damascus if the US left.”

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“How years of increasing labor unrest signaled Iran’s latest protest wave”

Washington Post: “Beginning on Dec. 28, a wave of protests surged across Iran, with at least 75 cities reportedly experiencing one or more demonstrations in the first week. Soon after they began, commentators rushed to attribute the protests to various grievances, from Ponzi-like banking scheme collapses and budget corruption allegations to soaring prices of eggs and gasoline. However, our research suggests that rather than grievances alone, an underappreciated precursor for the protests was the buildup of demonstrations and rallies by teachers, workers, trade unions and civil society associations.”

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