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Protests in Iran coming to an end

Iranian authorities claim protest wave has ended, whilst information suggests Iran has experienced a riot wave rather than political protests

Alexander Mercouris

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Amidst big pro-government demonstrations yesterday the authorities are claiming that the protest wave which began in the Mashhad on 28th December 2017 has ended, and that quiet has returned to Iran’s towns and cities.

It is not always easy to verify information coming from Iran, not so much because the government seeks to suppress information but because the flow of information from Iran is so intensely politicised.

This together with the relative absence of independent reporters on the ground makes it sometimes difficult to form a view of what is actually going on.

However the government’s claim that the protest wave has ended does seem to correspond with information coming from Iran, which suggests that the protests are in the main over.

Assuming that this information is true – as seems likely – what general conclusions about the protest wave can be drawn?

(1) The Iranian authorities claim that the total number of people involved in the protests was 15,000 across the whole of Iran.

There is no independent corroboration for this figure, but the overall impression is that the protests were scattered and small, making it likely that it is true.

The fact that there has been considerable violence during the protests with twenty or more people killed tends to bear this out.

Whilst this is not a hard and fast rule, it is generally the case that violence increases the smaller protests become as the more militant and violent protesters are no longer restrained by the peaceful majority of protesters.

Needless to say the more violent protests become the more likely it is that the great majority of people who might be willing to join peaceful protests will be scared off doing so and will stay away.

The result is that as the violence escalates the size of the protests diminishes, until eventually they either fizzle out or are suppressed.

The fact that there was an escalation of violence in the last days of the protests, and the fact that they took place mainly at night, seems to conform to this pattern, and suggests that the authorities are right in saying that what began in Mashhad on 28th December 2017 as a peaceful protest about economic conditions over the course of the following days degenerated into simple rioting.

Needless to say if the total number of protesters was no more than 15,000 then the claims by Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, other US officials, the EU, and Western commentators, that Iran – a nation of 80 million people – was facing a massive protest wave were simply wrong.

(2) The fact that the rioting spread to various small provincial towns across Iran suggests a degree of coordination amongst the rioters but the extent of this should not be exaggerated.

It is not unusual for rioters – and the criminal elements which invariably rise to the surface during riots – to communicate and coordinate with each other, and social media platforms like Telegram nowadays make that very easy.

(3) Was there any larger involvement by outsiders in the riots as has been widely claimed, including by the Iranian authorities themselves?

On 31st December 2017 the US based but often well-informed internet publication Al-Monitor had this to say about the use of Telegram to coordinate the riots

It is also becoming clear that the key mode of mobilization is the popular smartphone app Telegram, which has some 40 million users in Iran. Al-Monitor has previously closely covered the popularity of Telegram, how the authorities have sought to control its spread and how it has changed Iranian media. In April, the Supreme Council of Cyberspace in Iran required administrators of channels with more than 5,000 followers to register with the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The move followed crackdowns on administrators of Reformist channels ahead of the May 2017 presidential elections. President Hassan Rouhani, allied with the Reformist camp, easily won a second term in those elections.

Amad News, a channel on Telegram, appears to have played a pivotal role in the wave of protests. Reportedly administered by exiled journalist Rohollah Zam — a son of a senior Reformist cleric said to have escaped the country after being accused of having links with foreign intelligence agencies — the channel had just under a million followers on the eve of the protests. This number ballooned before Minister of Information Technology and Communications Mohammad Jahromi on Dec. 30 successfully requested that Telegram founder Pavel Durov shut down Amad News on account of its reported incitement of violence. Remarkably, the Iranian request was made publicly on Twitter, a medium that remains filtered in the country. Mirror channels that emerged following the shutdown of Amad News also were closed, though one mirror site was functioning and had close to 900,000 followers as of this writing. In addition, the Iranian authorities have apparently moved to restrict mobile data services in some areas, although broadband appears to be functioning. Moreover, Telegram and Instagram, which have both been unfiltered in Iran thus far, are said to have been “temporarily” filtered in some regions.

While the method of mobilization is becoming clear, it is still unknown who, if any person or group, is leading the protests. The absence of a discernible leader has left the authorities unable to point the finger, such as in 2009, beyond the usual accusations blaming foreign intelligence services and hostile states. The speed of the geographical spread of the protests along with the apparent lack of a leader has, according to some accounts, even left some protesters puzzled, let alone most political observers. This could provide an opportunity for a variety of groups to hijack the protests.

Rohollah Zam, the exiled journalist referred to in this passage, has been repudiated by his father, the reformist cleric Mohammad Ali Zam because of his criticism of Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader.

I have not been able to find out which foreign intelligence agency the Iranian authorities accuse him of involvement with.

However it is clear from their statements over the last few days that the foreign intelligence agency which the Iranian authorities believe had a hand in the riots was Saudi intelligence, not the intelligence agencies of the US and Israel.

Assuming that a foreign intelligence agency was involved in the riots, as is at some level likely – the chanting of political slogans during some of the riots after all strongly suggests it – and assuming that the riots really were intended to prepare the ground for a Maidan style protest movement which would eventually bring about regime change, then the small number of protesters – just 15,000 across the whole country – means that the intelligence agency in question has little to show for its efforts.

Clearly Iran is not ripe for a Maidan style colour revolution.  Though there is widespread dissatisfaction with the government, there appears to be little support in the country for regime change, and the legitimacy of Iran’s Islamic Republic is not widely disputed.

(4) As for the trigger for the original largely peaceful protest on 28th December 2017 in Mashhad, it is now clear that this was not the sudden one-off increase in egg and poultry prices as has been widely reported, but the Rouhani government’s proposed budget, which proposes large cuts in subsidies in order to release budget funds for infrastructure development.

Many poorer Iranians have come to depend on these subsidies, and like the monetisation of pensioner benefits in Russia – which in 2005 triggered what remains by far the biggest protest wave Russia has witnessed during the Putin era, dwarfing in scale the election protests of 2011-2012 – the cutting of these subsidies in Iran is deeply unpopular however much economic sense Rouhani’s liberal economic advisers say it makes.

(5) A further factor which some are suggesting may lie behind the protests – mentioned in conversations some Iranian acquaintances have had with me – is the difficulty young people in Iran are having finding jobs that match their qualifications.

The Iranian economy despite its recent growth is struggling to find jobs for the one million young Iranians who are joining the workforce every year.

Though unemployment in Iran is average for its region, heavy investment in education since the Iranian Revolution makes the younger generation of Iranians better educated than ever before and unusually well-educated for the region.

Inevitably this high education level increases expectations, and leads to anger and disappointment when conditions in the economy mean that these expectations cannot be fulfilled.

One particular point I have heard several people make is that Iran is currently experiencing a demographic bulge caused by the Iranian government’s previous encouragement of a high birth rate in order to replace the heavy manpower losses Iran suffered during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

That policy has now been reversed, causing the birth rate to fall – Iran is unusual in this region in having both demographic and family planning policies – but in the meantime it has led to a large increase in the number of young people coming of age now, which has put Iran’s social and educational services under severe strain, as well as making it difficult for the economy to provide them all with jobs.

The one observation I would make about this claim is however that whilst accounts of the rioters make it clear that they are overwhelmingly young men – as is always the case in riots – they do not seem to be the sort of educated young men that are being talked about in these accounts.

On the contrary they seem to be the less educated young men coming from economically poorer backgrounds who form the majority of rioters – and of the criminal class – in all countries.

Perhaps there is a wider dissatisfaction with their social and economic conditions amongst Iran’s young people which provides the background for the riots.  However I would want to see much more evidence for this than I have seen so far before I accepted it.

(6) The fact that the economy is growing despite all the problems is nonetheless probably the reason why the protests and the riots have not spread to any significant degree to the big urban centres such as Tehran and Tabriz.

Though living standards are still well below their pre-recession levels, most urban Iranians have experienced some improvement in their lives in the last two years, and this has almost certainly taken some of the edge off the discontent.

This together with the heavier policing to be expected in large urban centres means that the protests and the rioting have not spread there.

In summary, it seems that what Iran has experienced has been less a protest wave and more a riot wave, though the rioting was triggered by what were initially genuine economic protests caused by worries about the government’s pending budget.

Riots happen in many countries.  In the US and Britain (especially in England) they are a common occurrence.

In England the spread of rioting across provincial towns is a relatively frequent occurrence, and during the last big riot wave in 2011 the use of social media by rioters to coordinate their actions across the country was widely in evidence, just as it has been during the recent riots in Iran.

As in Iran the reasons for the rioting that regularly takes place in English provincial towns is widely discussed, especially in academic circles, but no firm consensus has ever been reached about it.

The key point is that whatever the cause of rioting, and wherever it happens, precisely because rioting is a form of criminal activity it is not usually considered to have any wider political significance.

What is known about the riots in Iran suggest that they are no different.

The fact that the riots in Iran have been reported by some people differently as suggesting some sort of imminent revolution looks for the moment to be more a product of wishful thinking than a true assessment of what has been actually going on.

As for Nikki Haley’s attempt to get no less a body than the UN Security Council to debate the riots, that is just silly.

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America’s wars are against American’s interests

War is a racket

Richard Galustian

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To advocate wars are good is insane!

For one, Afghanistan is about a ridiculously flawed US government foreign policy. it is not about ‘winning’ a war as Erik Prince describes in his video.

There is no reason for the US to be in Afghanistan.

Something Mr. Prince seems to fail to understand the reader can judge by watching Prince’s presentation promoting war.

That said, what Erik Prince explains about the military industrial complex is correct. Weapons purchases must be curtailed.

However more importantly, what he fails to say is America must stop its ‘’regime change policy’ and avoid future wars, is the real issue.

To provoke war for example with Russia or China is absolute insanity producing eventually only nuclear armageddon, the consequence is the destruction of the planet.

Trillions of dollars should not be spent (and wasted) by the Pentagon but that money should be used to build America’s roads; expand railways; build hospitals and schools, etc.

Especially also to pay much needed disability benefits to disabled vets who wasted their lives in past pointless wars from Korea to Vietnam to Iraq et al. Americans soldiers need to ‘go home’.

Withdrawing its unnecessary US bases worldwide; a left over outdated idea from the end of WW11, such as America’s military presence in Korea, Japan, Germany; the Persian Gulf, even in the UK.

Foreign military interventions are adventures pursued by ‘elites’ interests, ‘using’ NATO in most cases, as its tool, only for their (the elites) profit at the expense of ordinary people.

“War is a Racket” to quote the much decorated hero and patriot, US Marine, Major General Smedley Butler.

We can learn from history to understand America’s current predicament.

Brown Brothers Harriman in New York in the 1930s financed Hitler and Mussolini right up to the day war was declared by Roosevelt following the attack on Pearl Harbour.

A little taught fact in America’s colleges and ivy league universities is that Wall Street bankers (with a degree of assistance from the Bush family by the way) at the time had decided that a fascist dictatorship in the United States would be far better for their business interests than Roosevelt’s “new deal” which threatened massive wealth re-distribution to recapitalize the working and middle class of America and build America’s infrastructure.

So the Wall Street bankers recruited the much respected General Smedley Butler to lead an overthrow of the us government and install a “Secretary of General Affairs” who would be answerable to Wall Street, not the people; who would crush social unrest and shut down all labour unions. however General Smedley Butler only pretended to go along with the scheme, then exposed the plot. The General played the traitors along to gather evidence for congress and the president. When Roosevelt learned of the planned coup, he initially demanded the arrest of the plotters but this never happened because Roosevelt was in effect blackmailed by those same US bankers; another story!

Read the words of Major General Smedley Butler who explains what exactly happened.

“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service as a member of our country’s most agile military force — the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from second lieutenant to major general. and during that period I spent more of my time being a high-class muscle man for big business, for wall street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. “I suspected I was just a part of a racket at the time. now I am sure of it. Like all members of the military profession, I never had an original thought until I left the service. my mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of the higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service. Thus I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the national city bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of wall street. the record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that the standard oil went its way unmolested. During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. I was rewarded with honors, medals and promotion. Looking back on it, I feel I might have given Al Capone a few hints. the best he could do was to operate his racket in three city districts. I operated on three continents.” —

General Smedley Butler, former US Marine Corps Commandant, 1935.

We need peace not wars.

We need infrastructure building in America and Europe……not wars.

Somebody should explain this to Mr. Prince, and perhaps to his sister too…..who happens to be part of President Trump’s administration!

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Theresa May goes to Brussels and comes back with a big fat donut (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 39.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at Theresa May’s trip to Brussels to try and win some concessions from EU oligarchs, only to get completely rebuked and ridiculed, leaving EU headquarters with nothing but a four page document essentially telling the UK to get its act together or face a hard Brexit.

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Via Zerohedge


Any confidence boost that might have followed Theresa May’s triumph this week over her party’s implacable Brexiteers has probably already faded. Because if there was anything to be learned from the stunning rebuke delivered to the prime minister by EU leaders on Thursday, it’s that the prime minister is looking more stuck than ever.

This was evidenced by the frosty confrontation between the imperturbable May and her chief Continental antagonist, European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, which was caught on film on Friday shortly before the close of a two-day European Council summit that descended into bitter recriminations. After offering token praise of May’s leadership, Brussels’ supreme bureaucrat criticized her negotiating strategy as “disorganized”, provoking a heated response from May.

Earlier, May desperately pleaded with her European colleagues – who had adamantly insisted that the text of the withdrawal agreement would not be altered – to grant her “legally binding assurances” May believes would make the Brexit plan palatable enough to win a slim victory in the Commons.

If there were any lingering doubts about the EU’s position, they were swiftly dispelled by a striking gesture of contempt for May: Demonstrating the Continent’s indifference to her plight, the final text of the summit’s conclusions was altered to remove a suggestion that the EU consider what further assurances can be offered to May, while leaving in a resolution to continue contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit.

Even the Irish, who in the recent past have been sympathetic to their neighbors’ plight (in part due to fears about a resurgence of insurrectionary violence should a hard border re-emerge between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland), implied that there patience had reached its breaking point.

Here’s the FT:

But Leo Varadkar, the Irish premier, warned that the EU could not tolerate a treaty approval process where a country “comes back every couple of weeks following discussions with their parliament looking for something extra…you can’t operate international relations on this basis.”

Senior EU officials are resisting further negotiations — and suggestions of a special Brexit summit next month — because they see Britain’s requests as in effect a bid to rewrite the exit treaty.

Mr Varadkar noted that many prime ministers had been called to Brussels “at short notice” for a special Brexit summit “on a Sunday in November,” adding: “I don’t think they would be willing to come to Brussels again unless we really have to.”

In response, May threatened to hold a vote on the Brexit plan before Christmas, which would almost certainly result in its defeat, scrapping the fruits of more than a year of contentious negotiations.

Given that Mrs May aborted a Commons vote on her deal this week because she feared defeat by a “significant margin,” her comments amounted to a threat that she would let MPs kill the withdrawal agreement before Christmas.

Mrs May made the threat to German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron and EU presidents Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk as the two day Brussels summit descended into acrimony, according to diplomats.

“At the point where there is no prospect of getting anything more from the EU, that’s when you would have to put the vote,” said one close aide to Mrs May.

If this week has taught May anything, it’s that her plan to pressure the EU into more concessions (her preferred option to help her pass the Brexit plan) was an unmitigated failure. And given that running out the clock and hoping that MPs come around at the last minute (when the options truly have been reduced to ‘deal’ or ‘no deal’) leaves too much room for market-rattling uncertainty, May is left with a few options, two of which were previously ‘off the table’ (though she has distanced herself from those positions in recent weeks).

They are: Calling a second referendum, delaying a Brexit vote, pivoting to a softer ‘Plan B’ Brexit, or accepting a ‘no deal’ Brexit. As the BBC reminds us, May is obliged by law to put her deal to a vote by Jan. 21, or go to Parliament with a Plan B.

If May does decide to run down the clock, she will have two last-minute options:

On the one hand she could somehow cancel, delay, soften or hold another referendum on Brexit and risk alienating the 17.4 million people who voted Leave.

But on the other hand, she could go for a so-called Hard Brexit (where few of the existing ties between the UK and the EU are retained) and risk causing untold damage to the UK’s economy and standing in the world for years to come.

Alternatively, May could accept the fact that convincing the Brexiteers is a lost cause, and try to rally support among Labour MPs for a ‘softer’ Brexit plan, one that would more countenance closer ties with the EU during the transition, and ultimately set the stage for a closer relationship that could see the UK remain part of the customs union and single market. Conservatives are also increasingly pushing for a ‘Plan B’ deal that would effectively set the terms for a Norway- or Canada-style trade deal (and this strategy isn’t without risk, as any deal accepted by Parliament would still require approval from the EU).

But as JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank anticipated last week, a second referendum (which supporters have nicknamed a “People’s Vote”) is becoming increasingly popular, even among MPs who supported the ‘Leave’ campaign, according to Bloomberg.

It’s not the only previously unthinkable idea that May has talked about this week. Fighting off a challenge to her leadership from pro-Brexit Conservative members of Parliament, the premier warned that deposing her would mean delaying Britain’s departure from the European Union. That’s not something she admitted was possible last month.

The argument for a second referendum advanced by one minister was simple: If nothing can get through Parliament — and it looks like nothing can — the question needs to go back to voters.

While campaigners for a second vote have mostly been those who want to reverse the result of the last one and keep Britain inside the EU, that’s not the reason a lot of new supporters are coming round to the idea.

One Cabinet minister said this week he wanted a second referendum on the table to make clear to Brexit supporters in the Conservative Party that the alternative to May’s deal is no Brexit at all.

Even former UKIP leader Nigel Farage is urging his supporters to be ready for a second referendum:

Speaking at rally in London, Press Association quoted Farage as saying: “My message folks tonight is as much as I don’t want a second referendum it would be wrong of us on a Leave Means Leave platform not to get ready, not to be prepared for a worst-case scenario.”

Putting pressure on Brexiteers is also the reason there’s more talk of delaying the U.K.’s departure. At the moment, many Brexit-backers are talking openly about running down the clock to March so they can get the hard Brexit they want. Extending the process — which is easier than many appreciate — takes that strategy off the table.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has continued to call for May to put her deal to a vote principally because its defeat is a necessary precursor for another referendum (or a no-confidence vote pushed by an alliance between Labour, and some combination of rebel Tories, the SNP and the DUP).

“The last 24 hours have shown that Theresa May’s Brexit deal is dead in the water,” said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. “She’s failed to deliver any meaningful changes. Rather than ploughing ahead and recklessly running down the clock, she needs to put her deal to a vote next week so Parliament can take back control.”

The upshot is that the Brexit trainwreck, which has been stuck at an impasse for months, could finally see some meaningful movement in the coming weeks. Which means its a good time to bring back this handy chart illustrating the many different outcomes that could arise:

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Ukraine’s President Says “High” Threat Of Russian Invasion, Urges NATO Entry In Next 5 Years

Poroshenko is trying desperately to hold on to power, even if it means provoking Russia.

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Via Zerohedge


Perhaps still seeking to justify imposing martial law over broad swathes of his country, and attempting to keep international pressure and media focus on a narrative of “Russian aggression,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko denounced what he called the high “threat of Russian invasion” during a press conference on Sunday, according to Bloomberg.

Though what some analysts expected would be a rapid flair up of tit-for-tat incidents following the late November Kerch Strait seizure of three Ukrainian vessels and their crew by the Russian Navy has gone somewhat quiet, with no further major incident to follow, Poroshenko has continued to signal to the West that Russia could invade at any moment.

“The lion’s share of Russian troops remain” along the Russian border with Ukraine, Poroshenko told journalists at a press conference in the capital, Kiev. “Unfortunately, less than 10 percent were withdrawn,” he said, and added: “As of now, the threat of Russian troops invading remains. We have to be ready for this, we won’t allow a repeat of 2014.”

Poroshenko, who declared martial law on Nov. 26, citing at the time possible imminent “full-scale war with Russia” and Russian tank and troop build-up, on Sunday noted that he will end martial law on Dec. 26 and the temporarily suspended presidential campaign will kick off should there be no Russian invasion. He also previously banned all Russian males ages 16-60 from entering Ukraine as part of implementation of 30 days of martial law over ten provinces, though it’s unclear if this policy will be rescinded.

During his remarks, the Ukrainian president said his country should push to join NATO and the EU within the next five years, per Bloomberg:

While declining to announce whether he will seek a second term in the office, Poroshenko said that Ukraine should achieve peace, overcome the consequences of its economic crisis and to meet criteria to join the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during next five years.

But concerning both his retaining power and his ongoing “threat exaggeration” — there’s even widespread domestic acknowledgement that the two are clearly linked.

According to The Globe and Mail:

While Mr. Poroshenko’s domestic rivals accuse him of exaggerating the threat in order to boost his own flagging political fortunes — polls suggest Mr. Poroshenko is on track to lose his job in a March election — military experts say there are reasons to take the Ukrainian president’s warning seriously.

As we observed previously, while European officials have urged both sides to exercise restraint, the incident shows just how easily Russia and the West could be drawn into a military conflict over Ukraine.

Certainly Poroshenko’s words appear designed to telegraph just such an outcome, which would keep him in power as a war-time president, hasten more and massive western military support and aid, and quicken his country’s entry into NATO — the latter which is already treating Ukraine as a de facto strategic outpost.

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