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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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Republicans call Justice Department’s Bruce Ohr to testify, but where is British Spy Steele? (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 78.

Alex Christoforou

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Representative Mark Meadows tweeted Friday…

“DOJ official Bruce Ohr will come before Congress on August 28 to answer why he had 60+ contacts with dossier author Chris Steele, as far back as January 2016. He owes the American public the full truth.”

Lawmakers believe former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr is a central figure to finding out how the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid PR smear firm Fusion GPS and British spy Christopher Steele to fuel a conspiracy of Trump campaign collusion with Russians at the top levels of the Justice Department and the FBI.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) said Sunday to Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo…

So here you have information flowing from the Clinton campaign from the Russians, likely — I believe was handed directly from Russian propaganda arms to the Clinton campaign, fed into the top levels of the FBI and Department of Justice to open up a counter-intelligence investigation into a political campaign that has now polluted nearly every top official at the DOJ and FBI over the course of the last couple years. It is absolutely amazing,

According to Breitbart, during the 2016 election, Ohr served as associate deputy attorney general, and as an assistant to former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and to then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. His office was four doors down from Rosenstein on the fourth floor. He was also dual-hatted as the director of the DOJ’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

Ohr’s contacts with Steele, an ex-British spy, are said to date back more than a decade. Steele is a former FBI informant who had helped the FBI prosecute corruption by FIFA officials. But it is Ohr and Steele’s communications in 2016 that lawmakers are most interested in.

Emails handed over to Congress by the Justice Department show that Ohr, Steele, and Simpson communicated throughout 2016, as Steele and Simpson were being paid by the Clinton campaign and the DNC to dig up dirt on Trump.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the role Bruce Ohr played in Hillary Clinton’s Deep State attack against the Presidency of Donald Trump, and why the most central of figures in the Trump-Russia collusion hoax, British spy for hire Christopher Steele, is not sitting before Congress, testifying to the real election collusion between the UK, the Obama White House, the FBI and the DOJ.

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

Via The Washington Times

Republicans in a joint session of House committees are set to interview former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr this month to gauge whether a complex conspiracy against Donald Trump existed among Hillary Clinton loyalists and the Justice Department.

“DOJ official Bruce Ohr will come before Congress on August 28 to answer why he had 60+contacts with dossier author Chris Steele as far back as January 2016. He owes the American public the full truth,” tweeted Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican and member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

His panel and the House Judiciary Committee plan to hold a joint hearing to interview Mr. Ohr, according to The Daily Caller.

FBI documents show that the bureau bluntly told dossier writer Christopher Steele in November 2016 that it no longer wanted to hear about his collection of accusations against Mr. Trump.

But for months afterward, the FBI appeared to violate its own edict as agents continued to receive the former British spy’s scandalous charges centered on supposed TrumpRussia collusion.

 

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The US-Turkey Crisis: The NATO Alliance Forged in 1949 Is Today Largely Irrelevant

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via American Herald Tribune:


There has been some reporting in the United States mass media about the deteriorating relationship between Washington and Ankara and what it might mean. Such a falling out between NATO members has not been seen since France left the alliance in 1966 and observers note that the hostility emanating from both sides suggests that far worse is to come as neither party appears prepared to moderate its current position while diplomatic exchanges have been half-hearted and designed to lead nowhere.

The immediate cause of the breakdown is ostensibly President Donald Trump’s demand that an American Protestant minister who has lived in Turkey for twenty-three years be released from detention. Andrew Brunson was arrested 21 months ago and charged with being a supporter of the alleged conspiracy behind the military coup in 2016 that sought to kill or replace President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has asserted that the coup was directed by former political associate Fetullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, but has produced little credible evidence to support that claim. In the aftermath of the coup attempt, Erdogan has had himself voted extraordinary special powers to maintain public order and has arrested 160,000 people, including 20 Americans, who have been imprisoned. More than 170,000 civil servants, teachers, and military personnel have lost their jobs, the judiciary has been hobbled, and senior army officers have been replaced by loyalists.

Gulen is a religious leader who claims to promote a moderate brand of Islam that is compatible with western values. His power base consists of a large number of private schools that educate according to his curriculum, with particular emphasis on math and sciences. Many of the graduates become part of a loose affiliation that has sometimes been described as a cult. Gulen also owns and operates a number of media outlets, all of which have now been shut by Erdogan as part of his clamp down on the press. Turkey currently imprisons more journalists than any other country.

It is widely believed that Erdogan has been offering to release Brunson in exchange for Gulen, but President Donald Trump has instead offered only a Turkish banker currently in a U.S. prison while also turning the heat up in the belief that pressure on Turkey will force it to yield. Washington began the tit-for-tat by imposing sanctions on two cabinet-level officials in Erdogan’s government: Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul. Ankara has now also been on the receiving end of a Trump tweet and tariffs have been placed on a broad range of Turkish products, to include steel and aluminum.

The view that economic pressure will force the Turks to yield could be mistaken and demonstrates that the Administration does not include anyone who knows that Americans have been unpopular in Turkey since the Gulf War. The threats from Washington might actually rally skeptical and normally pro-western Turks around Erdogan but U.S. sanctions have already hit the Turkish economy hard, with the lira having lost 40% of its value this year and continuing to sink rapidly. Foreign investors, who fueled much of Turkey’s recent economic growth, have fled the market, suggesting that a collapse in credit might be on the way. Those European banks that hold Turkish debt are fearing a possible default.

It is a spectacle of one NATO member driving another NATO member’s economy into the ground over a political dispute. Erdogan has responded in his autocratic fashion by condemning “interest rates” and calling for an “economic war” against the U.S., telling his supporters to unload all their liquid valuables, gold and foreign to buy the plummeting lira, a certain recipe for disaster. If they do that, they will likely lose everything.

Other contentious issues involved in the badly damaged bilateral relationship are conflicting views on what to do about Syria, where the Turks have a legitimate interest due to potential Kurdish terrorism and are seeking a buffer zone, as well as Ankara’s interest in buying Russian air defense missile systems, which has prompted the U.S. to suspend sales of the new F-35 fighter. The Turks have also indicated that they have no interest in enforcing the sanctions on Iran that were re-imposed last week and they will continue to buy Iranian oil after the November 4th initiation of a U.S. ban on such purchases. The Trump Administration has warned that it will sanction any country that refuses to comply, setting the stage for a massive confrontation between Washington and Ankara involving the Turkish Central Bank.

In terms of U.S. interests, Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO, is of strategic value because it is Muslim, countering arguments that the alliance is some kind of Christian club working to suppress Islam in the Middle East. And it is also important because of its geographic location close to hot spots where the American military is currently engaged. If the U.S. heeds Trump’s call to cut back on involvement in the region, Turkey will become less valuable, but currently, access to the Incirlik Airbase, near Adana and the Syrian border, is vital.

Indeed, Incirlik has become one of the flashpoints in the argument with Washington. Last week, a group of lawyers connected politically to Erdogan initiated legal action against U.S. officers at Incirlik over claimed ties to “terrorists” linked to Gulen. The “Association for Social Justice and Aid” has called for a temporary halt to all operations at the base to permit a search for evidence. The attorneys are asking for the detention of seven named American Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels. General Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command based in Germany is also cited. If the lawyers are successful in court, it will mean a major conflict as Washington asserts the rights of the officers under the Status of Forces Agreement, while Turkey will no doubt insist that the Americans are criminals and have no protection.

Another trial balloon being floated by Erdogan is even more frightening in terms of the demons that it could be unleashing. Abdurrahman Dilipak, an Islamist columnist writing in the pro-government newspaper Yeni Atik, has suggested that there might well be a second terrorist attack on the United States like 9/11. Dilipak threatened that if Trump does nothing to reduce tension “…some people will teach him [to do] that. It must be seen that if internal tensions with the United States continue like this that a September 11 is no unlikely possibility.” Dilipak also warned that presumed Gulenist “U.S. collaborators” inside Turkey would be severely punished if they dared to go out into the streets to protest in support of Washington.

If recent developments in Turkey deteriorate further it might well suggest that Donald Trump’s instinct to disengage from the Middle East was the right call, though it could equally be seen as a rejection of the tactic being employed, i.e. using heavy-handed sanctions and tariffs to compel obedience from governments disinclined to follow Washington’s leadership. Either way, the Turkish-American relationship is in trouble and increasingly a liability for both sides, yet another indication that the NATO alliance forged in 1949 against the Soviet Union is today largely irrelevant.

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Is This The Most Important Geopolitical Deal Of 2018?

After more than 20 years of fraught diplomatic efforts, the five littoral Caspian nations agreed upon a legal framework for sharing the world’s largest inland body of water.

The Duran

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Authored by Olgu Okumus via Oilprice.com:


The two-decade-long dispute on the statute of the Caspian Sea, the world largest water reserve, came to an end last Sunday when five littoral states (Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan) agreed to give it a special legal status – it is now neither a sea, nor a lake. Before the final agreement became public, the BBC wrote that all littoral states will have the freedom of access beyond their territorial waters, but natural resources will be divided up. Russia, for its part, has guaranteed a military presence in the entire basin and won’t accept any NATO forces in the Caspian.

Russian energy companies can explore the Caspian’s 50 billion barrels of oil and its 8.4 trillion cubic meters of natural gas reserves, Turkmenistan can finally start considering linking its gas to the Turkish-Azeri joint project TANAP through a trans-Caspian pipeline, while Iran has gained increased energy supplies for its largest cities in the north of the country (Tehran, Tabriz, and Mashhad) – however, Iran has also put itself under the shadow of Russian ships. This controversy makes one wonder to what degree U.S. sanctions made Iran vulnerable enough to accept what it has always avoided – and how much these U.S. sanctions actually served NATO’s interests.

If the seabed, rich in oil and gas, is divided this means more wealth and energy for the region. From 1970 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1991, the Caspian Sea was divided into subsectors for Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – all constituent republics of the USSR. The division was implemented on the basis of the internationally-accepted median line.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the new order required new regulations. The question was over whether the Caspian was a sea or a lake? If it was treated as a sea, then it would have to be covered by international maritime law, namely the United Nations Law of the Sea. But if it is defined as a lake, then it could be divided equally between all five countries. The so-called “lake or sea” dispute revolved over the sovereignty of states, but also touched on some key global issues – exploiting oil and gas reserves in the Caspian Basin, freedom of access, the right to build beyond territorial waters, access to fishing and (last but not least) managing maritime pollution.

The IEA concluded in World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2017 that offshore energy has a promising future. More than a quarter of today’s oil and gas supply is produced offshore, and integrated offshore thinking will extend this beyond traditional sources onwards to renewables and more. Caspian offshore hydrocarbon reserves are around 50 billion barrels of oil equivalent (equivalent to one third of Iraq’s total oil reserves) and 8.4 trillion cubic meters of gas (almost equivalent to the U.S.’ entire proven gas reserves). As if these quantities were not themselves enough to rebalance Eurasian energy demand equations, the agreement will also allow Turkmenistan to build the Trans-Caspian pipeline, connecting Turkmenistan’s resources to the Azeri-Turkish joint project TANAP, and onwards to Europe – this could easily become a counter-balance factor to the growing LNG business in Europe.

Even though we still don’t have firm and total details on the agreement, Iran seems to have gained much less than its neighbors, as it has shortest border on the Caspian. From an energy perspective, Iran would be a natural market for the Caspian basin’s oil and gas, as Iran’s major cities (Tehran, Tabriz, and Mashhad) are closer to the Caspian than they are to Iran’s major oil and gas fields. Purchasing energy from the Caspian would also allow Iran to export more of its own oil and gas, making the country a transit route from the Caspian basin to world markets. For instance, for Turkmenistan (who would like to sell gas to Pakistan) Iran provides a convenient geography. Iran could earn fees for swap arrangements or for providing a transit route and justify its trade with Turkey and Turkmenistan as the swap deal is allowed under the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA, or the D’Amato Act).

If the surface water will be in common usage, all littoral states will have access beyond their territorial waters. In practical terms, this represents an increasingly engaged Russian presence in the Basin. It also reduces any room for a NATO presence, as it seems to be understood that only the five littoral states will have a right to military presence in the Caspian. Considering the fact that Russia has already used its warships in the Caspian to launch missile attacks on targets within Syria, this increased Russian presence could potentially turn into a security threat for Iran.

Many questions can now be asked on what Tehran might have received in the swap but one piece of evidence for what might have pushed Iran into agreement in its vulnerable position in the face of increased U.S. sanctions. Given that the result of those sanctions seems to be Iran agreeing to a Caspian deal that allows Russia to place warships on its borders, remove NATO from the Caspian basin equation, and increase non-Western based energy supplies (themselves either directly or indirectly within Russia’s sphere of geopolitical influence) it makes one wonder whose interests those sanctions actually served?

By Olgu Okumus for Oilprice.com

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