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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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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

The Duran

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Converting Khashoggi into Cash

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose.

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The hazard of writing about the Saudis’ absurd gyrations as they seek to avoid blame for the murder of the late, not notably great journalist and Muslim Brotherhood activist Jamal Khashoggi is that by the time a sentence is finished, the landscape may have changed again.

As though right on cue, the narrative has just taken another sharp turn.

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has ‘fessed up (sorta) and admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose:

Y’see, it was kinda’f an ‘accident.’

Oops…

Y’see the guys were arguing, and … uh … a fistfight broke out.

Yeah, that’s it … a ‘fistfight.’

And before you know it poor Jamal had gone all to pieces.

Y’see?

Must’ve been a helluva fistfight.

The figurative digital ink wasn’t even dry on that whopper before American politicos in both parties were calling it out:

  • “To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement,” tweeted Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince. It’s hard to find this latest ‘explanation‘ as credible.”
  • California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the new Saudi explanation is “not credible.” “If Khashoggi was fighting inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he was fighting for his life with people sent to capture or kill him,” Schiff said. “The kingdom and all involved in this brutal murder must be held accountable, and if the Trump administration will not take the lead, Congress must.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan must think he’s already died and gone to his eternal recreation in the amorous embraces of the dark-eyed houris. The acid test for the viability of Riyadh’s newest transparent lie is whether the Turks actually have, as they claim, live recordings of Khashoggi’s interrogation, torture, murder, and dismemberment (not necessarily in that order) – and if they do, when Erdogan decides it’s the right time to release them.

Erdogan has got the Saudis over a barrel and he’ll squeeze everything he can out of them.

From the beginning, the Khashoggi story wasn’t really about the fate of one man. The Saudis have been getting away with bloody murder, literally, for years. They’re daily slaughtering the civilian population of Yemen with American and British help, with barely a ho-hum from the sensitive consciences always ready to invoke the so-called “responsibility to protect” Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Syria, Xinjiang, Rakhine, and so forth.

Where’s the responsibility not to help a crazed bunch of Wahhabist head-choppers kill people?

But now, just one guy meets a grisly end and suddenly it’s the most important homicide since the Lindbergh baby.

What gives?

Is it because Khashoggi was part of the MSM aristocracy, on account of his relationship with the Washington Post?

Was it because of his other, darker, connections? As related by Moon of Alabama: “Khashoggi was a rather shady guy. A ‘journalist’ who was also an operator for Saudi and U.S. intelligence services. He was an early recruit of the Muslim Brotherhood.” This relationship, writes MoA, touches on the interests of pretty much everyone in the region:

“The Ottoman empire ruled over much of the Arab world. The neo-Ottoman wannabe-Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan would like to regain that historic position for Turkey. His main competition in this are the al-Sauds. They have much more money and are strategically aligned with Israel and the United States, while Turkey under Erdogan is more or less isolated. The religious-political element of the competition is represented on one side by the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘democratic’ Islamists to which Erdogan belongs, and the Wahhabi absolutists on the other side.”

With the noose tightening around Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), the risible fistfight cock-and-bull story is likely to be the best they can come up with. US President Donald Trump’s having offered his “rogue killers” opening suggests he’s willing to play along. Nobody will really be fooled, but MbS will hope he can persuade important people to pretend they are fooled.

That will mean spreading around a lot of cash. The new alchemy of converting Khashoggi dead into financial gain for the living is just one part of an obvious scheme to pull off what Libya’s Muammar Kaddafi managed after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing: offer up some underlings as the fall guys and let the top man evade responsibility. (KARMA ALERT: That didn’t do Kaddafi any good in the long run.)

In the Saudi case the Lockerbie dodge will be harder, as there are already pictures of men at the Istanbul Consulate General identified as close associates of MbS. But they’ll give it the old madrasa try anyway since it’s all they’ve got.Firings and arrests have started and one suspect has already died in a suspicious automobile “accident.” Heads will roll!

Saving MbS’s skin and his succession to the throne of his doddering father may depend on how many of the usual recipients of Saudi – let’s be honest – bribery and influence peddling will find sufficient pecuniary reason to go along. Saudi Arabia’s unofficial motto with respect to the US establishment might as well be: “The green poultice heals all wounds.”

Anyway, that’s been their experience up to now, but it also in part reflects the same arrogance that made MbS think he could continue to get away with anything. (It’s not shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, but it’s close.) Whether spreading cash around will continue to have the same salubrious effect it always has had in the past remains to be seen.

To be sure, Trump may succeed in shaking the Saudi date palm for additional billions for arms sales. That won’t necessarily turn around an image problem that may not have a remedy. But still, count on more cash going to high-price lobbying and image-control shops eager to make obscene money working for their obscene client. Some big American names are dropping are dropping Riyadh in a sudden fit of fastidiousness, but you can bet others will be eager to step into their Guccis, both in the US and in the United Kingdom. (It should never be forgotten how closely linked the US and UK establishments are in the Middle East, and to the Saudis in particular.)

It still might not work though. No matter how much expensive PR lipstick the spinmeisters put on this pig, that won’t make it kissable. It’s still a pig.

Others benefitting from hanging Khashoggi’s death around MbS’s neck are:

  • Qatar (after last year’s invasion scare, there’s no doubt a bit of Schadenfreude and (figurative) champagne corks popping in Doha over MbS’s discomfiture. As one source close to the ruling al-Thani family relates, “The Qataris are stunned speechless at Saudi incompetence!” You just can’t get good help these days).

Among the losers one must count Israel and especially Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. MbS, with his contrived image as the reformer, was the Sunni “beard” he needed to get the US to assemble an “Arab NATO” (as though one NATO weren’t bad enough!) and eliminate Iran for him. It remains to be seen how far that agenda has been set back.

Whether or not MbS survives or is removed – perhaps with extreme prejudice – there’s no doubt Saudi Arabia is the big loser. Question are being asked that should have been asked years ago. As Srdja Trifkovic comments in Chronicles magazine:

“The crown prince’s recklessness in ordering the murder of Khashoggi has demonstrated that he is just a standard despot, a Mafia don with oil presiding over an extended cleptocracy of inbred parasites. The KSA will not be reformed because it is structurally not capable of reform. The regime in Riyadh which stops being a playground of great wealth, protected by a large investment in theocratic excess, would not be ‘Saudi’ any longer. Saudia delenda est.”

The first Saudi state, the Emirate of Diriyah, went belly up in 1818, with the death of head of the house of al-Saud, Abdullah bin Saud – actually, literally with his head hung on a gate in Constantinople by Erdogan’s Ottoman predecessor, Sultan Mahmud II.

The second Saudi state, Emirate of Nejd, likewise folded in 1891.

It’s long past time this third and current abomination joined its antecedents on the ash heap of history.

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