New Age Islam Edit Bureau
19 January 2018
Protests Shatter Myth of Iran as an Island Of Stability
By Dr. Manuel Almeida
Iranian Regime’s Political Game with the EU
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Abadi Leading Iraq on the Right Path
By Fahad Nazer
The Significance of New Explosions In Baghdad
By Adnan Hussein
Green Grows My Garden: Spreading Roots Of Ethical Investment
By Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
18 January 2018
Last week, on the seventh anniversary of the uprisings that led to the overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia once again witnessed significant anti-government protests, some of which turned violent. This time, the spark that lit the fire was the release of an austerity budget that included a rise in VAT and a price increase for basic goods such as flour and internet access.
The latest protests in Tunisia follow the major demonstrations in Iran earlier this month, which were against an even wider set of issues, from corruption, unemployment and environmental decay to the radicalism of the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy.
These events confirm once again that the Arab uprisings of 2011, while the most dramatic since the struggle for independence from colonial rule, were part of a long-standing sequence of unrest. And the tendency is for them to become more frequent. Among other critical issues, the Middle East has the highest youth unemployment rate of any region in the world; has a youth bulge demographic bomb; is suffering from the decline in oil prices; has seen little progress on institutional reform; and water and environmental problems are becoming ever more pressing.
They also raise questions about the links between demonstrations in Iran, both this month’s and earlier ones, and those in various Arab countries, which experts have tended to view in separation.
Not only Tunisia, but all countries that, post-2011, saw their leaders deposed following major demonstrations or spiralled towards civil war — or both — had experienced significant domestic upheaval over the previous three decades. Stability has mostly been an illusion in many of these police states, strong on coercion but institutionally weak where it really matters for modern, effective states.
In Tunisia, dozens of protesters were killed during the 1983-84 bread riots. Egypt has also had bread riots, with hundreds of thousands protesting against the end of basic subsidies in 1977. And, only three years before the uprisings that resulted in the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, a campaign of civil disobedience mobilized through social media gathered tens of thousands across the country. The issues highlighted by protesters included low salaries, unemployment, poor levels of education and healthcare, corruption and the absence of dignity and freedom.
In Libya, the 1990s were marked by tribal and Islamist revolts against the rule of the eccentric Muammar Gaddafi, who once promised Caribbean countries that he would buy all their bananas at above market value to break what he saw as a stranglehold by Europe and the US.
The genocidal tendencies of Syria’s Assad clan were first witnessed in 1982, when Hafez Assad’s Syrian Arab Army laid siege to the predominantly Sunni city of Hama to quell an anti-government uprising that had begun six years earlier. Between 30,000 and 40,000 people were massacred, according to reliable estimates.
Yemen also has a recent history filled with major anti-government demonstrations that often turned violent, internal conflicts and separatist ambitions as a result of government corruption and poor governance. Protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime were constant in the south from 2005 to 2011.
Then, of course, there is the singular case of Iraq, which slid into chaos due to the mismanagement that followed the US-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein. It is highly unlikely, however, that Iraq would have been spared from massive upheaval after 2011 had the invasion never happened.
The fear of Syria-like chaos and violence remains a powerful dissuading factor against domestic upheaval across the region. While this could work as an incentive for the pursuit of peaceful and orderly change, it is more likely to be used by regimes to stall painful but urgent reforms. In Algeria, for example, tensions between Islamists and the deep state, or le pouvoir, remain in check largely due to the fresh memories of the brutal civil war that killed more than 200,000 people.
Contrary to what the various widely used, Arab world-related terms — Arab Spring, Arab Uprisings, Arab Awakening — would have it, there is a good case to be made that Iranian protests prior to this latest wave both influenced and were influenced by parallel events in neighbouring Arab countries.
What is often missed is that significant unrest and protests did not subside with the brutal repression of Iran’s Green Movement of 2009. In February 2011, just days after both Mubarak and Ben Ali were deposed, anti-regime demonstrators were back on the streets across Iran.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei painted the uprisings as an “Islamic awakening.” But the large-scale deployment of security forces in the streets of Iran, the total media blackout on the Arab Spring, and the arrest of key opposition leaders was insufficient to prevent months of upheaval.
Time and again, the myth of Iran as an island of stability insulated from an increasingly volatile Arab neighbourhood is challenged by events on the ground.
Iran’s state-owned media outlets are heavily covering Europe’s Iran policy. Several major newspapers, including Kayhan, are focusing on the European Union’s strong support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known as the nuclear agreement. The front pages of several newspapers highlighted statements from EU officials, such as the one from foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who described the 2015 deal between Tehran and the world powers as a “key security priority” for both Europe and the Middle East.
Iranian leaders are attempting to project power and appeal to their hardline domestic social base by pointing out that Tehran enjoys international support and global legitimacy. The regime is also trying to assure its sponsored militias, terrorist groups and proxies that Tehran continues to be on the winning side.
In addition, the Islamic Republic is attempting to send a message to the Trump administration and critics of Iran’s aggressive foreign policy that, despite their opposition, sanctions relief will continue due to the EU’s support.
Why is the EU jumping on the Iranian regime’s side when other global powers criticize Tehran for its destabilizing policies in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and for its human rights violations? Mostly because of increasing revenues through imports and exports.
But the EU should be cognizant of the fact it is shooting itself in the foot by prioritizing short-term business deals and the nuclear agreement over long-term strategic and geopolitical interests. The current political establishment of the Iranian regime never has been, and never will be, a natural ally of the West.
The regime is an extremist revolutionary theocracy that was founded on the core revolutionary principle of objecting to the West culturally, geopolitically and strategically. The survival of the regime depends on its anti-Western sentiments and policies.
To achieve its hegemonic ambitions, the Iranian leaders often make tactical shifts that may mistakenly appear as fundamental strategic shifts. The JCPOA is an example. The nuclear agreement does not mean that Tehran has altered its fundamental policies towards Europe. The regime’s hold on power was in danger before the deal because of the four crippling rounds of international sanctions. The regime’s expenses abroad were rising due to Tehran’s increasing military, financial, intelligence and advisory support to the Syrian regime, Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Shiite militias in Iraq. The regime found no option other than to come to an agreement with the West — an agreement that suits the regime’s objectives perfectly: Sanctions relief in exchange for a short period of time partially halting nuclear activities. Then, when the deal expires, the regime can pursue its nuclear ambitions with no restrictions based on the sunset clauses.
Once the Iranian regime achieves its objectives, it will return to its core fundamentalist policies. In fact, a recent incident illustrates this: The generals of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) threatened to increase the range of their ballistic missiles to more than 2,000km so that they can reach Europe. Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami, the deputy head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, added that: “If we have kept the range of our missiles to 2,000km, it’s not due to a lack of technology. We are following a strategic doctrine.”
The EU ought to consider a long-term Iran policy, because Iran’s ruling clerics conduct their policies on a long-term basis.
In addition, when examining what European powers consider as threats to their national security, one can witness the Iranian regime’s footprint behind these threats. Tehran engages in asymmetrical warfare funding, arming, training and supporting terrorist and militia groups that are sworn to damage EU nations’ security and scuttle European countries’ foreign policy in the region.
Furthermore, the Iranian regime’s long-term policy is based on favouring Russia, advancing its interests in the region, and tipping the balance of power in favour of Moscow, not Europe.
European powers should be aware that their appeasement policies toward the Iranian regime are endangering stability in the region. Business deals and support for the nuclear agreement are emboldening and empowering hard-line institutions such as the IRGC and the Quds Force, as well as terrorists and violent militia groups across the region, including those in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Hence, these appeasement policies are leading to more radicalization and militarization of the region and are also leading to more human rights violations by the Iranian regime.
It is in the national interests of the EU to favor a long-term Iran policy rather than the short-term benefits of business deals through the nuclear agreement. The EU should step up pressure on the Iranian regime for its aggressive policies in the region and human rights violations, and halt the nuclear deal sanctions relief until Tehran changes the fundamentals of its foreign policy and becomes a constructive player in the region and on the global stage.
A cursory look at Iraq’s recent history would strongly suggest that Iraqis are resilient. Over the past four decades, they have survived the oppression of Saddam Hussein’s rule and his aggression against their country’s neighbours, which rendered Iraq an international pariah. As soon as Saddam had concluded a bloody and costly eight-year war with his equally aggressive neighbour Iran, he plunged the entire Middle East into crisis by invading Kuwait.
In 2003, the United States had tired of Saddam, his intransigence and his destabilizing foreign policy. A long, slow and painful transition followed the US war, thanks in large measure to former Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s ineptitude and sectarian policies. Not only did his divisive approach negatively impact the social fabric of the country, but it also left Iraq’s Sunni minority vulnerable to the deceit and brutality of Daesh.
Al-Maliki’s approach paved the way for Daesh to take control of large swaths of Iraqi territory, including one of its largest cities, Mosul. In 2014, Haider Abadi took over as Prime Minister. Since then, Iraq has made significant strides in terms of not only expelling Daesh from virtually all the territories it controlled, but also in improving Iraq’s relations with some of its neighbours, including Saudi Arabia. However, the upcoming May 2018 parliamentary elections will likely prove to be an important test of the current and encouraging path Iraq is on.
Over the past week, two events rocked Baghdad; one literally, the other figuratively. The first was Monday’s double suicide bombing that killed more than two dozen people in an open market. This was the first such attack since Abadi declared victory over Daesh late last year. The incident caused some concern inside and outside Iraq about the prospect of Daesh returning to its roots as a militant group conducting terrorist operations of varying scales.
May elections could be a crucial moment in country’s recovery, with twin threats of Daesh terrorism and Al-Maliki’s divisive policies looming over the long-suffering population.
A day earlier, Abadi, who is credited with leading the fight against Daesh and improving Iraq’s relations with its neighbours, announced that he would be running in the May election as the head of a coalition that includes leaders of the Shiite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Units. The move was seen as part of an effort by Abadi to secure a comfortable majority. As was reported in Arab News, “Abadi had been in coalition talks since Thursday with Al-Fattah Alliance, a group of the most powerful Shiite armed factions led by Hadi Al-Amiri, commander of the Badr Organization, in addition to the Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council and other political parties.”
The formation of the “Victory Alliance” caused immediate concern not just among the Iraqi Sunni minority, but even some Shiite leaders, including cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr. “I am stunned to see the course taken by brother Abadi, who we had thought to be a leading advocate of reform,” Al-Sadr said in a statement. Others expressed concern about the legacy of the PMUs, which many Sunnis view as sectarian in nature. The new coalition was disbanded 24 hours later.
In a statement on Tuesday, Abadi made it clear that the elections will go ahead in May, as stipulated in the constitution. However, some Iraqi Sunnis have advised that, given that thousands of people are yet to return to the cities and towns from which Daesh was expelled, the election should be postponed to allow them time to return and fully participate. This, of course, is in addition to the question of Kurdistan and its quest for autonomy, and even independence.
The suicide attack on Monday was a reminder that, while Iraq has made very important strides in its quest toward peace, stability and prosperity, Daesh and other violent extremists will do all they can to stifle this progress and stoke the flames of sectarianism. It is also worth noting that Al-Maliki, who is currently vice president, is also planning to run in the parliamentary elections. His sectarian policies and tendency to be beholden to Iran, even at the expense of the interest and sovereignty of Iraq, could potentially derail the progress that has been made.
Abadi has shown himself to be a capable leader, who could return a united, stable and prosperous Iraq to its rightful place as one of the pillars of the Arab world. The good people of Iraq deserve nothing less.
The Significance of New Explosions in Baghdad
The explosion at the Tayran Square in Baghdad earlier this week is the worst terrorist attack to target the capital and its citizens in a long time. We can draw one conclusion from this attack which was carried out in this particular area and after one day from the explosion at the Aden Square: Terrorism is back.
Nothing prevents terrorism from returning to how it was years ago when it struck on a pretty much daily basis. Many believed terrorism escalated during that past phase due to security negligence and many noted that the latter is due to corruption in state institutions, including in the security and military institutions which did not take into consideration patriotic, professional and ethical standards when appointing commanders.
Appointments were rather made based on personal relations and according to the quota system. Invading Mosul as easily as one sips water and then invading one third of the country exposed the reality of the situation only after it was too late.
Ever since liberating Mosul, many noted that defeating ISIS does not signify the defeat of terrorism. Terrorism does not tire. It has its own agenda that it would do all it can to execute. Terrorism often exploits security institutions’ inattention and the corruption among some of its members to achieve its aims.
The explosions at Tayran and Aden squares reveal the weakness of security institutions’ readiness to confront terrorism. They do not only reveal how weak their intelligence apparatus is but also how weak they are in terms of quickly dealing with them to mitigate their consequences.
The security institution’s command and the premiership should have known that ISIS and other terrorist groups will go back to adopting the terrorist urban warfare tactic that relies on suicide bombings and explosions. They should have also known that there are now two factors which incite terrorist organizations to resort to this tactic again: the defeat during last year’s war and the upcoming elections.
Realizing these two factors would have helped the security institution and the premiership understand the importance of activating intelligence work and of taking precautions in the capital and other cities, such as providing efficient security presence in areas which will more likely be targeted by terrorist acts and which are often densely-populated areas.
This efficient presence does not only mean deploying a large number of security forces as they must also work properly and not spend their time yawning or playing on their smart phones.
Security is a top priority. This is how it should have been. This is how it should be now and how it should be in the future. The upcoming phase, i.e. from this moment until a new government is formed following the elections, is likely to witness relentless terrorist attacks.
This terrorism will not be limited to ISIS and other groups as the terrorism of rival political groups that are fighting over authority, influence and money must not be overlooked.
Green Grows My Garden: Spreading Roots of Ethical Investment
As societies begin to grapple with global environmental issues, the art of investing and lending for environmental goals has now taken root promoted by bold venture capitalists and investment managers. Green finance is no longer a fringe industry but is spreading its roots pushed by like minded governments and technological breakthroughs in alternative energy and environmentally friendly solutions.
Ignoring this trend comes at a risk to traditional investment and finance managers. Climate related investment opportunities and mitigating such risks are gaining prominence in the boardrooms of major companies. Gone are the days of multinationals prompting their green credentials by catchy slogans and cheesy adverts, as hard economic realities have forced a rethink.
Buoyed by an apparent shift towards clean energy, the growth of ‘green finance’ whose aim is providing environmental benefits in the broader context of environmentally sustainable development, has taken off. The growth in assets under management in this sector has been nothing less than dramatic.
According to the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance, there was nearly $ 23 trillion of professionally managed funds in 2016 in a broad range of sustainability sectors, up from $ 18 trillion in 2014.
A key issue however, is what constitutes an acceptable definition of ‘sustainable development’ that can be effectively screened against so-called ESG or environmental, social and governance criteria. This allows for investment managers to accommodate one or more aspect of ESG against another.
For example, the popularity of ‘Green Bonds’ accommodates investments in projects bringing environmental benefits such as energy efficiency, rather than new or clean sources. This clear focus has made the issuance of green bonds very popular, with around $33 billion issued in 2015 by China alone, and today, according to some estimates there are around $230 billion of green bonds outstanding.
The role of private finance is crucial if the momentum for ethical investments is to become the norm rather than an exotic option. Surveys amongst global banks has indicated that some two thirds of global institutional investors such as insurance companies and other risk underwriters, were planning to increase their low carbon investments and this was also driven by a generational impulse.
Younger investors are more likely than traditional older investors to invest in companies with sustainable goals but even so many investors are also still cautious. The reason is that investment in ethical and environmental investments comes at a higher price than traditional investments, and, for those still seeking high returns, the lower returns from investing in sustainable projects might deter some.
Those who hold passionate views about environmental issues will see this erosion in returns as a small price to pay for the longer term health of the global economy and seem more determined to force investment managers to consider global warming and extreme weather events as a common norm rather than exceptions.
For these global eco warriors, the lining in the cloud is the fast evolution of new environmental efficient technology which would, in the long term, reduce the cost of investments made by companies and create higher returns.
Governments are taking note too. At the behest of the G20 Group of major economies, an international watchdog is seeking to improve patchy disclosures and lack of information on the financial implications of global environmental changes.
The task force headed by the former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg have made some initial recommendations in 2017 for annual climate related financial disclosures which covered risk management, disclosures, governance and the use of metrics and targets for different climatic scenarios to assess the resilience of financial stress and planning.
Several key global sectors were covered in the task force, including energy, transportation, materials and building, agriculture, and food and forestry. Insurers around the world are especially vulnerable to the seeming increasing catalogue of global environmental disasters.
The devastation wreaked by multiple hurricanes in the Caribbean Islands and the USA in 2017 has highlighted the risk of rising liabilities from such natural violence and pushing up the value of exposure in high risk areas.
Some countries have gone further and adopted even tougher legislation than the G20 task force with France mandating institutional investors to disclose how their portfolios align with climate targets and in the UK the government has set up a task force to boost green finance and the shift towards a low carbon economy.
Gulf countries are also moving fast in this area as they not only try to diversify their economies from fossil fuel revenue dependency, but also to cut back on wasteful energy consumption by promoting green building regulations and energy efficiency.
Some financiers are now requiring borrowers to explicitly identify their ESG goals to get borrowers to change their ways, but unfortunately such progressive partnerships are still the exception rather than the norm.
While green finance is only just starting to sprout in the Gulf, it will not be long before we see the launch of government green bonds to finance some of the new mega projects and lead the way for private sector investment funds to follow suit.
Who knows, but such ethical investments could also trigger some exciting new technological breakthroughs in the Gulf creating a sustainable economic and environmental base.