Sunday, April 23, 2006

Iranian Nobel Laureate Says U.S. Invasion Would Face Fierce Resistance

Shirin Ebadi [right], 58, the 2003 winner of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize, commented to journalists in Paris, France that any U.S. invasion of her home country of Iran would be met with fierce resistance by the Iranian people. Despite her lengthy record of human rights work and the fact that Ebadi has been a longtime critic of Iran's revolutionary government, she is also first and foremost an Iranian nationalist, who, although critical of the current regime in Tehran, is opposed to foreign meddling in the country's affairs.

"We [the Iranians] will not allow an American soldier to set foot in Iran," said Ebadi. "We will defend our country till the last drop of blood."

Ebadi, who has long called for Iran's regime to allow increased democratization, also stated that U.S. intervention or attempts at promoting "regime change" from outside the country would fail. "The intervention of the American army will not improve the situation...the experience of Iraq has demonstrated that," she said. Ebadi went on to say that Iranians would "not allow another Iraq to happen."

As a revolutionary personality and human rights worker, Ebadi has a distinguished record. In the years before the toppling of the Pahlavi Dynasty (1979), she was the first Iranian women to be named a judge (1975). After the advent of the Islamic Republic, first under the guidance of the "supreme jurisprudent" Grand Ayatullah Ruhollah Musawi al-Khumayni [right] and now under his successor, Ayatullah al-Uzma 'Ali Khamenei [left] and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ebadi has been a frequent critic of the government's policy of imprisoning its political and social critics.

In January 2005, Ebadi blasted the Iranian prison system and in April of that year, she criticized the decision of the Guardian Council, the body of senior revolutionary clerics that decides who is eligible to run for office, to disallow women from running for the office of the president.

For more details of Shirin Ebadi's record as a human rights activist, see:

Far from being a religious zealot, Ebadi is a human rights activist who also happens to be staunchly proud of her Iranian heritage. Like most Iranians, despite his dislike of the current regime, she is unwilling to accept foreign interference in Iranian internal affairs. She also rejects the idea that Iran should not have nuclear power and argues that reform in Iran can only happen from within the country itself.

To read Shirin Ebadi's autobiography on the Nobel website, see:

Despite rhetoric from some on the American Neo-Conservative right, "regime change" by force would not transform Iran, just as simply removing the Iraqi Ba'ath Party from power has not transformed neighboring Iraq into a fully operational democracy. Only the Iranians themselves are capable of deciding on the type of government that should represent them and once they decide it is time for a change in government, the revolutionary regime will have to adjust to new realities or face becoming obsolete.

The distaste of some Iranians for current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [right], whose critics include the former reformist president, Hojjetolislam Muhammad Khatami, will not automatically translate to support for a U.S. invasion or American or Israeli airstrikes against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Who’s Afraid of the Arab Shi‘a? Egyptian President and Autocrat Hosni Mubarak

During an April 9 appearance on al-Arabiyya, a prominent Arab language news channel, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak [right] claimed that Iraq was in the midst of a civil war, a common theme of Middle Eastern governments dominated by Sunni Muslims and secularists. “It’s not the threshold of civil war,” he said. “It’s [the civil war] pretty much begun.”

In the same interview, Mubarak also accused Arab Shi’ite Muslims of being more loyal to Iran, the world’s most populous Shi’ite state, than their own countries, a charge that is tantamount to calling Arab Shi’ites traitors. "Definitely Iran has influence for Shiites," he said. "Shiites are 65 percent of the Iraqis. ... Most of the Shiites are loyal to Iran, and not to the countries they are living in."

Mubarak’s remarks join a host of others from Sunni Arab leaders, including Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Sa‘ud al-Faisal and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, casting aspersions on Arab Shi’ites and Iran.

Within days, Sunni and Shi’ite leaders from across the Middle East criticized Mubarak’s remarks, with some calling for the Egyptian president to retract them and apologize.

“This matter does not concern Kuwait at all because history testifies to the well-established and clear national stand of Kuwaitis, Sunnis and Shi’ites,” said Shaykh Nasser Muhammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah, the ruling amir (prince or king) of Kuwait.

One hundred-and-twenty-two Saudi Shi’ite clerics signed a letter stating, “These remarks [Mubarak’s] incite the sectarian spirit among the citizens of Arab nations, especially at this critical time for the Arab and Muslim nations.”

Members of parliament in several Persian Gulf states, including Kuwait and Bahrayn, have also called on Mubarak to apologize, as have Lebanon’s two main Shi’ite political parties, AMAL and Hizbu’llah. Hizbu’llah parliamentarian Shaykh Muhammad Yazbeck said that Mubarak’s statements were lies meant to stir tension between Arab Sunni and Shi’ite communities.

Shi’ite clerics across the Arab world have also joined the outcry against the Egyptian president’s sectarian comments.
Lebanon’s senior Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah [left], issued a statement critical of Mubarak, which calls for unity among the Arabs and Muslims in a particularly trying time. “The Shiite Muslims do not denounce their Islamic or Arab commitments,” he said. “And nobody can question their loyalty or their national role, along with their Sunni brothers and the rest of groups and confessions in the Arab world.”

"The loyalty of Shiites to their countries is not less than that of others. Such talk has no basis in reality. What is meant by it is to create a climate of agitation that amounts to telling the Sunnis 'Beware of the Shiite threat!' I think there are some in the Muslim world who are uncomfortable with the empowerment of the Shiites in any nation, and that's because of sectarian extremism or political anxieties," said Fadlallah.

To read Grand Ayatullah Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah’s complete statement on Mubarak’s remarks, see:

In protest, the Iraqi government said it would not attend a Wednesday meeting of Arab foreign ministers that was to discuss the future of Iraq. “I am surprised that this confusion [the remarks] would occur among intellectuals, especially a man with such stature as the president of the biggest Arab country,” said Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari [right], a member of Hizb al-Da’wa al-Islamiyya, a prominent Iraqi Shi’ite party that belongs to the United Iraqi Alliance, which won the lion’s share of the votes in the January elections.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish tribal chief, also expressed his annoyance at Mubarak’s comments.

Influential Iraqi Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr [left], the head of a powerful religious movement and the armed Mahdi militia, said that in fact Iranian Shi'ites follow Iraq "because the Imam 'Ali [the first Shi'ite Imam, or leader] lived and was buried in Iraq. As Muslims our allegiance is to Islam and as Arabs we are loyal to Arab nationalism and we do not follow anyone."

For more details on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s anti-Shi’ite remarks, see:

Friday, April 07, 2006

'Moderate' Kadima Party Biggest Winner in Israeli Parliamentary Elections

In the midst of severe criticism from his Likud Party compatriots last summer when he ordered the forcible removal of 7,500 radical Israeli Jewish settlers from the occupied Gaza Strip, now-comatose Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon broke away and formed the new Kadima Party. Several Likud heavyweights, including Sharon’s chief aide Ehud Olmert [right], the former mayor of Jerusalem, left with him in order to facilitate the unilateral withdrawal of Israeli forces and settlers from parts of the occupied Palestinian West Bank, which they believe will result in a kind of forced final status “peace.”

After Sharon, 78, the architect of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the subsequent siege and destruction of large sections of Beirut, suffered a massive stroke on January 4 and subsequently lapsed into a coma, Olmert was named acting prime minister. According to an April 9 report in the centrist Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz, Sharon will be declared permanently incapacitated on Tuesday, April 11, paving the way for Olmert to emerge as Kadima’s full, official leader.

Without the decorated military record of his predecessor and mentor Sharon [right], Olmert has nonetheless managed to keep the fledgling political party together over the past four months, even leading them to victory in the March 29 parliamentary elections. Picking up 29 seats in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, Kadima now has to enter into negotiations with other parties to form a coalition government. The hope of the Kadima leadership is to implement its plan for unilateral withdrawal of parts of the West Bank, the completion of the controversial Israeli separation wall between Israel and West Banks lands that Israel wishes to retain and the rest of the occupied Palestinian Territories, and the establishment of “permanent” borders by 2010.

Voter turnout set a new record low, with only 62.3% of eligible Israelis participating. These numbers seem to suggest that the general Israeli populace is unhappy with the options presented by all of the country’s major political movements: Kadima’s forced borders policy; the Labor Party’s negotiation tract; and the rightwing Likud Party’s maintain the occupation without acknowledging political and population realities.

In the end, the Labor ticket was the election’s second-biggest winner, picking up 19 seats, followed by the Sephardic religious party Shas, which won 12 seats, and the Russian immigrant party Israel Beitenu, which won 11 seats. Likud, now led by former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, won only 12 seats, less than what most analysts predicted.

Ultra-religious and radical religious settler parties, such as United Torah Judaism and the National Religious Party, picked up a combined 15 seats. Israeli Arab parties, whose support bases are centered in the Galilee region and the city of Haifa, won 10 seats. Shinui, the left-of-center political party which scored a significant number of seats in 2003, failed to win enough votes to provide it Knesset seats.

For more information on the Israeli election results, see:

Immediately following the election, most Middle East analysts agree that Olmert was most likely to seek a coalition agreement with the center-left Labor Party. Although the two parties do not agree on the best way to achieve peace with the Palestinians, they are closer in terms of ideology than Kadima and its other possible partners, which include the religious parties Shas and United Torah Judaism.

For more information on the stances of Israel’s political parties on the major political issues, see:

Palestinian political reaction to Kadima’s win has been unenthusiastic. When asked about what Olmert’s plan for unilateral withdrawal would mean for Israeli-Palestinian relations, independent Palestinian political leader Mustafa Barghouti, said, “It would mean a continuation of occupation and a continuation of conflict and that would be as bad for the Israelis as for us.”

Khaled Meshaal [left], the Damascus-based political leader of HAMAS, the Palestinian militant organization and political party which now dominates the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), was even more frank in his assessment: “The Zionist [Israeli] position, be it that of Kadima or others, is one that buries the peace process, negates its existence and does not give it a chance. That position is a declaration of war against the Palestinian people.”

The radical Jewish settler movement, represented officially by the Yesha Council of Settlements, with segments of the settler population subscribing to the outlawed terrorist ideology of the Kach and Kahane Chai movements, which call for the forcible expulsion of all Arabs from Israel and the Palestinian Territories and the reformation of Biblical Israel, is also wary of Kadima. Settlers and their leaders fear that they will be required to leave settlement blocs, such as Ariel, in the heart of the West Bank, dissipating forever their goal of re-establishing the kingdom that Israel once held in ancient times, termed Eretz Yisrael.

After the completion of vote counting, Israeli President Moshe Katsav called on Olmert to form a new government. On April 4, it was announced that Kadima would indeed seek to form a coalition government with Labor. At a joint press conference with Labor leader Amir Peretz, Olmert said, “We are glad to announce that, after President Moshe Katsav appoints me to form a government, we will start coalition talks to create a government in which Labor will be a senior partner.”

Peretz [right] was also optimistic about the chances of a Kadima-Labor coalition: “[We have] found a way to negotiate directly to form a government in the quickest way possible. A government led by Kadima and its chairman Ehud Olmert will be stable and able to hold the full-year term and set short and long-term goals.”

Although it may result in a temporary lull in the conflict, Kadima's plan for unilateral withdrawal, which Olmert is prepared to do without negotiating with PNA President Mahmoud Abbas, will not bring a permanent peace. The failure of Kadima and the HAMAS-led PNA to enter into negotiations with one another will only continue the conflict, leaving both the Israelis and Palestinians with little hope in terms of economic and social growth and prosperity.