Saturday, May 15, 2010

Can Friends Criticize the Islamic Republic?

In 1999, as the Vice President of Iran, I attended the official farewell ceremonies for Nelson Mandela who had decided to step down from the Presidency of South Africa. Among other programs in the agenda prepared for my visit, was a speech in a Mosque in Johannesburg . In that speech I referred to the reasons why the reformists had been elected. I mentioned that the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 brought along with it a wave of awakening among Muslim nations as well as a set of new standards for freedom fighters and activists as well as independent thinkers and scholars.  I noted that what happened in Iran became a manifestation of the  power of  religion in mobilizing and revitalizing the masses ,it became  a beacon of hope for downtrodden peoples in Palestine and other parts of the world hoping to restore their rights and gain freedom from oppression and occupation. As the Islamic Republic took shape and resisted pressures and fought sanctions and war, I said that the image of an Islamic democracy came to light and the great strides taken  by the Iranian people emerged amidst  thick clouds of  mis-perceptions and fallacies in the Western media. In the mean time, challenges and rifts among the original founders and supporters of the Revolution also emerged within Iran.
 During these years supporters and sympathizers of the Revolution in the world, grew in numbers and created many social and cultural institutions as part of the civil society they presided in. In this dimension, I noted, they have also closely followed the internal developments and trends  of the Islamic Republic. I then spoke about the internal challenges we face and the  philosophical , ethical and political reasons why we need an ongoing process of reform. I indicated how Imam Khomeini believed that the Revolution would be threatened not only by  foreign elements but also by backwardness, and deviation from the spiritual and ethical values. Therefore, we needed constant oversight by independent bodies  such as the Parliament, civil society, political and religious parties and media to  sort out the problems and prevent illegal action.
In the ensuing question and answer session a few among the audience criticized this approach and indicated that I should not have pointed to the internal challenges of the Islamic Republic. I responded that on the contrary, for those who believe and sympathize with Iran, it is crucial that they understand the pathology and the weaknesses.  I also mentioned that we should all learn from the mistakes, as we have been inspired  from the successes. However, I realized that for some like those in Iran, there is so much stigma attached to this issue that they cannot see things in a realistic and objective manner; that they are always  on the defensive.
After the controversial Presidential elections and tragic events last year, this approach has gained momentum in some analysis and writings of the external supporters of the Revolution . They put forward the argument that the Green Movement was instigated by Western forces and that there is no popular following for them . They also down play the tragic events and suppression of the voices of dissent that ensued.  I doubt that Muslim intellectuals living out of Iran would not have had access to uncensored news and footage about what has happened and is still continuing in Iran .

I also doubt that an objective critical analysis of these events would be to the detriment of the objectives of the Revolution. Denying that any challenge exists or blaming problems all on foreign interference will not serve to strengthen the Islamic democracy in Iran. Today more than ever, the Islamic Revolution would benefit from the objective criticisms of its supporters . As the Prophet SA has said : Your dearest brothers are those who gift you (inform you of ) your problems and shortcomings.

The question that remains is can we tolerate criticism ?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Iran, Nuclear Capability

The world has been witnessing much rhetoric and many diplomatic efforts among world leaders to demonstrate their commitment to the nuclear nonproliferation. This string of diplomatic flurry began with an American conference in which Obama and Medvedev signed a new agreement to disarm their thousands of nuclear warheads. While exposing once again the sheer dimensions of the nuclear arsenal of these two powers , the meeting also underscored the double standards governing world equations today.
Iran,a country that has not attacked any country for the past seven centuries,  is now under heavy pressure for more than eight years , only for the remote possibility that its well inspected peaceful nuclear program might one day, deviate into producing one single nuclear warhead. Israel, which constantly threatens and attacks its neighboring occupied territories  for that matter, has skillfully escaped international scrutiny on its alleged piles of hundreds of nuclear warheads, up to now.
Apart from the basically sound and rational argument  to promote peaceful nuclear energy in Iran, a position which is common to all political groups, Reformists believe that the current government has not properly managed our diplomatic potentials to avert resolutions on sanctions and unnecessary pressures from the international community on this matter.  Reformists  had taken the same basic position during President Khatami but their approach and delivery method was different .
Taking part with a high level delegation in New York is one matter, but putting things in the proper context and allowing  for allies and foes to align themselves, not with overheated rhetoric, but with some of the very just and rationale positions Iran has take before, is another. We should press for our rights at the international level emphasizing more on our logical stance and the unfair policies that powerful states impose on the global community.
Still suffering from a credibility crisis in domestic policies, Ahmadinejad has not come forward with the convincing and successful diplomacy that the Islamic Republic of  Iran deserves in these difficult times. However, there is some hope that pressure from Iran and other Islamic nations may lead to some changes,  in the unfair approach on Israel and Iran. The Associated Press reported yesterday that,  Israel's secretive nuclear activities may undergo unprecedented scrutiny next month, with a key meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency tentatively set to focus on the topic for the first time.

A copy of the restricted provisional agenda of the IAEA's June 7 board meeting lists "Israeli nuclear capabilities" as the eighth item — the first time that that the agency's decision-making body is being asked to deal with the issue in its 52 years of existence.Inclusion of the item appeared to be the result of a push by the 18-nation Arab group of IAEA member nations, which last year successfully lobbied another agency meeting — its annual conference — to pass a resolution directly criticizing Israel and its atomic program.
Now that Iran and Syria have become regular items in the Agency's agenda, it is about time that the Agency also attends to the affairs of this illegitimate child, Israel who is also very bullish and tries to be  one of a kind everywhere.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Oil Spill (Past and Present)- Gulf of Mexico, Persian Gulf

Blogspot was somewhat "filtered" or "blocked"  for a few days in Iran and that prevented me from posting a new item this week. The problem got into the news and they fixed it a few days ago. Although access to the internet in cities throughout Iran has increased significantly but recently internet connections have been slow and in many instances cut off during certain sensitive periods. This unreliable internet status has damaged both business and scientific exchanges, which in addition to extensive filtering of political news and analysis sites leaves communications in Iran in a difficult predicament.  Many observers have studied and analyzed the problems that internet users are facing in Iran, they have come to the conclusion that both technical and political issues are involved and that we need  reliable, efficient and secure internet connections to ensure social and economic progress. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic has quaranteed basic freedoms including access to information.  However, interpretations on the Constitution vary and in practice things have been very different.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has created a wave of concern for environmentalists throughout the world. The event awakened my memories of the oil spill created during the Iraqi  aggression against Iran and the Iraqi aggression against Kuwait. Thousands of barrels of oil spilled into the Persian Gulf which is a semi-closed body of water with significant biodiversity. More than 12 million inhabitants live on the borders of the Persian Gulf, mostly in Iran, but also in Arab States. Tehran University had held the first International Conference on the Effects of Oil Spill in the Persian Gulf under the leadership of my late father Dr. Taghi Ebtekar , in 1984. Many international scholars had attended and presented their assessment of the situation.  During my tenure as the Vice President and Head of the Department of Environment, we endeavored to strengthen the international mechanisms including the ROPME organization programs to protect the sea. We also conducted two research cruises in the Persian Gulf  to survey the water quality and the biota. In addition, Iran presented an environmental damage claim to the UN Compensation Committee against Saddam Hussein for the destruction of the marine environment and we conducted 8 marine research  projects in the area as supportive evidence for the Claim. The results indicated the scale of the widespread damage that oil had inflicted upon the coral reef, seagrass populations, costal areas and other biodiversity. Tar balls with the specificity of oil from Iraqi  wells and soot from the burning of the wells was still observable in costal areas.  Tens of millions of dollars of damage were estimated as part of the environmental costs inflicted. We adopted several clean up projects in 2005 prior to  the elections when the Government changed.
Considering the state of relations between the two countries I doubt that Americans would ask for any advice or learn from our experiences in this regard ,but I do hope that they could take swift and serious action to address the matter and control the damage to the global ecosystem.