515 Loupe 12-22-2019

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Andrew Scott Cooper is the author of two well regarded books, The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East (Simon & Schuster, 2011) and The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Last Days of Imperial Iran (Henry Holt and Co., 2016). In the past, Cooper has taught at Columbia University and worked at the United Nations and Human Rights Watch. Diwan caught up with him in early January to discuss the recent demonstrations in Iran as well as the legacy of the Iranian monarchy.

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Michael Young: What has intrigued you the most about the recent unrest in Iran?

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Andrew Scott Cooper: Though several factors fueled the unrest, I was particularly intrigued to see images of working-class and lower-middle-class Iranians in small towns and medium-sized cities calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic and chanting in support of the monarchy and the exiled Pahlavi dynasty. For many demonstrators, the wretched state of the Iranian economy and corruption provided the perfect vehicle for pent-up expressions of Persian nationalism.

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In the aftermath of the 2009 crackdown, many young Iranians became disillusioned with political Islam and found solace in pre-Islamic Persian art and culture. I was made aware of this phenomenon in 2013 when I spent time in Qom on sabbatical. The teaching staff at the city’s leading Islamic university lamented student fascination with pre-revolutionary Iran and the Pahlavi family. The regime employed various strategies to suppress, deflect, and coopt these trends, all to no avail. The scale of the unrest demonstrates that even social classes previously regarded as regime stalwarts have succumbed. At some point, it was inevitable that Persian-infused nationalism would burst into public view. I had been waiting for this moment and to see it happen was really something.

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Michael Young: How might the unrest affect Iran’s regional ambitions, if indeed it does?

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Andrew Scott Cooper: The men who run Iran have no choice but to reassess their regional ambitions. They will have to find ways to boost social spending. One way to do that is to redirect resources away from their proxies, who are the target of a great deal of domestic resentment, and back into the domestic economy. They have to focus on job creation, benefits, and housing. In the short term, at least, they may signal a desire to cut deals so as to wind down conflicts that are draining so much national treasure. The clergy can be flexible when they want to be. Who can forget Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s decision to “swallow poison” and end the war with Iraq?

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But why should the Saudis come to the table when they smell weakness in Tehran? Riyadh may be tempted to keep the pot boiling for a while longer. Unexpected fluctuations in the oil and gas markets, with flow-on effects for the Iranian treasury, will play an important role in what happens next.

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Michael Young: How do events today in the region compare with the period you covered in your first book, The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East?

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Andrew Scott Cooper: As ever, Iran is the driver of change: Where Iran goes, so goes the region. The 1979 Iranian revolution ushered in a period of intense sectarian conflict and unrest in the region. But a majority of the Iranian people appear to have tired of Khomeini-style political Islam, which regardless of its promise never lived up to its potential. Revolutionary slogans rarely do. Younger Iranians are embracing and reasserting their Persian national identity almost in reaction to the regime, and in ways that I think will impact the region for decades to come. So the post-1979 chapter in regional history has closed and a new chapter has started. If present trends continue, I see Iran heading our way again.

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Michael Young: In many regards, the mullahs in Iran appear to be Iranian nationalists first, just as the shah was. To what extent are there similarities between the Islamic Republic and the shah’s regime when it comes to the region?

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Andrew Scott Cooper: The mullahs discovered nationalism late in the game. Khomeini, of course, famously eschewed nationalism until he felt the need to rally Iranians during the war with Iraq. In recent years, we have seen the regime try (and fail) to coopt Iran’s Persian traditions. State media’s efforts to denigrate the Pahlavis backfired spectacularly by making it okay to talk about the family in public. In the aftermath of the large rally at the tomb of Cyrus the Great in Pasargadae in October 2016, which caught the authorities by surprise, a rather foolish attempt was even made to prove that the Prophet Mohammed was related to Cyrus. This suggests that the leadership is somewhat disoriented by events and unsure of how to respond.

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This trend marks a turnabout from the 1970s, when young Iranians rejected Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s Persian style and embraced all aspects of Shi‘a Islam. Today, the children and grandchildren of those revolutionaries are employing the old techniques used to undermine the shah, only this time against the mullahs. The clothes they wear, the music they listen to, the books they read, and the places they visit on vacation reflect their love of Persian culture and an implicit rejection of political Islam. In that sense, they know their history very well indeed.

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As far as similarities between the Islamic Republic and the Pahlavi regime, the desire to project Iranian influence throughout the region is obvious. But the shah was constrained by the Cold War and the liberal international order he pledged to uphold. The Islamic Republic is seeking to exploit the power vacuum left in the region by the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. The shah would be horrified if he saw Iran as it behaves today. One Pahlavi family member told me that he was glad the shah died before the start of the Iran-Iraq war because it would have completely devastated him.

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Michael Young: So you see a reassessment taking place in the country with regard to the shah’s legacy, and to the monarchy in general?

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Andrew Scott Cooper: I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that Iranians if asked to choose between the shah’s regime and post-1979 Iran, would choose the shah in a landslide. But that is not what you hear from some Iranian expatriate intellectuals who can’t quite believe that many students and working-class Iranians might prefer the monarchy to the Islamic Republic. They still harbor a visceral distaste for the Pahlavis.

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For example, whereas they still lambaste the shah for sacking Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953, and for holding his party in the desert at Persepolis in 1971, many younger Iranians do not show the same level of interest in Operation Ajax and regard Persepolis differently. They view it with fascination and awe because it signified a time when world leaders came to Iran to pay their respects to an Iranian king who wielded immense power on the world stage.

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Further, I would argue that a key turning point in the evolution of unrest was the large turnout of young people at Pasargadae in October 2016, which I mentioned earlier. This remarkable exercise in mass mobilization was all but ignored by the Western media and Western-based Iran analysts. Crowd estimates ran as high as 100,000. Participants were filmed cheering and calling for the return of the Pahlavi family and the restoration of the monarchy. I offered to write an essay for Foreign Policy describing the significance of the event, why the Islamic Republic faced a crisis of legitimacy and how it most likely portended future unrest. My pitch was rejected because I was told, it lacked a timely news hook.

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Michael Young: The shah has been both reviled and to an extent defended over the years. As someone who has taken a more positive view of the man, how would you assess his rule almost 40 years after the Iranian Revolution?

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Andrew Scott Cooper: It’s important to remember that I am a historian, not a political scientist, journalist, or novelist. The declassification of documents from the Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations in the past decade meant that a review of U.S.-Iran relations during the Cold War was timely, necessary, and logical. How did we get to where we are today? That question has driven my research but it’s not an easy question to answer.

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We have to place the shah in the context of his time, as a leader caught in history’s riptide between the Cold War and Islam’s renaissance. He was driven by utopian dreams of delivering social justice for his people. He enacted remarkably progressive reforms in areas such as social policy, environmental protection, women’s rights, protection of minorities, and literacy. His capacity for denial was reflected in his handling of the security forces, though he ultimately vacated his throne rather than sanction a military crackdown that would have cost thousands of lives and may well have triggered a civil war.

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After 1963, when he assumed executive rule, he missed an opportunity to build durable independent political and judicial institutions that might have shouldered the load when Khomeini made his bid for power. But for all its flaws, the record shows that Iran under the shah was stable, prospering, and at peace with its neighbors. In Beirut and Cairo, I have heard Arabs bless the shah’s memory and say they wish he never left. You hear the same in Tehran today.

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Michael Young: Given your knowledge of Iranian-Saudi relations during the 1970s, what would you see as necessary for the two countries to reach a new understanding in the Middle East, away from the polarization of today?

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Andrew Scott Cooper: Both leaderships are faced with serious internal challenges that, if left unresolved, may lead to internal rebellion and implosion. On the one hand, their proxy wars are a very expensive distraction from the main event. However, domestic reforms of the sort they envisage or will be obliged to implement will be difficult and painful. These regimes lack the sort of democratic “safety valves” that are essential to prevent popular unrest from spilling out into the streets. Thus, the temptation will be to embark on even riskier foreign adventures as a way of stoking nationalism and distracting people in the street from their hardships. It will take a breathtaking act of statesmanship from one side or the other to ease tensions.

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 Michael Young: As we look ahead, are we seeing the emergence of a hegemonic Iran in the Middle East?

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Andrew Scott Cooper: Is a hegemonic Iran on the horizon? Overconfidence in foreign policy, followed by overreach, is something of an Iranian tradition. I can show you dozens of panicky American news articles from 1974 and 1975 warning of the dangers of Iranian imperialism. We saw the same reaction during the era of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Our nervous reaction every time Tehran sneezes says as much about our own insecurities as it does about Iranian intentions. What sort of regime are we talking about, anyway, one that is apparently so unpopular that its own people would prefer to roll back the clock 40 years? Though Iran should not be underestimated, in some important ways it resembles the old Soviet Union. The Islamic Republic has entered its twilight. I think we need to start thinking about what comes next.

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515 Loupe 11-27-2019

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M15P4LDW understand this about The Iranian Moment

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 Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday claimed without evidence that recent protests across the Islamic Republic over government-set gasoline prices rising were part of a “conspiracy”

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Starting Nov. 16, Iran shut down the internet across the country, limiting communications with the outside world. That made determining the scale and longevity of the protests incredibly difficult. While home and office internet has been restored, access on mobile phones remains rare.

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With the Internet access almost entirely cut off in attempts to conceal the “scope of the uprising and the scale of it brutality”, some 61 people have been reported dead in 10 cities, but the NCRI said it expects the actual number to be much higher, because most of the 61 deaths were recorded when the protests broke out on November 16, but those who have been killed since have not been recorded.

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Angry protestors in their thousands took to the streets, abandoning vehicles on motorways and blocking roads.

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Khamenei ordered the Revolutionary Guards and other suppressive forces to open fire on the demonstrations in different cities.

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Reports have come in of armed forced shooting indiscriminately at protestors in attempts to disperse crowds and gain access to streets.

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All active duty members of the Revolutionary Guard have been recalled from annual leave and dispatched to protest scenes.

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Protesters torched the Iranian consulate in the holy city of Najaf late on Wednesday. The demonstrators removed the Iranian flag from the building and replaced it with an Iraqi one. 

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The incident marked an escalation in the demonstrations that have raged in Baghdad and across the mostly Shiite southern Iraq since the start of October.

The protesters accuse the Shiite-led government of being hopelessly corrupt and complain of poor public services and high unemployment. They are also decrying growing Iranian influence in Iraqi state affairs. 

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At least 350 people have been killed and thousands wounded in what has become the largest grass-roots protest movement in Iraq’s modern history.

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Protesters are occupying three key bridges in central Baghdad, Jumhuriya, Ahrar and Sinar in a stand-off with security forces. On Wednesday, they also burned tyres on Ahrar Bridge to block security forces from accessing the area.

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Hong Kong, Chile, Iraq, Lebanon: protests erupt around the world

515 Loupe 11-23-2018

See all 19 of the May 15th Prophecy Watchman Twitter Moments 

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https://twitter.com/May15thProphecy/moments

515 Loupe 08-11-2018

Info2File

The following is an internal Security Studies Group (SSG) report that we have decided to make public. The reason to publish the report is to raise a crucial point that our analyst hits upon.  “The protests have become more like a channel through which various groups of people vent their frustration but there is no roadmap to what to do afterward. In other words, it is protesting for the sake of protesting.”

SSG supports the Iranian people’s pursuit of a new birth of liberty. Almost every popular revolution has started with sustained protests, and these are indeed large, sustained, and also cut broadly across Iran’s social strata.  There is a potential for things to break rapidly if a proposed solution comes to be seen as viable by the bulk of the diverse protesting groups. That is how the 1979 revolution happened. Until it is clear what solution the Iranian protest groups find plausible, however, no one can assess whether there is a tipping point to these protests, what that point is, or who will ultimately benefit from reaching it. It remains a dangerous moment.

The recent waves of protests in Esfahan, Shahin Shahr, Najaf Abad (all three are in Esfahan province which has always been on the IR’s side), Karaj, Shiraz, Shahr-e-Kord, and etc. follows the pattern of the protests in Dec/Jan. The main issues are economic yet the main chants are ‘death to the dictator’ and ‘death to Rouhani’. The grievances are increasing daily yet there is no prospect for their betterment, the latter only creates more frustration. Devaluation of the national currency and the high inflation that is tailgating it, water and electricity shortage in most of the cities combined with the quotidian suppression of the social freedoms have made the recent protests a tapestry of grievances each peace coming from different social strata. An interesting feature of the current protests is the visibly salient participation of women.

The current pretests, however, is relatively underrepresented on twitter. The news that I receive directly from Iran claims more people and more incidents than the ones that are covered on the social media. #چالش_دعوت_به_تظاهرات , for example, with 97,500 number of tweets is one of the hashtags that is being used with more frequency. The pattern shows a regular behavior which corresponds to the ongoing and continuous protests in the mentioned cities. But as it was the case with the Dec/Jan, these protests, lacking leadership or a clear aim, will likely end after a few days. The protests have become more like a channel through which various groups of people vent their frustration but there is no roadmap to what to do afterward. In other words, it is protesting for the sake of protesting. The government, on the other hand, has become more efficient and professional in dealing with the protestors. Comparing to the Dec/Jan protests with a death toll of 20, the recent ones have not had a single serious casualty so far.

#چالش_دعوت_به_تظاهرات pattern in a day

Apparently, the current protests have started in Isfahan Shahpour district—which is the market for heavy machinery and equipment—and has then spread to other cities. It was only a few months ago that the truck drivers went on strike because of the high price of the spare parts. Given that most of the heavy machinery and the spare parts are imported the recent downfall of Iran’s currency has heavily disturbed the market. As it has been the case with the recent protests in Iran, Tehran lags behind the nationwide protest. This is partly due to the general dominance of the middle-class population in Tehran whose concerns are not necessarily similar to other less affluent parts of Iran. Yet this explains the underrepresentation of the protests on the social media.

Another hashtag which is used with less frequency is #اعتراضات_سراسری and #IranProtestswhich is the same one that was being used during the Dec/Jan’s protests. The number of tweets for this one is 19,900 but the bot score for this hashtag is 4 which makes it less organic and more organized. Nevertheless, the pattern is similar to that of #چالش_دعوت_به_تظاهراتalbeit with less consistency which is the result of the fewer number of tweets:

#اعتراضات_سراسری’s pattern in a day

The following accounts have been received much attention and have shaped the discussion on the recent protests:

@PahlaviReza: the account of the former crown prince of Iran with 1507 re-tweets so far has been an influential figure in the debate. Not all retweets, however, are endorsements and almost 30% replies, which in turn, can be a criticism of the content or the character of Mr. Pahlavi.

Other Influences based on the number of views and retweets are:

@Z0RVAAN

@YaarDabestaani

@dadashirani

@kachalmooferfer

@_Cafe

@john_lucckk

@Z0RVAAN

@Pensylvani

@Tavaana

@tanasoli

Geographical distribution of the tweets

Both  #اعتراضات_سراسری and #چالش_دعوت_به_تظاهرات are tweeted from similar regions of Iran. Unsurprisingly, Tehran and Karaj where people have more access to the internet and social media are overrepresented on the map.

The map shows the cities wherein some protests have been going on:

The global pattern of #چالش_دعوت_به_تظاهرات (high density in the Balkan area has probably to do with the activity of MEK, the rest of Europe are normally old-school Marxists who have been against the IR for decades. from the Security Studies Group (SSG)

also, see https://plus.google.com/u/0/collection/4RqVIB