A vicious theocrat right to the end

14th January 2017

While the mainstream media has been quick to sing the praises of former Iranian president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who died on Sunday, those involved in the long struggle for human rights and democracy in Iran are far from convinced of his reformist credentials.  Jane Green assesses the influence of one of the key figures of the Iranian theocratic state.


As a leading figure in the Iranian clergy, Rafsanjani was a key figure in the suppression of the opposition over many years in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Any attempt to suggest otherwise is a mere glossing over of the facts of his time in office as president from 1989-97, and his wider influence upon the shaping of the policies and practices of the Islamic Republic.

Prior to his election as president, Rafsanjani had acted as the commander-in-chief of the Iranian armed forces during the brutal Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 which wreaked havoc and devastation upon both countries and resulted in over one million dead.

As Speaker of the Iranian Parliament from 1980-1989 Rafsanjani played a key role in the selection of Ali Khamenei as Supreme Leader, ensuring that the  reactionary theocracy in Iran was consolidated, over and above the original national democratic aims of the popular 1979 revolution.  This period not only saw the fratricidal war with Iraq but the widespread arrest, torture and execution of leading activists in the uprising against the Shah, who advocated fundamental economic and social reforms and were not prepared to submit to the rule of the clergy.  As the strong-man of the regime, Rafsanjani bore a large measure of responsibility for the mass execution in the summer of 1988 of more than 5000 political prisoners.

The regime suppressed all effective political opposition, forced trade unions organisation underground and presided over a return to medieval values with regard to the rights of women, education and other social issues.  Many activists were forced to flee the country on pain of imprisonment or execution and many of those who stayed were arrested and subjected to a wave of forced confessions and show trials.

Even those who did manage to find refuge beyond Iran’s borders were not safe, with the assassination of political leaders in exile taking place across Europe during Rafsanjani’s presidency.  During this period a number of leading opposition figures were assassinated in Paris, Vienna and Berlin and other cities.  His Minister of Intelligence, Fallahian, was indicted by the German courts for the assassination of leaders of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran in a restaurant in Berlin in 1992.

Having reduced the economy to rubble as a result of the Iran-Iraq War, on assuming the presidency Rafsanjani turned to the World Bank and IMF, in order to secure the means to try and rebuild a shattered infrastructure.  As with any World Bank or IMF deal there were strings attached, such as liberalising foreign trade, privatising key sectors of the economy and further suppressing the wages and working conditions of the Iranian people.   One of his most damaging acts was to amend the labour law and introduce the concept of temporary contracts with no rights guaranteed.

Spurred on by the big business interests he represented, being himself a major landowner and large-scale cultivator and exporter of pistachio nuts with an estimated amassed personal fortune of 1 billion dollars, Rafsanjani embarked upon the task of making friends abroad.  Combined with the need to soften the effects of the economic crisis, Rafsanjani attempted to portray himself as a pragmatic statesman with a pragmatic foreign policy.

However, while peddling a softer image for overseas consumption, Rafsanjani continued to give a free hand to the most vicious groups inside Iran, encouraging the persecution of women resisting demands to wear the traditional ‘Hijab’ (head covering), or attacking demonstrators in Tehran, Shiraz, Tabriz, and Mashad protesting at food shortages and profiteering.  In 1995 he deployed helicopter gunships to suppress a three-day uprising of the poor in the working class town of Islamshahr.

Many media reports have been keen to overlook the brutality of the early years of the Islamic Republic, of which Rafsanjani was a key architect, in favour of the so-called reformist of later years, opposed to the hard-line stance of Ali Khamenei and supportive of Hassan Rouhani’s presidency.

Such distinctions in Iranian politics do not carry the same overtones as elsewhere.

Since the early 2000’s Rafsanjani had developed important differences with Khamenei and the regime’s fundamentalist and hard-line faction on the direction of the economy, foreign policy and how to treat the loyal (Islamic) opposition.  Rafsanjani was pro-Rouhani while Khamenei and the fundamentalist faction favoured the style of governing the country employed during the Ahmadinejad era.

However, despite the Western media promoting Rafsanjani as the moderate voice of the regime, he was a pro free market neoliberal who throughout his own reign ruled with an iron fist.  He was most certainly not a reformer, as starkly illustrated by his treatment of protesters during his presidency.  He was consistent only in his refusal to support any fundamental reforms and in his continual support and loyalty to the tenets of the regime.

There is much evidence from inside Iran to suggest that Rafsanjani held many dark secrets about key chapters in the history of the regime.  Had they ever seen the light of day, these would have caused immense damage.  Khamenei and the regime have breathed a sigh of relief that these secrets appear to have gone to the grave with Rafsanjani.  Hence, Khamenei has gone out of his way to accommodate and appease the Rafsanjani clan following his death.  The funeral, the subsequent three days national mourning and his burial in Khomeini’s mausoleum are all evidence of this.

There were hundreds of thousands participating in the funeral procession in the streets of central Tehran.  However, there are many reports that during the procession, a large section of the mourners were chanting slogans demanding change and freedom for political prisoners.

Pro-reform protesters shout slogans and carry posters at the funeral.

Chants were heard calling for reforms and expressing support for Mohammad Khatami (the former pro-reform president, 1997- 2005) and Mousavi, the main opposition candidate in the stolen presidential election of 2009, who has since been kept under house arrest and incommunicado.

In effect, the opposition found the funeral to be a ready-made opportunity to raise its slogans and make demands openly in the streets of Tehran, knowing that the regime’s hands were tied and that it was not able to openly employ the usual repressive measures.  In essence, the spirit of the 2009 Green Movement and unrest was shown to be very much alive.

While Rafsanjani was not in any formal office in recent years he still played a key role.  He acted as the standard bearer and champion of the forces who favoured economic liberalisation and the strengthening of the private sector’s role in the Iranian economy.  He championed the normalisation of Iran’s diplomatic relations with the US.  He was a close ally of the current president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani.

True to his legacy, Rafsanjani never showed remorse for his role in suppressing democracy and human rights in Iran.  He showed no regret at having been instrumental in establishing a theocratic dictatorship, which continues to oppress its people and deny their basic rights.

Friend of big business, friend of the Islamic dictatorship but no friend of the Iranian people; few tears will be shed for the passing of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani by the ordinary people of Iran.

This article was also published by the Morning Star.  Please see the link below:

A vicious theocrat right to the end


Turkey – the new frontline?

8th January 2017


Events over the past six months in Turkey suggest that the focus of Islamic State activities is shifting, from their flagging attempts to gain a foothold in Iraq and Syria, and onto the streets of Turkey.  The New Year’s Eve attack in the Reina nightclub in Istanbul, killing 39 people, was the latest in a series of responses by Islamic State to the losses inflicted by Turkish troops inside Syria.  The killings follow on from the killing of 44 people outside an Istanbul football stadium three weeks ago and the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey on 19th December.

While not all of these actions can be ascribed to the activities of Islamic State they all contribute to the sense of political disjointedness inside Turkey, adding to the desire of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to extend the state of emergency, established following the failed coup, on 15th July last year.

The vacillating position of the Turkish government has not helped the situation.  Initially engaged in allowing Islamic State oil supplies to pass through Turkey, thus providing IS with much needed revenue, Turkey has more recently become engaged in the military operations against IS in Syria.  In part, this is cover for its own operations against the Kurdish PKK, who have been engaged in an independence struggle with the Turkish leadership for over 40 years.  It is also part of a wider regional power struggle, in which Erdogan is seeking to position Turkey as a key broker in the region.

Turkey is also in the ambivalent position of both being a member of NATO but being allied with Russia in the current ceasefire negotiations in Syria.  The conflict in Syria has resulted in a massive refugee crisis inside Turkey, with an estimated 3 million refugees having crossed the border from Syria.  Quite apart from the obvious problems this creates in terms of housing, feeding and schooling there is also the suggestion that Syrians are being used as cheap labour, displacing Turkish workers and adding to the already significant unemployment issue.

It is not hard to see how this situation can be exploited by the Islamists, already keen to destabilise Turkey and undermine its secular constitution.  The followers of Islamic preacher, Fethulah Gülen, in self imposed exile in the United States, are already regarded as being behind the coup attempt by the government.  However, Gülen is not trusted by the Left who see him as a tool by which the Islamisation of Turkey may be further advanced.

President Erdogan has taken the opportunity of the 15th July coup attempt to strengthen his grip on the state apparatus and root out any perceived opposition.  Estimates vary but in excess of 100,000 civil servants, journalists and lecturers are said to have lost their jobs, on the pretext of being Gülenist, as Erdogan attempts to silence any opposition.  The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which Erdogan helped found, came to power on the basis that it would be more democratic, more European and more moderate on the world stage.

Turkey at present hardly fits this picture.

Turkey is at the centre of a struggle between rival capitalist interests, in the United States and Russia, over influence and access to markets in the Middle East.  It is also the flashpoint for the religious intersection of Islamic and secular politics in the region.  Alliances continue to shift as the players shift allegiances to shore up their particular side.

As ever, the losers are the people of Turkey, and the wider region, who become pawns in a power game which is not of their own making.  The basis of political struggle in the region must move away from geography and religion and onto an assessment of class interests.  Only then will the people of the region, whether from Turkey, Syria, Iran or Iraq, see that they have more in common than that which divides them.



Two state solution in jeopardy

2nd January 2017


The political pundits have packaged away 2016 and filed it under ‘bad year’, in the hope that 2017 is going to be better.  Unfortunately, there is nothing in the political firmament which suggests a more favourable alignment of the planets in the coming year.  The situation in the Middle East; the election of Donald Trump as US President; and the ongoing debate in the European Union, focused upon the outcome of the UK vote to leave, are all auguries of further struggle in the coming year.

The death throes of the Obama administration in the US has thrown up some issues, which Trump will have to deal with upon taking office later this month.  Not least will be the consequences of the United States refusal to use its veto in the United Nations Security Council recently, which resulted in the UN carrying resolution 2334, condemning the illegal Israeli practice of building settlements on Palestinian land.

The Israeli land grab has been going on for many years now.  The wall, which Israel has been building to encompass land which belongs to the Palestinians, has progressed unabated.  The wall functions both as a means to rob Palestinians of land, which is theirs, and also as a means of controlling access to Israel, which is vital for many Palestinians to earn a living.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, reacted furiously to the UN vote.  Given that the resolution, passed on 23rd December, states that the settlement programme constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law and that it has “no legal validity”, the response of Netanyahu comes as no surprise.

As The Guardian reported on 24th December 2016,

“The response included the recall of the Israeli ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal, who voted for the resolution, the cancellation of a planned visit by the Senegalese foreign minister to Israel in three weeks’ time, and the cancellation of all aid programmes to Senegal.”

As part of the initial Israeli response Netanyahu  has publicly accused Obama of “ambushing” Israel at the UN with the “shameful” resolution.  He has also accused Obama of proposing and pushing the measure “behind Israel’s back.”  In an almost unprecedented move, Netanyahu summoned US Ambassador Dan Shapiro to seek “clarifications” on the decision to abstain.

The Israeli establishment have expressed further rage at the foreign policy speech by US Secretary of State, John Kerry, earlier this week.

In his speech, Kerry had the audacity to suggest that Israel comply with international law and seriously work towards a two-state solution to their differences with the Palestinians.

“The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.  That future is now in jeopardy” he said.

Kerry went on to state that,

“The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right-wing in Israeli history with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements.  The result is that policies of this government, which the prime minister himself just described as more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history, are leading in the opposite direction.  They are leading towards one state.”

A “two-state solution” is widely accepted as the only realistic way forward to the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.  It is not only the declared goal of their leaders but of many international diplomats and politicians.

The solution would see a final settlement involving the creation of an independent state of Palestine within pre-1967 ceasefire lines in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, living peacefully alongside Israel.  The United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union, Russia and the United States routinely restate their commitment to the concept.

The creation of illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land continues to be an issue of contention between Israel and the Palestinians, who see the settlements as an obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state.  More than 500,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The response of US President-elect, Donald Trump, has been to suggest that the Israelis should not be treated with “disdain and disrespect” and he has urged Israel to “stay strong” until he assumes office later this month.

France will host an international conference, to lay down the framework for a future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, in Paris this month.  The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said Kerry’s speech was “clear, committed and courageous”.

The conference in France is scheduled for 15th January, the inauguration of the new President of the United States is set for the 20th January.  Both dates will have significance for all looking towards a peaceful settlement in the Middle East, not least the thousands of displaced Palestinians.