Iran Moves Toward a Domestic Watershed Despite de facto Implementation of Baker Initiative
Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS.
The growing public trend among Iranians of identifying with a traditional Persian character rather than an Islamist one is leading toward a major clash within Iranian society, possibly at the forthcoming celebration of the beginning of the traditional Persian New Year, NowRuz, on March 20/21, 2007, in defiance of a ban on such celebrations by the ruling Islamist clerics. There is ample evidence that a significant percentage of the Iranian population will defy the clerical Government to celebrate Now Ruz (literally “new day”, also transliterated as Norooz).
But more than that, there is growing evidence that a cultural and very Persian social renaissance is firmly underway in Iran, totally opposed to the clerics and religious governance, and despite the belief that the US had effectively abandoned the Iranian population and now favored “legitimizing” the Iranian clerical Government. There is a widespread understanding that the US State Dept. was — against the stated wishes of US Pres. George W. Bush — moving toward a softer approach toward the Iranian clerics, in line with proposals made by former US Secretary of State James Baker and the Iraq Study Group.
In recent years, the Iranian urban population had responded significantly when US Pres. Bush had promised support to Iranian aspirations to remove the clerics. A similar phenomenon occurred in Czechoslovakia in 1968, for example, and in Hungary in 1956, when populations in those countries responded to what they believed were US encouragement to seize their own destiny from Soviet control. In Iran, public support for Western values and culture remains high, but expectations of US support — even moral support — have been vitiated.
Now, despite the removal of the promise of US moral support, it seems clear that Iranian society is beginning to take charge of its own destiny, which it largely sees as independent of the clerics. The renaissance is, specifically, Persian in nature; that is, working from a basis of pre-Islamic or anti-Islamic cultural pride. The vibrancy of the Iranian publishing scene, printing ever more ornate editions of famous Persian poetry, is merely symptomatic of the new dynamism and debate in Iranian society, defying the Islamist/jihadist approach of the clerical leadership.
What is now clear is that the element of fear of the Administration is now gone among large segments of the population, who feel more free to criticize the clerics. This may in part be attributable to the fact that the clerics are themselves divided into a number of factions, each bent on assuming power. And with “Supreme Leader” “Ayatollah” Ali Hoseini-Khamene‘i, 67, reportedly ill, the battle for his post has intensified.
Significantly, although recent elections of mujtahids for the Assembly of Experts (which in turn elects the “Supreme Leader”) — which took place on December 15, 2006 — produced an even more radical Islamist Assembly, the population at large is moving in a more secular direction. The Iranian Ministry of Interior reported an estimated 60 percent turnout of the 46.5-million eligible voters for the Assembly of Experts election, and later reported that “more than 28-million people” voted, but even Administration sources in Tehran admit that this number was “a joke”, and that voter turnout was, in fact, negligible.
Now, former Pres. Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (the current chairman of the Council of Expediency Discernment) is promoting his one-time follower, former Pres. Mohammed Khatami, for the supreme leadership, in the belief that Khatami’s image of moderation — totally at odds with reality — would help bring him to power, with Rafsanjani attempting to maintain control indirectly. Pres. Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad’s mentor, radical Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, is also attempting to position himself for the job, as is Mahmood Hashemi Shahroodi.
But as the showdown approaches — both within the clerical leadership and between the clerics and the public — Pres. Ahmadi-Nejad now appears to have gained power vis-à-vis Khamene’i. Although Ayatollah Yazdi may not have made as much ground as he would have liked in the Assembly of Experts, he is still a valuable ally for Amhadi-Nejad, but not as valuable as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC: Pasdaran).
The Pasdaran leadership depends heavily on the President to retain its privileges in controlling the key legal and illegal elements of the economy. Control of liquor, prostitution, and narcotics, as well as strong control over many legal businesses has meant that the Pasdaran leadership now has a vested interest in the status quo.
But Ahmadi-Nejad’s Islamist priorities differ substantially from the Persian orientation of much the general public, which means that — perhaps beginning at the forthcoming Now Ruz celebrations — the Pasdaran may be asked to help suppress any dissidence. In the past, the working levels of the Pasdaran — who are not benefiting from the corruption — had increasingly refused to suppress the Iranian public. The clerical Government has, in recent times, spent large amounts of money and effort, using mostly Basij political police, to suppress anti-Government demonstrations. The question now is whether this will be enough.
Demonstrations in defiance of the Government continue. Teachers and cultural figures held a demonstration on March 3, 2007, in front of the Majlis in Tehran. The demonstration was the third in the past six weeks. Some 15,000 to 20,000 demonstrators called on Iranian Education Minister Mahmoud Farshidi to resign, claiming that he was more concerned about obtaining nuclear energy rather than about their livelihood.
Within this environment, Pres. Ahmadi-Nejad’s ability to maneuver has been demonstrated, along with his ability to build a power base. This has contributed to his belief that he needs to continue to use the threat of conflict with the US to sustain his position within the “creative tension” which is the hallmark of current Iranian politics.
1. See Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis: Former US Secretary of State Baker Attempts to Bypass Bush White House on Iran Links.
That report noted:
Former US Secretary of State James Baker, who co-chaired the recent US Iraq Study Group — the main recommendations of which were rejected by the George W. Bush Administration — is working indirectly and behind the scenes to bring about direct diplomatic ties between the US and Iran.
This is in defiance of Bush White House policy which essentially has said that encouraging direct negotiations with the Iranian clerical leaders would legitimize and strengthen the power of the Iranian mullahs, making it more difficult for Iran’s secular opposition to bring about democratic change in the country.
The visit on January 25-26, 2007, to Tehran by the Secretary-General of the Saudi National Security Council, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, for talks with his Iranian counterpart Ali Larijani on “the critical situation in Lebanon” was, in fact, to scope out a more broadly-based resolution to the Iran-US impasse along the lines of the so-called “Baker Plan” devised by the Iraq Study Group. The Iraq Study Group recommendations had already been discounted and discarded by the George W. Bush White House, but the Bandar maneuver with Ali Larijani is an attempt to sidestep that in order to resume the process of US recognition of the clerical leadership in Iran.
2. See Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis: Ahmadi-Nejad’s “Message to the American Nation” Reflects Belief That Tehran Has the Strategic Initiative.
Timor Leste Elections Signify Shifting Political Landscape
Analysis. By Barry Patterson.
On February 24, 2006, Timor Leste Prime Minister José Ramos Horta declared his intention to run for the office of President in elections to be held on April 9, 2006. The current Timor Leste President, Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, has stated that he will not stand for another term. It is possible that Horta and Gusmão will “job-switch”, with Horta gaining the presidency and Gusmão, if not gaining the Prime Minister’s office, playing a significant rôle in legislative politics. This will have significant implications for the future of Timor Leste’s government, and may impact on the stability of the nation.
Pres. Gusmão threatened to resign his post over civil unrest which plagued Timor Leste in May 2006, issuing an ultimatum to then Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. This ultimatum resulted in Alkatiri’s resignation and the ascendance of Ramos-Horta to the presidency. Prime Minister Horta is no longer a member of the Frente Revolucionaria de Timor-Leste Independente (FRETILIN)
Timor Leste’s ruling party and chief resistance movement prior to independence — and was appointed by Gusmão to the position. Ramos Horta, a lawyer by profession, was also serving as Defense Minister when he assumed office. He continues in both rôles.
At present, there is no significant opposition to Horta’s run for President.
Without a major change of circumstance, it is likely that Horta will secure the presidency. One of Horta’s immediate challenges in gaining the presidency will be to deal with the 600 soldiers, known as petitioners, who deserted the military in early 2006. While no longer operational in the army, the soldiers are still being paid while their future is decided.
Increased friction may also emerge between the President’s office and the Commander of the East Timor Defense Force (ETDF), Brig.-Gen. Taur Matan Ruak. As a former commander of FRETILIN’s armed wing, Forças Armadas da Libertação Nacional de Timor-Leste (FALINTIL), and Gusmão’s successor in that organization, Ruak is deeply entrenched in the position and has so far refused to address the petitioners’ requests as a group, offering instead to deal with the soldiers on an individual basis.
Parliamentary elections are also set to occur later in 2007. These elections will see a reduction in the number of seats in Parliament, from 88 to between 52 and 65. The current National Parliament, Timor Leste’s only representative house, was elected on an exceptional basis when the nation’s new constitution was brought in on March 22, 2002.
Pres. Gusmão’s newly formed party, the Conselho Nacional de Resistência Timorense (CNRT: National Council of Timorese Resistance), has the stated aim of attempting to fill the rôle of an effective opposition in Timorese politics and present a credible challenge to the dominant FRETILIN party. According to Pres. Gusmão, it intends to “knock the FRETILIN party off its pedestal as the dominant political force and remove its majority in the parliament”.
Despite being deposed from the office of Prime Minister during 2006, Alkatiri continues to be a powerbroker within FRETILIN.2 Despite his unpopularity with much of rural Timor, and his frequent clashes with the Catholic Church, it is certain that Alkatiri will play a significant rôle in the formation of any new government after parliamentary elections. Part of his unpopularity stems from his long period of exile during the Indonesian occupation. Alkatiri is of Yemeni descent and a Muslim, a point of difference in the predominantly Catholic nation. However, Alkatiri also has a reputation as a good administrator and policy thinker, in a parliament which has few skills in this area. He studied law and surveying during his exile in Angola, and is often cited as a skilled negotiator and economist.
Externally, Alkatiri has enjoyed the support of the Portuguese Government, but has had a more contentious relationship with the Australian Government which had a history of dialogue with Gusmão and Ramos Horta. This dynamic was made clear during the 2006 crisis.
The period leading up to the Presidential election and later parliamentary elections, will mark the most significant shift in Timor Leste politics to date.
It is a critical time for Timor Leste, not just in terms of party formation, but mode of government. The nation has committed to open-markets and a capitalist economy with base standards of living provided by the state; most of this is required by international organizations before economic assistance would be made available.
Ramos-Horta and Gusmão have tended to take a liberal democratic approach to government, emphasizing strong opposition, robust political debate and negotiating solutions to national and social problems. On the other hand, Alkatiri, and much of FRETILIN, prefer a “guided democracy” which is party dominated, with a strong state apparatus to deal with political dissent. Much of this later approach is fueled by FRETILIN’s perception that, as the majority party, and previously the main organization of resistance, it speaks for the population and thus has a mandate for this style of government.
Many of the problems associated with Timor Leste’s unstable democracy are endemic to similar nations which have made the transition from occupation to independence. Primarily, a lack of policy experience among representatives is a major impediment to effective government. This often results in an overweighting of power within the executive.
It is likely that there will be a flare-up of violence during the first half of 2007, intensifying during election periods. In December 2006, up to 13 people were killed; in addition, a number of people were injured in gang-related violence on the streets of the capital, Dili. On February 23, 2006, Australian troops shot three men, two fatally, during a confrontation near Dili’s Comoro airport. This represented the first confirmed fatal shooting by Australian troops in the recent policing action. United Nations vehicles continued to be attacked by stone-throwing youths through early March 2007, when this report was written.
[Four Royal Australian Air Force C-130H Hercules, carrying 100 Australian Special Air Forces (SAS) troops arrived in Dili, on March 1, 2007, in anticipation of a breakout in violence in the country. The troop insertion — part of the Australian Defence Force’s Operation Tower — followed the surrounding of rebel leader Alfredo Reinado in the central Timor Leste town of Same, 50km south of Dili. The SAS deployment was to prevent expected attacks against Australians in East Timor should Australian troops be successful in capturing Reinaldo who had become a local resistance hero.
On March 5, 2007, the Australian Government ordered the evacuation from Timor Leste of all non-essential Australian personnel from the Australian Embassy in Dili; the Australian Government security level for forces operating in Timor Leste was raised to Level Five, the highest level. Maj. Reinaldo, meanwhile, claimed that he commanded 700 troops. He has refused to surrender, saying if anything were to happen to him “people will violently rise up in their thousands”. Reinaldo warned that civil war in Timor Leste was a likely outcome should he be captured. The former head of the East Timor military police had called the present Government “corrupt” and the UN-authorized peacekeeping presence by Australian and New Zealand forces as an “illegal invasion”.
Pres. Gusmão authorized “extra powers” for the international stabilization force to hunt for, and arrest, Reinaldo.]
The outskirts of Comoro airport, home to a significant number of East Timorese displaced by violence in 2006, has been the site of a number of clashes and continued violence. A significant number of Timorese continue to avoid Dili and have sought refuge in the mountains. Timor Leste’s mountains have long acted as places of refuge and safety in period of instability and provided support for the resistance during the Indonesian occupation.
To further compound the potential for instability in Timor Leste, as of February 22, 2006, severe rice shortages were reported, initially in Oecussi, before spreading to the entire country. Rice, the staple diet of Timor Leste and many South-East Asian countries, continues to decline in supply. Prices have jumped from US35 cents a kilo to over a dollar a kilo in some parts of the nation.
Similar shortages have been experienced in Indonesia and other parts of the region. The World Food Program attributes this to a late harvest in Vietnam. The Timor Leste government and the UN World Food Program have secured 300 metric tonnes of rice and are looking to secure further supplies from abroad, in efforts to bring down the price and meet the nation’s food requirements. With late rainfalls and lower than expected rainfall levels in most parts of the nation, there are fears that the country is experiencing a drought.
More expensive food, along with increasing violence around election time, may create severe instability and a potential humanitarian crisis if current shortages are not addressed. Food security has long been a concern for Timor Leste, and intentions have been declared to rehabilitate rice fields and develop storage for such periods of rainfall fluctuation.
The United Nations continues to maintain a presence in the nation, and is focusing on the upcoming elections. On August 25, 2006, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1704 was passed, allowing for the creation of United Nations Integrated Mission in East Timor (UNMIT), replacing the previous United Nations Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL), which expired in August 2006. The new UNMIT mission incorporates up to 1,608 civilian personnel, predominantly police officers, and up to 34 military personnel.
The mandate of the mission ends on February 26, 2008.
In the six years since independence, Timor Leste has hosted a number of UN missions, including United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UMISET) and UNOTIL. This in itself has led to a number of structural development issues, and reveals serious inadequacies with the UN missions. With the ending of each mission, there is often a large turnover of staff. Missions also tend to be milestone/goal oriented, resulting in a lack of long-term strategic planning.
There is no reason to assume that the current mission will break this pattern.
From 2000 to 2005, UN missions created much of Timor Leste’s economic activity, spending more than $2.55-billion. Much of the money spent was limited to UN personnel. For instance, bottled water was imported, rather than an indigenous water purification capacity being developed. Similarly, portable generators were utilized, rather than a local power generation capacity being created.
The social instability of 2006 severely set back Timor Leste’s economic development. Almost 20 percent of the population continues to be unemployed and the nation has declined slightly in the UN’s Human Development Index when compared to previous years. While the National Development plan set out by the government cites a five percent growth in GDP by 2006/07, this is unlikely to be achieved Development also continues to be a point of contention in Timor Leste’s foreign relations.
The economic nationalism fostered under Alkatiri is still a policy strongly supported by the parliament. Rejection of loans which have special conditions attached — such as greater market interaction and a movement toward export based goods — has been a point of contention within the Australian foreign policy community. Similarly, Timor Leste’s acceptance of around 300 Cuban doctors to provide basic health care has drawn criticism from a number of quarters, including the US.
Internationally, Timor Leste continues to seek ascension to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and is currently the only nation in the region who is not a member. However, it has been an observer since 2002, and since 2006, a member of the larger ASEAN Regional Forum. On January 20, 2007, Timor Leste signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, a prerequisite to joining ASEAN. Prime Minister Horta suggested this may take five or more years, due to Timor Leste’s lack of economic development. The Treaty also lays much of the political foundation for a potential ASEAN free trade area.
The Treaty requires signatories to be guided by the following principles:
The right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion:
Non-interference in the internal affairs of one another;
Settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful means;
Renunciation of the threat or use of force; and
Effective cooperation among themselves.
Australia also signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in late 2006, paving the way for its own further involvement in the organization. However, member nations of ASEAN continue to express concern with Australia’s actions toward the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and particularly Fiji.
Significantly, France signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation at the same time as Timor Leste, making it the first European Nation to do so.
This may signal increased French focus on the region, and France’s intention to expand the euro’s influence into South-East Asia. The euro continues to appreciate against the US dollar; much of this growth is fuelled by the twin factors of the large US trade imbalance in East Asia and reluctance by the nations of Asia to allow their own managed currencies to rise. France’s policy in South-East Asia has been to strengthen regional integration, and political and economic development. Recent dialogues suggest that their presence in the region is likely to increase.
Conclusion. 2007 is likely to be a year of further challenges for Timor Leste, with the pressures of the nation’s first full, free elections testing the fabric of Timorese society. The election period may see many of the divisions which exist within the community rise to the surface.
The potential for violence from criminal gangs in Dili, and dissatisfied elements of the military and state security, remains a possibility. Food shortages and the inevitable increase in displaced Timorese during times of instability also have the potential to create a humanitarian crisis.
* Barry Patterson is a Research Fellow at Future Directions International (FDI), the counterpart organization of ISSA in Australia.
1. Ramos Horta and Gusmão both withdrew from the organization during the Indonesian occupation due to concerns over some members’ conduct. Ramos-Horta is often credited with founding the organization, while Gusmão was one of its earliest members.
2. Charges against Alkatiri pertaining to the violence in 2006 were recently dropped due to lack of evidence, effectively freeing him to engage in public politics and contest the parliamentary elections mid-year. Former Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato, accused of conspiring with Alkatiri, is also currently on trial for his alleged rôle in supplying weapons to civilians during the same period. Prosecutors are seeking a seven-year jail term for Loboto.
3. The US dollar is the currency of Timor Leste.
4. “Cuba steps in to aid East Timor health system”, ABC Online, The World Today, July 4, 2006.
5. In the army particularly, but in society generally, divisions exist along regional lines, with those from the east and west often in conflict over perceived allegiances during the independence struggle. Pre-1975 invasion political grievances are also reasserting themselves. See Weekly Global Report, May 8, 2006. Timor Leste Disturbances Reveal Unresolved Defence Issues.
PRC-Sri Lanka Strengthen Relationship
Analysis. By Judah Lieblich. The relationship between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Sri Lanka was further strengthened on February 27, 2007, with the signing of eight separate bilateral agreements. The deals were signed after Sri Lankan Pres. Mahinda Rajapakse met with PRC Pres. Hu Jintao in Beijing for brief talks marking the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the countries.
Details of the projects were not immediately released, however, it is believed that they confirmed major PRC rôles in at least two projects in Sri Lanka. These projects include the building of a new $500-million coal fired power station and a planned $1-billion harbor in Sri Lanka’s south.
Sri Lanka has gained international attention for its prospective energy fields and was, as of early 2007, planning to invite bids for oil exploration, an event in which the PRC was expected to participate. The first phase of oil exploration was scheduled to begin in August 2007.
Sri Lanka has eight oil blocks, which were all expected to be sold in a bidding process. However, on February 23, 2007, Sri Lanka moved outside of this process, offering one each to India and the PRC, and opting to auction the remaining six.