The Iranian Elections and the Hysterical Media

Here comes the hysteria and bold-faced lies. In the wake of the Iranian election, various commentators and so-called reporters in the United States are reacting as if the end of the world was at hand. Although nobody knows for certain and everyone only has the words of western press pundits and an angry candidate to go by, virtually every mainstream US news source is calling the re-election of Ahmadinejad the result of fraud. There has been no verification of this from any objective source, nor has there been any proof beyond the speculation of media folks who either want to create a story or are so convinced of what they believe to be the incumbent’s essentially evil nature that they can not comprehend his re-election.

A good example of this is a story by Bill Keller in the New York Times. In that piece, Ahmadinejad was once again incorrectly called a Holocaust-denier and his support was put down as being comprised mostly of women-hating peasants and civil servants who somehow benefited from his patronage. The liberal reformer Moussavi’s supporters were portrayed in a considerably more favorable light.

Completely missing from Keller’s piece and many other pieces in the US mainstream media (and liberal magazines like the Nation) is any genuine attempt to analyze both the class nature of the different candidate’s supporters and the role Washington plays in the media’s perception of Iranian politics. Keller’s most honest analytical statement in his entire piece: “Saturday was a day of smoldering anger, crushed hopes and punctured illusions, from the streets of Tehran to the policy centers of Western capitals.”

Keller and his fellow journalists accept that the desires of Western capitals, especially Washington, should be important to Iranians. While this may certainly be the case among a small number of the intelligentsia and business community in Iran, the fact is that the West, especially Washington, is still not very popular among the Iranian masses. Not only are they aware of decades of western intervention in their affairs, the fact that thousands of US troops continue to battle forces in two of Iran’s neighbors makes Washington unwanted and detested. Why should they do anything to please it? Yet, in the minds of the US news media, it is Washington’s needs that dominate all discussion.

As for the class analysis. Rightly or wrongly, Ahmadinejad seems to appeal to the majority of peasants and workers in Iran. Just like Marat and the Jacobins appealed to the peasants and urban poor during the French revolution while Brissot and the Girondins appealed to the merchants and educated classes, Ahmadinejad’s support comes from those who need bread while Moussavi’s comes from those with plenty of bread and now want more civil liberties. While it is arguably true that Ahmadinejad’s policies have caused as many economic policies as they have solved, the fact remains that his supporters believe in his 2005 campaign call to bring the oil profits to the dinner table. Mr. Moussavi’s statements regarding the eventual reduction of commodity subsidies that benefit the poor may have hurt him in that demographic more than his supporters acknowledge. In a Washington Post article published the day before the election, it was noted (along with the fact that Ahmadinejad won the 2005 election with a “surprising” 62% of the vote) that his economic policies included the distribution of “loans, money and other help for local needs.” One of these programs involved providing insurance to women who make rugs in their homes and had been without insurance until Ahmadinejad came to power. Critics, including Moussavi, argue that his “free-spending policies have fueled inflation and squandered windfall petrodollars without reducing unemployment.” There are other elements at play here, including the fabled corruption of certain unelected leaders in Iran and the role the international economic crisis plays in each and every nation’s economy–a factor from which Iran is not immune. In addition, the particular nature of an Islamic economy that blends government and private business creates a constant conflict between those who would nationalize everything and those who would privatize it all.

In regards to what this means for relations between Washington and Tehran–they will continue down whatever path Mr. Obama wishes them to go. Tel Aviv, which criticized the election results, would not have changed its desire to quash Tehran no matter who won. Indeed, the fact that Ahmadinejad was re-elected makes it easier for Tel Aviv to continue demonizing the only genuine threat to its dominance of the region.

The bottom line, however, is that the president of Iran really has no power in the course Iranian foreign policy takes. That power remains with the Council of Guardians and the legislature. Mr. Obama would do well to continue his attempts to negotiate without conditions. He would also be wise to end any covert activity against the Iranian government currently being conducted. The western media would do well to inform themselves on the real nature of Iranian politics and society instead of taking the viewpoint that what’s best for Washington is best for Tehran. Then again, that media should consider the non-Washington viewpoint in all of its international coverage.

For the left, the answer is clear. The situation in Iran has changed. The apparent popularity of Moussavi and other officially reocgnized reformers showed this before the election. The dispute over the truth of the election results proves this even further. However, neither Ahmadinejad or Moussavi represent a genuine move away from the power of the bazaar class and its appointed clerical council. The desire for more civil freedoms must be coordinated with the need for economic justice. Both of these aspirations seem to be currently at odds.

It seems apparent that only a leftist movement is capable of bringing the two together in a nation divided between its cities and its countryside;its middle class and its workers and rural dwellers. This was the case prior to the takeover of the Iranian revolution by socially conservative religious forces in 1980 and it could be the case again.

Ref: Counterpunch

Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net

Dubai, jewel in Israel’s sales crown

With the exception of Egypt, all Arab states officially boycott Israel, blacklist Israeli companies and ban imports of Israeli products. The same countries frequently lead the voices calling for sanctions against Israel. But sometimes life gets in the way.

Just a few weeks after the world financial crisis broke, a super-luxury hotel, the Atlantis, opened its doors in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The French chatter website LePost.fr of 21 November 2008 trumpeted the headline: “2000 stars at the inauguration of Dubai’s Atlantis Hotel”. It wrote:

“Dubai, Dubai, Dubai! Arab princes, flying carpets, oil, dollars… and the Atlantis Hotel! An extraordinary palace, which cost more than $1.9bn to create, celebrated its opening yesterday in high style.

“This little junket cost a trifling $38m! That’s what it took to tell the entire world about the arrival of a luxury hotel which sees itself as the planet’s most incredible palace, with its giant in-house aquarium…

“The Atlantis is at the heart of Dubai’s Palm Island, an artificial island built in the shape of a palm tree. The world’s greatest architects and designers worked on the Pharaonic project.”

Like the hotel itself, the event bore all the hallmarks of mad money climaxing a spendthrift era. You need only to walk down its vast corridors, as I did earlier this month, to realise just how foolish an exercise this is, what bad taste it represents, and of course that it’s very empty. The expected tourists vanished with the crisis.

The corridors bulge with luxury boutiques, the sort of shops which sell priceless clothes and diamond jewels. One of them is called Levant. Its display cases promote Leviev diamonds.

But just who is Leviev? Abe Hayeem, who is from Bombay, of Iraqi Jewish origin, knows. He wrote an article headlined “Boycott this Israeli settlement builder” in The Guardian of 28 April 2009. Hayeem points out that the British Foreign Office decided to cancel its rental contract for the British Embassy in Tel Aviv because the building was owned by Leviev.

Far from only selling diamonds, Leviev is busy inside the occupied territories, principally constructing a road which links the illegal settler colony of Zufim, which he owns, to Israel – part of the ongoing process of confiscating Palestinian land. His company is also active in Bil’in where, on 17 April, the Israeli army killed a peaceful protestor, Bassem Abu Rahmeh, 29. This same company now has two boutique outlets in Dubai.

Their presence in the UAE has raised eyebrows. On 30 April 2008 an article by Abbas al-Lawati in Gulf News, the English-language daily, headed “Israeli jeweller has no trade licence to open shop in Dubai”, quoted a top official denying that the UAE had ever granted Leviev a licence and saying that if an application came it would be rejected.

Gulf News followed up the story on several occasions, including one report of demos against Leviev, “Call to boycott Israeli jeweller” on 14 December 2008, also by al-Lawati.

During the Dubai Arab Media Forum meeting I attended in May I raised the issue with journalists from various Arabic-language dailies. They told me they were not allowed to reply to such questions.

At a time when Israel violates with impunity all the UN Security Council resolutions, a growing movement calls for sanctions, boycotts and disinvestment (withdrawing overseas investment from Israel and the occupied territories). It’s similar to the French campaign against Alstom and Veolia for their role in a tram project in occupied Jerusalem “Tramway à Jérusalem, mensonge à Paris”, 24 October 2007. It’s astounding, in the circumstances, that Arab countries collaborate with the very same companies which operate in the occupied territories.

France’s trade minister Christine Lagarde visited Saudi Arabia in mid-May principally to promote the bid by Alstom and the SNCF for a TGV-type fast rail link between Mecca and Media. One must hope that the Saudi authorities make it a condition of any agreement that Alstom backs out of the Jerusalem tram project.

Ref: Le MOnde