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Korean Unification Flag?

Korean Unification Flag

Most people are familiar with the fact that the Korean peninsula and Korean people have been separated for over half a century. Following the Second World War, the nation was divided along the 38th parallel and each nation developed along different routes. The Northerners embraced Communism and followed the Juche ideal, while their southern neighbors became an outpost of the capitalist system on the Asian mainland.

Yet while disagreements remain, it appears that both nations have an earnest desire for reconciliation and cultural diplomacy has been a useful vehicle in promoting unification.

The recent trend for North Korea and South Korea to compete together as one nation in global sports events is certainly a positive development. The two nations started competing together in 1991 at the World Table Tennis Championship in Japan in and the World Football Championships in Lisbon. While the two nations did not compete together in the Beijing Olympics, they did march together under one flag in Sydney 2000, Athens in 2004, Turin 2006 and the Doha Games in 2006.

Anyone familiar with tensions between North and South Korea will agree this represents a breakthrough in relations. Yet, this begs a question; what flag do they march under?
The answer is simple. They march under the Korean Unification Flag.

This flag was first used in 1991 during the table tennis championships in Japan and was designed specially for this event. This flag not only represent each nation’s desires for unification, but is in itself a monument to the cooperation which made it possible.

Yet, unfortunately all is not well in the flag department.

Recently a disagreement has erupted between the North and South over the use of the flag and national anthems in and an impending preliminary match in Pyongyang in March of 2010. It seems that North Korea would like the unification flag to fly and a neutral Korean anthem to be played at the start of the match. However, Federation International Football Association (FIFA) regulations stipulate that during FIFA games, each nation’s individual flag must be flown.
North Korea argues that this violates the spirit of the June 15th Joint Declaration the two nations share. The FIFA governing body has been called in to moderate the disagreement.

Yet, there are other issues. The flag, which consists of a blue silhouette of the Korean peninsula on a white background, now includes the Liancourt Rocks a territory who ownership is disputed with Japan.

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Background Info, Politics | 2 Comments

Fayetteville and Soc Trang United?

Fayetteville and Soc Trang United?


Monday, April 26, 2010 at 12:49pm

Fayetteville, North Carolina is a true-blue military town. Fort Bragg, one of the US’s largest military installations, is in Fayetteville and some of the US’s most famous units, the 82 Airborne and US Special Forces call Fayetteville, home.

The city also has a special connection to the Vietnam War. As many as 200,000 US soldiers destined for the jungles of Vietnam passed through here in the 1970s earning the town the nickname, “Fayettenam”.

No doubt, military pride and tradition run deep there, so when Fayetteville Mayor Tony Chavonne proposed re-establishing ties with Soc Trang, a Vietnamese city, more than a few eyebrows were raised.

Many in this military town still suffer from the wounds of the bitter Vietnam War and oppose the union with a nation where some 60,000 US service members lost their lives. Local Fayetteville message boards provide some insight. Don Talbot, a retired Green Beret and Vietnam veteran, feels the move “puts salt in the wounds of the Vietnam military that fought there.” One Vietnam veteran known only as 20596323 still bears scars saying, “Fayetteville should be ashamed of its self for even suggesting such a thing!” Razorback Pilot wrote “That country is solely communist and we shouldn’t have any ties with a communist country.”

Yet many more have offered their conciliatory tones. DSALthuas wrote,
“As far as the Vietnam War goes, it’s over and well past time to make peace with the Vietnamese and with our own ghosts. I think Fayetteville is doing the right thing and I’ll go back if they ask me.”
Chavonne sees the sister-city relationship as a way to highlight Vietnamese culture, pursue economic development and give veterans the thanks they deserved but didn’t receive four decades ago.

Some US cities already have connections with Vietnamese cities, Pittsburgh has paired with Danang and San Francisco with Ho Chi Minh City. Also called “twinning’, cities link up with each other to promote understanding and fellowship. According to the Sister Cities International website, “The sister cities program seeks to creates and strengthens partnerships between U.S. and international communities.” The program strives to build global cooperation at the municipal level, promote cultural understanding and stimulate economic development.

• Develop municipal partnerships between U.S. cities, counties, and states and similar jurisdictions in other nations.
• Provide opportunities for city officials and citizens to experience and explore other cultures through long-term community partnerships.
• Create an atmosphere in which economic and community development can be implemented and strengthened.
• Stimulate environments through which communities will creatively learn, work, and solve problems together through reciprocal cultural, educational, municipal, business, professional and technical exchanges and projects.
• Collaborate with organizations in the United States and other countries which share similar goals.

United States Re-established ties in 1995 and exchanged ambassadors in 1997. Let’s hope Mayor Chavonne and the officials in Soc Trang can see these two cities united.

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Interview: Raymond Harvey of the US Department of State’s SportsUnited Program

Sports United Interview

“Connecting People, Creating Understanding”: Interview with Raymond Harvey from the USA’s SportsUnited Program

Monday, April 19, 2010 at 11:22am

“Connecting People, Creating Understanding”

I have written previously about the Athletic Exchanges between Iran and the United States. While conducting research for the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy I came into closer contact with the institutions that coordinate these exchanges. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to conduct an interview with Raymond H. Harvey from The US State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Exchange.“Connecting People, Creating Understanding” is the ECA’s motto.

Interview Conducted by Martin Milinski

Can you give us a brief description of how your organization operates and how it started?
The Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs (ECA) restarted sports programming in 2002. Sports are a shared cultural passion that can bring people together across the divisions of region, race and religion in athletic competition that is a powerful source of national pride and solidarity. Through international sports, we see the proliferation of messages of international understanding, cultural tolerance and mutual respect. There are three Sports United Programs.
Sports Envoys-Working with the national sports leagues and the US Olympic Committee, athletes and coaches in various sports are chosen to serve as envoys or ambassadors of sport in overseas programs that include conducting clinics, visiting schools and speaking to youth. The American athletes and coaches conduct drills and team building activities, as well as engage the youth in a dialogue on the importance of an education, positive health practices and respect for diversity.
Sports Visitors -Nominated by our US embassies overseas, selected athletes, managers and coaches are brought to the U.S. for technical sports training, sports management, conflict resolution training and exposure to valuable US sports contacts and then are encouraged to return to conduct in-country clinics for youth with their newly learned skills.
Sports Grant Competition-ECA has an annual open competition under our International Sports Initiative. Public and private non-profit institutions, 501(c)(3), may submit proposals to discuss approaches designed to enhance and improve the infrastructure of youth sports programs. The focus of all programs must be reaching out to non-elite youth ages 7-17. There are four themes that a proposal can address; Youth Sports Management, Training Sports Coaches, Youth with Disability, and Sports and Health. The list of eligible countries changes each year.

Have you seen any changes in your work under the new administration?
No, there have been no changes.

When I told my team about the USDoS/ECA work, no one had heard about it. I found it strange, that your work is still unknown to some. Would you like to comment on that?
Overseas, our programs are better known by their brand name such as the Fulbright program, the International visitor program, Muskie Scholarship program, Humphrey Program, etc. I don‘t find it odd that people fail to identify the organization that supports these branded programs. The brand names have been around longer than their various institutional homes. The exchange program was part of the Department of State, then housed at the United State Information Agency and now back in the Department.

I saw that the Women’s Badminton team was denied visas for their trip to Iran this year. Do you see this as a setback for your program?
No, the Iranian Sports Federations continue to reach out to their U.S. counterparts. USA Wrestling has been invited to return to Iran for a competition. The Iranian Basketball Federation wants to come to the U.S. to train. The Iranian MFA determines who receives a visas, both exit and entry. U.S. Women’s Badminton team was traveling to participant in an international tournament.

As far as you know, did the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs give a reason for their rejection?
The MFA explanation was there was insufficient time to issue the visas.

It was interesting to learn about the case of Hamed Ehadadi’s signing with the Memphis Grizzlies. I saw that the NBA had some legal difficulty signing him. Could you just give me some information, if you have any, about how that issue was resolved?
Not sure that there was much difference between Yao Ming’s signing and Ehadadi’s signing. There are always contractual issues between a player’s government and the player when someone signs overseas. I believe that the Memphis Grizzlies were required to obtain an OFAC license which took some time.
What challenges are your Program currently facing?
We have more demand for sports programming than resources available. Sports are governed by their respective seasons. NBA players are available in July and August while baseball players are free in November and December. These are very small windows of opportunity. When combined with differences in school years, holidays and religious celebration, programming can be very tough.

Is there anything NGOs like us can do to support your work?
We run an annual grants competition to enable U.S. NGOs to work directly with the Department.

What is next for the BECA?
I cannot speak for the Bureau, but SportsUnited wants to branch out into other less traditional sports. We are currently working with snowboarders and NASCAR

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Jouranlism, Politics | Leave a comment

Pageant at Wagah

Pageant at Wagah

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 3:54pm

For sure you know that Germany was divided during the Cold War.
If so, you most likely then are familiar with the Berlin Wall. Perhaps then Checkpoint Charlie rings a bell? This was one of the few borders crossings between East and West Germany, the focal point for East-West tensions and the site of the 1961 Berlin crisis.

Maybe then you have heard of the 38th parallel which divided Korea after the Second World War? Perhaps you have heard of Panmunjom where North and South Korean forces face each other with looks that could kill? There is even a divided conference room with North Korean soldiers occupying one side and their southern rivals the other. Borders are serious business in places like these.
But have you heard of the Wagah border between India and Pakistan?
No?

After receiving its independence in 1947, India fractured along religious lines creating the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the secular Republic of India. This division was in many ways violent and since division; as many as 4 wars have been fought between Pakistan and India.

One of the major points of contention is the Kashmir region between India, China and Pakistan. Pakistan considers Kashmir a disputed territory whose status should be defined by the Kashmiris, India considers Kashmir to be Indian. Not to be left out, China has claimed portions of Kashmir as parts of Tibet and many Kashmiris feel Kashmir should be independent of both India and Pakistan.

Wagah is a village in the disputed Kashmir territory which sits on the Grand Trunk Road astride the only border crossing between India and Pakistan. To this day, the eastern side of the village is Indian and the western Pakistani.
Naturally tensions there run high.

Yet, the border has developed a life of its own and the daily opening and closing has become a barometer for Indian-Pakistani relations. Each day elite Pakistani Rangers and Indian Border Security force face off in a pageant of overwhelming machismo and nationalist sentiments full of stomping, striding, posturing, leering, and intimidation which would make a peacock blush.
Much like a changing of the guards on steroids, it simply must be seen to be believed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeSX6AZ5xEI

While the ceremony cannot be described as warm, it is civil if not cordial. It does therefore represent a unique sort of cultural diplomacy as each group is forced to cooperate to perfect this delicate ballet of coordinated antagonism while saving face. In an area as volatile as Kashmir, any cooperation, even one based on mutual intimidation, is better than armed conflict. Oftentimes international relations is a bumpy road, people have different ways of establishing a dialogue, fostering understanding and building trust. If these daily combined operations can serve as an outlet for resentment it is a good thing. At the very least, it’s a great show, and there are no tanks.

Indian Border Gaurd and Pakistani Ranger shake hands at Wagah

By Martin Milinski

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Jouranlism, Politics | Leave a comment

Diplomacy case Study: Iran and the US

Case Study: Iran and the United States

Few nations have relationships as troubled as Iran and the US.

Today, whether it comes to international terrorism, nuclear proliferation, fossil fuels, the United Nations or the Middle East Peace Process, there are few global issues where the strained relation between the US and Iran are not clearly felt. As a result, there are few instances where cultural diplomacy is more desperately needed.

In this regard, it has become absolutely vital to arrive at a clear understanding of the relations between these two nations. What follows is a case study of precisely that.  The study will begin with a brief summary of the past and present relations of Iran and the US including attempts to reach a dialogue. The case study will then conclude with an analysis of the situation and some suggestions for future endeavors

Introduction to Iranian and US Relations

The US and Iran severed official diplomatic relations following the turmoil of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and currently have no official relations. However, it was not always so. Ambassador exchanges began in the mid-1800s and during the Second World War ties were cemented as Iran collaborated with the Allies allowing the transportation of war material through Iran to the beleaguered Russians in the Caucasus region.

As the Cold War Developed, US Iranian ties depended; the US sought further Iranian cooperation in containing communism in Asia while on Iran received military and economic support and enjoyed Western technological assistance in exploiting its oil wealth. At this time, cultural, military, economic and political relations ran deep. Yet, it was precisely in this context that US-Iranian relations grew then ultimately withered.

The Iranian perspective.

Iran could be considered a fiercely anti-American nation. Antagonism to the US occupies a central role in the daily political, and in many cases, the social fabric of Iran. This animosity has its sources in previous decades and revolves around two main themes; opposition to US intrusion into domestic Iranian affairs and what Iran considers to be US aggression. [1]

The CIA/UK orchestrated coup that removed Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953 is one example of US interference in Iranian affairs. Additionally, Iran accuses the US of fostering rebellion in Iran through funding and support of anti-government groups in Iran. The Free Life Party of Kurdistan (Kurdish) and the Jundallah (Balochi) are two militant nationalist movements that Iran has long charged the United States with funding.[2] In addition, Iran charges that the US has played a role in the demonstrations against the 2010 Presidential elections in Iran

Military aggression is another issue that lies at the top of Iran’s list of grievances. During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) most of the world’s nations supported moderate Iraq against radical Iran. Yet Iran resents the US support of Iran’s enemy during this war in particular. Specifically, Iran continues to carry a grudge over the US supplying Iraq with the chemical weapons it used during the war. [3]

Adding fuel to the fire, in July of 1988, US guided missile Cruiser the USS Vincennes on station in the Persian Gulf mistakenly shot down Iranian Airlines flight 655 killing 290. The US maintains the downing was a case of mistaken identity with the Iranians considering it a deliberate act of war and another example of US aggression.

A final major sticking point is the economic sanctions that the US has placed on Iran. Starting under the Carter administration, the US has steadily increased its sanctions regime in place. These sanctions prohibit the transfer of much-needed military and petroleum technology as well as prohibiting US companies and individuals from investing in or doing business with Iranian nationals and companies.[4]

In short, in Iranian political thought, anti-American sentiments run deep. The list of grievances is long; foreign intervention, coups, military aggression, support of Iraq and not to mention a perceived political disrespect for the Iran itself and accusations of American attempts of global hegemony. Recently a senior Iranian diplomat summed up the Iranian view,

“Our biggest problem with the U.S. is its arrogance. The United States thinks itself the commander in chief of the entire world and thinks it has the right to dictate to everyone what to do and how to act. That’s arrogant and disrespectful. We reject this.”

These are the major issues that lie at the center of Iranian and US relations.[5]

The American Perspective

Despite the cooperation of the 40s, 50s and 60s, it was the overthrow of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the subsequent 444-day hostage crisis which severed American and Iranian relations. However, according to the United States, tensions with Iran are perpetuated by Iran’s current conduct rather than events that occurred 30 years ago. Today it’s Iran’s nuclear program and support for international terrorism, which the US considers to be one of the major the obstacles to the resumption of US-Iran relations.[6]

Currently, Iran’s nuclear program might be the single greatest impediment to the resumption of US-Iranian relations. According to the US, Iran has been developing a clandestine nuclear weapons program under the guise of an effort to acquire atomic energy. Iran contends that their program is peaceful. Nevertheless, the US sites a series of inconsistencies and failure to meet AEIA requirements. This case is currently being played out.

Iran’s alleged support for international terrorism is another major point of contention. According to the US Department of State, the government of Iran is a Designated State Sponsor of Terrorism. This means that Iran provides support for groups who target civilians for political goals.[7] For the most part, this support amounts to the arming, funding, training, or providing sanctuary to those groups. The United States alleges that Iran supports terrorism primarily through its proxies, two well-known ones being Hezbollah and Hamas. Inside Iran there is the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) which the US also is considering labeling a terrorist organization do to its provision of terrorist training and support to groups active in areas such as Georgia, Chechnya, the Balkans and the wider Middle East.[8]

Furthermore, the United States charges Iran with supporting groups that have committed terrorist attacks upon the US specifically. Two such cases are; the April 1983, bombing of a US Embassy in Beirut with a loss of over 60 lives and the October 1983, suicide bombing of a US Marine barracks in Beirut with a loss of 299 lives. The US believes Iran to be responsible for planning and coordination these attacks and civil cases have been brought against Iran.[9] In American eyes, Iran’s support for international terrorism, its nuclear weapons program and its vitriolic anti-Western policy creates a ‘perfect storm’ which the US simply cannot ignore.

Iran-US Relations: Missed Opportunities

As the open military clashes of the 1980s subsided each side entrenched themselves and a type of Cold War developed. As a result, Iranian and American relations are difficult to outline as they did not follow a linear path. Often disagreements ran parallel to breakthroughs. Additionally, on both sides, regular changes in Presidents and global issues have left both nations with a somewhat incoherent strategy to each other. However, as the Twentieth Century closed each nation seemed to be sending out feelers in order to gauge the chances of a re-establishment of relations on their own terms.

Khatami, Clinton and Bush

The 1990s saw a slight thawing of relations between the two nations. This was possible largely in part due to the election of Mohamed Khatami in 1996. Viewed by many as a moderate reformer, Khatami made peace overtures to the United States.[10] For example, in an interview with CNN’s Christianne Amanpour, Khatami proposed cultural exchanges between the US and Iran hoping to the ‘crack the wall of mistrust’.[11] The United States accepted this offer and the two nations began hosting athletic-based cultural exchanges beginning in 1996.[12]

Around the same time, the US also lifted some of the sanctions on Iran and US Secretary of State Madeline Albright invited Iranian diplomats to ‘draw up a road map to normalized relations’. As the cultural exchanges continued, Albright publicly described the US’s role in the 1953 coup as ‘regrettable’.[13] In 2005, Khatami ran for election but lost to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Amadinejad and Bush

Anyone familiar with the Presidencies of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and George W. Bush will not be surprised to learn that US-Iranian relations did not improve markedly during their terms in office.

Perhaps the first indication of this trend was Bush’s now infamous Axis of Evil speech that he gave in 2002 while Khatami was still President of Iran. During this speech Bush directly identified Iran, due to its support of terrorism and nuclear ambitions, as being a clear threat to international security, labeling them a member of an ‘axis of evil’.[14] Many analysts suggest this speech dealt a death-blow to the nascent reform movement in Iran.[15]

As strange as it might seem, the 2003 US invasion of Iraq actually brought the US and Iran closer. On some level, it has obligated the US to recognize (perhaps tacitly) that Iran is a regional power and ultimate success in Iraq or Afghanistan will only be achieved with Iranian cooperation.[16] In April of 2003, at the outset of the war with Iraq, Iran approached the United States with what is now known as the “Grand Bargain”.[17] This offer was officially presented through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran which represents US interests in Iran. Iran sought; a lifting of the crippling US sanctions, diplomatic recognition of Iran, discontinuation of the US funding of domestic Iranian opposition groups and an end to the US policy of regime change in Iran.[18] In return, Iran offered to accept a two-state solution regarding Israel and Palestine, to reduce the funding of what the US considered terrorist organizations,  pledged cooperation with the US in Iraq and Afghanistan and finally offered to enter into a Persian Gulf security agreement which, in theory, would have voluntarily brought an end to Iran’s nuclear program.

The diplomats involved met and the US believed the offer to be sincere. They then passed a report on to Colin Powell, then Secretary of State, who agreed the offer was significant but rejected it as “a non-starter”. The Hawks in the Whitehouse ignored the offer as they felt it made no real concessions on the issues the US deemed significant.[19]

It is therefore surprising that in May of 2006, Iranian president Amadinejad again sent a letter to US President George W. Bush suggesting a meeting where both could discuss Iran’s nuclear program.[20] In September of the same year, Ahmadinejad challenged Bush to a debate at the United Nations. Both offers were considered publicity stunts and as they, again, made no clear concessions on the necessary issues, were rejected by the US. White house representative quipped, “No, there will be no steel-cage grudge match between Bush and Ahmadinejad.”[21] At the end of the Bush administration relations remained hostile.

Present

To many people the 2008 election of Barak Obama to the United States Presidency signaled a shift in American foreign policy. While this remains to be seen Obama has undoubtedly changed the tone. Obama declared meeting and negotiating with Iran as one of his campaign platforms.[22]

More recently Obama has poetically verbalized the obstinate American position of in his first interview as US President symbolically given to  Middle Eastern News Agency stating, “”If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.”[23] In short, from the American perspective, the names might have changed but the game has not.

Regardless of Ahmadinejad’s congratulatory message to Obama upon his election, the Iranian position also remains unchanged.[24] Another senior Iranian diplomat answered a question about potential negotiations between the US and Iran,

“Our idea of negotiation is mutual respect. They should know by now that they can’t impose their will on Iran. If they don’t change their attitude then negotiations are meaningless. If America wasn’t arrogant, they would send an answer to Mr. Ahamdinejad’s congratulatory letter to President Obama. Manners dictate that when someone says hello you answer them back.” [25]

From their perspective, Obama’s election has not brought any apparent changes in policy or behavior as well.

Analysis

In light of the long past and repeated, albeit half-hearted, attempts to establish a dialogue one must ask why these two nations have remained so hostile. The answer lies less in the past as one might think. In the case of Iran it is a matter of path dependency and ambiguity. For the US it’s a matter of not backing down and surrendering a powerful position. In both cases, a lack of trust is a central theme.

In Iran, anti-Americanism has become such an integral part of policy that changing course is nearly impossible. The Islamic Republic was founded upon a perception of American aggression and perpetuating that perception of aggression is key to the regime’s legitimacy. As long as tensions between with the US remain, the Islamic Regime has legitimacy and power. As Robert Litwak has observed,

“Hostility to the US has been a central plank of the revolutionary platform and sometimes appears to be the Revolution’s only platform Deprived of this, radicals would have to devise another enemy, another excuse, or possibly even a program…Normalization implies that Iran would be a country like any other, losing its Revolutionary mission. The more pragmatic Iran becomes, the less ideology will exercise a hold on its citizens. The clerical regime would then lose its power and control over the country.”333

Further, the internal mechanisms of the Iranian government means that foreign policy goals are always subordinate to domestic political wrangling. The underlying problem, says Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, is,

“There’s been a breakdown in the country’s foreign policy machinery. Iran doesn’t have a foreign policy right now. It has domestic politics, and its foreign policies are just a sporadic expression of that. It’s not sinister; it’s not duplicitous; it’s just incompetent.”[26]

In this regard, not knowing who is calling the shots and when makes diplomatic relations elusive leaving America unable to engage Iran with effective diplomacy.

Furthermore, in terms of international relations, Iran’s position and demands can be described as ambiguous. For example, Iran has, on many occasions, provided list of grievances requiring apologies such as the 1953 coup, the Vincennes incident and the Iran Iraq War. However, as mentioned, the US has on occasion already publicly apologized, expressed regret or provided compensation for such incidents. For example, in 1996 a 61.8 million dollar settlement was reached under the International Court of Justice regarding the Iran Air tragedy yet Iran still demands an apology and reparations.[27].

Making matters more complicated, the Iranian government often objects to matters that have little bearing on international relations. For example, in the Hollywood film The Wrestler an actor portraying a professional wrestler destroys an Iranian flag during a show. The Iranian government has objected to this calling it ‘psychological warfare’, a somewhat odd accusation considering the government sponsored anti-American propaganda that permeates much of Iranian society.[28] This idiosyncratic approach to foreign policy seems to be a legitimate, perhaps contrived, obstacle to an effective dialogue between the two nations.

On the other hand, the United States seems to be asking a great deal from Iran with very few guarantees. The disagreement over Iran’s nuclear program is an excellent example of this dynamic. The Islamic Regime has sensibly framed the nuclear issue as a national issue, in short, linking a nuclear program to national sovereignty. If the US is expecting Iran to surrender its nuclear program, it might be waiting a long time. Should Iran surrender its nuclear program, what guarantees do they have that such a move will be reciprocated? To solve this dilemma the US should, and is, seek sanctions in the United Nations. This would have the twofold effect of increasing the pressure on Iran as well as providing a mechanism for removing those sanctions once Iran has complied.

A Case for Cultural Diplomacy

In light of these dilemmas, one could suggest cultural diplomacy as an excellent tool in reestablishing relations. Cultural Diplomacy revolves around the themes of dialogue, understanding and trust, all lacking elements n Iran-US relations.[29] However, between the citizens of each nation, feelings are far less belligerent. Recent polls show that 50% of Americans support establishing a dialogue with Iran while slightly more Iranians, 61%, support negotiations without preconditions. A further 73% of Americans supports the use of diplomacy to solve issues with Iran.[30] Therefore, one must ask, “What are the real stumbling blocks to renewed relations?” At the Governmental level, renowned US-Iranian relations expert Dr. Houshang Amirahmadi summarizes it this way, “The gravest problem between Iran and the West is this issue of distrust between the two sides.”[31]

It would appear then that the political leaders and diplomats have too far entrenched themselves in their respective positions to allow for the flexibility required. Athletes, artists and students do not have these limitations and would represent the ideal cultural ambassadors.

In this regard, the cultural exchanges initiated under the Clinton/Khatami administrations have borne fruit. Take the case of Hamed Ehadadi as an example. Ehadadi is an Iranian basketball player who visited the US on a State Department sponsored athletic exchange. While there he was noticed by National Basketball Association talent scouts who offered him a position on the Memphis Grizzlies Basketball team.[32] Doing so was not easy as entering into contracts with Iranian nationals is prohibited under US sanctions regime, an example of the ability of private citizens to achieve where politicians cannot. Since joining the NBA, Ehadadi has served as a cultural ambassador and even meeting and shaking hands with an Israeli NBA player Omri Casspi.

Another example is the frequent Greco-wrestling exchanges between Iran and the US that were also begun during the Clinton-Khatami period. These exchanges have gone a long way in simply establishing a dialogue upon which to foster understanding. During the exchanges, both Iranians and Americans take advantage of the off-mat time to meet their foreign counterparts and learn more about each other’s respective cultures. After a recent competition in 2007, member of the Iranian Junior Wrestling delegation, Abbas Ali Genii said, “this program has changed my outlook on the United States.  I really felt the spirit of cooperation and friendship”.[33]

Yet athletics aren’t the only thing that can unite Iranians and Americans. In March of 2010, an American film delegation of actors and producers visited their Iranian counterparts.[34] The visit was not without controversy, as Ahmadinejad’s cultural advisor demanded the delegation first apologize for negative depictions on Iran in American movies. Regardless, Hollywood Producer Sidney Ganis described the focus of his trip to Iran this way, “To communicate with our fellow filmmakers….to meet, talk to, express, visit with, understand the problems of Iranian filmmakers, and express to them universal problems of filmmaking and just generally exchange ideas.” When asked about future possibilities of cooperation Ganis replied, “Well, we’re ready to go, filmmakers to filmmakers. That’s why we’re here. We’re open; the Iranian filmmakers are also open, to even more mutual dialogue.”[35]

In closing, few nations have maintained their mutual animosity as Iran and the US have. Simply having conflicts is not a good enough explanation for thirty years of bitterness. Russia and Germany have cordial if not good relations; two of America’s strongest allies, Japan and Germany were at one time mortal enemies of the US. Something lies at the heart of the US-Iran issue. This study suggests that internal Iranian politics have combined to create a dynamic where re-establishing US relations amounts to political suicide as leader after leader use an anti-American slant to slander opponents. Additionally, the regime in Iran uses the threat of American intervention to maintain its control over many of its people.

At the same time, the US perpetuates the conflict simply because it can. As the world’s last superpower, there is little that Iran can do to compel the US’s behavior. Leadership in the US seems to take the position that the responsibility to make the first move rests solely on Iran; Obama’s ‘unclenched fist’ statement being a good example of this policy. In either case, governments have only succeeded to institutionalize disagreements. All of this works counter to what the people of each nation desire. Both sides have expressed a desire to conduct talks.

In September of 2009, Iranian and US diplomats publicly met in Geneva Switzerland. While some suggest that these meeting have been conducted for years on an unofficial level, it does show a sincere attempt to discuss issues if not evidence of a new phase in Iranian-US relations.


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran_%E2%80%93_United_States_relations#cite_note-70, retrieved April 29, 2010

[2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8537567.stm, retrieved April, 28, 2010.

[3] http://www.iranchamber.com/history/articles/arming_iraq.php,retrieved April 21, 2010

[4] http://www.ustreas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/programs/iran/iran.pdf, retrieved February 27, 2010

[5] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123861706862379499.html,retrieved March 29, 2010

[6] http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5314.htm,retrieved April 21, 2010

[7] Raphael F. Perl, “Terrorism, the Future and US Foreign Policy”. Issue Brief: 95112, Congressional Research Service, Washington D.C. (December 9, 1996). Retrieved, April 13, 2010

[8] http://www.savekosovo.org/default.asp?p=4&leader=0&sp=137, retrieved April 28, 2010

[9]http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1310&dat=19831024&id=yG0VAAAAIBAJ&sjid=TukDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6694,6471412, retrieved April 5 , 2010

[10] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1373476.stm, retrieved April 12, 2010

[11] http://edition.cnn.com/WORLD/9801/07/iran/interview.html

[12] http://www.farsinet.com/news/sports.html#wrestling, retrieved April 4, 2010

[13] http://edition.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0004/19/i_ins.00.html, retrieved April 26, 2010

[14] http://transcripts.cnn.com/2002/ALLPOLITICS/01/29/bush.speech.txt/, retrieved April, 26, 2010

[15] http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45/286.html, April 12, 2010

[16] http://www.csis-scrs.gc.ca/pblctns/cdmctrch/20090605-eng.pdf, retrieved March 19, 2010

[17] http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0525-05.htm, retrieved March 20, 2010

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[19] http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=mohammad_javad_zarif, April 25, 2010

[20] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4983868.stm, retrieved April 19, 2010

[21] Vick, Karl. “No Proposals in Iranian’s Letter to Bush, U.S. Says.” The Washington Post. Retrieved 29-10-2006. “No ‘steel-cage, grudge match’ between Bush, Ahmadinejad.” CNN. Retrieved 10-01-2007.

[22] http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE50Q23220090127, retrieved April 9, 2010

[23] http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503543_162-4759248-503543.html retrieved, may 3, 2010

[24] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/nov/06/letter-ahmadinejad-congratulates-obama/, retrieved April 2, 2010.

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[35] http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2009/03/a-delegation-of.html

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Academic, History, Politics | 1 Comment

Turkey: Quick tour of modern issues

Turkey

Turkey, roughly the size of both France and Britain, is situated on the Bosporus Straits, a bridge between European and Asian cultures. Due to its close relations with the West, Turkey is a founding member of the United Nations, a significant troop contributor to NATO, and is currently negotiating membership in the European Union. Turkey maintains a predominantly Sunni Muslim population of nearly 70 million.

History

Immediately following the First World War, Turkish revolutionaries initiated the Turkish War of Independence (1918-1923) against the Allied forces occupying defeated Ottoman territory. This effort, lead by soldier-statesman Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, was successful and secured a nation for the Turkish people under the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.

Upon achieving independence, Ataturk quickly realized that to survive as a nation Turkey needed to shed its Ottoman past and adopt the Western path of social, political and legal modernization. While no doubt authoritarian, Ataturk’s reforms which centered on his “Six Arrows” concept (Nationalism, Populism, Republicanism, Revolutionism, Secularism, and Statism) transformed the nation into a modern state.

Due to Ataturk’s reforms, Turkey is known today as the Middle East’s only truly democratic and completely secular country. Nonetheless, struggles between religious and secular forces remain a fact of the Turkish political spectrum. In 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997 when Islamic regimes gained strength, the military intervened to maintain the secular nature of the Turkish government. As recent as 2007, the Turkish military has made its deep commitment to secularism publicly known.

Invasion of Cyprus

Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus was a result of tensions between Turkish and Greek Cypriots on Cyprus. Upon becoming an independent republic in 1960, Cyprus was left with two clear ethnic groups; the majority (80%) Greek Cypriots in the southwest and Turkish Cypriots to the northeast. As time progressed two separate educational, governing and legal systems resulted in a self-segregated population. Due to complicated and uncertain power sharing agreements, these two groups found themselves more and more often in conflict.

As political tensions deepened into ethnic violence, each group rallied around their individual grassroots organizations seeking their own solution to the “Cyprus Issue”. The Greek Cypriots focused on a policy of Enosis, which demanded Cypriot unification with mainland Greece. The Turkish Cypriots, uniting under the concept of Takism, advocated a partitioning of the island into separate Turkish and Greek regions. At the center was the Cypriot faction which called for a united and independent Cyprus.

In April 1967, back in Greece, a military coup toppled the democraticly elected government. The new military junta in Athens grew impatient with the lack of progress with Enosis and deposed the Cypriot President in July of 1974. Turkey saw this as an unacceptable attempt by Greece to annex Cyprus, and launched Operation Attila; the amphibious invasion of Cyprus (called “the 1974 Peace Operation” in Turkey). The Greek Cypriots reacted to the Turkish occupation of large parts of Cypriot territory with increased violence and the world community attempted to broker a peaceful settlement.

Soon domestic support for the Greek-backed junta collapsed and as hostilities slowed, a stalemate emerged with the Turks occupying the northern third of the nation. In the meantime, The United Nations had intervened with the United Nations forces in Cyprus (UNICYP) and installed a buffer zone.

In 1983, the Turkish region declared independence and formed the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus which is recognized only by Turkey. Today, very little has changed, with few significant cases of hostilities the Greek and Turkish factions, separated by the UN buffer zone, have retreated to their respective enclaves. As of 2009, the Cypriot issue remains unresolved and tensions still exist between Greece and Turkey.

Conflict with the PKK

Another important issue in modern Turkey is its ongoing conflict with its Kurdish minority. The Kurds are a nation-less ethnic group numbering 30 million located in the shared border region of Turkey, Iran and Iraq. The Turkish government, like its Iranian and Iraqi counterparts, has rejected Kurdish calls for cultural and political freedoms. As a result, for nearly 20 years there has been an ongoing, low intensity conflict between Turkey and armed Kurdish fighters.

The Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), established by Abdullah Ocalan in 1975, is the militant wing of the Kurdish nationalism movement. Considered by the European Union, the United Nations and the US to be a terrorist organization, it is a leftist Marxist nationalist force struggling to establish an independent and autonomous Kurdish state. The Turkish government deems the PKK a terrorist-secessionist movement as well.

The PKK, which is often known for kidnapping, cheical attacks, assassination, sabotage and suicide bombings, funds itself through drug smuggling, extortion, human trafficking and donations. According to the Turkish government, the ongoing conflict has since taken the lives of at least 26,000 PKK fighters, 5,000 Turkish forces and an additional 5,000 civilians. By 1999 the PKK had entered into a quasi-cease fire with the Turkish government. However, in the wake of the US lead invasion of Iraq (2003), the PKK once again took the offensive conducting terror attacks, targeting Turkish forces, politicians and civilians.

More recently, the PKK rejected their ethnic-based approach replacing calls for an independent state with a desire for increased autonomy and cultural freedom. Today nearly 4,000 Kurdish fighters are still based in Iraq, leading to increased pressure as Turkey occasionally crosses the Iraqi border to confront the PKK there and the PKK doing the same. In the fall of 2007 tensions between Turkey and the PKK exploded into a new wave of violence with PKK attacks in Turkish cities.

Recently Turkish President Abdullah Gul visited Bagdad to meet with Iraqi and US representatives agreeing to cooperate in dealing with the PKK forces in Iraq.

May 18, 2010 Posted by | Background Info, Politics | Leave a comment

Iran: A brief tour

The Islamic Republic of Iran

Iran: Political Map

Roughly the size of Alaska, Iran is home to nearly 70 million people and its capital, Tehran, is the Middle East’s largest city. Known as Persia until 1935, Iranians consider themselves Persian, not Arab. Farsi is the national language and Iran is overwhelmingly a Shi’a Muslim nation. Iran’s geographical position oversees the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz, through which nearly half of the world’s maritime oil shipments flow, making Iran an important regional and global power. Iran is also a founding member of both the United Nations and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

The Islamic Revolution: 1979

The Islamic Revolution can be described as the conclusion of many decades of foreign influence in Iranian domestic affairs. Since oil was discovered there in 1911, Iran had been plagued by foreign powers attempting to control its wealth.

During the Second World War, the Allies invaded neutral Iran and deposed Reza Shah Pahlavi allowing his son, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi to assume power. Pahlavi, known as “The Shah”, was a pro-Western authoritarian monarch who has been credited with sowing the seeds of the Islamic Revolution. While the Pahlavi did instigate a series of modernizing reforms such as improving Iran’s infrastructure and women’s’ rights, his reign was characterized by its dictatorial elements. Soon the Iranian people began to rise up in opposition to the Shah’s undemocratic regime.

As discontent mounted, a general strike erupted causing the Shah to flee Iran with democratically elected and Western-educated Dr. Mohammed Mosaddeq taking charge. Mossadeq quickly set Iran on a course of autonomy, nationalizing Iran’s oil industry and returning it to Iranian control.

Naturally, this was unpopular with the foreign-owned oil concerns who were accustomed to the Shah’s assistance when exploiting Iran’s oil wealth. Quickly the British and US hatched a scheme to remove Mossadeq and return the pro-West Shah to power. The Shah’s return triggered a full-blown revolution as Iranians rejected foreign influence and united Iran under an Islamic regime. This Revolution represents the birth of the Islamic Republic of Iran as it exists today.

The Iran-Iraq War: 1980-1988

Another equally influential event in Iranian history was the Iran-Iraq War which took place between 1980 and 1988. This indecisive war was incredibly destructive and a disaster for Iran in terms of industry and lives. Iran and Iraq had long-standing border disagreements and the Iranian military had been weakened by the military purges of the Revolution. Saddam Hussein, acting on this perceived weakness and fearing an expansion of the Islamic Revolution into Iraq, invaded Iran in September of 1980.

While the war ended in a brokered peace treaty and stalemate, Iran found its military and industry shattered and politically ostracized by eight years of war. Rebuilding its military, its economy and its global standing has been the goal of the Iran ever since.

Political System

While Iran is a theocratic republic, it has a unique political structure characterised by a complex arrangement of religious oversight seeking to balance a democratic system with fundamental Islamic principles. Anyone Iranian citizen over the age of 18 can vote in Iran.

The centrepiece of the Islamic political system is the concept of Velayat-e Faqih (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists). This policy revolves around the idea that Iranian society must always be in accordance with Sharia law and the assumption that the average Iranian citizen does not have the religious qualifications to maintain this balance.

The government of Iran has six distinct bodies each tasked with a specific function; the Supreme Leader, the office of the President, the Guardian Council, the Assembly of Experts, the Expediency Council and the Majlis.

The Supreme Leader

The office of the Supreme leader is the figurehead of this unique political system. An appointed Islamic cleric boasting impeccable Islamic credentials, the Supreme Leader wields near supreme authority in all matters. He directs policy, maintains control of the military and has the power to declare war. Currently the office of Supreme leader is held by Ali Khameini. The Supreme leader holds office for life and is answerable only to the Assembly of Experts.

The Assembly of Experts

The Assembly of Experts consisting of 86 religious experts is popularly elected every 8 years and is tasked with overseeing the Supreme Leader. The Supreme Leader is appointed by, and usually from within, the Assembly of Experts.  As a group they have the power to remove, replace the Supreme Leader and veto his decrees. However, there are no known examples of the Assembly of Experts ruling contrary to the Supreme Leader. Presently the Assembly of experts is headed by former president and conservative reformer Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The Guardian Council

This body consists of 12 learned clerics, six appointed by the Supreme Leader and the remainder being elected by Parliament. The Guardian Council is the political representative of the Velayat-e Faqih principle and ensures that all parliamentary and presidential candidates meet rigorous Islamic credentials, dismissing those who do not. Additionally, the Guardian Council can veto parliamentary legislation deemed not sufficiently Islamic.

The Majlis

Working alongside, but occasionally in conflict with the Guardian Council is the Iranian Parliament, called the Majlis. The Majlis consists of 290 popularly elected representatives who introduce legislation and approve the national budget. The Majlis does have the authority to remove the President; however as mentioned, all parliamentary candidates are first subject to Guardian Council approval. The current head of the Majlis is Ali Larijani, known for his role as chief atomic negotiator.

The Expediency Council

Naturally it is not uncommon for the conservative Guardian Council and the more liberal Majlis to disagree on legislative issues and the interpretation of the Constitution. Therefore the Expediency Council has been established to mediate these differences.  The council members are appointed by the Supreme Leader and the council is currently headed by ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The Office of the President

Conducting the practical day to day matters of the Iranian state is the President; this office is currently held by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In comparison to other governments, the office of the President does not control Iranian foreign policy or military. In Iran the president is tasked with conducting the administrative functions of the state; budget planning, appointing offices, making appearances, receiving foreign dignitaries and signing agreements. The President is elected by popular vote, and like all political candidates, must first acquire the approval of the Guardian Council. The Previous President, Mohammad Khatami, was known for his attempts to reform Iranian politics.

Iranian Military

The military of Iran is well-respected and can be separated into two distinct forces; regular and paramilitary.

Regular Army

The conventional Iranian army numbers around 650,000, most of which are conscripts. Following its poor performance in the Iran-Iraq war, Iran sought to modernize its military and reduce its dependence on foreign suppliers. Recently, Iran has expanded its domestic arms producing capabilities by developing a domestic arms industry.

Paramilitary

Iranian military doctrine places a significant amount of emphasis on paramilitary forces. The Pasdaran, the Basij and the Qods forces represent Iran’s core military capability.

The Revolutionary Guards

Formed during the Revolution, The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or often called the Pasdaran is a type of ideologically-motivated private army numbering around 120,000. Indispensible to the survival of the regime, the main task of the IRCG is to act as a counterbalance to the Iranian Regular army. Additional activities of the Pasdaran are training and equipping foreign paramilitary forces and controlling Iran’s surface missile force.

The Basij

The Basij, under the jurisdiction of the Pasdaran, is a type of voluntary national police force tasked with enforcing Islamic morality within Iran. Typical activities are policing demonstrations and ensuring behavioral codes. The Basij, numbering in the millions, accepts applicants as young as fifteen and can be called upon to act as an emergency mobilization force in the case of foreign aggression or domestic unrest.

The Qods

Another element of Iran’s defense force is the Qods Force. The Qods are a semi-clandestine force much like Special Forces units found in other nations functioning as a type of mobile insurgency training force. Created during the Iran-Iraq War, the Qods have close ties to Hamas and Hezbollah and have operated in various hot-spots such as Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Kurdistan and former Yugoslavia. Numbering anywhere between 3,000 and 50,000, the Qods Force is considered to be one of the most capable and experienced special operations forces in the world.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Background Info, Politics | Leave a comment

The Middle East: a brief political tour (2009)

Bahrain

The Kingdom of Bahrain is a predominantly Shia island-nation of 700,000 people situated in the southern Persian Gulf. Bahrain is connected to Saudi Arabia by the 28 kilometer King Fahd Causeway. Bahrain received its independence from Britain in 1971 and its capital city is Manama.

Government: Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy under the Al Kahlifa family. The current emir and head of state is Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa.

Parliament: A bicameral parliament consists of the Consultative Council (40 members appointed by the king) and the Council of Representatives (40 members popularly elected through universal suffrage). The current head of Bahrain’s government is Prime Minister Shaikh Khalīfa bin Salman al Khalifa.

Bahrain produces an estimated 49,000 barrels of oil a day and possesses 124 million barrels of reserves. Bahrain has been currently trying to diversify its economy away from its reliance on oil. Presently, oil sales account for 70% of government revenue.

Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran was created following the Islamic Revolution of 1978. With its capital Tehran, Iran is a mostly Shia nation numbering 66 million. Iran’s geographic location places it directly on the Persian Gulf and allows it to dominate the Straits of Hormuz. Due to its strategic placement, Iran is an important regional power. In contrast to much of the rest of the Middle East, Iranians are considered Persian and speak Farsi.

Government: Iran is a theocratic republic with no secular elements. The Supreme Leader is head of state setting policy while the office of president conducts the day-to-day functions of state. Currently the Supreme Leader is Ali Khamenei and the president is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Parliament: The Majlis act as Iran’s parliament. Its 290 members are elected from a pool of candidates approved by the Assembly of Experts. The current speaker of parliament is Ali Ardashir Larijani.

Religious Oversight Bodies: Two religious oversight bodies ensure that secular forces do not influence Iranian government. The Assembly of Experts appoints and oversees the Supreme Leader; the head of this assembly is Hashemi Rafsanjani. The Council of Guardians is tasked with dismissing any candidate deemed “insufficiently Islamic” and is headed by the Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati Massah.

Iran is a major oil producing nation, generating 4.7 million barrels a day with reserves claimed to be over 130 billion barrels.

Israel

Israel was created in 1948 after the United Nations partitioned former British holding Palestine into two states. Israel has a population of 7 million and is the world’s only Jewish state. The ancient city of Jerusalem is its capital.

Government: Israel is a parliamentary democracy. The chief of state is Shimon Peres.

Parliament: Israel has a single body parliament known as the Knesset. It consists of 120 popularly elected members. The Knesset drafts laws and elects the president and prime minister. The current prime minister is Ehud Olmert.

Israel is a nominal oil producing nation, producing 5,966 barrels of oil daily and possessing nearly 2 million barrels of oil in reserve.

Kuwait

Kuwait is a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation of 2.6 million and is located directly on the Persian Gulf, just south of Iraq. Well known as an oil producing nation, Kuwait possesses 10% of the world’s known reserves and produces 2.6 million barrels of oil a day making it the richest Middle Eastern country and the third richest nation in the world. Kuwait became independent from the United Kingdom in 1961, and Kuwait City is its capital. Kuwait was invaded by Iraq in 1990.

Government: Kuwait is a constitutional emirate with the Al-Sabah family ruling since 1991. The emir position is hereditary and as a result there are no elections for this position. The current head of state is Amir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah and the crown prince is Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah.

Parliament: Kuwait’s legislature is represented by the National Assembly. The National Assembly has the power to dismiss the prime minister, an office currently held by Prime Minister Nasir al-Muhammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah.S

Libya

Libya received its independence from Italy in 1951 and underwent a military coup in 1969. Known officially as the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, modern Libya is largely the product of Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi , the worlds longest sitting head of a government. Libya has a relatively small population of approximately 6 million and is predominantly Sunni Muslim.

Government: Libya has a unique style of government based upon Gaddafi’s revolutionary “Jamahiriya” vision. Jamahiriya is a term coined by Gaddafi and loosely translates into “republic ruled by the masses”. While Gaddafi holds no official office, being referred to simply as the”Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”, for all intents and purposes Gaddafi is the head of an authoritarian state. There are no political parties in Libya.

Parliament: Libyan Legistlature consists of the unicameral General People’s Congress (760 members, elected indirectly through committees). Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmudi was appointed Prime Minister in 2006.

Libya is major oil producing nation with 41.4 billion barrels of reserves and producing 1.8 million barrels of oil a day.

Oman

The Sultanate of Oman is located on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula and is home to nearly 3.5 million people. A distinct variety of Islam, Ibhadi Islam, accounts for a religious majority of between 50% and 75%. Oman is also unique for its historic connection to the island nation of Zanzibar; as a result Swahili is widely spoken in Oman. Oman is slightly unique as it was never officially a colony, establishing its de facto independence after ejecting a Portuguese presence in the 17th century. A small portion of Oman, known as the Governorate of Musandam, is separated from the rest of the nation by the United Arab Emirates.  Muscat is the capital of Oman

Government: Oman is a monarchy with Qaboos bin Sal Said as both the sitting as head of state and serving as prime minister.

Parliament: There are no legal political parties in Oman, nor are there functioning legislative institutions. However, Oman has a two-part parliament consisting of a Consultive Assembly and a Council of State. Neither wields any real power and both function only in advisory roles.

Saudi Arabia

Known as the birthplace of Islam and the site of the religion’s two holiest shrines, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a remarkably influential nation. Additionally, Saudia Arabia dominates the Arabian Peninsula and is situated between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia was unified in 1932 and is a predominantly Sunni nation of 28 million. Riyadh is the capital.

Government: Saudi Arabia is a monarchy under the Saud family. The present head of state and head of government is King Abdallah bi Abd al-Aziz Al Saud.

Parliament: Saudi Arabia has no parliament and no political parties. The Consultative Council consists of 150 appointed members (by king) and serves an advisory function only.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the world’s greatest oil producing nation, controlling 20% of the world’s known oil reserves and filling 9.2 million barrels of oil daily.

Sudan

The Republic of Sudan received its independence from the United Kingdom in 1956. Sudan is predominantly Sunni Muslim and has a population of 41 million. It is the largest country in Africa and its capital is Khartoum.  The Darfur region, known for its humanitarian crisis, is found in western Sudan.

Government: Since becoming independent in 1956, Sudan has been dominated by a series of military governments. The present government assumed power through a military coup in 1989. The current head of state is President Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir. Bashir presides over an authoritarian regime. Currently a power sharing arrangement exists between the Government of National Unity, the National Congress Party (party of Bashir), and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.

Parliament: Sudanese parliament consists of two houses. The Council of States with 50 members elected through state legislatures and a National Assembly with 450 appointed seats.

Sudan recently began producing oil. Today Sudan possesses an estimated 5 billion barrels of reserves and produces 466,000 barrels of oil a day

Tunisia

The Tunisian Republic received its independence from France in 1956. Tunisia is a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation of 10 million located in North Africa. Tunisia is predominantly Sunni Muslim and the constitution mandates Islam as the official religion and stipulates that the president must be a Muslim. However, remaining largely secular, Tunisia has done much to facilitate the growth of its own democratic institutions in recent years.

Government: Tunisia has a presidential republic government. The chief of state has been President Zine el Abidine Ben Al since 1987.

Parliament: Tunisia has a bicameral legislature and Mohamed Gbhannouchi is the current prime minister. The 189 seat Chamber of Deputies is popularly elected while the 126 seat Chamber of Advisors is largely appointed by the president.

Tunisia is a minor oil producing nation, producing 86,210 million barrels of oil daily and holding some 4,000 million barrels of oil reserves.

Yemen

The Republic of Yemen was established in 1990 when North Yemen and South Yemen united. North Yemen received its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1918, while Southern Yemen received its independence from the United Kingdom in 1967. Yemen is located on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula and its capital is Sanaa. Yemen has a population of 23 million with nearly equal percentages of Sunni and Shia.

Government: Yemen is the only republic on the Arabian Peninsula. Ali Abdallah Salih was the former president of North Yemen and has been the president of a united Yemen since its inception. The president is elected by popular vote, and his General People’s Congress dominates the government.

Parliament: Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Mujawwar heads a bicameral Parliament consisting of the 111 seat Shura Council which is appointed by the president and a popularly elected 301 seat House of Representatives.

Yemen produces an estimated 320,600 barrels of oil per day and has reserves numbering 3 billion barrels.

Egypt

Twice the size of France, the Arab republic of Egypt is a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation of 70 million located in Northern Africa on the Mediterranean Sea.  Egypt received its independence from the United Kingdom in 1922 and the Egyptian Republic was declared in June of 1953.

Government: Egypt is a presidential republic, with Hosni Mubarak serving as the current President. The president, which is both head of state and head of the government, greatly curtails the power of the legislature. Egypt has been under emergency law since 1967 and religious-based political parties are forbidden.

Parliament: Egyptian parliament, known as the People’s Assembly, consists of 454 deputies; ten of which are appointed by the president and the remainder being elected. The Shura Council is Egypt’s upper Parliament consisting of 264 elected members.

Egypt has a military of 450,000, the largest in Africa.

Egypt produces 664,000 billion barrels of oil a day and has 3.7 bilion barrels of reserves.

Boutros Boutras-Ghali (former Secretary General to the UN) and Mohammed ElBaradei (International Atomic Energy Association) are well known Egyptian diplomats.

Iraq

Iraq was formed in 1932 by the League of Nations from former British holdings. In 2008, the UNSC mandate for US military presence in Iraq expired and presently US forces remain in Iraq under a bilateral Security Agreement. In October 2005, Iraqis approved a Constitution in a national referendum and, pursuant to this document, elected a 275-member Council of Representatives. On 31 January 2009, Iraq held elections for provincial councils in all provinces except those in predominantly Kurdish regions. Iraq has a population of 28 million and a Shia majority.

Government: Iraq is a parliamentary democracy, or to be more specific, a federal parliamentary representative democratic republic. The head of state is the Presidency Council. Consisting of President Jalal Talabani as well as Vice Presidents Adil Abd Al Mahdi and Tariq al-Hashimi, the council must make unanimous decisions.

Parliament: The Council of Representatives serves as Iraq’s legistlature and it possesses a great deal of power in comparison to the president. The head of the Iraqi government is Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The Prime Minister seat is appointed by the Presidency Council, while the Council of Representatives is elected through representation.

Presently, Iraq possesses an estimated 115 billion barrels of oil reserves and produces 2.42 million barrels of oil a day.

Jordan

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a predominantly Sunni nation of 6.3 million located on the Mediterranean Sea between Saudi Arabia, Israel and Syria. Jordan was previously known as Transjordan and its capital is Amman. Formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, Syria received its independence from the United Kingdom in 1946.

Government: Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with King Abdullah sitting as the current head of state since 1999. Jordan has a multi-party system and the King’s veto can be overruled by two-thirds vote of both houses of parliament.

Parliament: Jordanian legislature is known as the National Assembly and its prime minister is Nader al-Dahabi. Jordanian parliament consists of two parts; a Senate (55 monarch-appointed members) and the Chamber of Deputies (110 elected members). A specified number of seats are reserved for minorities.

Lebanon

as “the Paris of the East” the Lebanese Republic was created by France out of Ottoman territory in 1920 and was granted its independence in 1943. Known for its variety of religious and ethnic groups, of its 4 million people, roughly 60% are Muslim while 40% are Christian. Lebanon suffered a civil war between 1975 and 1990, and Syria maintained a United Nations peacekeeping in Lebanon until 2005. The capital of Lebanon is Beruit.

Government: Parliamentary democracy with Michel Sulayman serving as President. Lebanon has a rather unique political system known as Confessionalism.  Confessionalism is a power sharing arrangement which proportionally distributes representation according to ethnic population.

Parliament: Single body National Assembly under Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. Parliament consists of 128 members elected by popular vote. Political parties in the traditional sense do not exist as political blocs are typically formed along personal, ethnic, family or regional lines.

Morocco

The Kingdom of Morocco was created in 1956 following a lengthy struggle for independence from France. A predominantly Sunni Muslim nation of 34 million, Morocco is located in North Africa on the Mediterranean Sea. The capital is Rabat.

Government: Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with King Mohammed VI serving as head of state since 1999. The king has controls the military and theoretically has the power to dissolve the government.

Parliament: Morocco has a bicameral parliamentary structure with the prime minister position appointed by the king. The current prime minister is Abbas El Fassi. The Chamber of Counselors is the Moroccan upper house consisting of 270 members which are elected indirectly.  The lower house is represented by the Chamber of Representatives with 325 elected seats having the authority to dissolve the government with a “no confidence” vote.

Morocco has an estimated 836,000 barrels of oil reserves and produces nearly 3,500 barrels of oil daily.

Qatar

The State of Qatar is a small peninsular nation of less than one million. Qatar is found on the northern edge of the Arabian Peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf. Qatar is predominantly Sunni with a large immigrant population. The independent Arab news network Al Jazeera, is based in Qatar’s capital Doha. Ruled by al-Thani family for over two centuries, Qatar formally received its independence from the United Kingdom in 1971.

Government: Emirate or absolute monarchy. Head of state, minister of defense and commander of the armed forces is Amir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Thani, a Sandhurst graduate, took power from his father in a bloodless coup in 1995; they have since reconciled.

Parliament:  Qatar’s legistlature consists of the Consultative Assembly containing 35 appointed members. Qatar is slowy making a change to a constitutional monarchy aiming to include more popularly elected members on the Advisory Council, yet presently, political parties are forbidden.

Qatar possesses oil reserves numbering some 15 billion barrels and produces over one million barrels of oil a day. The pronunciation of Qatar is something like “gutter” or “butter”, but not like “guitar”.

Syria

Syria is a predominantly Sunni-Arab nation of 20 million located on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean Sea bordering Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Israel. The Syrian Arab Republic was created from holdings of the Ottoman Empire and was administered by France until receiving its independence in 1946. Syria stationed troops in Lebanon from 1976 to 2005 in a peacekeeping role.

Government: Syria is a single party republic under a military regime. President Bashar al-Asad was elected in an un-oppssed referendum. The Syrian Constitution states that the president must be Muslim.

Parliament: Syrian legislature is the unicameral People’s Council consisting of 250 members. The prime minister and head of government is Muhammad Naji al-UtriI.

Syria produces 381,600 barrels of oil per day and possesses an estimated 2.5 billion barrels of reserves.

UAE

The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven states and was created between 1971 and 1972. The seven emirates are; Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain. Power is distributed between the central government and the individual emirates, with the central government possessing additional powers.The UAE has a population of 4.7 million with a very large number of immigrants (75%). The capital of the UAE is Doha.

Government: The UAE is a federation of emirates which functions not unlike a monarchy. An emirate is a geo-political territory ruled by a monarch or emir. The positions of president and vice president are elected by the rulers of each emirate. There is no suffrage and political parties are forbidden. The current president is Khalifa bin Zayid Al-Nuhayyan, a member of the royal family.

Parliament: The Federal Supreme Councils serves as the parliament. The FSC consists of the rulers of the seven emirates and is responsible for establishing general policies. The rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai have veto power. There is also a Federal National Council with 20 appointed members and 20 elected members who act as an advisory council.

While the UAE produces nearly 3 million barrels of oil a day and posses almost 100 billion barrels of reserves, the government has been successful in diversifying into non-petroleum ares. Oil revenues account for only %25 of government income.

May 14, 2010 Posted by | Background Info, Politics | Leave a comment

Afghanistan: Short history of modern Afghanistan

Afghanistan

Called “the Graveyard of Empires”, Afghanistan has long been the battlefield of foreign powers. The Macedonians under Alexander the Great, the Mongols and more recently the British and Soviet empires all have tried and failed to exert control over the rugged landscape of Afghanistan. Afghanistan has existed under nearly every form of government known, at some point in time. Slightly larger than the Ukraine and home to nearly 30 million people, Afghanistan is a primarily Sunni Muslim nation with many ethnic group, pashtun and Tajik being two of the most predominant. Afghanistan is characterized by its inaccessible mountainous countryside dotted with villages but few large cities.

History: 1700s-1989

Modern Afghanistan has its roots in the Duranni Empire, which was founded in 1787. As competition between the British and Russian empires spilled over into Afghanistan, “the Great Game” led to Britain attempting to install a puppet regime in Kabul, acting as a buffer between their Indian colony and the Soviet Empire. Following the end of the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919, Afghanistan achieved independence and existed as the Kingdom of Afghanistan under King Amanullah.

A bloodless coup in 1973 turned Afghanistan into the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) under the presidency of Mohammed Daoud Khan. Daoud and his Marxist-styled government forged closer ties with communist Russia yet at the same time began losing control to a little known rebel group called the Mujahedeen. In an attempt to prop up the PDPA government, the USSR invaded Afghanistan on August 7, 1978 and installed pro-Soviet Babrak Karmal as President. Afghanistan became the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, once again under a Communist government. The invasions lead to a ten-year guerilla war claiming the lives of some one million Afghans. Unable to achieve a decisive victory, the Soviet Union withdrew in 1989 leaving Afghanistan devastated and without a stable government.

An important aspect of the Mujahedeen success was the support they received from the United States. During the Soviet Afghan War, the United States used the anti-Communist Mujahedeen to conduct a proxy war against the Soviet Union.  By directly or indirectly supplying them with military and financial aid, the US allowed the Mujahedeen to resist Soviet control of Afghanistan.

Taliban: 1996-2001

Withdrawal of Soviet forces left a power vacuum and Afghanistan descended into lawlessness under tribal warlords. Soon, a small religious group, known as the Taliban, emerged and began bringing law and order to the streets of Afghanistan.

Initially applauded for ending the chaotic rule of the warlords, the predominantly Pashtun religious militia under Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban occupied Kabul and imposed its own interpretation of a Wahhabi-influenced Sharia law.

Using Taliban-staffed institutions such as the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Suppression of Vice (PVSV) the Taliban enforced stringent social and legal codes; forbidding women from working and attending school. Likewise, men were forced to wear a beard while the few non-Muslim Afghans were compelled to identify themselves with a yellow badge. Music, photography, kite flying, dancing, clapping and all forms of entertainment were strictly banned, often under pain of death. The Taliban called their new nation the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and it soon became known for its intolerance and violation of human rights.

Discontent with the Taliban’s brutal policies, resistance movements soon grew in opposition to the Taliban. Under the leadership of “the Lion of Panshir” Ahmad Shah Massoud, various opposition groups meshed into the Northern Alliance and full scale civil war broke out in 1996.

US Invasion: 2001

Following the terror attacks on the United States in September of 2001, the United States identified Osama Bin Laden as the architect and issued an ultimatum to the Taliban who had been providing Bin Laden refuge in Afghanistan. The US demanded that the Taliban hand over Bin Laden and close all terrorist training camps within its borders. The Taliban refused, citing lack of proof for the US allegations. The US, working closely with the Northern Alliance, invaded in October of 2001 under Operation Enduring Freedom.

The union of the American Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Division and the Northern Alliance quickly toppled the Taliban. With the assistance of US air power, they occupied Kabul and defeated the Taliban in places such as Kandahar, the caves of Tora Bora and Mazari Sharif, thus ending the civil war. Following the loya jirga, (traditional Pashtun council) of 2003, a constitution was adopted and Hamid Karzai was elected as President of the Afghan Interim Authority. Parliamentary elections were held in 2005.

Government

Karzai remains the president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the National Assembly serves as its legislature. The Afghan government faces a variety of challenges and relies overwhelmingly on outside support. The government must contend with a shattered economy (unemployment rate is 40%) and a resurging Taliban among a host of other difficulties. Since 2006, a reinvigorated Taliban functioning from bases in Pakistan has taken the offensive striking NATO forces, aid workers, civilians and Afghan government institutions.

In 2008, President Hamid Karzai narrowly survived an assassination attempt and elsewhere Taliban forces struck a jail in Kandahar freeing many Taliban fighters.  Hopes for the future of Afghanistan hang on newly elected US President Barak Obama and the 17,000 additional US troops planned for Afghanistan in 2009.

May 7, 2010 Posted by | Background Info, Politics | Leave a comment