EU: New Year, New Summit, Same Problems

The fate of the European Union continues to hang precariously on the edge as the European Council, constituting the heads of state, prepare their first summit of the year today, 30 January.

EU Leaders Are Set To Meet Monday To Discuss The Fiscal Compact

The official agenda is focused on striking a balance between more austere fiscal measures for nations with unsustainable levels of debt and policies that will help revive the economic growth across the 17-member Euro area.  The summit marks another in the series of attempts by Euro area leaders to reign in the perpetuating crisis that has spread malignantly across the members of the single-currency zone.  The fear of recession has continued to build after Standard and Poor’s credit rating agency downgraded 9 Euro area governments, most notable among the downgrades were Austria and France which lost their top-tier AAA ratings.  S&P’s then continued to hack away at the security and the hopes of reform by downgrading the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF) to AA+.  The Euro area economy is widely expected to suffer a mild recession this year as governments cut spending to balance their budgets.  In France, Sarkozy has implemented what man have called a “Robin Hood” tax, which has increased sales taxes and levies on financial incomes to fund a 13 billion Euro cut in payroll charges.  The increase would amount to 1.6% points and bring the rate of tax on most goods and services to 21.2%

“There will be a lot more talk about growth and austerity.  That’s helpful in the long run and could help prevent a future crisis, but it doesn’t solve the current one.” – Jennifer McKeown, economist at Capital Economic in London

EU leaders will discuss today the latest draft of the fiscal compact and two final unresolved questions on the draft resolution.  According to the draft, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will be empowered to impose sanctions in fiscally wayward countries under a new accord that has been supported by the majority of the EU countries.  The ECJ may impose on the country a lump sum or a penalty payment appropriate in the circumstances and shall not exceed 0.1% of its GDP.  The draft also says that if a country wants to borrow from the Euro area’s permanent bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) after March 201, they must first ratify the fiscal compact, which will be activated after ratification by the national parliaments of 12 countries.   The agenda for today’s summit also deals with whether non-Euro countries that have signed the pact will be allowed to participate in meetings where Euro-area issues are discussed, which has been a highly critical issue with the UK and David Cameron.  Another question is whether sanctions will be implemented when countries fail to meet the pact’s requirement on debt-to-GDP ratio.

“The outlook for economic growth in Europe in 2012 is not a healthy one and consensus forecasts for earnings-per-share growth likely do need to be adjusted downwards.” – Ian Scott, chief global strategist at Nomura Holdings Incorporated in London

The draft suggests that there have been tentative signs of economic stabilization in Europe, but financial market tension continues to weigh on the economy.  European stocks headed for the biggest 2-day drop since November amid concerns about the meeting of the region’s leaders.  Sadly, even EU officials have voiced skepticism about the EU initiatives.  BNP Paribas SA tumbled 5.8%, Royal Phillips Electronics NV dropped 2.%, Hochtief AG sank 5.4% and Stoxx Europe 600 Index retreated about 1% to 25.93, which is the largest 2 day slip since November 23rd.  In Brussels, home the EU summit, union strikes in transport and other public services ground the entire country to a halt.  It is the first general strike since 2005 and the first since 1993 launched jointly by the country’s 3 main unions, which are all aggravated by public spending cuts of more than 12 billion Euros for 2012.  Moreover, the summit comes amid ongoing uncertainty over Greece.  Greek officials took exception to a proposal sponsored by Germany, that would effectively give the EU the power to veto Greek pending plans in return for aid.  German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned that Greece must show Europe it is capable of implementing fiscal reforms or Greece may not receive a second bailout totaling 130 billion Euros, which is necessary for the country to avoid a default this spring.

“We seem to limp from one summit to save the Euro, to another.  It is prudent in the face of this uncertainty to take a more defensive stance toward the Euro.  There is pretty decent chance that in the first half of this year, we’ll have a lot of $1.20” – Simon Derrick, chief currency strategist at Bank of New York Mellon Corporation in London

Among the criticism facing the EU, US Treasury Timothy Geithner has escalated pressure on Germany to strengthen firewalls, such as the EFSF/ESM, against future recession.  Both Geithner and David Cameron suggest that a credible effort would be a precursor to increased IMF support for the region.  Nevertheless, Merkel has resisted calls for boosting the size of the region’s rescue funds, insisting that a long-term commitment to fiscal discipline and a patient approach toward improving competitiveness and restoring confidence are crucial to solving the crisis.  So saying, Germany has served as the supporting structure for the ailing Euro for years now and still stands on a top-tier AAA rating, as well as a long history of fiscal recession and re-cooperation, suggesting that its approach has been tested and been successful.  Though the summit may not yield any major breakthroughs on the discussion for the rescue funds, many leaders may find themselves shielded as a result of last month’s large injection of liquidity into the European baking summit by the European Central Bank (ECB).  Banks took up nearly half a trillion Euros in 3-year loans in the long-term refinancing operation, a move that has helped face bank funding worries.

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Syria: Assad-Russia vs UNSC

With the Arab League halting its much criticized and fruitless observer mission to Syria, violence and bloodshed have risen with security forces marching through Damascus, catalyzing the rift in Syria and the UNSC.

The Pleas for UN Involvement have Risen

The rising bloodshed has added urgency to new attempts by Arab and Western countries to find a resolution to the 10 months of violence that has killed at least 5,400 people. With Assad standing as a grim reaper above streets awash in his in the blood of his people, the thoughts of peaceful transition and negotiations between Assad and rebel forces are outside to the scope of rationality.  Many of the hopeful initiatives continue to face two major obstacles.  One problem is Assad’s general unwillingness to consider surrendering power and his recent rejection of an Arab peace plan that called for a transition to a unity government.  The other problem is Russia’s willingness to use its veto power in the UNSC to protect Syria from UN sanctions and the possible intervention by peacekeepers and a general Western intervention.  With Russia standing above Syria as some symbol of protection, Assad appears to feel invincible and untouchable, believing his forces will be able to quell and crush any and all anti-government forces.  Evidently, without the threat of Western intervention, such as NATO in Libya, Assad is escalating repressive actions in order to seize control of his country before the UN or NATO is able to intervene more effectively.

“We hope Syria seriously evaluates the decisions of the Arab League, puts an end to repression against its people and start a reform process in line with the demands of its people.” – Ahmet Davutogly, Turkish Foreign Minster

The Gulf Arab states and Turkey, which have spearheaded regional condemnation of the Syrian regime and have sponsored most plans, have been met with similar ridicule and rejection as the UNSC.  The Arab plan, which envisaged Assad transferring power to his deputy and the formation of a national unity government within 2 months, was rejected by Syria.  Saudi Arabia is the largest member of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) and other members include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.  Turkey, once a close ally of Syria, has been at the forefront of international criticism over Damascus regime’s crackdown on protests and has also become a haven for thousands of Syrian opposition activists.  With peaceful transition and international intervention or sanction being taken to the UN, opposition forces have taken it upon themselves, once again, to rekindle efforts to dismantle loyalist forces.  Syria’s military was forced to send tanks to neighborhoods on the outskirts of Damascus in an attempt to quell the most intense fighting yet seen so close to the capital.  The government attack on the suburbs began after the rebel forces, now known as the Free Syrian Army, occupied the area.  According to those forces, the assault involved more than 2,000 troops and 50 tanks.  The spike in violence has already claimed over 100 lives since it started on Thursday, with more dying each day in gun fights and tank bombardment of residential areas.

“I grew up hating NATO.  I was taught it was the devil.  It was unimaginable for decades for any Syrian t even think about asking for help from the West.  But now people on the ground want humanitarian intervention.  They want to be rescued.” – Bossma Kodmani, Syrian-French member of the Syrian National Council

Much hope for the Syrian opposition forces lies with the UN, despite their stalemate in the past because of Russia’s stance as a benefactor from the arms trade with the Assad regime.  The request for international assistance will go unanswered for a while yet.  Members of the UNSC are grappling over an appropriate response to Syria’s violent crisis.  The US, Britain and France are pushing for more international involvement, but veto-wielding Russia, backed by China,has blocked efforts to do more.  The recent draft resolution calls for Assad to resign powers to his deputy, mimicking the Arab plan.  Russia has vowed to oppose this draft resolution.  The failure of the observer mission and the GCC plan signals that regional efforts to halt the carnage have failed and the only alternative is to internationalize the crisis.  New York will not be the focus of concerted lobbying, with the Western power, the Arab League and the Syrian opposition all trying to persuade the Russians and the Chinese to not block a resolution adopting the previous Arab peace plan.  Evidently, the pressure is building up, both on Syria itself and on its international allies such as Russia and China who have so far staunchly protected it even from censure at the UNSC.

State of the Union: Rise Against Interpretation

Following the context and tone of the previous blog on Capitalism, this blog pursues a more cynical outlook on the State of the Union address delivered by President Obama on 24th January, 2012.

Many readers have undoubtedly heard of the band known as Rise Against, becoming rather popular for songs such as “Ready to Fall” and “Re-Education Through Labor“.  So saying, much of the bands lyrics are targeted at the US government, environmental crisis, materialistic corruption and capitalism.  One such song, is known as “State of the Union“.  The endeavor of this blog is to interpret and fact-check the 2012 State of the Union address, pursuing a similar tone and cynicism expressed by Rise Against and, as said before, the blog on Capitalism.  In truth, the 2012 address was well written and delivered in a heartwarming, reassuring and charismatic speech.

“If we’re the flagship of peace and prosperity, we’re taking on water and about to fuckin’ sink.  No one seems to notice, no one even blinks.  The crew all left the passengers to die under the sea.” – State of the Union by Rise Against

As most State of the Union addresses, the text has been carefully detailed and though through by multiple secretaries behind multiple desks, ensuring that the current President will not embarrass himself, though this attempt seemed to have been forgotten in Bush’s “sixteen little words” on Iraq pursuing uranium in Niger.  That being said, this year’s address launched Obama’s his re-election year; putting further pressure on the tone, policies and charisma, as it needed to connected with Obama’s winning coalition.  This pursuit for Selectorate appeasement, manipulating public opinion through optimistic dialogue, is the purpose of political ambition theory.  Many, if not all, of the President’s decisions are based on public opinion, which has been rather volatile as of late due to political dysfunction and fiscal ineptitude.  For these reasons, President Obama pursued a speech to which the Selectorate could not easily find fault in; as he targeted his opposition, spoke of his administrative success, spoke of future job creation, new regulative punishment for corporations already hated by the populace and a revivification of the education system which has been neglected for too long.  Nevertheless, the general optimism and appeasing tone of his speech is evidence enough of his attempt to gild the problems and corrosion of America and its political infrastructure.

“Countdown to the very end.  Equality, an invitation that we won’t extend.  Ready aim, pull the trigger now.  In Time you firmly secure your place in hell.” State of the Union by Rise Against

The beginning of Obama’s address praises the US military, something the institution has had long in the coming.  Nonetheless, the Obama’s statement is comically reminiscent of the premature stating of ‘Mission Accomplished’ by Bush, as the supposed successful implementation of democracy in Iraq has been far from that.  Since the US departure, Iraq has descended into violence as the religious rift of its society threatens to engulf the sacrifices and efforts of the American military.  The government of Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki has targeted Sunni opposition figure, even arresting the Sunni political figure that was to be his political partner in the coalition government.  So saying, the sectarian violence seem to undermine the exhilaration of Obama’s pronounced achievement.  Moreover, the Taliban has not been broken, as Obama claimed; rather, the war in Afghanistan is mired in stalemate because of Taliban fighter operating from neighboring Pakistan.

“State of the Union address, reads war-torn country still a mess.  The words: power, death, and distorted truth are read between the lines of the red, white and blue” – State of the Union by Rise Against

Furthermore, Obama does attempt to endear himself by speaking of job creation during the last 22 months.  Most of the job-creation claims are rather debatable, given how every President is at the mercy of the business cycle.  As Obama noted, 4 million jobs were lost at the start of his administration but stating that another 4 million were lost before his policies were in full effect is a stretch.  This is because it took a full 9 months to run up 4 million in job losses, some 8 months after the stimulus was passed into law, and 4 months after many claimed that the recession had ended.  Any who claim that the recession has ended need only take a look at the growing state of disparity and depravity in the nation to understand that the recession has always been here, only some are able to ignore it with their Ferrari and private jet planes.

“Guilty is what our graves will read, no years, no family.  We did nothing to stop the murder of a people just like us” – State of the Union by Rise Against

Among Obama’s statements is the claim that American influence and foreign ties are stronger than ever, suggesting that the world is eager to work with the American people.  Obama’s statement does not include any cities in the Islamist world.  The Pew Research said in May that both the US favorability rating and confidence in Obama had fallen sharply since 2009.  In Turkey, a NATO ally, the confidence in Obama fell from 33% in 2009 to 11% in 2011.  In Jordan, another key ally, the favorability rating for the US fell from 25% in 2009 to 13% in 2011. So saying, US foreign policy has been rather successful in the aspect that Libya was able to usurp Qadhafi, Bin Laden is dead, and both Iran and Syria are facing more sanctions on a daily basis.  Nevertheless, the American people have become selfish and conniving, criticizing any humanitarian efforts that the democratic President aspires to take.  With millions starving around the world, with the Islamic people facing tanks and snipers for their attempts at democratization, the American people only concern themselves with materialism, a pursuit for immediate gratification, which can be blamed for the majority of the country’s problems.

Capitalism: “Existential Crisis”

As the world succumbs to a corrupt form of conformity in which society mobilizes towards a criteria for success that is defined by wealth, power and deceit; the depravity of sentiment and hope becomes apparent to those who seek change and meaning in an existence that has been plagued with many more questions than answers.

The US government, once crafted as a system that would serve the interest of the people, has devolved into a system of plutocracy where corporations control both the government and the people.  Corrupt aspiration led to the establishment of a country upon a fractured foundation in which civility and morality have long been forgotten.  As the American people drink their coffee and ponder the sequence of events to transpire for that day, while blissfully listening to the sprinkler system water a healthy green lawn, millions starve a day due to the lack of basic sustenance that Americans take for granted.  Society emphasized professional and the paradigm of a successful career as the objective of life, a path paralleled by isolation and depravity.  Capitalism has driven the population to abandon their passion for the promise of riches.  This unsustainable fiscal drive of greed and lustful indiscretion has marked the growth of a country into a tyrannical empire of multinational corporations, undermining the pursuit of the supposed American Dream.  As politicians seat among their polarized party members, confident in their ideological extremist values, confident in their pledges to special interest groups and confident in their indispensability; the country spirals into anarchy. The symbolism of America’s greatness, a lure for the billions of aspiring CEOs, Lawyers and Doctors in the world, has lost its luster.  The gilded age of American has revealed itself anew, illustrating that its internal mechanics are plagued with problems.

“Here in West Philadelphia, the legion of privileged college students are equaled only by the legions of homeless, and I find it increasingly hard to justify spending $55,000 a year for a fancy Ivy League education when a third of that could save someone’s life.” – Evan Hechtman, University of Pennsylvania student

Throughout history, there are countless examples of the corruption of America and its status as a superpower.  It would only seem befitting for such a country to be home for the rise of a new wave of corruption in which corporations like Nestle and Nike manipulate foreign countries by reaping them of their resources so as to be dependent on their goods and investment.  Corporations that provide arms to waring countries to influence civil war, so as to have more viability to oil fields. This new system, a new level of dictatorial hierarchy of greed, has come to define what America stands for.  A country that survived a Cold War through the exploitation of underdeveloped countries truly inspires democratic values of equality and peace.  The concept of proxy war seems vindication enough for the corruption to which America has been inspired to incorporate into every fissure of its foundation.  At the core of capitalism is the drive for power through wealth and America fuels this drive by its foreign policy in the past and present, exploiting all countries too weak to fend off its grasping hands.  Evidently, the capitalist structure of America has allowed for the fruition of corruption because of the country’s pursuit of power through wealth and foreign exploitation, leading by example the strength that come through such heedless negligence of morality.

“At the end of the day, you truly only have yourself, and that’s the hardest thing about life, the knowledge that you will one day look back on your life and not know how you will feel.  In the end, you have to live with yourself, so don’t make decision based on other people’s or society’s expectations of what people should do.” – Oliver Acosta, George Washington University student

America’s history and its people have created an obscene and materialistic world which deprives people of their humanity.  To exist in today’s society is to be defined by wealth, to risk falling into eternal damnation of poverty or conforming to the lines of exploitative elites, where the pursuit of endless amounts of money becomes the meaning of life.  The government has alienated the people, leaving them alienated and politically homeless, allowing for a growing disparity between the leaders of this nation and its supposed Selectorate, those that the government was intended to represent.  Without a guiding line, an enlightened despot to provide a meaning for this accumulation of confused and lost individuals has only fueled the growth of capitalism.  Resorting to this primal instinct to manipulate and abuse others misfortunes has fueled the recession and the ineptitude for solutions, as those in control still benefit from the carnage that are short sales, fore closures and liquidation.  Though times have changed and civility has come with modernization, the brutish profiteering of society has also modernized into the fiscal structure.  The pursuit of power, of wealth, is the defining line of capitalist society.  It is ingrained into us from birth and everyday society is reminded of the consequences of failure, of not being cruel enough to take at someone else’s expense.

“Life is a series of choices and what lies ahead of you will be the accumulation of these choices.  You have the drive to be different, to challenge the system, and be happy.  You need to realize that life is yours for the taking and just because life can be cruel, it does not mean that you have to succumb to blissful conformity.” – Michael Eylerts, Florida State University student

Be it denial or ignorance, the indifference of good people is the reason for so many of society’s problems.  It’s the indifference of people that allows those truly corrupt and power-hungry to excel at staining society their capitalist stench.  Corruption and intolerance in a world that is fueled by greed is what has grown to encompass the suburban family.  For many people, life is simpler without delving into its hidden crevices but few have seen this corruption and senseless injustice that is depriving people of their rights.

Syria: Assad’s “Iron Fist” and Failure of Arab League Involvement

As the 9-month-old revolt in Syria becomes increasingly bloody, the foreign and domestic tension has escalated with Arab League officials rebuking their own fact-finding mission and President Assad vowing to vanquish all those seeking to end his rule.

Assad Has Vowed to Repress all "Terrorists"

In his 4th speech since the protests began in March, President Assad has illustrated an ever growing vigilance to resist all attempts to usurp his rule, promising the perpetuation of bloodshed and torture in his country.  With no hint of flexibility or reform, the severity of the situation can hardly be overstated as the Syria death toll rises to well over 6,000 and an never-ending stream of reports detailing the torture and kidnapping of civilians.  Not only does Assad’s speech undercut efforts to pressure his regime, but the presence of thousands of rapturous supporters in Damascus has illustrated the division and manipulation of the people.  With dozens dying everyday, the only response from the international community has been ineffective sanctions and a fact-finding mission by the Arab League.  The Arab League had suspended Syria in November for failing to halt its crackdown on protests and now has also sent a fact-dining mission, which began in December.  So saying, the fact-finding mission has been criticized as arbitrary, a farce and many claim its only purpose has been to relieve pressure from Assad to allow him to regroup and revitalize his security forces.

“We cannot relent in the battle against terrorism.  We strike with an iron fist against terrorist who have been brainwashed.” – Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria

Of all the half-hearted and faulty responses to the Syrian crisis, the Arab League mission seems most affluent in its failures.  According to the UN, close to 400 Syrians have been killed since the start of the mission and the US ambassador to the UN stated that the killing had gathered pace since the mission began.  Many officials within the mission have already broken ranks, claiming that the mission is powerless to prevent countless crimes against humanity.  The target of most of these criticisms has been the leader of the delegation, the former Sudanese general Mohammed al-Dabi, who had already attracted controversy for his involvement in the Darfur conflict.  According to reports, al-Dabi has been attempting to avoid inciting Syrian officials by acknowledging unrest, but not on the scale or severity of the violence.  The opposition and corruption within the Arab League mission has heightened concern about the viability of its mission, which will be reviewed by officials for a second time on the 19th of January.  Evidently, the initial emboldening of anti-government forced has come to an end and the monitors from the Arab League are avoided as much as possible.

“What I saw was a humanitarian disaster.  The regime is not just committing one war crime, but a series of crimes against its people.  The snipers are everywhere, shooting at civilians.  People are being kidnapped.  Prisoners are being tortured and none were released.” – Anwar Malek, Algerian member of the Arab League fact-finding team

In Europe, the embargo and sanction on Syria have strained the economy and availability of resources for Assad’s regime, but as with most embargoes, the strain has also affected opposition forces, who are desperately trying to run guns across the borders of neighboring countries.  Moreover, the embargo placed by the EU is not without its faults.  Before, when the UN Security Council attempted to pass a resolution on Syria, both China and Russia vetoed its passing because of their lucrative trade deals with the country.  For example, a recent shipment of tens of tons of munitions was sent from Russia to Syria on Tuesday.  Russia is not part of the EU, so such a route would not have violated its embargo but the cargo ship dropped anchor off the southern Cypriot port of Limassol.  Custom officials boarded the ship to examine its cargo and later reported the vessel to be carrying munition to a destination near Turkey.

“Syria’s priority should be to listen to its people, not to denounce others; instead of massacring its people, it should listen to them.”– Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish Foreign Minster

Turkey, which had once cultivated close ties with Syria, is now one of the Assad’s regimes most vociferous critics.  Turkey has imposed trade sanctions on Syria and is allowing its opposition groups to meet on its territory.  There were talks in the past about possible intervention by Turkey due to growing gears that Syria’s feud could spill over its borders and onto Turkey’s grounds.  Any intervention would be different from the one in Libya since Russia and China have made Syrian airspace a no-fly zone.  This means that the role of regional players like Turkey increase dramatically.  Turkey may have declared it does not welcome a military solution to the Syria crisis, but it has not ruled it out either.

Iran: Amir Mirza Hekmati Sentenced to Death

Following days of heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran, the Iranians have condemned Amir Mirza Hekmati to death for allegedly spying for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Amir Mirza Kehmati is Sentence to Death in Iran

 

Amir Hekmati, a dual US-Iran citizen, is said to be guilty of manipulating public opinion in the Middle East, on behalf of US intelligence, through his work at a New-York video game company.  The US has refuted all claims of Hekmati’s charge of espionage, stating that the only evident connection between the Arizona man the US government is his former occupation as a translator for the Marines.  Iran’s Farsi language is one of the two main languages spoken in Afghanistan and the US military often deploys Americans of Iranian origin there as translators.  The execution can still be repudiated by Iran’s highest court, which must confirm all death sentences.  Despite the frequency of death sentences in Tehran for crimes such as drug dealing and murder, there are no known reports of Iran having executed any US citizens as spies.

“Amir Mirza Hekmati was sentenced to death for cooperating with the hostile country America and spying for the CIA.  The court found him Corrupt on the Eath and Mohareb (one who wages war on God).  Hekmati can appeal to the Supreme Court.” – Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, judiciary spokesman

The recent escalation of tension has come after a long history of conflict, stemming from the Iranian Hostage Crisis after the raid on the US embassy in Tehran in 1979.  Today, there are no formal diplomatic relations between Iran and the US.  Due to these poor relations, Iran’s sole connection to the US is its interests section at the Pakistani embassy in Washington, and the US solely maintains an interests section at the Swiss embassy in Tehran.  So saying, the incarceration of Hekmati comes after a history of such provocations.   3 US backpackers were jailed in Iran as spied in 2009, but were freed in 2010 and 2011 in what President Ahmadinejad called a humanitarian gesture.  Iranian-American Roxana Saberi, sentenced to 8 years for spying in 2009, was freed after 100 days.  In May, Iran said it had arrested 30 people on suspicion of spying for the US.  It later announced that 15 people had been indicted for spying for Washington and Israel.

“The responsible thing to do right now, is to keep putting diplomatic and economic pressure on them (Iran) to do the right thing.  And to make sure that they do not make the decision to proceed with the development of a nuclear weapon.” – Leon Panetta, US Secretary of Defense

Moreover, tensions have reached a new high over Tehran’s nuclear program.  The West fears the work is secret atomic weapons program, while Iran naturally insists it is purely peaceful.  Iran has started refining uranium deep inside a mountain at the Fordow underground site near the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Qom.  With Iran’s escalation of nuclear technology, as well as its successful tests of short-range missiles, US President Obama signed a new measure into law on New Year’s Eve that, if fully implemented, would prevent most countries from buying Iranian oil.  The sanctions have thus far had little real impact on the Iranian economy, though with the EU poised to support US measures, such tactics will surely begin to take a toll.  The European Union, which still buys about 1/5 of Iran’s oil, is preparing to announce an embargo at the end of this month, and other countries will have to cut purchases of Iranian crude to receive waivers from the US sanctions.

In retrospect, the relations between the US and Iran had maintained a steady trend of heightened tensions, in that the recent provocations by Iran will surely test American patience and resolve, but will also test Iran’s grit against the intensification of sanctions and the loss of formidable trade partners.  The rial currency has plunged and Iranians have scrambled to withdraw savings from banks to buy dollars.  The hardship comes just two months before parliamentary elections, Iran’s first since a 2009 Presidential vote that triggered 8 months of angry street demonstrations, all of which were suppressed by force.  Evidently, the Iranian society is closer to dissent and rebellion than previously, and if fueled by fiscal downturn and the promise of support by the US, as would most likely come, the Iranian government has more to lose if it chooses to further antagonize the American people.

Egypt: Final Phase of Elections and Islamist Majority

Voters return to the polls in the final phase of parliamentary elections, which have thus far been dominated by Islamist parties, with the Muslim Brotherhood seeking a majority to form a unity government.

Egyptians Return to the Polls for the Final Phase of Elections

Despite Western liberal perspective on the current rounds of elections, the Islamist parties have captured around 71% of votes, perplexing such liberals that view the Islamist parties as restrictive.  It is true that the Islamist parties advocate restricted freedoms but the Islamist parties hold true to the religious values of the domestic populace, as well as giving voice to the peoples’ wide-spread grievances through their grassroots campaigning.  So saying, Selectorate theory effectively explains the election results that seem to be an abnormality to Westerners.  Selectorate Theory implies that a democracy has a large winning coalition, as they must appease a large majority of the population to remain in power.  Egypt, long repressed under dictator Mubarak, is voicing its determination for change and a government that reflects their values.  They are not willing to remain silent as the military junta returns the country to a dictatorial rule; rather, the return of riots and demonstrations clearly  illustrates the supposed “silent majority” being vocal in their grievances and calling for a government that they have fought for.  For these reasons, the Islamist parties  are vindicated in their efforts to empower the people during the months of riots, as they are the parties that are seen as representative of the people and representative of the values that they have for so long fought for.  Evidently, these parties will stride onward and forward throughout the last rounds of elections as they remain symbolic to the long months of bloodshed and sacrifice by the Egyptians.

“Under the former regime, my ballot was already marked for me.  I’ve come here today, knowing that my vote will count.  I’ve voted for the Muslim Brotherhood.  They have the experience in running politics and I am convinced they will start implementing serious reforms.” – Fawzi Mohamed, pensioner

The Islamist parties are the best organized political parties.  During Mubarak’s regime, the government cracked down on any form of organized dissent and civil society groups were virtually non-existent.  Currently, the military junta is also responsible for waging an increasingly violent crackdown of protesters.  Last week, soldiers raided 10 pro-democracy and election monitoring organization, including 3 US groups.  Nonetheless, the mosque is the sole refuge for political opponents of ruling regimes, granting the Islamist parties leverage.  The Islamist have used the cover afforded by mosques to increase their outreach in society and these networks have effectively educated voters about their parties and ensuring they get to the ballot box.  In a country with no democratic experience, the campaign was not about concrete political issues.  The electorate voted for symbols and slogans rather than political programs.  Islamist emphasized that they speak for God and His Prophet, the two most powerful points of reference in the Muslim constellation.  They emphasized the striking contrast between purity of Islam and the corruption of secular political in Egypt since its independence.

Most effective throughout the events has been the Muslim Brotherhood through its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), a group that has stood resilient since its founding in 1928.  Egyptians have backed the Muslim Brotherhood largely because it opposed the former regime.  Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood boast that the organization has been an opposition party since its founding, remaining anti-establishment.  Moreover, emphasizing their long-term opposition status, the Muslim Brotherhood has highlighted their political experience.  Many voters desire a veteran party with the skills to solve the country’s economic and social problems.

“The party’s winning of the majority in the new parliament does not mean going it alone in writing the constitution without consideration for the rights of other Egyptians, or ignoring the political forces which did not get a majority or failed in the parliamentary elections.  All political forces and intellectuals in Egypt, regardless of their political religious allegiances, will take part in writing the constitutions.”  – Mohamed Mursi, head of the Freedom and Justice Party

Egypt’s military rulers said Sunday that the election process will be sped up following clashes in Cairo.  Protesters have called for a quicker transition to civilian rule.  Under the guidelines established by Egypt’s interim military rulers, the elections for the People’s assembly, the lower house of parliament, began on the 28th.  The election process for the lower house will take place in different administrative districts in December and January.  Each district will have two days of voting.  Elections for the Shura, the upper house, begin on January 29th and will end in March.  The newly elected assembly will then write a new constitution.  The ruling military junta says a presidential election will be held before July 2012.  The voting will pace the way for Egypt’s transfer to civilian rule.