December 31/17
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations
Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir
Galatians 04/01-31: "What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.  So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world.  But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.  Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”  So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you,  and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them.  It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you.  My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.  Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: “Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.”Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.".

Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one
Philippians 02/01-11/: "Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 30-31/17
2017 marks year of achievements for Lebanon's Parliament/Zeina Nasser/Associated Press /December 30/201
Lebanon: 2017's most memorable moments/Yehia El Amine/Annahar/December 30/2017
Egypt church attack requires a broad response from an empowered civil society/HA Hellyer/The National/December 30/17
Reform or Revolution?/Iran’s Path to Democracy/Haleh Esfandiari/Foreign Affairs Magazine/December 30/17
After Initial Stumble, Trump Administration Has Strong Response to Iran Protests/Leryl BierThe Weekly Standard/December 30/17
Voices From The Grave Cry Out For Justice In Iran/Huffpost/December 30/17
Conflicts after the Fall of ISIS/Jason Burke/Asharq Al Awsat/December 30/2017
Italy's Five Star Movement on the Path of Brexit/Ferdinando Giugliano/Bloomberg View/December 30/2017
Iran: The View from Mashhad/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/December 30/2017
Expect America's Tensions with China and Russia to Rise in 2018/John Bolton/Gatestone Institute/December 30/2017
How Palestinians Silence Palestinians/Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute/December 30/2017
Behind the protests, the real demand is for Irani regime change/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/December 31/2017
Did Putin defeat terrorism/Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/December 30-31/17

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on December 30-31/17
Aoun: Poisoning strays not the answer
Aoun Vows to 'Build State', Promises 'Better Future' for Lebanon
Report: Army Chief Refuses to Accept Decrees Rebuked By Khalil
Report: Govt Meets Thursday Amid Boycott Concerns Over Aoun-Berri Spat
Khalil Says Constitution Must be Respected, Slams Resignation Plans
Stray Dog Poisoning Video Sparks Lebanon Outcry
Israeli Troops Hurl Stun Grenades at Lebanese Border Protesters
Azzam Ahmad, Ibrahim meet over Palestinian situation
Hariri cables Sisi, condemns terrorist attack on Coptic Church
Siniora cables Sissi, deplores terrorist attack on Coptic church
Fadi Karam: Relation between LF, Future needs clarifications
2017 marks year of achievements for Lebanon's Parliament
Lebanon: 2017's most memorable moments

Titles For
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 30-31/17
Canada closely monitoring ongoing protests in Iran
Protestors in Iran Qom city shout death to ‘Hezbollah’, ‘Shame on Khamenei’
Qom’s top legal, religious cleric announces support for Iran protests
Protests erupt in central Tehran amid calls for mass demonstrations
All you need to know about the Iran protests in 20 points
Iran cuts off internet access in several cities as mass protests continue
Trump tweets: World understands Iran leaders fear their own people the most
Ahwaz citizens defy security forces as Iran protests enter fourth day
Palestine recalls envoy from Pakistan over faux pas
US Urges All Nations to Support Iranian People, Condemns Arrests
Price Protests Spread in Iran
Man with Explosives Barricades himself in Ukraine Post Office
After Liberating Benghazi, Haftar Waves with the 'Popular Mandate' Option
Captured Helwan church attack gunman still alive following surgery
Egypt Sentences Morsi to 3 Years in Jail for Insulting Judiciary
Guatemala says Jerusalem embassy move ‘will not be reversed’

Latest Lebanese Related News published on December 30-31/17
Aoun: Poisoning strays not the answer
The Daily Star/December 30/2017/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun late Friday condemned the recent poisoning of the several stray dogs in the municipality of Ghobeiri and reiterated a recently passed Animal Welfare Protection law in a post on his personal Facebook account. "Despite the danger stray dogs may pose to people, the methods to resolves these cases are numerous and [the answer is] definitely not what we witnessed on social media and television [in Ghobeiri]," he wrote. He pointed to the Animal Welfare Protection law, signed earlier this year, that increases protections and criminalizes acts that harm, torture or kill animals. The video of four dogs lying on the road twitching, whimpering and foaming at the mouth was widely shared on social media Thursday. In the video, the dogs appeared to be still alive when they were picked up by a man wearing a municipal uniform and thrown into the back of a municipal vehicle parked next to scene. The municipality of Ghoberiri denied any involvement in the killing and claimed these acts were carried out by individuals who have since been arrested. In a tweet Friday, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk called on the General Directorate of Administrative and Local Councils to investigate the incident while local animal rights organizations – Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Animals Lebanon – have said they are looking at legal action in response. "We are appealing to the courts with Animals Lebanon so that the justice system can officially state this is illegal and act according to the law," BETA said in a post on their Facebook page. A petition titled “Stop killing stray dogs in Lebanon,” addressed to President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Speaker Nabih Berri and Environment Minister Tarek Khatib has also been circulating and already acquired over 29,000 signatures.

Aoun Vows to 'Build State', Promises 'Better Future' for Lebanon
Naharnet/December 30/17/President Michel Aoun on Friday reassured that Lebanon's future “will be better than its past.”“Lebanon's future will be better than its near and distant past, because we will build a state no matter how hard things may be,” Aoun told an expat delegation at the Baabda Palace. “Very soon we will be able to revitalize the economic and financial situations in order to restore prosperity,” the president said. “I encourage you to return to Lebanon, because the economy will be revived very soon,” Aoun added, noting that “the tourism sector has seen progress because security is the basis of tourism.”“The other sectors need some time and we will build them,” the president pledged.

Report: Army Chief Refuses to Accept Decrees Rebuked By Khalil
Naharnet/December 30/17/The army's leadership has reportedly “refused” to accept controversial decrees related to the promotion of army officers handed back to the defense ministry by the finance minister after he refused to sign them, asking said minister to provide “written answers” to the reasons and circumstances that justify the decision, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Saturday. Sources following up closely on the new row between President Michel and Speaker Nabih Berri over the decree said: “It seems the row will find no close solution and the crisis will be wide open with the new year beginning.”
The row is likely to escalate “if the ministry of defense took advantage of promotions as a fait accompli and did not respond to the letter of the minister of finance, in which he requests evidence on the legal grounds to upgrade a number of officers who did not fulfill conditions according to years of service.”
The officers in question were undergoing their first year of officer training at the Military Academy when Syrian forces ousted Aoun’s military government from Baabda in 1990. They were suspended by the pro-Damascus authorities until 1993 before they resumed their officer training course as second-year cadets. “Taking such a step means the crisis has reached the red lines,” considered the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. The Aoun-Berri spat broke out after the president and Premier Saad Hariri signed a decree granting one-year seniority to a number of officers. Berri and Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, a political aide to Berri, have insisted that the decree should have also carried the finance minister's signature. Aoun and his aides have argued that the decree did not require Khalil's signature because it did not entail any “financial burden,” a point Berri and officials close to him have argued against. Ain el-Tineh sources (the Speaker's residence) have meanwhile warned that the decree would tip sectarian balance in favor of Christians in the army's highest echelons.

Report: Govt Meets Thursday Amid Boycott Concerns Over Aoun-Berri Spat
Naharnet/December 30/17/Lebanon's Cabinet is scheduled to hold its first meeting in 2018 on Thursday in light of an escalating row between President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri over the signing of a decree promoting a number of Army officers and amid concerns that Berri's ministers might boycott the government session. Al-Joumhouria daily said the Cabinet will convene next week and Prime Minister Saad Hariri will send a copy of the agenda to the ministers “directly after the holidays.”The government is set to meet after reports that three ministers of the Amal Movement (of Berri) might boycott the Cabinet meetings in the new year in protest against the officers decree which triggered a political confrontation between Aoun and Berri. Even though media reports have raised boycott concerns, but Khalil has emphasized in a televised appearance on Friday that Amal ministers have not taken a decision as yet. The Aoun-Berri spat broke out after the president and Premier Saad Hariri signed a decree granting one-year seniority to a number of officers. Berri and Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, a political aide to Berri, have insisted that the decree should have also carried the finance minister's signature.
Aoun and his aides have argued that the decree did not require Khalil's signature because it did not entail any “financial burden,” a point Berri and officials close to him have argued against. Ain el-Tineh sources (the Speaker's residence) have meanwhile warned that the decree would tip sectarian balance in favor of Christians in the army's highest echelons. The officers in question were undergoing their first year of officer training at the Military Academy when Syrian forces ousted Aoun’s military government from Baabda in 1990. They were suspended by the pro-Damascus authorities until 1993 before they resumed their officer training course as second-year cadets.

Khalil Says Constitution Must be Respected, Slams Resignation Plans
Naharnet/December 30/17/Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil stressed the need “to respect the Constitutional norms” slamming reports that Amal Movement ministers plan to resign from the government, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Saturday. Khalil said “correcting the constitutional imbalance” after the row over the signing of a decree promoting several army officers can be “rectified.” He emphasized the necessity to adhere to the Constitution in addressing the State's files. A row between President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri broke out after the president and Premier Saad Hariri signed a decree granting one-year seniority to a number of officers. Berri and Khalil, a political aide to Berri, have insisted that the decree should have also carried the finance minister's signature. Aoun and his aides have argued that the decree did not require Khalil's signature because it did not entail any “financial burden,” a point Berri and officials close to him have argued against. Ain el-Tineh sources (the Speaker's residence) have meanwhile warned that the decree would tip sectarian balance in favor of Christians in the army's highest echelons. The officers in question were undergoing their first year of officer training at the Military Academy when Syrian forces ousted Aoun’s military government from Baabda in 1990. They were suspended by the pro-Damascus authorities until 1993 before they resumed their officer training course as second-year cadets.

Stray Dog Poisoning Video Sparks Lebanon Outcry
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 30/17/Video footage of stray dogs apparently being poisoned by municipal staff has sparked a public outcry in Lebanon, with politicians rushing to post pictures of themselves with their pets. The video, shot in the south Beirut suburb of Ghobeiry, shows the dogs lying on their sides near a bowl of food shaking uncontrollably and frothing at the mouth. A municipal employee is then seen picking up their bodies and throwing them on the back of a pickup. Welfare organisation Animals Lebanon, which posted the video, said it was seeking action from the government.
"This sickening level of abuse, torture, suffering and complete disregard for life and law is absolutely shocking," it said. "We are communicating now with the minister of interior (Nohad Machnouk) to condemn such action and officially notify all municipalities that this is illegal and unacceptable."Ghobeiry municipality said that it had suspended several staff members and opened a disciplinary investigation but denied any responsibility. "This is an isolated villainous and reprehensible act carried out on the personal initiative of a number of health department staff," it said. But the interior minister, who is responsible for overseeing local government, said that he had ordered an inquiry into the actions of the municipality. President Michel Aoun posted a photograph of himself with his pet dog and a reminder that, under new legislation he signed into law in August, any action that causes suffering to animals is punishable by a fine of up to $13,000 (11,000 euros). "Stray dogs may pose danger to people in several ways but the methods to resolve these cases are also numerous," he said. "These methods are definitely not what we have witnessed on television and social media channels especially after the new animal protection law was signed earlier this year."The leader of Lebanon's Druze community, Walid Jumblatt, posted a photograph of himself with his dog Oscar, describing the killing of strays as a "crime". "If there is one creature to remind us of our humanity and to teach us faithfulness, love, loyalty and tenderness, it's the dog," the veteran lawmaker tweeted. It is not the first time this year that there has been an outcry over the treatment of animals in Lebanon. In January, the culling of hundreds of seagulls deemed a threat to flights at Beirut airport drew a torrent of criticism when activists posted pictures of the dead birds strewn on the ground after being shot by hunters.

Israeli Troops Hurl Stun Grenades at Lebanese Border Protesters
Naharnet/December 30/17/The Israeli army on Friday hurled stun grenades during a Hizbullah-organized demo near the Lebanese-Israeli border, Lebanon's National News Agency said. “Israeli soldiers hurled two stun grenades this afternoon at a number of young men who approached the electronic border fence,” NNA said. The young men were taking part in a rally organized by Hizbullah “in support and solidarity with Jerusalem,” the agency added. The demo was held at the Fatima border wall in the southern town of Kfarkila. Palestinians marked another "day of rage" on Friday in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in protest at U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Tens of thousands of Hizbullah supporters had demonstrated in Beirut's southern suburbs on December 11 in protest at Trump's move.

Azzam Ahmad, Ibrahim meet over Palestinian situation
Sat 30 Dec 2017/NNA - Member of Fath Movement's Central Committee, Azzam Ahmad, met with General Security Chief, Brigadier General Abbas Ibrahim, in presence of Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon, Ashraf Dabbour and Fatah Movement Secretary in Lebanon Fathi Abu Ardat. According to a statement by the Embassy of Palestine, it indicated that "discussions touched on the security situation at the Palestinian refugee camps in Ain Hilweh, as well as the need to improve their living conditions in Lebanon." Ahmad also briefed Ibrahim on "the situation in the Palestinian territories and the Palestinian movement at both official and popular levels, to confront the U.S. decision against the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital."

Hariri cables Sisi, condemns terrorist attack on Coptic Church

Sat 30 Dec 2017/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri Saturday cabled Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, expressing his deep condemnation and strong denouncement of the terrorist crime against the terrorist attack that targeted a Coptic Christian church in a Cairo suburb. He considered the attack "an attempt to undermine the stability of sister-nation, Egypt, and stir up strife among its people." Hariri expressed warmest sympathy and condolences for the fallen victims.

Siniora cables Sissi, deplores terrorist attack on Coptic church
Sat 30 Dec 2017/NNA - Head of Future parliamentary bloc, MP Fouad Siniora, on Saturday cabled Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, sternly deploring the "terrorist attack" that targeted a Coptic church and a nearby shop in al-Helwan district, south of Cairo, which left scores dead and wounded.
"This terrible crime will not undermine the will of the Egyptian state and its people, and their determination to confront terrorism," Siniora said in his letter.

Fadi Karam: Relation between LF, Future needs clarifications

Sat 30 Dec 2017 /NNA - Member of Parliament, Fadi Karam, stressed on Saturday that the relationship between the Lebanese Forces and the Future Movement is ongoing but still needs some clarifications, despite the existing discrepancies in some political stances, especially concerning the approach of the coming period. "There is a need to hold several meetings between the two parties, to clarify the [outstanding] issues between the [Lebanese Forces-Future] and then prepare for a meeting between Geagea and Hariri," Karam added. Commenting on the LF-FPM relations, Karam concluded by saying "there will be no turning back in the LF-FPM relation."

2017 marks year of achievements for Lebanon's Parliament
Zeina Nasser/Associated Press /December 30/2017
BEIRUT: Despite the extension of Parliament's term for a third time, 2017 marked a year of accomplishments for Lebanese lawmakers.
Here are some of Parliament’s most significant highlights for 2017:
On October 19, Parliament approved the first state budget since 2005 following a three-day marathon session chaired by Speaker Nabih Berri.
The state budget bill passed after 61 MPs voted in favor of the bill. Four MPs voted against while eight abstained.
Lebanon being without a budget for 12 years has led to extra-budgetary spending which resulted in mounting debt. Public debt has almost doubled since the last state budget was drafted, reaching $75 billion in 2017, at an estimated debt to GDP ratio of 157 percent.
New taxes were introduced by Parliament on October 9 to finance a long due wage increase for civil servants and teachers. The new taxes were first approved in September but were annulled by the constitutional council which referred the tax law back to parliament for amendments.
The approved tax hikes included an increase in the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 10 to 11 percent effective in 2018.
Thousands of Lebanese took to the streets in the past few years to demand the ratification of a new election law and protest the government's failure to hold parliamentary elections since 2009.
A new electoral law based on proportional representation was ratified on June 16 but Parliament’s term was extended for another 11 months. Activists protested the extension, this time hurling eggs at lawmakers’ convoys passing through downtown Beirut as security forces deployed heavily around Parliament. The protests escalated into scuffles between security forces and demonstrators.
This was the third time that lawmakers extended their own tenure. In 2013, lawmakers voted to extend parliament's term by 17 months and then voted again in 2014 to extend their tenure an additional two years and seven months.
“Marry the rapist” law (article 522 of the law), which had been in place since 1940, was finally repealed by the Lebanese parliament on August 16. That accomplishment is a result of years of campaigning by women rights advocates.
Prior to this, the Lebanese law had stated that rape is punishable by up to seven years in prison, or more if the victim is mentally or physically disabled, and article 522 had mentioned that if the rapist marries the victim, criminal prosecution is suspended.
Human Rights Watch welcomed the move by Lebanon's parliament but said more should be done to ensure women's rights including legislation to end child marriage and marital rape, both of which are still legal in Lebanon.
Lawmakers approved the creation of the Keserwan-Byblos governorate on August 16, separating both districts from the Mount Lebanon governorate. By doing so, they expanded the country’s governorates to nine.
This is considered a small but significant step in efforts to push for the implementation of administrative decentralization.
Lebanon was previously divided into eight administrative governorates each comprised of one or several districts.
Lebanon’s parliament approved on September 19 a law to tax revenues from oil and gas operations. On December 15, the Cabinet approved a bid by a consortium of France’s Total, Italy’s ENI and Russia’s Novatek, in the country’s much-delayed first oil and gas offshore licensing round. Exploratory drilling is expected to start at the beginning of 2019, according to Energy and Water Minister Cesar Abi Khalil.
Lebanon’s efforts to develop a hydrocarbons industry has faced many delays, mainly due to political infighting, since the country first discovered potential oil and gas fields in 2009.

Lebanon: 2017's most memorable moments
Yehia El Amine/Annahar/December 30/2017
BEIRUT: Every year, a wide array of events take headlines by storm, marking the most memorable moments in a country’s history; impacting the nation and its people, be it emotionally, economically, or politically.
To mark the end of the year, here is a set of compelling and newsworthy images that rocked Lebanon in 2017.
The sister of Elias Wardini, who was killed in the New Year’s Eve Istanbul nightclub attack, mourns as she holds her brother’s portrait during his funeral procession, in Beirut, Lebanon, on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017. The attack killed 39 people, most of them foreigners, including three Lebanese citizens. The portrait reads, “We will never forget you.”
Lebanese security forces secure the street near Costa Cafe in Hamra street where a suicide bomber was arrested before detonating his explosive belt. The suicide bomber had been tracked by undercover agents to the cafe, where he was tackled to the floor before he could detonate the bomb.
France's far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen (L) arrives for a meeting with Lebanon's Grand Mufti Abdel-Latif Derian on February 20, 2017. Le Pen caused controversy upon her arrival for refusing to wear a headscarf during the meeting. As a result, the meeting was canceled.
Bodyguards protect Prime Minister Saad Hariri after demonstrators threw a water bottle at the latter. Hariri arrived at the scene of the protest in downtown Beirut on Sunday, March 19, 2017, to address demonstrators after Parliament had slapped new taxes. (AP Photo)
Siberian tigers destined for a zoo in war-torn Syria, and rescued by Animals Lebanon, an animal rights group, eat inside a cage, in Aley, east of Beirut, Lebanon, on March 29, 2017. The tigers were rescued after being trapped in an unmarked, maggot-infested crate in Beirut's airport for almost a week.
Interior Minister Nohad Mashnouk pays his condolences to Roy Hamouch's brother. Hamouch, a university student, was shot in the early hours of June 6 by Ahmad Hasan Al Ahmar after a traffic dispute which led to a car chase from Dora to Karantina. The killing of Hamouch has incited widespread calls for the reinstatement of capital punishment in the country.
A Hezbollah fighter stands at a watchtower at the site where clashes erupted between Hezbollah and Al Qaeda-linked fighters in al-Kheil Valley in the Lebanon-Syria border on Saturday, July 29, 2017. A cease-fire went into effect between the militant Hezbollah group and al-Qaida-linked fighters as negotiations were underway to reach a deal that would eventually lead to the evacuation of Syrian fighters to the northwestern rebel-held province of Idlib. The truce followed a six-day offensive by Hezbollah and Syrian troops who besieged al-Qaida-linked fighters in a small border area.
US President Donald Trump (L), walks alongside Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri heading to the White House's Rose Garden in Washington to address members of the press on July 25, 2017. Trump slammed Hezbollah, labeling them “a menace to the Lebanese state, the Lebanese people, and the entire region."
A picture taken on August 17, 2017, during a tour guided by the Lebanese army, shows soldiers holding a position in a mountainous area near the eastern town of Ras Baalbek during an operation against jihadist fighters. (AFP Photo)
A Lebanese army soldier salutes the national flag as he stands on top of an armored personnel carrier during a media trip on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek, northeast Lebanon, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Hussein Youssef, the father of slain soldier Mohamad Youssef, receives the Lebanese flag that was wrapped around his son's coffin from Lebanese Army Commander Joseph Aoun, at the Lebanese Defense Ministry, in Yarzeh, near Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Sept. 8, 2017.
The Gemayel family poses for a picture after the court sentenced Habib Shartouni, who killed President-elect Bashir Gemayel on September 14, 1982; nine days before he was to be sworn in as Lebanon’s 7th president. (Annahar Photo)
Prime Minister Saad Hariri shockingly resigns from his post in a pre-recorded televised speech from Saudi Arabia in the latest sign of rising Iranian-Saudi tensions in the region and Lebanon. Lebanese politicians from across the political spectrum scrambled to ease the crisis resulting from the resignation, with rumors surfacing that the PM's resignation was forced by the kingdom. (Screenshot via AP)
Lebanese at a coffee shop in Beirut watch an interview with Lebanon's resigned Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The live interview aired on November 12, 2017, was Hariri's first televised appearance since his resignation. (AFP Photo)
This collage photo shows President Michel Aoun and House Speaker Nabih Berri warmly greeting Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri during the military parade to celebrate the 74th anniversary of Lebanon's independence in downtown Beirut, on November 22, 2017.
25-year-old Fouad Maksoud was named the Arab world’s top innovator in a supercharged finale of Stars of Science on 27 November 2017. His journey on the ninth season of the TV show captivated hundreds of thousands across the Middle East. Maksoud is a skilled engineer and innovative entrepreneur. He graduated with a Master’s degree from the American University of Beirut (AUB) in 2016.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 30-31/17
Canada closely monitoring ongoing protests in Iran
December 30, 2017 - Ottawa, Ontario - Global Affairs Canada
Global Affairs Canada today released the following statement on the ongoing protests in Iran:
“Canada is encouraged by the Iranian people who are exercising their basic right to protest peacefully.
“We call on the Iranian authorities to uphold and respect democratic and human rights.
“Canada will continue to support the fundamental rights of Iranians, including the right to freedom of expression.”

Protestors in Iran Qom city shout death to ‘Hezbollah’, ‘Shame on Khamenei’
Al Arabiya/December 30/2017/Anti-regime demonstrations in Iran started from the city of Mashhad and moved to other cities, including the city of Qom, which includes most religious institutions and schools. The demonstrators shouted “Death to Hezbollah” and “Aren’t you ashamed Khamenei? Leave the country.”Protestors in different Iranian cities also carried slogans condemning the interference of Iran in other countries at their own expense, as per slogans such as “get out of Syria and take care of us” and “Not Gaza, or Lebanon, I would give my soul for Iran.”Iran supports Bashar al-Assad annually with billions and supports Hezbollah with hundreds of millions, arming and funding sectarian militias brought from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Lebanon to suppress the Syrian people’s revolution as well as supporting the Houthis in Yemen. According to the slogans repeated by the Iranians during the past two days, it is clear that they prioritize themselves when it comes to their country’s support of militias in Lebanon, al-Nujaba movement in Iraq, and Houthis in Yemen.

Qom’s top legal, religious cleric announces support for Iran protests
Al Arabiya/December 31/2017/A prominent hardline cleric responsible for being one of Iran’s leading reference on Islamic jurisprudence has voiced support for the ongoing protests currently gripping several cities across the country. Considered the top religious cleric in the city of Qom, Hossein Noori Hamedani, on Saturday supported the popular protests against the high prices and high costs of living in the country. “The people are demanding their right and we must support them,” Hamedani was quoted by the Iranian media.
He added: “People are demanding their legitimate rights because they suffer from high living costs and the difficulty of living, as well as the spread of unemployment,” calling on the government to work to reduce poverty and unemployment and avoid the anger of the people. “A lot of people have written to us about the loss of their money in financial institutions and some banks that have declared bankruptcy and have not been able to return their money. The government must pay these funds without delay”, Hamdani said. Hamedani, however, warned warned of “stooges of the enemy” infiltrating protests to use them against the establishment, Tasnim news reported.

Protests erupt in central Tehran amid calls for mass demonstrations
Al Arabiya/December 31/2017/Iranians protested for the third day in a row and held a massive protest in central Tehran amid calls in most Iranian cities and provinces to protest on Saturday afternoon. Activists on social media shared videos and photos of protestors who gathered and walked in Enqelab Street in central Tehran and chanted to fellow Iranians to support them and join their protests. Protestors gathered and walked in Enqelab Street in central Tehran. (Social media) Dozens of students at the University of Tehran also gathered in front of the university’s entrance and chanted: “The reformists’ and fundamentalists’ game is over.” Some social media pages and Telegram channels that are reporting protests in Iran said dozens protested in Karaj, south of Tehran. Local media reported that protests broke out around the University of Tehran on Saturday, “Unlike other protests in various cities which were against the economic situation and high prices, the one in front of the University of Tehran was political,” Fars news agency said. The students repeated a popular chant of “Not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran”-- an expression of anger over claims the government is focusing more on regional issues than problems at home. There is discontent over unemployment, rising prices and alleged corruption. The protests have also turned political over issues including the Islamic Republic’s involvement in regional conflicts such as those in Syria and Iraq.
Unemployment has risen and annual inflation is running at about 8 percent, with shortages of some foods also leading to higher prices. Other videos shared on social media showed people protesting in Isfahan, in Shahr-e Kord, in central Iran, and in Kermanshah, in west Iran. Clashes with the police were reported in Shahr-e Kord. Security forces also used tear gas bombs against protestors in Kermanshah. Some photos showed police and anti-riot forces heavily deployed across the capital. Meanwhile authorities warned that it will confront the protestors. Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli called on Iranians not to participate in the protests which he deemed “illegal.” “The police and the judiciary tried not to turn these protests into a worrisome case,” he added. In a statement issued Saturday, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) accused protestors of implementing a “western agenda against the regime” and accused Britain and the US of standing behind the protests which it described as a new attempt to incite “sedition. It also called for confronting protestors by holding protests in support of the regime.The Iranian state television reported on the protests for the first time on Saturday and said: “A number of people gathered and chanted slogans, which were mainly about the economic situation, and demanded controlling prices and combating corruption.” The station also aired some videos of protestors “violating the law” and accused the latter of “turning into tools exploited by foreigners.”Earlier on Saturday, authorities organized protests in support of the regime in several cities. This brings to mind similar protests which the regime organized on December 30, 2009 when the Iranian Green Movement held anti-regime protests which were violently suppressed. IranWire tweeted on Saturday evening: Protesters in the capital #Tehran took down a poster of Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, chanting “Death to You!”
Iranian opposition figure Maryam Rajavi greeted Iranians protesting against the dictatorial and repressive regime in Tehran on Saturday – the third day of widespread protets in the major Iranian cities around the country. “We salute the heroic protests of citizens in Khorasan, beginning with the uprising in Mashhad and protests in Shahrud, Kashmar, Nishapur, Sabzevar, Quchan, Bojnord and other cities,” she tweeted. “I salute the heroic men, women in Shiraz whose slogans terrified the Iran|ian regime,” she said in another tweet. Farnaz Fassihi, a senior writer, journalist and author tweeted with video of protests from Qom: “Unreal foorage from #Qom: "We don't want Islamic Republic, we don't want it, we don't want it.”She also tweeted video of police beating protesters in Kermanshah. Another video from Bandarabbas showed protesters chanting: “We don't want a clerical regime, we don't want it.”
Raman Ghavami in an update about the protests, tweeted: ” Security forces in #Tehran are damaging cars parked belong to ordinary people as well as throwing stones to break house windows. Scaring people or. They want people to think their cars were damaged by the protesters but it is documented now.” The economic protests began on Wednesday nd have drawn thousands into the streets in several cities in Iran. Officials say some 50 protesters have been arrested. US President Donald Trump has tweeted out support for those protesting. The US State Department late Friday also offered support to the protesters.
- With Agencies

All you need to know about the Iran protests in 20 points
Al Arabiya/December 31/2017/1 On Tuesday, December 19, the Iranian government announced a new austerity plan.
2 The plan imposed a 50% increase in the price of fuel.
3 The government decided to cancel the monetary support of more than 34 million people.
4 Economists close to President Hassan Rouhani warned that the plan would lead to a societal explosion.
5 Hassan Rouhani snubbed the advice and decided to proceed with the austerity plan.
6 In this same austerity plan, the government decided to increase the budget for military armament.
7 Most of the military armament budget goes to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani poses during the inauguration of an extension of the port of Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman on Dec. 3, 2017. (AP)
8 The IRGC operates on foreign lands, supporting the Houthi militia in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Popular Mobilization Unit in Iraq and supporting the Assad regime in Syria.
9 The number of poverty-stricken individuals under the lifting of subsidies rose from 20 million to 54 million.
10 On Wednesday, December 27, citizens went out on a limited demonstration to demand that the government backtrack on the austerity plans.
11 The demonstration was held in the city of Mashhad, the capital of Khorasan Rizvi province, and security forces treated the protesters with excessive violence.
12 On Thursday morning, thousands of citizens decided to go out in mass demonstrations against the regime in support of the protesters.
13 Demonstrations began with economic demands such as the restoration of monetary support and the lifting of fuel subsidies.
14 University students and other middle classes joined the demonstrations.
15 Their demands have evolved into political anger related to Iran’s foreign policy.
16 Demonstrators called on the regime to stop supporting terrorist groups abroad and said clearly in the slogans they chanted “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon ... my soul is searching for the redemption of Iran.”
17 The massive demonstrations from Khorasan province extended to other provinces including Hamdan, Kermanshah and Tehran.
18 Security forces violently treated demonstrators and tried to disperse them with tear gas and arrested hundreds of them.
19 The clerics in Mashhad specifically called for the suppression of demonstrations by all means.
20 The geographical scope of the demonstrations is expected to expand to include provinces such as Sistan, Baluchistan and Persia, with its capital, Shiraz and Isfahan, which also witnessed massive demonstrations at the weekend.

Iran cuts off internet access in several cities as mass protests continue
Al Arabiya/December 31/2017/Several reports indicate that telecoms providers in Iran have begun blocking internet access across several cities in the country as mass protests erupted for the third day in a row. Among the telecoms company was Hamrahe Aval, the primary Mobile Telecommunication Company of Iran (MTCI or MCI) as social media continues to play a pivotal role in documenting mass protests and subsequent brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters in the country. The MTCI is considered a firm jointly held by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and other firms controlled by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Iran’s two main internet and communications service providers are the Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI) and Irancell. TCI and its subsidiaries, including MCI, are owned by Tosee Etemad Mobin Company which has close links to Iran’s IRGC. Iran had previously cut off internet access across several cities when the popular Green Movement protests took place against what many considered unfair elections in 2009 when hardliner incumbent president at the time, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, won relection.

Trump tweets: World understands Iran leaders fear their own people the most
Al Arabiya/December 31/2017/United States President Donald Trump tweeted on Saturday his support for an ongoing popular uprising across Iran and shared a video of his United Nations speech earlier this year to make his point. “The entire world understands that the good people of Iran want change, and, other than the vast military power of the United States, that Iran’s people are what their leaders fear the most,” Trump tweeted. He also added in his video which showed his UN speech: “That is what causes the regime to restrict internet access, tear down satellite dishes, shoot unarmed student protesters and imprison political reformers”. The Iranian government should respect its people’s right to protest, Trump tweeted earlier on Saturday in response to anti-government protests rallies across Iran in recent days.“Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime’s corruption & its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad.

Ahwaz citizens defy security forces as Iran protests enter fourth day
Al Arabiya/December 31/2017/Thousands of protesters took the streets in Ahwaz city on Saturday as mass demonstrations across various Iranian cities enter its fourth day in a row. Excessive force was used against protesters in Ahwaz, with several videos on social media showing anti-riot police beating several of them with batons and arrested a large group. At least three people are believed to dead and others were injured after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot at protesters in ‎Doroud, Loerstan province, in central Iran. Protesters condemned the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, and the Speaker of Iranian Parliament Ali Larijani. Thousands of Iranians continued demonstrations in dozens of cities against the regime for the third day in a row, where videos recorded the heavy security crackdown as crowds shouted “Death to Khamenei”. Mass demonstrations were held at the Tehran University raising slogans against the President of the Iranian Shura Council, Ali Larijani, stating, “Sayed Ali, be ashamed and leave the government.” The ongoing protests are the largest since the suppressing the 2009 uprising, which almost turned into a revolution to overthrow the regime of the ruling mullahs, who has been in power since 1979.

Palestine recalls envoy from Pakistan over faux pas
Al Arabiya/December 31/2017/The Palestine Authority recalled its envoy from Islamabad after the presence of the Palestine ambassador to Pakistan, Waleed Abu Ali, in the company of Hafiz Saeed in Rawalpindi, appeared in news reports. Saeed heads Lashkar-e-Taiba and is linked to the Mumbai terror attacks in India. In a statement, the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates stressed on the commitment of the State of Palestine and keenness to maintain strong and friendly relations with the Republic of India, as well as its support to the efforts made by the Republic of India in its war against terrorism and in that regard the State of Palestine affirms its stand with the Republic of India in dealing with its terrorist threats, as our nations are real partners in the war against terrorism. “The State of Palestine highly appreciates India’s support in its tireless efforts to end the Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent State of Palestine on the 1967 boarders with East Jerusalem as its capital and this is especially seen in the honorable position that India has taken by voting in favor of the resolution in the United Nation General Assembly last week,” the spokesman said. “On the basis of the principled and firm Palestinian position, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates considered the participation of our ambassador in Pakistan in a mass rally in solidarity with Jerusalem, held in Rawalpindi on Friday and in the presence of individuals accused of supporting terrorism is an unintended mistake, but not justified. Accordingly, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates under the direct instructions of the President of the State of Palestine to recall the Palestinian Ambassador to Pakistan immediately.”

US Urges All Nations to Support Iranian People, Condemns Arrests
Asharq Al Awsat/December 30/2017/Washington condemned on Friday arrests made by security forces during anti-government protests in Iran, saying the regime should respect freedom of expression. "Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime's corruption and its squandering of the nation's wealth to fund terrorism abroad," President Donald Trump tweeted late Friday. "Iranian govt should respect their people's rights, including right to express themselves," he wrote. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders had made a similar statement. The US State Department in a separate statement urged "all nations to publicly support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption." Demonstrators chanted anti-government slogans in several cities across Iran on Friday, as price protests turned into the largest wave of demonstrations since nationwide pro-reform unrest in 2009.

Price Protests Spread in Iran
London - Adil Al-Salmi/Asharq Al Awsat/December 30/2017/Protests against high prices, unemployment, the government’s performance and its regional behavior expanded in Iran on Friday amid an exchange of accusations among Iranian officials. Security forces in the western city of Kermanshah resorted to violence by using tear gas and engaging in a fistfight with demonstrators. Protests also took place in the central city of Isfahan, the cities of Sari and Rasht in the north, Qazvin west of Tehran and Qom south of the capital, and also in Hamadan in western Iran. Demonstrations were also held in Ahvaz, capital of Khuzestan province, and other cities. The demonstrators chanted slogans against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani and the head of the judicial system, Sadeq Larijani. They also slammed Iran’s interference in regional affairs and government spending on Lebanon's “Hezbollah” and the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria. Iranians were quick to react on social media, while state media limited its coverage to statements made by Iranian officials to warn against holding protests. The media of the Revolutionary Guards, broke its silence, admitting that several demonstrations had been held in difference Iranian cities, and holding the government responsible for its weak economic performance. Cleric Ahmad Alamolhoda called earlier for tough action against the protests. "If the security and law enforcement agencies leave the rioters to themselves, enemies will publish films and pictures in their media and say that the Iranian regime has lost its revolutionary base in Mashhad," Reuters quoted Alamolhoda as saying. Alamolhoda, the representative of Khamenei in Mashhad, said a few people had taken advantage of Thursday's protests against rising prices to chant slogans against Iran's role in regional conflicts. Some people had come to express their demands, but suddenly, in a crowd of hundreds, a small group that did not exceed 50 shouted deviant and horrendous slogans such as 'Let go of Palestine', 'Not Gaza, not Lebanon, I'd give my life (only) for Iran'," Alamolhoda said. Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri suggested that Rouhani’s opponents might have triggered the protests. The government needs solutions by the elite to improve the country, he said. His statement came as part of the exchange of accusations among Iranian officials on the side that triggered the protests.

Man with Explosives Barricades himself in Ukraine Post Office
Asharq Al Awsat/December 30/2017/A man, armed with weapons and explosives, has barricaded himself in a post office in Khariv, Ukraine, announced police on Saturday. Authorities initially said that the man took 11 hostages, including two children, but the information couldn't be confirmed. Police said three women and two children have been released following talks. The unidentified man is calm, has not made any demands and is in regular contact with police via the telephones of the hostages, regional police chief Oleg Bekh told 112 news channel. Television footage showed police and parked police cars outside a two-storey white-and-yellow building in the northeastern city. The area has been closed off to traffic. “We are trying to do everything to maintain communication with him and to do everything that is necessary to ensure the people are released,” Bekh said. The man in the post office was concerned about the recent prisoner exchange between the Ukrainian authorities and pro-Russian separatists and thought more prisoners should have been released, Bekh said, adding police did not know what he wanted. Ukraine and the separatists swapped hundreds of prisoners on Wednesday in the biggest such exchange since the outbreak of a conflict in the eastern Donbass region that has killed more than 10,000 people.

After Liberating Benghazi, Haftar Waves with the 'Popular Mandate' Option
Asharq Al Awsat/December 30/2017/Eastern Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar said that the popular mandate of the army to take over will be an advanced option, keeping it as an option to intervene if all usual means in the official transformation of authority through transparent elections failed. Yet, he denied his plan to lead a military coup in the country. Commander Wanis Bukhamada, head of army special forces, declared the liberation of Sidi Akhribish in Benghazi, the last stronghold of extremists in the west of the country. Hours after this announcement, Haftar expressed willingness to play a key role in the parliament in the coming period. In a surprising statement made on Thursday to Al-Hadath television channel, Haftar hinted at Tobruk-parliament saying that: “We now have a legislative institution that is elected by the people and is concerned with fulfilling this demand – elected parliament.”He also denied his opposition to the political solution or the obstruction of local and international peace efforts or the refusal of consensus between the Libyans, saying that the General Command of the National Army is exposed to what he described as "malicious propaganda." Haftar took credit for pushing towards elections as an initial basic solution, noting that there are international parties that don’t wish for elections to be held before they ensure the success of their loyalists, even partially. Haftar underscored his latest statement saying that Skhirat Agreement has expired on Dec.17 and that the army wouldn't be ruled by any authority unless it was elected by the Libyan people. Commander Wanis Bukhamada, head of army special forces, stated that the army forces defeated extremists in Sidi Akhribish, announcing the liberation of Benghazi from terrorists and ISIS militants after operations that lasted for more than five months. Bukhamada called other Libyan cities to follow the lead of Benghazi and revolt against extremists.

Captured Helwan church attack gunman still alive following surgery
Al Arabiya/December 30/2017/A security source said on Saturday, that one of the gunmen involved in Friday’s terrorist attack against the Helwan church, south of Cairo, is still alive after undergoing a successful surgery to treat injuries sustained during the attack. The source added that the gunman was shot in the foot and suffered from bruises on his body, the Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported. The source, however, did not elaborate any further. Egyptian officials have provided conflicting information on the number of those involved in the attack. Some reports said one was killed and another was captured while others said that in addition to the latter two, a third fled the scene.

Egypt Sentences Morsi to 3 Years in Jail for Insulting Judiciary
Asharq Al Awsat/December 30/2017/A Cairo criminal court sentenced former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi to three years in prison on Saturday, and fined him 2 million Egyptian pounds ($112,700) on charges of insulting the judiciary. The case involves a total of 24 defendants, five of whom were fined 30,000 Egyptian pounds each ($1,688). All the defendants are accused of insulting the judiciary by making statements that were made public either on TV, radio, social media or in publications that the court found to be inciting and expressing hatred toward the court and the judiciary. The verdicts can still be appealed. Since his ouster in 2013, Morsi has faced trial on a host of charges, including espionage and conspiring with foreign groups. The former president, who hailed from the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, is serving a life sentence — 25 years — over accusations of spying for Qatar. Earlier, he was handed a 20-year sentence on charges arising from the killing of protesters in December 2012.

Guatemala says Jerusalem embassy move ‘will not be reversed’
AFP, Guatemala City/December 30/2017/Guatemala’s foreign minister insisted Friday that President Jimmy Morales’ plan to move the country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem will not be reversed, and called for critics to "respect" the country’s decisions. "It’s a decision that has been made ... it is not going to be reversed," Sandra Jovel told journalists during an event to commemorate the end of the Guatemalan civil war in 1996. "The Guatemalan government is very respectful of the positions that other countries have taken, and as we are respectful of those decisions, we believe others should respect decisions made by Guatemala," she added in response to critics including the Palestinians. Last Sunday, Morales unexpectedly announced the transfer of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel on social media, in the wake of the UN General Assembly’s condemnation of a similar move by the United States. The announcement made Guatemala the first country to follow the United States’s controversial lead on the holy city. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while Palestinians, consider east Jerusalem as the occupied capital of their future state. Morales, defending his decision, said Israel is an "ally" and that Guatemala has "historically been pro-Israel."

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 30-31/17
الإعتداء على الكنيسة في مصر يحتاج إلى ردة فعل من المجتمع المني المقوي والفاعل
Egypt church attack requires a broad response from an empowered civil society
HA Hellyer/The National/December 30/17
Extremists have claimed responsibility, writes HA Hellyer, but the attack raises wider questions
For many Christian communities of the West, Christmas has come and gone. For Christian Egyptian communities, the season is only beginning, as the Coptic Orthodox calendar marks Christmas on January 7. Alas, the period has already been marred. On Friday, a church of the community was attacked by radicals, resulting in around a dozen fatalities. The scourge of sectarian violence remains in Egypt and it must be addressed.
ISIL has claimed responsibility for the vile attack, which took place upon Christians as they were at their place of prayer and upon Muslim security officials who gave their lives to protect their compatriots. The modus operandi bears the hallmarks of ISIL militants, who have targeted Christian Egyptians in their discourse as well as their acts. It is a common strategy of ISIL – the attempt to engender civil strife in order to provoke an internecine war between communities in Egypt. It is in such upheaval that ISIL and their cohorts hope to make gains, and thus they have targeted Christians and Muslim communities that they deem to have strayed from Islam. The atrocious attack on a mosque linked to a Sufi order in the north of Sinai last month was probably one example of the latter, though ISIL has yet to publicly take responsibility for it.
But it would be folly to limit responsibility for sectarian discourse to ISIL alone. Attacks like these predate the group. Sectarian incitement against Christians is all too commonplace in Egypt – radical and extremist Islamist cohorts dabble in it. It is a strange and vile discourse, one that incites against Christians, claiming they are collectively party to oppression in Egypt. And then, when attacks take place, the discourse denies culpability. Indeed, it invariably claims that such attacks are false flags, implying that murky elements in the state apparatus are responsible.
That is one element in the discussion that should be taken into consideration and when non-ISIL websites promote such incitement and sectarianism, they cannot be deemed to be remotely acceptable.
But there is more to be considered here. The Egyptian state cannot stop all terrorist activity in Egypt, any more than any other government can be expected to – such militant attacks are impossible to fully prevent – but actions can be taken, nonetheless, beyond a security response. That response has to uphold the highest standards, be it in Egypt, Europe or elsewhere, and where it does not, failings ought to be analysed and solutions implemented.
Sectarian acts and discourse are another linked matter. Christian groups have complained for years that in the aftermath of sectarian strife that is not carried out by militant groups like ISIL, accountability is insufficiently pursued. Infamous so-called reconciliation activities are pursued, which are not only lacking in transparency, but cease to provide Christian Egyptians under threat with sufficient protection. Such a flawed approach emboldens impunity and engenders an atmosphere where Christians justifiably feel vulnerable.
Clearly, there are structural issues here that officially, even the Egyptian state itself says ought to be addressed. In a recent interview, a senior Egyptian official suggested a law criminalising "religious discrimination and the establishment of a national commission for combating discrimination". Yet, other Egyptian figures in the parliament reprimanded the US Congress for raising the issue of Christian Egyptians.
All too often the issue of Christian Egyptians is raised internationally in a splintered manner, rather than in the promotion of citizenship and rights for all Egyptians. The former is not an approach that helps the long-term benefit of Christians in particular and Egyptians in general. The latter is far more preferable.
At the same time, it has to be recognised that Christian Egyptians face particular and distinct challenges – and the denial of that specific type of vulnerability comes with a cost. At a time when extremist sectarian discourse is promoted by different non-state actors with violent consequences, any type of denial of sectarianism encourages its perpetuation, and holds back the addressing of it with due seriousness.
The temptation is to criticise the Muslim religious establishment in Egypt for not doing enough to combat sectarianism, thus implying that the religious establishment implicitly supports sectarianism. That kind of framing is incorrect. The key problem in Egypt is not that the religious establishment supports sectarianism, it is that the establishment is ill-equipped. The higher leadership of the Azhar, for example, is very sympathetic to Sufism, as a mainstream religious science – but has been unable to stamp out the notion that Sufism is heretical. Empowering the religious establishment to put forward a more inclusive, mainstream approach is thus essential – but it would mean empowering its independence as well, which would mean the authorities more generally would become subjects of criticism as well. All of that is necessary to ensure that the curricula of the religious establishment is raised in terms of quality and standard. To carry out the alternative, which some are calling for, of simply dictating what the religious establishment says, would simply destroy its credibility even further, leaving more problems than exist at present.
After attacks such as these, the instinct is to focus solely on security solutions. Security solutions are, of course, important – the attackers are violent extremists – but there are wider issues that ought to be addressed. The discourse requires a wider response, from an empowered civil society. The seriousness of the scourge of sectarianism must be a top priority, as its importance cannot be overstated.

Reform or Revolution?/Iran’s Path to Democracy
هالة اصفندياري/فورن افارز/الإصلاحات أو الثورة..طريق إيران صوب الديموقراطية

By Haleh Esfandiari/Foreign Affairs Magazine/December 30/17
Iran has often seemed to be on the brink of democracy. During the twentieth century, the country experienced three major political upheavals: the Constitutional Revolution of 1905–11, the oil nationalization movement of 1951–53 and the Islamic Revolution of 1978–79. Each differed from the others in important ways, but all constituted a reaction to corruption, misrule, and autocracy. They all reflected the spread of literacy, the rising expectations of a growing middle class, and the impatience of a wealthy business community with official mismanagement. They were all characterized by an aspiration for some form of democratic government. Yet each time, that aspiration was disappointed.
The constitution of 1906 created a parliament to check the power of the shah and give the Iranian people ultimate control of their country. Yet two decades later, the shah once again ruled as an absolute monarch, parliament had become a rubber stamp, and the new constitution was largely ignored. The 1951–53 movement was fueled principally by a demand for the nationalization of Iran’s oil industry, then controlled by the British government. Its leader, Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, was a populist, a reformer, and a champion of parliamentary, rather than royal, authority. Yet once again, what some thought was a prospect of democracy was cut short when, in 1953, Mosaddeq was overthrown in a coup engineered by the CIA and British intelligence. The shah retained his throne, and a royal crackdown on political activity followed.
In Democracy in Iran, Misagh Parsa examines why the forces of repression have always gained the upper hand over Iran’s democratic impulses and how democracy might eventually emerge in Iran. He touches briefly on the Constitutional Revolution and the oil nationalization movement. But his main focus is on what he regards as the failed democratic promise of the 1978–79 Islamic Revolution. He concludes that, given the character of the Islamic Republic, if democracy does come to Iran, it will do so through revolution, not gradual reform.
The Islamic Revolution, Parsa believes, could plausibly have led to a democratic government. As he points out, it was brought about by a broad coalition: seminary and university students, shopkeepers, merchants, intellectuals, and blue- and white-collar workers. The clergy mobilized large and diverse crowds to take to the streets. But even those who marched for revolution under the banner of Islam and who later voted to create an Islamic republic did not anticipate the extreme theocracy that the clerics would later establish. The movement’s leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, led many to believe that he supported a form of democratic rule, was committed to freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and had no interest in governing the country himself or having other clerics run the government.
Yet in emphasizing the democratic aspirations of many who marched in 1978–79, Parsa fails to convey the extent to which Khomeini was committed to the idea of an Islamic state headed by the clergy and does not give sufficient weight to the power of the clergy as a body. Islam figured prominently in the values and political views of the merchants, shopkeepers, and students who demonstrated and in the platforms of the political groups, such as the Iran Freedom Movement, that supported the revolution. The marchers’ principal slogan—“Independence, Liberty, Islamic Republic”—did not mention democracy. Khomeini, no doubt coached by the secular advisers who gathered around him during his brief exile in Paris in 1978, did pay lip service to democratic principles. But in his famous treatise on Islamic government, composed in 1970, during his far longer exile in Iraq, Khomeini made clear that clerics should rule in an Islamic state. Even in Paris, he insisted that sharia should prevail in a true Islamic government. After the overthrow of the monarchy, Iranians voted in huge majorities for an explicitly Islamic republic and for a constitution that placed a clergyman, Khomeini, at its apex.
Central to the revolutionary project was the doctrine of velayat-e faqih, the idea that ultimate power in an Islamic state must be vested in the most eminent living Islamic jurist, with the clergy determining the basic framework of the laws, the judicial system, and how the country is ruled. The result, Parsa writes, was that “Khomeini and his allies moved to establish a theocracy. They relied on ideological, political, and repressive mechanisms to gain popular support [and] demobilize the growing opposition.” Even as Iran’s new leader espoused policies of distributive justice in favor of the poor and the oppressed, he set about ruthlessly eliminating rival claimants to power and silencing dissent.
Repression has remained a prominent feature of the Islamic Republic ever since the Islamic Revolution, but dissent was never eliminated.
In this campaign, as Parsa recounts, Khomeini and his lieutenants deployed religious police; the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the parallel military force beside the regular army, responsible for protecting Iran’s Islamic character; and club-wielding thugs from the vigilante group Ansar-e Hezbollah (Partisans of the Party of God). Members of these groups disrupted dissident gatherings, while the new regime closed down newspapers critical of the emerging order and banned opposition organizations, including the Kurdish Democratic Party, which Khomeini labeled “the party of the devil.” Hundreds of Kurds died in skirmishes with the Revolutionary Guards or were executed after being convicted of crimes such as “making war against God”—in other words, of rebellion. Other movements that campaigned on behalf of ethnic minorities met a similar fate. Finally, the clergy around Khomeini turned against even their former allies. Radical left-wing groups, such as the Mujahideen-e Khalq, and more moderate ones, such as the National Front and the Iran Freedom Movement, headed by Mehdi Bazargan, Khomeini’s first prime minister, had initially supported Khomeini, but within a few months, they found themselves targets of the regime.
The country’s first president after the revolution was Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, an independent who tried to chart a moderate path during the crisis that began in November 1979 when revolutionaries captured 66 Americans at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. (They held 52 of them hostage for over a year.) But Bani-Sadr became mired in conflict with senior clerics and was impeached by the parliament in June 1981, just 16 months into his presidency. When his followers rose up, Parsa writes, “a veritable bloodbath soon followed.” The clerical regime put to death 2,665 political prisoners in six months. “Even the highest religious leaders,” Parsa says, “were not immune.” Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani, a popular liberal cleric, was marginalized. Grand Ayatollah Kazem Shariat-Madari, who rejected the doctrine of velayat-e faqih, was placed under house arrest.
Parsa shows that repression has remained a prominent feature of the Islamic Republic ever since, but also that dissent was never eliminated. The ideas of reform, the rule of law, and democratic and accountable government remained alive. There have always been schisms within the ruling elite, Parsa observes, and outspoken, dissenting voices have always made themselves heard, especially on subjects such as the murder of political prisoners, the banning of newspapers, and election tampering. In 1981, one of Khomeini’s grandsons told the BBC that the Islamic government was “worse than that of the Shah and the Mongols” and accused the regime of “killing people or jailing them for no reason.”
From time to time, these undercurrents have come to the surface. In 1997, Mohammad Khatami was elected president by a large majority on promises of greater social, political, and press freedoms and respect for the rule of law and privacy rights. Khatami was, as Parsa points out, no revolutionary. He did not want to overthrow the Islamic Republic or to challenge the regime’s foundations. But he did attempt to ease controls on the press and political activity, to face down the security agencies, and to advance a market-oriented economic agenda.
Yet, Parsa adds, the conservative forces only intensified their repressive tactics, and Khatami’s reformist moment proved short lived. The backlash began in 1998 with a string of reprisals against leading moderates. That year, two reformist leaders were killed in their homes and the bodies of two murdered secular dissident writers were discovered in different parts of Tehran. They were killed, it is widely believed, by the security agencies. Abdollah Nouri, a leading cleric and Khatami’s interior minister, and Gholamhossein Karbaschi, the mayor of Tehran and a Khatami supporter, were jailed on trumped-up charges.
The next year, Iran underwent one of the most explosive moments of public dissent in its recent history. In July, after the courts shut down a popular, liberally inclined newspaper, Salam, protests erupted at the University of Tehran. The regime responded harshly, sending security forces into the dormitories before dawn to beat up students in their beds and to trash their living quarters.
The incident spelled trouble for the establishment. As Parsa notes, in the two decades since the revolution, the university student population had increased almost tenfold, from around 160,000 in the early 1980s to 1.5 million in 2000. Only a minority normally engaged in political activism, but it did not take much to politicize the rest.
The initial protest and crackdown at the University of Tehran provided the necessary spark. Over the next six days, the unrest spread to universities in towns and cities across the country. Student leaders expanded their demands, calling for freedom of the press, the release of political prisoners, and government accountability. They shouted slogans such as “Down with dictators!” and “Death to despots!” and even called on the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, to resign.
At first, many senior clerics and government officials, including Khamenei himself, had at least publicly expressed sympathy and cautious support for the students and decried violence against them. But as the protests spread and grew more radical in tone, the official attitude quickly changed. Paramilitary forces from the Revolutionary Guards were sent in to beat up demonstrators. The police arrested a large number of students. Some simply disappeared. Senior officials labeled the students “rioters and bandits.” Khamenei claimed that they were supported “by bankrupt political groups and encouraged by foreign enemies.” A massive counterdemonstration was organized to support the government. As the protests were spreading, 24 Revolutionary Guard commanders sent an open letter to Khatami warning him that they were losing patience with “democracy,” which was leading to “anarchy.” The message was clear: the conservative establishment’s tolerance for dissent was strictly limited. If things went too far, it would not hesitate to use force.
It was under Ahmadinejad that Iran saw its most serious challenge to the conservative establishment since 1979.
The crackdown continued until the end of Khatami’s tenure, in 2005. Reformist newspapers were shuttered, and dozens of pro-reform activists were arrested, as were 60 members of the Iran Freedom Movement. The Council of Guardians, a constitutional watchdog group controlled by conservatives, vetoed numerous progressive laws enacted by parliament, including bills that would have expanded women’s and civil rights and barred security forces from entering university campuses. Khatami, it turned out, had no control over the security forces, the intelligence agencies, the judiciary, or the courts. The result, Parsa writes, was “conservative ascendancy and intensified repression.”
In the 2004 parliamentary elections, after dozens of reformist candidates had been disqualified by the Council of Guardians, the conservatives won a majority. The victor in the next year’s presidential election was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a populist who, in Parsa’s words, “pursued policies that exacerbated the state’s growing authoritarian nature and cut short hopes for political reform.” The new president “lost no time in introducing key changes that reflected state interest in greater control, politicization and militarization of society.”
And yet it was under Ahmadinejad that Iran saw its most serious challenge to the conservative establishment since 1979. In 2009, Ahmadinejad, implicitly supported by the ruling establishment, including the supreme leader and many commanders of the Revolutionary Guards, ran for a second term as president. He was challenged by two prominent politicians: Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister, and Mehdi Karroubi, a leading cleric and former speaker of parliament. Both were establishment figures, but both campaigned on platforms of reform and an end to Iran’s international isolation. Such was the hunger for change that both attracted widespread support. Mousavi’s campaign rallies were especially large and enthusiastic. Encouraged by the crowds, Mousavi and Karroubi grew bolder in their criticism of the government and their calls for reform.
On the eve of the vote, all the signs—the size of the opposition rallies, the enthusiasm of Mousavi’s supporters, and the large turnout on voting day itself—pointed to a Mousavi victory. But when the results were announced, suspiciously early, Ahmadinejad was declared the winner by an improbably wide margin. Protests broke out the next day. Huge crowds poured out into the streets of Tehran, shouting, “Where is my vote?” Over the following days, much to the consternation of the regime, the Green Movement (named for the color adopted by Mousavi’s supporters during the campaign) kept growing and began calling for radical change, well beyond the moderate reforms espoused by the two opposition leaders.
The regime responded harshly. Parsa describes the crackdown in vivid detail. Large numbers of riot police and paramilitaries were sent into the streets, where they arrested protesters and rounded up leaders sympathetic to the reform movement. The government shut down opposition political organizations, banned demonstrations (they took place anyway), and directed a barrage of propaganda against the protesters. Several demonstrators were killed in battles with security forces in the streets or by sharpshooters on rooftops. Once the protests were quelled, the reprisals began. In one instance, several prominent former officials and members of parliament were put on trial together, revealing deep splits within the ruling elite.
The regime appears to have learned from its experience in 2009.
“The Green Movement,” Parsa writes, “shook the foundation of the Islamic Republic like no other event in the thirty years since the revolution. The movement unfolded so rapidly that it quickly resembled the last phase of the 1979 revolution.” Yet it failed in part because, according to Parsa, its leaders, Mousavi and Karroubi, were gradualist reformers, not the agents of radical change sought by the crowds. On several occasions, Mousavi even tried to rein in the demonstrators. This gap between the leaders and the protesters weakened the campaign. Moreover, Mousavi and Karroubi had no plans for dealing with the regime crackdown when it came. Nor were the protesters themselves sufficiently organized to sustain the movement in the face of government pressure.
The leaders also failed to mobilize social groups beyond the opposition’s base of students, women, and middle-class professionals. As a result, unlike during the 1978–79 revolution, the vast majority of clerics, Friday prayer leaders, merchants, shopkeepers, and industrial workers stayed away. Factory employees did not stage strikes, merchants and shopkeepers did not disrupt distribution networks, and workers did not block the production and export of oil. Parsa attributes these shortcomings to a failure in leadership, weak or absent support structures such as labor unions and professional associations, and, of course, severe repression.
It is against this background of abortive reform, protest, and repression that Parsa answers the question with which he begins his book: “Which route might Iran’s democratization take: reform or revolution?” For comparison, Parsa examines two countries with their own histories of democratization: South Korea and Indonesia. In South Korea, after a student uprising in 1960, the military established a dictatorship and imposed a constitution that privileged the army as a ruling elite. But it did not reject democracy in principle or attempt to eliminate the middle-class opposition. In time, moderate forces regrouped and pushed again for democratic reform. Moreover, the South Korean dictatorship allowed a vigorous private sector to dominate the economy, leaving open the path to industrialization and prosperity.
In Indonesia, by contrast, the dictatorship set up by General Suharto in 1967 rejected the very idea of democracy and closed the door to competitive politics. Buoyed by revenues from the country’s booming oil export industry, the state seized control of much of the economy. It gave the military a large role in politics and economic affairs. In 1997, when Indonesia was swept up in the Asian financial crisis, the result of Suharto’s decades of repression and corruption was revolution. Early the next year, mass protests and riots began. Within five months, they had cost Suharto the support of the army and forced him to resign.
Judged by the criteria Parsa applies to determine whether autocratic states will democratize through reform or revolution, Iran, he concludes, fits the Indonesian model best. The Islamic Republic is an “exclusive authoritarian state.” Power is concentrated in the hands of a narrow, clerical elite. Even the moderate reformist opposition has been largely shut out of influence. State ideology rejects democracy in principle. The state interferes extensively in the social and cultural spheres, forcing the population into passive resistance or outright opposition and exacerbating tensions between the government and society.
The state also monopolizes the economy. The results are a weak private sector, the absence of competition, a large role for the military in economics and politics, wide inequalities in wealth and income, and high levels of corruption and cronyism. A significant gulf has opened up between the Iranian people and their rulers. “The ruling clergy,” Parsa writes, “have no interest in democratic transformation,” since “democratization would undermine their economic privilege and political power.” For Parsa, this adds up to “multiple irreconcilable conflicts—rooted in the core of the theocracy—that are too extensive to be reformed.” He concludes that “a route to Iran’s democratization through reform is not available,” and “if these conditions and conflicts persist, Iranians may have but one option remaining to democratize their political system”: revolution.
Whatever Parsa believes are the prospects for a revolution, the last three decades have shown time and again that the Iranian people, by and large, prefer peaceful change to upheaval. They twice voted in large numbers for the reformist president Khatami, and in the last two presidential elections, they again chose a moderate reformist, Hassan Rouhani. As Parsa himself points out, during the mass protests in 2009, industrial workers, merchants, shopkeepers, and the large majority of the clergy stayed away. That suggests that those key communities don’t have the stomach for another upheaval of the kind they experienced in the early years of the Islamic Republic, and that the wounds of past crackdowns are still raw.
The regime appears to have learned from its experience in 2009. It allowed the election of Rouhani in 2013 and avoided blatant interference in the balloting. This caution on the part of the regime, and the disorder Iranians have witnessed in the countries of the Arab Spring, Egypt, Syria, and Yemen, and in Iran’s neighbors, Afghanistan and Iraq, have reinforced their preference for change through gradual reform, and for achieving it through the ballot box, not with the bullet. The revolutionaries are not yet at the gate.

After Initial Stumble, Trump Administration Has Strong Response to Iran Protests
Statements criticize regime's "squandering of the nation's wealth to fund terrorism."
Leryl BierThe Weekly Standard/December 30/17
The Trump administration stumbled a bit out of the gate with its response to the ongoing anti-government protests in Iran, but quickly recovered with strong expressions of support for peaceful protesters and condemnation of the Iranian regime. After a day of silence on Friday, a State Department spokesman replied to a request for comment by THE WEEKLY STANDARD shortly after 5 p.m. with "We don’t have anything to share [at] this time, but will release a statement [in] the normal fashion if we do decide to release something." Less than half an hour later, the State Department released the following:
We are following reports of multiple peaceful protests by Iranian citizens in cities across the country. Iran’s leaders have turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos. As President Trump has said, the longest-suffering victims of Iran's leaders are Iran’s own people.
The United States strongly condemns the arrest of peaceful protesters. We urge all nations to publicly support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption. On June 14, 2017, Secretary Tillerson testified to Congress that he supports “those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of government. Those elements are there, certainly as we know.” The Secretary today repeats his deep support for the Iranian people. The silence from the White House, however, continued after the release by the State Department. Shortly after 6:30 p.m., a National Security Council spokesman replied to an inquiry from TWS saying that a brief statement would be put out "shortly" and that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would be tweeting it. The first U.S. political response to the situation in Iran actually came from Arkansas senator Tom Cotton almost a full day earlier. Cotton put out a statement on Thursday calling attention to the protests and to the failure of the Iranian government to provide even "basic needs" for its citizens. House Speaker Paul Ryan eventually tweeted his response Friday afternoon supporting the protesters and criticizing the regime for "propping up terrorist organizations[.]"On the Democratic side, however, neither House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi or Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have issued any statements yet, and Congressman Tim Walz of Minnesota did not mention the situation in Iran in the Democrat's weekly address on Friday.
The current protests in Iran began on Thursday, but news of the unrest was slow to filter out until the following day. Then cellphone videos, mostly via Twitter, and other social media reports began to multiply throughout the day on Friday giving the world a peek into the oppressive Islamic state. What ostensibly began as complaints about jobs and economic conditions began to spread and morph into broader expressions of dissatisfaction with the regime that has held sway in Iran since 1979. President Trump's response to the situation will likely be under a microscope given the tepid response of the Obama administration to the Green Movement in Iran in 2009, which was subsequently crushed by the regime on Valentines Day 2010

Voices From The Grave Cry Out For Justice In Iran
الأصوات من القبور في إيران تتطالب بالحرية
Ken Blackwell/Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
Huffpost/December 30/17
On Thursday, thousands of Iranians protested against the ruling regime in Iran’s second-largest city, Mashhad. Chants of “death to dictator” and “death to Rouhani” were brave and resounding.
These protests showed once again that the ruling clerics clearly cannot respond to the people’s legitimate economic demands. Inflation, unemployment and poverty are running rampant. Corruption has permeated every aspect of economic and government life, leading to vast disenchantment against the velayat-e faqih (absolute clerical rule) among the population.
That disenchantment has been brewing for 38 years, since the “Islamic” state’s founding in 1979. However, the regime has used suppression, imprisonment, torture, and mass murder to silence the population. Tehran is trying its utmost to conceal this war at home between the people and the regime.
There is a passage in scripture that says, “Those who would do evil love the darkness.” We know that violent, evil regimes love the darkness. It is incumbent upon us as individuals, nation states, and communities of nation states to put pressure on the regime to give access to the community so that we might shine light on the evils that have been committed.
As a consequence of such constant pressure, we give hope to the disenchanted population of Iran waiting to rise up. This pressure will help them punch holes in the darkness, as was the case in Mashhad. During those protests, Iranians showed that they are not a participant of the regime’s wars in the region, including in Syria. They chanted, “Let go of Syria and think about us;” and “Not to Gaza, not to Lebanon, I dedicate my life to Iran.”
Their chants of “death to the dictator” were important because it falls in a political climate punctuated by growing demands for justice for the regime’s massacre of thousands of dissidents in 1988. I have had the privilege of being involved in this international movements, demanding access, transparency, accountability, justice, and closure for the families of the victims of this mass murder in Iran.
In the 1990s, I had the privilege of working with Dr. Clyde Snow, one of the world’s foremost experts in forensic anthropology. Dr. Snow played an instrumental role in bringing justice to Argentina by uncovering the mass graves left behind by the country’s dirty war.
After the fall of the military government in Argentina, forensic scientists were invited to the country in order to investigate the atrocities. One of these scientists was Clyde Snow, who recruited a group of Argentine students to aid in his investigation. Their work included the methodical excavations of graves. They carefully organized and recorded all of the remains and evidence found.
Dr. Snow’s findings brought light to the families, and this was important for people who previously had no knowledge of their relatives’ fate. His testimony and evidence presented in court also led to the conviction of several members of the junta dictatorship.
Today in Argentina, that group of forensic anthropologists is still in existence and as a result of Dr. Snow’s inquiry, continues to use his methods to investigate human rights abuses.
When it comes to the 1988 massacre, the U.S. government needs to advocate for the access of this sort of team to Iran. A concerted and comprehensive international pressure on a regime already at war with its people can help bring closure to the families of the victims of the summer of blood in 1988.
I have requested from the U.S. delegation at the United Nations and Ambassador Nikki Haley for their constant demand for access for the sort of work that Dr. Snow did to be repeated in Iran.
The regime resists these calls because it has something to hide. But the U.S. must push and advocate for justice for the 1988 massacre.
The U.S. delegation at the U.N. should continue to be a leading voice not only on the threats of international terrorism perpetuated by the regime but also to bring justice to those human rights advocates in Iran. The people of Iran have the experience of a brutal history where young girls were killed simply for handing out leaflets.
The 1988 massacre is a constant reminder of what the people who are presently under the hammer of the regime are experiencing. All indications are that protests will increase in Iran in 2018. The Iranian people are looking to the international community for a significantly elevated moral support.
**Ken Blackwell was the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. He is an advisor to the Jewish Institute for Nation Security Affairs.

Conflicts after the Fall of ISIS
Jason Burke/Asharq Al Awsat/December 30/2017
The battle is over – at least for now. The last significant strongholds of ISIS have been cleared from Syria and Iraqi forces on their side of the border are entering villages in the Euphrates valley for the first time in more than a decade. This particular campaign in the long war against militancy is over. But the broader war goes on. How will this conflict evolve over the coming months and years? This will depend on several factors: the reaction of the remnants of ISIS and the broader movement from which the group emerged, on decisions made by communities and states involved in the various wars ongoing across the Islamic World, and of course the broader global context in which these struggles play out. This is a complex war – more like the great global conflicts of the 20thcentury, which included multiple smaller struggles than the single, simple war sometimes portrayed.
The first question is what will happen to the militants themselves. The so-called caliphate– announced from the pulpit of a 950-year-old mosque in Mosul in a speech by its leader, Ibrahim Awwad, the 46-year-old former Islamic law student better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – has gone. Its fall was always likely and al-Baghdadi will probably be killed within a relatively short time. Osama bin Laden survived for a decade after the 9/11 attacks, but he had Pakistan to hide in. Realistically, the leader of ISIS has only western Iraq.
The only factor that did not make defeat of the group inevitable from the start was the chaos and violence of the Syrian civil war - the element which allowed it to expand in the first place. With the conflict there decided in favor of the Assad regime, thanks to Iranian and Russian support, we are now moving into a new phase where the fight is for influence over the post-war settlement rather than to eradicate a common enemy. This will generate its own dynamics – and its own new conflicts too.
Baghdadi's bid to recreate a superpower suffered several fundamental flaws which were eventually fatal to his ambitions. Recognizing these are important because they tell us much about the evolution of the movement of extremism in coming months and years.
First, the “caliphate” needed continual conquest to succeed: victory brought a spurious legitimacy, as well as new recruits to replace combat casualties. More territory meant more resources: arms and ammunition to acquire, archaeological treasures to sell, populations to tax, businessmen to extort, property to loot, food to distribute and oil wells and refineries to exploit.
But continuing expansion was never going to be possible. There were natural limits to ISIS’s territory. Going beyond the borders of Sunni-dominated heartlands proved impossible. ISIS was never going to breach the frontiers of strong states such as Turkey, Israel or Jordan. Nor was a lightly-armed Sunni force going to fight its way across Shi’ite-dominated central and southern Iraq, or Lebanon.
Today, ISIS is reduced to the same presence it had almost a decade ago: a tenacious and resilient insurgent group with a taste and talent for brutal terrorist violence, informed heavily by sectarian prejudice.
To retain the same profile and prestige it has enjoyed over recent years, ISIS will have to rely on affiliates. But this is an uncertain business. Those affiliates with tight connections – such as the wilayat Sinai – may remain committed to the central organization. Others will break away. One obvious candidate to split would be Boko Haram in west Africa whose connection has always been tenuous and is particularly prone to factional battles.
A second factor leading to its collapse was that ISIS's extremism alienated communities under its authority. ISIS was warned of the historical failures of groups in Algeria in the early and mid 1990s but pressed on with its ruthless extremist agenda regardless.
The result was that Sunni tribal leaders and other power brokers in Iraq and Syria who had once seen significant advantages in accepting the group’s authority - relative security, a rude form of justice, and defense against perceived Shi’ite and regime oppression – turned against their new rulers. The speed at which its new pseudo-state fell apart shows how superficial any loyalty to the group was.
This means that going forward, it is al-Qaeda, the veteran group led by Ayman al Zawahiri since the death of bin Laden, that now has the advantage in the global rivalry for leadership of the extremist movement. Al-Qaeda has been almost eclipsed by ISIS in recent years, but now has a major advantage. Both seek to establish a new entity but al-Qaeda's strategic vision is more long term: only when the conditions on the ground are in place could such a project be executed. In recent years al-Qaeda has privileged building consensus among communities, aware that too much rigor too soon will cause a backlash. Where a tactical withdrawal is necessary – even from somewhere like the highly lucrative port of Mukalla in Yemen – then its affiliates are ready to cede territory. Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb are well positioned as the dominant extremist force in the Sahel. In Syria, the al-Qaeda affiliate once known as Jabhat al Nusra but now retitled Jabhat Fateh al-Sham has worked hard to build support among tribes and populations. It may be crushed in coming offensives by regime troops or other forces, but has shown the efficacy of the al-Qaede's doctrine.
Third, ISIS took on the west and regional powers. This was a conscious decision, hard-wired into the movement's ideology and worldview, and not taken in self-defense as some have suggested. The first terrorist attackers were dispatched by ISIS to Europe in early 2014, before the US-led coalition began airstrikes. History tells us that outright victory against extremists is difficult to achieve without a political settlement and socio-economic conditions which remove some of the drivers of extremist ideologies, but militant organizations targeted by the west and allies in the Islamic world are usually forced at the very least to abandon territorial gains, particularly urban centers.
This means that a) we can expect al-Qaeda, or ISIS, to launch further attacks on the west and regional powers in the future, and b) that this will prompt further reaction which will significantly degrade the capacity of those terrorist groups, albeit at the expense of much blood and treasure.
As for the broader region, there are several factors which will make the life of the militants easier. There is ongoing conflict and instability spotted along a broad arc from the north African littoral through to southwest Asia. A common mistake is to decide that just because there are problems in one part, a whole state is unstable. This may be the case in Libya but is not in Pakistan, for example.
Nonetheless, there are ample ongoing low-level conflicts, in Sinai for example, and several high-intensity wars, such as Yemen, which are opportunities for extremists to exploit. Syria remains chaotic, and Iraq is fragmented. The effective destruction of the “caliphate” will lead to the break up of the anti-ISIS coalition, reviving divisions and competition which will open space for militants. Some US policies such as recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel without any apparent understanding of its consequences exacerbates the problem.
Nor, in the event of a drawing down of hostilities in Syria, any funds available for the massive job of reconstruction. Going forward means, even in the event of peace, a mass of angry and unemployed young men which will provide a pool of recruits for any extremist organization that seeks them. Any bids to moderate influence of hardline clerics or ideologues will take decades to have an impact.
There have been four major waves of militancy over the past 50 years. The first two – in the late 1970s and early 80s, and then in the early 90s – remained largely confined to the Muslim world. The third and the fourth – from the mid-90s through to 2010, and from then until now – have combined great violence in Muslim-majority countries with a series of spectacular attacks in the west. This has made them a global problem.
All four waves have followed a similar trajectory: a slow, unnoticed period of growth, a spectacular event bringing the new threat to public attention, a phase of brutal struggle, then a partial victory over the militants. Each has lasted between ten and 15 years.
There are two major problems here. The first is that each wave sows the seeds for the next – increasing polarization, destabilizing states, spreading the ideologies of extremist violence further. The second is that we tend to focus on the last phase of a threat that is declining, rather than that which is growing. We should bear this in mind now as we watch ISIS shift back to its original role as a terrorist organization, not a fully fledged insurgency, and we move into the next phase of the struggle.

Italy's Five Star Movement on the Path of Brexit

Ferdinando Giugliano/Bloomberg View/December 30/2017
Italy's Five Star Movement, which is on track to win the most votes in next year's election, likes to portray itself as the party of transparency and honesty, in contrast with the opportunism of the mainstream political forces. When it comes to Italy's membership of the euro, however, Five Star are showing the same kind of reckless expediency they attack their rivals for. The anti-establishment movement has long said it would hold a referendum on whether Italy should stay in the single currency. Its politicians have typically refused to say how they would vote in such a plebiscite. This has led to some bizarre outcomes: Two weeks ago, Laura Castelli, a Five Star MP, did not want to say whether she would back Ital-exit because how one votes is a secret. She then added she did not know how she would vote. On Monday, Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio seemed to come off the fence saying he would back the "out" campaign in the event of a vote. But then he quickly backtracked, saying a vote was unlikely, since he expected the rest of the euro zone to support a series of reforms of the monetary union which would favor Italy. He did not specify what reforms he was talking about, nor how a Five Star government would go about obtaining them. The overall impression was, once again, one of ambiguity. This approach is foolish from a legal and economic point of view. According to the Italian Constitution, it is illegal to hold a referendum on an international treaty, including the Maastricht Treaty which created the monetary union. Even if there were to be a referendum, it would very likely spark bank runs and capital outflows. Investors would take their money out of the country, fearing a possible redenomination into cheaper lira.
The Five Star Movement should only back a vote if it is prepared to manage a departure. This is clearly not the case. The anti-establishment party has never been in government and has no coherent program for dealing with the economic shock of a referendum.
Five Star is clearly playing political games: According to the latest Eurobarometer survey, only 45 percent of respondents in Italy thought the single currency had been good for the country, while 40 percent think it has been bad. For the euro zone as a whole, it is 64 percent versus 25 percent. With carefully constructed ambiguity, Di Maio is clearly trying to appeal to both sets of voters. This may pay off in the short term: Five Star looks set to be the largest party in Italy's forthcoming general election, which will be held in the first half of next year. Since Italy's electoral law favors coalitions over individual parties, and Five Star is reluctant to form alliances, this may not be enough to form a government. In the remote case that it managed to form a government, the contradictions in the movement's impossible position on euro membership would become apparent. Di Maio would have to face severe financial turmoil on day one of taking office. For a taste of what that means, Five Star need to look no further than Brexit Britain: Winning a vote is no joy if you are then unprepared to deliver on what you have promised.

Iran: The View from Mashhad/المشهد من مشهد
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/December 30/2017
المشهد من مشهد/عبد الرحمن الراشد
الشرق الأوسط/30 كانون الأول/17
Tehran protests in 2009 were an unexpected surprise not because the Iranian regime has no rivals in its circle but rather because protesters who threatened the regime come from within the core of its system. Tens of thousands, for days, and protests could only be halted by the use of weapons and bloodshed. Now, protests came out from various directions. They stem from cities such as Mashhad and continue spreading with slogans against Ali Khamenei and the state’s policies. The slogans echoed throughout Iran. Popular protests might not kill the regime but will certainly embarrass it. Khamenei and his political and military leaders thought that promoting their victories in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon would grant them popularity and therefore extend their presence. But the tables have turned and most protesters in the past two days deplored the interference in foreign affairs, its funding and the government’s lack of assuming responsibility within the country.
Four years ago when the Iranian involvement in the Syrian war started, a number of deputies warned ever-excited general for wars Qasem Soleimani that the state can’t endure costs of his adventures and won’t accept that the Iranian men return wrapped and ready for their coffins fighting for other regimes and fighting other people’s war. Soleimani responded that his war in Iraq and Syria are for defending Iran’s security and regime. His words weren’t enough to justify the losses, so he bragged that the war to defend the Islamic Republic and Vilayat Al-Faqih is no more costing Iran much. He worked on establishing militias of poor refugees in Iran including Afghans and Pakistanis. He also took in Iraqis and nearly 20,000 Lebanese nationals from Hezbollah. The number of Iranian militants was a couple of thousands who conduct operations of training, intelligence and leadership.
Soleimani bragged that he didn’t cost the Iranian treasury much, some billion dollars, and the invoice was mostly paid by Iraq which was obliged to fund the Iranian war. Iraq paid for the fighting militias, along with Iran's annual commitments to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. But when the oil prices steeped, Iraq abstained from paying most of them.
Iran is a state comprising of around nine million people and depends mainly on oil income. The country, like all other countries in the petroleum region, is suffering. Iran is an enclosed state suffering under the authority similar to Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein in the past. These authorities relied on security bodies, restricted communication, and bank transfers, and imposed huge fines on international travel. They had large and expensive networks of militias and terrorist organizations around the world from Malaysia to Argentina. Yes, Iran is an advanced state in military productions when compared to countries in the region. Yet, it remains among the poor states – a dilemma similar regimes are facing, such as Cuba, North Korea, Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Eastern Germany, Libya, Southern Yemen, Syria and others. These regimes have failed because they focused on security and military superiority alone while they remained poor states in all other aspects.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps does not run security, but controls every other minute detail. It also increased its influence during the term of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, during which it took over major economic organizations, including oil refineries.
It is normal that the day will come when the Iranian regime faces the wrath of the majority which supported its arrival in power 40 years ago and believed their lives would become better but actually worsened. The Iranian people being able to challenge the repressive regime at the current time is highly unlikely. However, with their sporadic upheavals, they are showing the world a different picture. Khamenei’s Republic militias may have made their way to Damascus, Mosul, Beirut, Gaza and Sanaa, however, they are unable to gain control of Mashhad.

Expect America's Tensions with China and Russia to Rise in 2018
John Bolton/Gatestone Institute/December 30/2017
Yesterday's 2017 review and forecast for 2018 focused on the most urgent challenges the Trump administration faces: the volatile Middle East, international terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Today, we examine the strategic threats posed by China and Russia and one of President Trump's continuing priorities: preserving and enhancing American sovereignty.
Russia and China will be among the Trump administration's key strategic challenges in the coming year. Photo: Wikipedia.
China has likely been Trump's biggest personal disappointment in 2017, one where he thought that major improvements might be possible, especially in international trade. Despite significant investments of time and attention to President Xi Jinping, now empowered in ways unprecedented since Mao Tse Tung, very little has changed in Beijing's foreign policy, bilaterally or globally. There is no evidence of improved trade relations, or any effort by China to curb its abuses, such as pirating intellectual property, government discrimination against foreign traders and investors, or biased judicial fora.
Even worse, Beijing's belligerent steps to annex the South China Sea and threaten Japan and Taiwan in the East China Sea continued unabated, or even accelerated in 2017. In all probability, therefore, 2018 will see tensions ratchet up in these critical regions, as America (and hopefully others) defend against thinly veiled Chinese military aggression. Japan in particular has reached its limits as China has increased its capabilities across the full military spectrum, including at sea, in space and cyberwarfare.
Taiwan is not far behind. Even South Korea's Moon Jae In may be growing disenchanted with Beijing as it seeks to constrain Seoul's strategic defense options. And make no mistake, what China is doing in its littoral periphery is closely watched in India, where the rise of Chinese economic and military power is increasingly worrying. The Trump administration should closely monitor all these flash points along China's frontiers, any one of which could provoke a major military confrontation, if not next year, soon thereafter.
North Korea's nuclear weapons program is where China has most disappointed the White House. Xi Jinping has played the United States just like his predecessors, promising increased pressure on Pyongyang but not delivering nearly enough. The most encouraging news came as 2017 ended, in the revelation that Chinese and American military officers have discussed possible scenarios involving regime collapse or military conflict in North Korea. While unclear how far these talks have progressed, the mere fact that China is engaging in them shows a new level of awareness of how explosive the situation is. So, 2018 will be critical not only regarding North Korea's nuclear weapons threat but also whether Sino-American relations improve or take a distinct turn for the worse.
On Russia, the president has not given up on Vladimir Putin, at least not yet, but that may well come in 2018. Putin is an old-school, hard-edged, national interest-centered Russian leader, defending the "rodina" (the motherland), not a discredited ideology. Confronted with U.S. strength, Putin knows when to pull back, and he is, when it suits him, even capable of making and keeping deals. But there is no point in romanticizing the Moscow-Washington dynamic. It must be based not on personal relationships but on realpolitik.
No better proof exists than Russia's reaction to Trump's recent decision to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine, which is now a war zone entirely because of Russian aggression. To hear Moscow react to Trump's weapons decision, however, one would think he was responsible for increased hostilities. President Obama should have acted at the first evidence of Russia's military incursion into Ukraine, and even Trump's aid is a small step compared to President Bush's 2008 proposal to move Kiev quickly toward NATO membership. Nonetheless, every independent state that emerged from the Soviet Union, NATO member or not, is obsessed with how America handles Ukraine. They should be, because the Kremlin's calculus about their futures will almost certainly turn on whether Trump draws a line on Moscow's adventurism in Ukraine.
Just as troubling as Russia's menace in Eastern and Central Europe is its reemergence as a great power player in the Middle East. Just weeks ago, the Russian Duma ratified an agreement greatly expanding Russia's naval station at Tartus, Syria. In 2015, Obama stood dumbfounded as Russia built a significant air base in nearby Latakia, thus cementing the intrusion of Russia's military presence in the Middle East to an extent not seen since Anwar Sadat expelled Soviet military advisers and brought Egypt into the Western orbit in the 1970s.
This expansion constitutes a significant power projection for the Kremlin. Indeed, it seems clear that Russia's support (even more than Iran's) for Syria's Assad regime has kept the dictatorship in power. Russia's assertiveness in 2017 also empowered Tehran, even as the ISIS caliphate was destroyed, to create an arc of Shia military power from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, linking up with Hezbollah in Lebanon. This Russian-Iranian axis should rank alongside Iran's nuclear-weapons program on America's list of threats emanating from the Middle East.
Finally, the pure folly of both the U.N. Security Council and the General Assembly crossing the United States on the Jerusalem embassy decision was a mistake of potentially devastating consequences for the United Nations. Combined with the International Criminal Court's November decision to move toward investigating alleged U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan, there is now ample space for the White House to expand on the president's focus on protecting American sovereignty.
Trump's first insight into the rage for "global governance" among the high minded came on trade issues, and his concern for the World Trade Organization's adjudication mechanism. These are substantial and legitimate, but the broader issues of "who governs" and the challenges to constitutional, representative government from international bodies and treaties that expressly seek to advance global governing institutions are real and growing. America has long been an obstacle to these efforts, due to our quaint attachment to our Constitution and the exceptionalist notion that we don't need international treaties to "improve" it. No recent president has made the sovereignty point as strongly as Trump, and the United Nations and International Criminal Court actions in 2017 now afford him a chance to make decisive political and financial responses in 2018. If 2017 was a tumultuous year internationally, 2018 could make it seem calm by comparison.
**John R. Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as undersecretary for arms control and international security affairs at the U.S. Department of State under President George W. Bush. He is now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
**This article first appeared in The Hill and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

How Palestinians Silence Palestinians

Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute/December 30/2017
Mohammed Al-Dayeh has been under interrogation on suspicion of establishing and managing two Facebook pages -- "Sons of the Martyrs" and "No to Corruption." The Palestinian Authority claims that both accounts were used to wage a smear campaign against top Palestinian officials and accuse them of financial and administrative corruption.
There is only one small problem regarding the charges against Al-Dayeh: The man cannot read or write, and as such there is no way he could have posted the offensive remarks on Facebook.
This is about how Palestinian leaders continue to march their people towards yet more harm and grief. This is also about the ongoing failure of the international community to note any of the above.
Most people probably do not know him by name, but the image of Mohammed Al-Dayeh was a public one for many years. The tough-looking, mustachioed man in military garb served as the trusted bodyguard of former PLO leader Yasser Arafat. His proximity to Arafat turned Al-Dayeh into one of the most powerful figures in the PLO leadership, especially during the 1990s and 2000s. If you wanted anything from Arafat -- from money to springing your son from prison -- Al-Dayeh was your man. Mohammed Al-Dayeh (center), standing next to then-Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, March 29, 2001. He was glued to Arafat night and day. He accompanied him on his persistent globe-trotting. You can hardly find a photo of Arafat without Al-Dayeh. Insiders say Arafat "adopted" him after he was orphaned from his parents during the civil war in Lebanon.
Al-Dayeh's fall from grace was rapid once his boss, Arafat, died in 2004. This is typical for dictatorial regimes that are run as a one-man show. Arafat managed the Palestinian Authority (and PLO) as if it were his private fiefdom. When the emperor falls, so do many of those around him, particularly his personal picks.
In the past week, Palestinians were surprised to learn that the man who was an icon of power of the Arafat era was now being held in detention in a Palestinian Authority prison in Ramallah. Reports about the incarceration of Al-Dayeh first appeared on social media, and many Palestinians were convinced that these were just rumors and gossip. How could the man once so loved by Arafat be behind bars? What crime did Al-Dayeh, who holds the rank of "brigadier-general" in the Palestinian Authority, commit? It would have to have been quite a misstep on Al-Dayeh's part.
The talk that Al-Dayeh would soon be prosecuted before a Palestinian Authority "military" court aroused further surprise. Was the former bodyguard arrested, many wondered, for committing a serious security-related offense?
Speculation on the Palestinian street even reached the point of considering whether Al-Dayeh was being charged with spying for Israel. Or, perhaps this was the man who had put the "poison" in Arafat's soup and which, according to the conspiracy theorists, led to the death of their beloved leader and hero – Arafat. For years, Palestinian leaders and officials have been telling us, without any evidence, that Israel was behind the "assassination" of Arafat and that it was carried out with the help of a Palestinian, whose identity remains unknown to this day. Could it be, they wondered, Al-Dayeh?
None of the above. Al-Dayeh apparently did not commit any crime against Palestinian security. Nor was he involved in the "assassination" of his father figure and boss.
According to Al-Dayeh's lawyer, Rawya Abu Zuheiri, her client is suspected of "bad-mouthing" senior officials and criticizing corruption of Palestinian leaders on Facebook. Al-Dayeh, she said, has been under interrogation on suspicion of establishing and managing two Facebook pages – "Sons of the Martyrs" and "No to Corruption." The Palestinian Authority claims that both accounts were used to wage a smear campaign against top Palestinian officials and accuse them of financial and administrative corruption.
Such are the main charges against Al-Dayeh; they are not related to any security issues, according to his lawyer. He has been ordered remanded into custody for 15 days for violating the Palestinian Authority's controversial Electronic Crimes Law. His lawyer, however, says there is only one small problem regarding the charges against Al-Dayeh: The man cannot read or write, and as such there is no way he could have posted the offensive remarks on Facebook. In other words, the lawyer is telling is that the man who was entrusted with the personal security of Arafat and was his closest confidant is illiterate.
Al-Dayeh is understandably upset by his detention. In response to the humiliation, he has gone on hunger strike. Some reports, which seem to be deliberately exaggerated, claim that Al-Dayeh's health condition has deteriorated as a result of the hunger strike and that he is now being treated in a Palestinian hospital. The real story here, however, is not about Al-Dayeh the man. This is about freedom of speech and corruption in the Palestinian Authority. It is about how Palestinian leaders are suppressing any form of criticism. Al-Dayeh may not be a saint, but his arrest is aimed at sending a message to Palestinians that no one is immune from the long arm of the Palestinian Authority. You can be the most decorated Palestinian and a symbol of the Arafat era, but once you criticize Palestinian leaders or write about corruption, you will find yourself behind bars and facing military trial. Even if the charges are true, Al-Dayeh's case should have been settled through a civilian lawsuit and not through secret military trials that are reminiscent of totalitarian regimes. If anyone felt offended by Al-Dayeh and the Facebook pages he allegedly managed, he or she could have filed a libel lawsuit.
Al-Dayeh is the latest victim of the Abbas's Electronic Crimes Law, which grants his security forces wide powers to clamp down on Facebook and Twitter users who dare to express their critical views of Palestinian leaders in public. Several journalists and political activists have already been arrested or summoned for interrogation on suspicion of violating the new law. Consequently, many Palestinians are today afraid to post any comment on social media that could hurt the feeling of a senior official sitting in Abbas's headquarters in Ramallah.
Al-Dayeh is far from the main protagonist here -- although his personal story might make for interesting reading. This is about the silencing of critics. This is about human rights violations perpetrated not only by the Palestinian Authority, but by Hamas as well. This is about how Palestinian leaders continue to march their people towards yet more harm and grief. This is also about the ongoing failure of the international community to note any of the above. Al-Dayeh is just a bit player, then, in a much, much greater dictatorial drama.
*Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Behind the protests, the real demand is for Irani regime change
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/December 31/2017
Behind the protests, the real demand is for regime change
Three days of protests in Iran against the high rates of inflation, rising food prices and a general trend of economic mismanagement began with an incident earlier in the week in the city of Isfahan, after the announcement that 27,000 workers had been fired because a number of companies had been declared bankrupt.
Such negative developments contribute to an economic situation that is dire for much of the Iranian population, in spite of the fact that the 2015 nuclear agreement with six world powers has returned large quantities of frozen assets to the Islamic Republic, and brought new business to a variety of government-linked firms.
This misalignment between the fortunes of the Iranian regime and the ordinary population has contributed to the sentiments that were expressed in the past three days of protests. Many of the thousands of demonstrators blamed government corruption for a significant portion of the hardships they were facing. At times, the crowds chanted: “If you stop one case of embezzlement, our problems will be solved.”
Other slogans specifically named Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, some of them expressing regret at having voted for the supposedly moderate politician, who was elected to a second term in May with promises of domestic reform. Little has been done to follow through on those promises, either with regard to economic indicators or the suppression of free speech throughout the country.
Although inflation fell after following Rouhani’s successful pursuit of the nuclear agreement, it has since rebounded. The return to a rate of over 10 percent was widely cited as one of the grievances of this week’s protesters, alongside a similar rebound in the official national unemployment rate, to a rate of 12.4 percent.
Also of concern was the vast expenditure of Iranian wealth in foreign conflicts and in the support of terrorist proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon. Earlier in December, Rouhani presented the draft budget for the Iranian calendar year from March 2018 to March 2019. It included additional billions of dollars in allocations to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its elite foreign special operations branch, the Quds Force. Indeed, analyzes of the budget identify those entities as major priorities for the Iranian government, including its supposedly moderate president.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran said the latest protests were expressions not only of escalating frustration with economic indicators, but also a growing desire for regime change. Its president, Maryam Rajavi, said: “The heroic uprising … in large parts of Iran has once again proved that the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime and the establishment of democracy and the rule of the people is a national and public demand.” Rajavi went on to say that in the absence of such regime change, the fortunes of the Iranian people would only continue to decline, due in part to the existing government’s misplaced priorities and institutionalized corruption.
“While the overwhelming majority of the people of Iran are suffering from poverty, inflation and unemployment, most of the country’s wealth and revenues is spent on military and security apparatuses and military and regional interventions, or is being looted by the regime leaders or goes into their bank accounts,” she said.
Demonstrators in Iran this week have protested about rising prices and economic disparity, but their target is the Iranian government itself.
The NCRI is a coalition of Iranian resistance groups, most prominent being the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), which is banned by the clerical regime but continues to maintain an intelligence network throughout the country. That network has been largely responsible for the release of information to Western media about this week’s protests. In addition to communicating the activities and demands of participating activists, the network has also focused attention on the government’s backlash against the demonstrations, which Iranian officials have evidently tried to conceal. The governor of Mashhad, Mohammad Rahim Norouzian, told Iranian state media that the police had treated the unannounced gatherings with “great tolerance” and that the only activists arrested were those who had been planning to damage government property.
However, images and video on social media showed security forces firing tear gas and water cannon into crowds of peaceful demonstrators. Some activists were photographed with bloody faces after direct clashes with police.
Throughout Rouhani’s more than four years as president, the Iranian public has been subject to an escalating crackdown, involving mass arrests of activists, journalists, partygoers, and other advocates of liberal society. Despite this fact, there have been thousands of protests in the past year alone, with many of them described as “anti-government” protests.
These incidents and the often violent response of Iranian security forces are reminiscent of the 2009 Green Movement protests that emerged from disputes over the election in which hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad secured a second term in office. After those nationwide demonstrations were suppressed, its recognized leaders were placed under indefinite house arrest.
The release of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi was among the most prominent and popular promises made by Rouhani both during his first presidential campaign in 2013, and his reelection campaign this year. In both instances, Rouhani quickly downplayed those promises upon winning election, leading to widespread condemnation of the president as having turned his back on his supporters.
This criticism was certainly raised once again in this week’s protests, in the form of chants that criticized the Iranian government for “leaving the people.”
Whereas the defined context of that statement was the recent widening in wealth disparity between the people and the government, it is likely that for many demonstrators this was an expression of much broader frustration with the clerical regime.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh