Gulf Study Exposes Systematic Executions in Iran, a Mechanism to Protect an Oppressive Regime

Gulf Study

London- A Gulf-prepared paper exposed earth-shattering statistics on the systematic executions carried out in Iran since the rise of the cleric regime in 1979.

Iran’s theocratic regime, founded by Ruhollah Khomeini, has long enforced law through the brutal excess of capital punishment served to a poor and oppressed public. The cleric-led regime thrived as it offsets leftist activists and mindsets with the death penalty.

The Arabian Gulf Center for Iranian Studies published paper suggests that the ongoing vicious circle of 37 years’ worth of executions had spawned along with the so-called Islamic revolution that overthrew the Pahlavi dynasty.

Most of the documented death penalties have been served to political activists and any opposition that attempts to rise against the regime—capital punishment is being handed out in Iran on the account of charges on fighting Islamic rule, conspiring against national security and corruption. Allegations are chiefly framed against any political opposition.

As the odds play out in a better favor of Rouhani being elected for a second term, the study expected that the policy on death penalty with continue worsening the current standing of oppression in Iran.

Policymaking in Iran is not within the president’s jurisdiction but remains a power saved for the national Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. The pro-Shi’ite hardline system will resume death sentences in an intensifying fashion against Sunni citizens, overlooking international and local protests and condemnations.

The study prepared by Dr. Abdel Raouf Mostafa Jalal Hassan says that the political mechanism running Iran is self-sustaining at any cost, censorship, arbitrary arrests and executions all are systematic policies used to nourish and uphold the instated theocracy.

The only justification put forth by the regime is that the inhumane policy of self-sustenance is implemented to counteract the efforts of pro-imperialism moles attempting to infiltrate the Iran system—even though it is acknowledged that the West powers (Iran-labeled imperialist) had greatly aided the Khomeini 1979 revolution to its power grab and toppling of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.

As the Khomeini-founded regime further bolstered its institutional position in the 80’s, the second phase of targeting and zeroing in on any opposition launched with waves of deportation, executions and detentions against activists.

Among the groups oppressed by the Iran regime for holding a different belief system or ideology, are the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, the Arab people of Ahwaz and the people of Baluchistan, Kurds and those who are believers in the Bahá’í Faith.

In 1988, Khomeini issued a fatwa, a ruling on a point of Islamic law given by a recognized authority, which endorsed all death sentences against People’s Mujahedin of Iran (also known as the MEK) activists.

Issued shortly after the end of the Iran-Iraq war in July 1988 and an incursion into western Iran by the Iranian resistance, the fatwa reads: “It is decreed that those who are in prisons throughout the country and remain steadfast in their support for the Monafeqin (Mojahedin) are waging war on God and are condemned to execution.”

Children as young as 13 were hanged from cranes, six at a time, in a barbaric two-month purge of Iran’s prisons on the direct orders of Ayatollah Khomeini.

More than 30,000 political prisoners were executed in the 1988 massacre – a far larger number than previously suspected. Secret documents smuggled out of Iran reveal that, because of the large numbers of necks to be broken, prisoners were loaded onto forklift trucks in groups of six and hanged from cranes in half-hourly intervals.

Most of the MEK hanged activists were accused of conspiring with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the Iran–Iraq war, and their separatists aspirations.

Iran Human Rights Organization reported 56 executions in different Iranian cities happening in a time frame as short as three weeks at a time. According to the organization, 17 prisoners in Wakil Abad prison in Mashhad were executed on September 13 for drugs accusations, 3 in Adel Abad prison in Shiraz city, 2 for burglary and assault accusations, and another prisoner was executed in public.

More so, The Guardian News Agency reported that the Iranian authorities executed three Turkish nationals for drug trafficking last year only 11 days after a high-profile visit to Tehran by Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The family of a 46-year-old man, Faruk Güner, a father of nine children, confirmed to the Guardian that he was executed. He was a lorry driver working between Afghanistan and Turkey who passed through Iran. “We tried for four years to save him. They didn’t tell us that he was going to be executed. They hanged him in the morning; we got the news in the afternoon,” Güner’s brother said.

Güner’s brother said his family’s pleas to Iranian authorities fell on deaf ears. “We asked help from many places; nobody helped us,” he told the Guardian via telephone. “We found a lawyer and we went to Iran; we tried to prove that he was innocent, but one day they just executed him. This is inhuman. He had nine kids.”

Guterres … Exceptional Secretary-General

London-Former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres, 10th U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, has been selected as the new United Nations Secretary-General to succeed Ban Ki-moon.

Observers at the U.N. headquarters in New York expected the appointment of Guterres because the Portuguese engineer and communist politician, who led his country in 1995-2002, had successfully managed the cases of refugees when he served at the U.N. Refugee Agency.

Politically, the Portuguese politician has been accepted by all major countries that have considered him a wise, responsible, moderate, non-debatable figure, who has never supported any side in the ongoing conflicts around the world.

*Personal information
Antonio Manuel de Oliveira Guterres was born on 30 April 1949 in Lisbon, Portugal; he is a catholic communist politician and diplomat who has global interests and speaks several languages. He was married twice and has two children.

He studied physics and electrical engineering at the higher institution of Technology at the University of Lisbon; after his graduation, he worked as an assistant teacher.

After three years, during a critical phase in Portugal and with the last days of dictatorship, the young engineer stepped into the world of politics and joined the Portuguese Communist Party in 1974. His love for politics has pushed him to leave engineering and his work as a university professor and dedicate his time for partial political work.

*Carnation Revolution
Guterres participated in the Carnation Revolution that toppled the dictatorship of Marcello Caetano heir of Antonio Salazar in 1974; he represented the Communist Party in the Parliament for one of Lisbon’s areas and maintained his membership in the parliament till 1995.

In 1988, Guterres headed his party’s bloc in the parliament; in 1992 he was elected as the Secretary General of the party and opposed the right-winged Prime Minister of Portugal at that time Cavaco Silva.
*Prime Minister of Portugal

After the retirement of Silva, the Portuguese Communist Party succeeded in winning the elections and beating the social democrats, which led Guterres to the premiership; his party’s victory continued in the elections of 1999 and 2000 when it won the presidency of the European Parliament.

Then, the popularity of communists had deteriorated and Guterres left the party’s leadership to dedicate all his time to the International Communist Association that he was presiding.

In May 2005, he was elected as a U.N. Commissioner for Refugees; during his service, he launched and supervised an operation of structural reform in the Commission that comprises around 10,000 employees in 125 countries. The operation he led contributed to improving the efficiency of cost and enhanced the commission’s response to emergencies.

*Battle of the United Nations
Ten candidates competed to succeed the South Korean Secretary General including international figures like Bulgarian Irina Bokova, who is the director General of UNESCO, and Helen Clark, a New Zealand politician. However, Guterres has won the position and will begin his mission on the first of January 2017. The appointment of the Portuguese politician as the new U.N. chief has been greeted by many including the British, U.S. and U.N. Ambassadors to the world body.

Sergei Ivanov: West’s Staunch Enemy

Moscow-Analysts agree that Sergei Ivanov used to hold one of the most influential positions in Russia. He was the friend and ally of President Vladimir Putin.

Yet, around two weeks ago, Putin dismissed his chief of staff, in the highest-level change inside the Kremlin in several years.

Ivanov — who served with Putin in the Soviet-era KGB spy agency — was replaced by his deputy Anton Vaino.

Although the two friends stressed that the dismissal decision came upon the request of Ivanov, many observers are questioning the real reason behind such a move.

Ivanov, 63 will no longer be able to control Kremlin’s affairs. However, he will remain a member of Russia’s powerful security council, which is considered the country’s principal decision-making body, mainly over strategic issues such as war and peace.

Keeping Ivanov in his post in the security council is a sign that the former Kremlin chief of staff remains in the political arena as strong as ever. He will continue to play a leading role in policy-making despite rumors about possible changes in Russian policy following his dismissal.

Ivanov was the only child of a woman who used to work as an engineer in a scientific research center in the city of Leningrad (currently Saint Petersburg). He grew up without a father and since his early years he loved education and was highly proficient in foreign languages, mainly English.

Several sources agree that this trademark landed him in the world of politics and power.

His love for languages took him to Leningrad University’s Faculty of Languages. There, he became an active member of a communist youth organization.

The KGB later enlisted him and it was there where he met his longtime friend Putin.

Up until now, Ivanov’s role in the agency and the missions he was tasked to carry out remain secret. Yet, very limited information about him reveals that Ivanov worked in the early 1980s for the Soviet intelligence in Finland and then moved to Kenya.

During the years of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ivanov worked as deputy to the director of foreign intelligence’s Europe chief.

Regarding his ties with Putin, it is said that Putin became Ivanov’s assistant after his resignation from the KGB. But after a short while, Putin was appointed in 1998 the head of the intelligence agency which was renamed the Federal Security Service.

After getting his new post, Putin appointed Ivanov as his deputy, and when Putin became president in 1999, Ivanov became secretary of the Security Council and then in 2001 he was given the defense ministry portfolio.

When the new security council was formed under former President Dmitry Medvedev (2008-2012), Ivanov was not appointed to its membership. But Putin, who was prime minister during Medvedev’s tenure at the Kremlin, appointed him as his deputy on military industry affairs.

When Putin came back to the Kremlin in 2012, Ivanov regained his position at the council, and in 2011 -up until his dismissal on August 12, 2016 – he was the president’s chief of staff.

Many observers see Ivanov as a hawk who has strong stances against the West. As evidence of his hawkish moves, journalists recount that in 2001, when Ivanov was secretary of the security council, he criticized Russian military experts on speeches they had given during a forum on how to develop the armed forces.

He was allegedly angered and said it was not up to experts to give advice. “The country has a military chief and armed forces, which are solely entitled to set the number of troops” that Russia needs.

Some analysts and Western politicians claim that Ivanov represents the Soviet approach in his thoughts and proposals. But he believes that the West “violates the sovereignty of countries and wants to impose Western-style democracy on others.”

AlShahed… Youngest Prime Minister in Tunisia

Tunisia

When the Tunisian President Beji Qaid Sebsi surprised his people two months ago by announcing the initiative of composing a national unity government and said that the country needs a strong trauma, no one expected that he will nominate the Local Affairs Minister Youssef al-Shahed as Prime Minister in his 41th year.

The political observers point that Shahed’s experience in ruling is limited because he spent his career working in the private and education sectors on agriculture universities in France, while his political path doesn’t exceed two years during which he was appointed as the minister of local development and a state minister of agriculture.

However, others consider this lack of experience as a strength point and businessmen leaderships and organizations have greeted the nomination of the young businessman as the president of the upcoming cabinet. They also considered that his appointment as head of the executive authority will drive benefit for Tunisia.

Reconciliation in Tunisia

While some leaders in Nidaa Tounes party like its executive chairman Hafez Qaid Al Sebsi (the president’s son) and head of the parliamentary block Sufian Toubal have considered that the bet of parties that appointed Shahed to preside the new government mainly seek to omit the gap between the traditional political class and the youth in the country following the revolution that flared up in 2011 in line with the Arab Spring.

But would Youssef al-Shahed really play the role of the country’s saver and to lead the reconciliation among different parties in Tunisia? Would he be able to fulfill the dream of millions of poor, marginalized, and unemployed people who suffer from hard economic conditions six years after their revolution that called for “dignity”?

Former Secretary-General of Nidaa Tounes Mohsen Marzouk sees that Shahed can never be so. Even some of Shahed’s old friends, like Mustapha bin Ahmad from the Tunisian opposition consider that the new prime minister has a weak personality, which will deprive him from the opportunity of being a charismatic political leader who influence the youth class and gain the trust of both ruling and opposing parties in the country.
Man of intermediates

However, according to his supporters, one of Shahed’s strength points is that he is a “man of intermediates”, who has been previously chosen by Sebsi to lead the reconciliation among Tunisi’a parties. Shahed’s opponents also admit that the man is calm, modest, and keen to find consent among the different sides.

Stronger than Habib Essid

Away from the contrasting evaluations of Shahed’s personality and qualifications, the main question in the country is whether he will be stronger than his predecessor Habib Essid who lost the parliament’s trust on July 30.
The most dangerous blast

The leaders of biggest political parties have greeted the security and developmental priorities of the appointed prime minister. But remarkable concerns wind in the country whether he will be able to settle with the challenges that face Tunisia especially concerning terrorism that struck Libya and the European countries.

On another hand, many political experts expressed fear from attempts to topple Shahed’s government in no time because of the most dangerous social blast due to the accumulation of problems among youth and marginalized categories.

Theresa May…Daughter of Priest, Hates Spotlights

Theresa May

Theresa May is expected to be appointed as the new British Prime Minister. Her supporters say that she is the best to lead the country in the post-Brexit phase. But most of British people don’t know much about her.

So, who is she? May, is the daughter of a priest in the Church of England and has become one of the most experienced members of the British cabinet. She studied geography in Oxford University, and worked at the central bank after her graduation. Later, May worked as a financial consultant in a clearing payments foundation before she became a MP for Maidenhead since 1997.

The latter was selected for the presidency of the conservative party in 2002 and was appointed as the minister of interior since 2010. When she announced her candidature for the prime minister position, she said that she isn’t a spotlight-fan, she appears in few interviews , don’t communicate with people on lunch, and don’t drink alcohol in the parliament’s bars…she only do her work.

Personal Life

The majority of the British people don’t know that their expected prime minister suffers from diabetes type 1 and needs many insulin injections per day. May describes herself as a committed Christian, and possesses more than a hundred cooking books. She also admits that she prefers to maintain the privacy of her personal life.

She said she has no children, accepted this fact, and moved on in her life. She considered that despite this condition, she can still show compassion and offer chances.

May is one of those who raise question marks on the European project. Yet, with the beginning of 2016, she preferred to stay loyal to former Prime Minister David Cameron, and she joined his line in defending the membership in EU. However, she didn’t do her best to serve this position and kept talking about the importance of putting an end the refugees’ flow, which made her closer to the camp of Brexit supporters.

Theresa May, the skinny blond is closer to the right-wing conservative movement in the party despite her proposal for some social projects to attract supporters. In her position as a minister of interior since 2010, she adopted a very strict plan in dealing with outlaws, discrete expats, or Islamic preachers.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the expected prime minister can be very strict, and some people consider her as a new Margaret Thatcher. Yet, apparently, she is closer to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as they both are daughters of priests, conservatives, pragmatic, open on compromises, and have no children.

Ali Al Nuaimi, a Trustworthy Oil Guardian

Khobar- Former Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali Al Nuaimi is expected to receive his award of appreciation on the 24th of May. Al Nuaimi had departed his post earlier this month due to a cabinet reshuffle, given that he at his time represented the whole of the Saudi oil industry. Al Nuaimi spent no less than 70 years of serving the industry. The prime of his work was marked by assignment to minister-hood and had maintained the post for 20 years.

Last December, in Vienna, as the former minister took a 6:00 am walk out the main gates of the hotel he was staying at, the typical dozens of reporters, who had known Al Nuaimi for long years, were waiting on the other side.

Some reporters cognizant with the art of reading facial impressions realized the absence of the minister’s usual welcoming smile and that his openhearted welcome for press was not present. Some reporters realized that it could be the last time they would be seeing Al Nuaimi ever again or walk his side while roaming across the Austrian capital.

With the icy morning keeping them company, some reporters inquired on the reason behind the minister’s reluctance on holding interviews with media for a then notably long time. The minister’s heated reply flamed up the freezing temperature.

“I have been a minister for twenty years now. I have seen it all and been through it all. I have given countless interviews to press, broadcasts and channels; and at the end, nothing has changed, everyone plays around my words, twisting them into what I have never said and in ways befitting their aims,” said Al Nuaimi.

Ever since day one of working at Saudi Aramco, the widely beloved Al Nuaimi – who also goes by “Abu Rami”, an endearing title given to people in the Arab world- had seen it all through the 40’s and till the moment he stepped down.

Former Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali Al Nuaimi started his service in the oil industry in the 40’s, a time which Aramco was still an Arabian-American oil company, and watched Aramco become the Saudi Aramco it is today, and naturally he was the first to head the prominent Saudi Arabian national oil company.

Not only that, but Al Nuaimi had witnessed the stark fluxes of oil rates. As Al Nuaimi said when describing the span of experience he has , he bared witness to the low $10 per barrel rate in the late 90’s, and was present at the sky rocketing $147 during mid-2008.

He has also seen the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia produce up to 3 million barrels a day, and has witnessed the days when production stepped over the 10 million a day.

Before leaving his post, Al Nuaimi had led one of the fiercest OPEC battles, at which he convinced all members in November 2014 to unhand defending deteriorating prices- plummeting at the time due to excess product displayed at the global market- and to adopt a market share defense strategy against producers who had increased production over the last years to limit the rate to $100. The strategy is still applied until this day.

Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Anas Khalid Al Saleh, speaking of Al Nuaimi, said “ It was an honor to work with Minister Al Nuaimi in his last days of service and it was an privilege to witness him defend the best interest of Gulf countries and OPEC through the market share strategy. He is our guide and I have learned a lot from him despite the short time we shared.”

Hadi Al-Ameri: A Militia Leader Torn between Washington and Tehran

Iraqi minister of transportation, Hadi Al-Ameri, inspects volunteer fighters who joined the Iraqi army to fight against jihadist militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Al-Othaim in Diyala province, north of the capital Baghdad, on August 3, 2014. (AFP Photo/Amer Al-Saadi)
Iraqi minister of transportation, Hadi Al-Ameri, inspects volunteer fighters who joined the Iraqi army to fight against jihadist militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Al-Othaim in Diyala province, north of the capital Baghdad, on August 3, 2014. (AFP Photo/Amer Al-Saadi)

Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—When the leader of the Badr Organization, Hadi Al-Ameri, became Iraq’s minister of transport during former prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s second term in office, no one from Iraq’s political class or the major international political players objected. The reason behind his smooth appointment is well-known: at the time, Iran had the upper hand in the formation of the Iraqi government, despite the presence of the US army in Iraq. Given that it was preparing to pull American troops out of Iraq, and President Barack Obama’s lack of enthusiasm for the conflict, Washington did not seek to use any of the influence it possessed to shape Iraq’s government.

This time, however, things look different. The challenge posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has prompted Ameri to leave his ministerial post and focus on drumming up public support for efforts to fight the Islamist militants. The Badr Organization proved to be instrumental in breaking ISIS’s siege of the Turkmen-majority town of Amerli. At the same time, the growing risk of ISIS has prompted both Tehran and Washington to rethink their Iraq strategy. The US has made a strong comeback on the Iraqi scene, both politically and militarily, while Iran has found itself struggling to deal with the dire situation in Iraq after years of backing Maliki, who is widely held to be at least partly responsible for the present crisis.

During the recent political turmoil in Iraq that saw the removal of Maliki from office, Tehran chose to drop its support for him, Shi’ite cleric and academic Abdul Husayn Al-Saadi claims. Instead, Maliki “threw the ball into the court of the supreme religious authority in Najaf.” Saadi said Iranian Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei distanced himself from the debate over Maliki’s third term in office when he found there was “near consensus on the necessity for bringing about change” in the Iraqi political landscape.

At the same time, dropping Maliki has had a major impact on Iran’s other allies, Saadi said. “Iran has pulled the rug out from under Maliki [which has] significantly impacted some of his major allies, namely Ameri, whose electoral bloc won 22 seats in the parliamentary elections,” he added.

“Ameri seemed to be in an unstable position the moment Maliki was removed by the [Islamic] Da’wa Party and with the support of key forces within the Shi’ite coalition,” Saadi said.

Nonethless, Ameri has responded by setting his sights higher. Following his resignation as transport minister, he reportedly sought what is arguably Iraq’s most important ministerial portfolio, the Interior Ministry.

Despite the damage inflicted by the downfall of Maliki, this is not an unrealistic goal, particularly since the Sunni-led Iraqi Forces Alliance is intent on about getting its own candidate into the Defense Ministry, leaving the field clear for a Shi’ite candidate. Though the defense and interior portfolios are still vacant, this is mainly due to inter-Shi’ite disputes within the Shi’ite National Alliance.

“There is a crisis within the National Alliance over the Interior Ministry. Mr. Ameri’s bloc insists on being granted the Ministry despite their knowledge of a clear US veto on Ameri and militia leaders [holding the post],” said a prominent Shi’ite figure, who requested anonymity because he was not permitted to brief the media.

The same source spoke of “complex disputes within the National Alliance,” thanks to the insistence of the State of Law coalition—dominated by Maliki’s Islamic Da’wa Party—on nominating Ameri for the post of interior minister, despite their knowledge of the impossibility of sidestepping the US veto. Nonetheless, some key Islamic Da’wa Party figures remain in favor of granting the Ministry to Riyadh Gharib, though he failed to win parliamentary approval last week.

The two other major groups in the National Alliance favor Ameri, the source said. “The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq [ISCI] and the Sadrist Movement are inclined towards granting the Interior Ministry to Ameri, particularly after it transpired that the US wants to punish Shi’ite militias linked with or supported by Iran,” he added.

Ameri does indeed have close links to Iran. One—albeit unusual—sign of this may be his distaste for some elements of western clothing, specifically ties. Although seen wearing a tie during official international visits in his capacity as transport minister, Ameri is often criticized by his opponents who link his habit of not wearing ties with his relationship with Iran, where ties are not worn by senior government figures, even those who are not clerics.

Ameri, who prefers to be known as “Hajj Abu Hassan,” prides himself on his past record in fighting against Saddam Hussein’s regime. During the Iran–Iraq War, the Badr Brigade, the military wing of ISCI, fought alongside Iranian forces against the Iraqi army.

After the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, the Badr Brigade was rebranded as the Badr Organization before it was turned into a political organization within the framework of ISCI, itself previously known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. However, and on Khamenei’s instructions, Badr soon broke with ISCI, joining the ranks of Maliki’s State of Law coalition.

When appointed transport minister Ameri did not sever his links with Badr’s militia forces, the most controversial aspect of his record in government given the accusations that many members of the Badr Brigade infiltrated the new Iraqi security forces and used their newfound power to carry out massacres of Iraqi Sunnis. It is his past that has led many in Iraq to oppose his appointment as interior minister, spurring the US into putting pressure on Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to keep Ameri out of the cabinet.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Iraqiya MP Maysoon Al-Damluji said her parliamentary bloc led by Shi’ite former prime minister Iyad Al-Allawi opposes giving Ameri a key ministry like that of interior or defense.

Mohamed Al-Khalidi, a leading figure in the Sunni-majority Iraqi Forces Alliance, shares similar views. He said: “Putting an end to militias, which represent the other face of terror, has become an urgent need. Moreover, giving militia leaders ministerial portfolios that are as significant as that of the Interior [Ministry] means saying goodbye to what remains of Iraq.”

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem: France’s Rising Star

French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem holds a press conference during her visit of the Crous of Paris, on September 8, 2014, in Paris, France. (AFP Photo/Martin Buraeu)
French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem holds a press conference during her visit of the Crous of Paris, on September 8, 2014, in Paris, France. (AFP Photo/Martin Buraeu)

Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat—A recent opinion poll conducted by a French newspaper showed that Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France’s new minister of education, had become the country’s second most popular politician, only 15 days after her official appointment.

The 36-year-old Moroccan-born politician is France’s first female education minister, and has blazed a trail through the heart of French politics.

On accepting her appointment in a cabinet reshuffle last week, Vallaud-Belkacem’s eyes welled up during an emotional speech in which she attributed her political success to France’s education system. She has described herself as a “pure product of the [French] Republic,” and an illustration of the “happy integration” of modern France.

Born to a humble family in Bni Chiker, a village in Morocco’s Rif region, in 1977, Vallaud-Belkacem was the second-eldest of seven children. Her family then moved to Amiens, France, to join her laborer father, when she was just four years old.

Without the platform provided by France’s public education system—a true melting pot of different national identities and ethnicities—it would have been impossible for Vallaud-Belkacem to ascend to the political heights she has reached today.

The education portfolio is one of the most senior government posts in France, given the massive budget allotted by the government and the premium placed by Paris on education. Vallaud-Belkacem has previously held a number of other ministerial portfolios, including minister of youth affairs in the government of Prime Minister Manuel Valls, and minister of women’s rights in the cabinets of Valls and former prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. She also previously held the post of minister of city affairs, beginning her work in Paris as a government spokesperson for the Ayrault government in 2012.

Vallaud-Belkacem began her political career in Lyon—France’s second-largest city. She was elected conseillère générale for the Rhône department in 2008, representing the Socialist Party.

After receiving her degree from the Paris Institute of Political Studies in 2002, she quickly became active in socialist politics, joining the team of Lyon Mayor Gérard Collomb. She held a number of different positions in and around the Rhône–Alpes district over the next couple of years, later coming to national attention as a spokesperson for Ségolène Royal’s presidential campaign in 2007.

This is not the first time that a French woman of Arab origins has been appointed to a preeminent ministerial portfolio. French MEP Rachida Dati previously served as justice minister during the administration of then-President Nicolas Sarkozy. However, while Dati, like Vallaud-Belkacem, is the daughter of a first-generation Moroccan immigrant who came to the Republic looking for a better life, Vallaud-Belkacem is foreign-born.

Vallaud-Belkacem’s political advancement over the past few years can only be attributed to her diligence and excellent performance within the Socialist Party, as well as her superb handling of her previous ministerial portfolios. Vallaud-Belkacem is known for her dedication and commitment, and her aversion to self-publicity.

Those who know her claim that beneath her smile lies a formidable personality, and in particular, an ability to maintain composure under pressure. These are attributes that will serve France’s new education minister well as the country’s far-right media and politicians take aim at her. Elements on the right wing of French politics reacted angrily to her appointment as education minister, describing it as a “provocation,” and a sign of political correctness gone awry.

This week, a forged letter emerged on some websites and social media purportedly carrying the minister’s signature. The letter called for primary school pupils to be given weekly Arab lessons in the name of breaking down “linguistic barriers” and better community relations.

Vallaud-Belkacem is taking legal action over the fake memo, but the speed with which it spread across social media platforms is an indication of the unease felt among France’s far right towards her.

The weekly right-wing magazine Minute sparked a firestorm by labeling her appointment as a “provocation,” and describing her explicitly as the “Moroccan Muslim minister of education.” A more moderate publication, Valeurs Actuelles, described Vallaud-Belkacem as “L’Ayatollah” in a front-page headline following her appointment.

Responding to the racist slurs, Vallaud-Belkacem told the Associated Press: “I call for respect. And I repeat in particular that racism is not an opinion, but a crime.”

What is certain is that after taking up one of the most difficult ministerial portfolios in France, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem has her work cut out.

Haider Al-Abadi: From Electrical Engineer to PM-Designate

In this July 15, 2014 file photo, Haider Al-Abadi speaks to the media after an Iraqi parliament session in Baghdad. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
In this July 15, 2014 file photo, Haider Al-Abadi speaks to the media after an Iraqi parliament session in Baghdad. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Haider Al-Abadi, the man tasked with forming the country’s next government and resolving a longstanding political crisis that has very real security implications on Iraq, appears to have come out of nowhere.

Abadi, a member of Maliki’s own Islamic Da’wa Party, was tasked by President Fuad Masoum with forming a new government on Monday. His party leader, outgoing Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, rejected the move as unconstitutional on Wednesday, saying that he continues to seek a controversial third term in office. The embattled incumbent prime minister’s own allies in the Shi’ite-led Iraqi National Alliance—including Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) leader Ammar Al-Hakim and Sadrist leader Moqtada Al-Sadr—had already explicitly announced their rejection of a Maliki third term, as had Iraq’s Kurdish leadership, leaving the political space open for Abadi to step in. He has just 30 days to form a government.

But just who is Haider Al-Abadi?

Abadi was born in Baghdad in 1952. His father was a well-respected doctor. He got involved in politics early, joining the opposition Islamic Da’wa Party while studying for a degree in electrical engineering from Baghdad’s technical college. He graduated in 1975, leaving Iraq for the UK where he completed a PhD at the University of Manchester in 1981. Abadi lived in exile for much of the 1980s and 1990s owing to his affiliation to the Islamic Da’wa Party, which was outlawed under Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist rule.

Abadi is a longtime ally of Maliki, the man whose position he is now seeking to usurp. He returned to Iraq in 2003, becoming minister of communication in the first post-Saddam government. He was elected as an MP for the Islamic Da’wa Party—itself a member of the Maliki-led State of Law coalition, which in turn is a member of the Iraqi National Alliance—in 2006. Abadi was most recently elected as deputy speaker of parliament, with many political observers believing that he would be a staunch ally of Maliki in parliament. Few could have envisioned the splits that are now erupting within Maliki’s State of Law coalition.

Since Saddam’s ouster, Iraq’s president has always been a Kurd, the prime minister has always been a Shi’ite, and the speaker of parliament has always been a Sunni. However, Iraqi Sunnis have become increasingly disillusioned with the Maliki government, with a number of Sunni-majority provinces—including the western Anbar region—openly revolting against the Baghdad government. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group subsequently entered the scene from neighboring Syria, finding fertile ground for its extremist Islamist ideology among Iraq’s disenfranchised Sunni population. ISIS was able to rout Maliki’s forces, seizing the northern city of Mosul and continuing its advance in central parts of Iraq. Regional and international observers are hoping that Abadi will be able to win back the trust of Iraq’s Sunnis and reorganize the armed forces to confront ISIS.

Abadi’s nomination as prime minister-designate has received broad local, regional and international support, though Iraq’s Sunnis remain wary.

Iraqi parliamentary rapporteur Mohamed Al-Khalidi, a leading Sunni MP, reacted cautiously to the news. “Abadi was one of the strongest defenders of Maliki’s policies. Whether right or wrong, we believe that what has happened is important for the changes that we have been calling for,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“In politics, anything is possible and so we [the Sunnis] are viewing this [appointment] as a first step towards what we have been demanding,” he added.

Khalidi called for caution regarding Abadi’s ties to Maliki and the Islamic Da’wa Party, stressing that a change in the “political approach” of the Baghdad leadership was the most important thing.

“If there is a change in figures, but the political approach stays the same, then it is as if we did nothing,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

As for whether Iraq’s Sunnis, many of whom remain in outright rebellion against the Baghdad central government, will cooperate with Abadi, the leading Sunni MP said this would depend on whether Abadi could deliver “what the western provinces have risen up to demand.” He called for the prime minister-designate to return “balance” to the political process in Iraq.

Meanwhile, former State of Law coalition MP Izzat Shahbandar told Asharq Al-Awsat that the fact that a prime minister-designate other than Maliki had been nominated was an important sign.

“The nomination of an alternative to Maliki from within the Iraqi National Alliance—with domestic support and without Iranian instruction—is important,” he said. “This is a change that enjoys domestic and international support and that is very important.”

“Maliki tried to change the political equation by force when he mobilized the security apparatus . . . Even if Abadi is partisan, he is a civilian leader; he comes from a Baghdad family and will be open to civilian life. He is the leader that the present circumstances require,” Shahbandar added.

Fouad Ajami, His Books, and the Arab Political Condition

File photo of Fouad Ajami.
File photo of Fouad Ajami.
“Khalil Hawi, a poet of renown and professor at the American University of Beirut, educated at that university and at Cambridge, killed himself in the evening of June 6, 1982, at the age of sixty-two, on the balcony of his home in West Beirut.” Thus began one of the most astute essays on the Arab political condition, written by Fouad Ajami and published in 1998.

“Where are the Arabs?” Hawi had asked at the time, the day Israeli tanks swept into Lebanon. “Who shall remove the stain of shame from my forehead?” Later that evening, he removed the “stain” by shooting himself.

For Professor Fouad Ajami, Hawi’s suicide told a larger story, of Arab men and women who dreamed of modernity, but who despaired of their weakness, of their stale politics, of their stubborn tradition and dangerous sectarianism. It was an astonishing essay, entitled “The Suicide of Khalil Hawi: A Requiem for a Generation,” and the lead chapter in what I consider one of Ajami’s most important works, Dream Palaces of the Arabs.

For those of us who knew Professor Ajami the man, not the caricature, we understood that the Hawi essay was deeply personal. He, too, despaired of the Arab political condition. In Dream Palaces of the Arabs, he laid bare his world view.

“In the privacy of their own language, when Westerners, Israelis, ‘enemies,’ and ‘Orientalists’ were not listening in, Arabs spoke with candor, and in code,” Ajami wrote. “They did not need much detail; they could speak in shorthand of what had befallen their world. The trajectory of their modern history was known to them.”

The story they told was one of a fall.

From the “cultural and political tide in the 1950s,” a tide that brought “growing literacy, the political confidence of mass nationalism, the greater emancipation of women, a new literature and poetry that remade a popular and revered art form,” came “the shattering of that confidence a decade later in the Six Day War of 1967,” and a new world was made.

In that new world, Ajami wrote, “the young had taken to theocratic politics; they had broken with the secular politics of their elders.” And for Fouad Ajami, looking back on that moment nearly two decades later, he wrote that “at the heart of this extended narrative is the impasse, the generational fault-line, between secular parents and their theocratic children.”

In that new world, Khalil Hawi committed suicide on his balcony in West Beirut, and the Arab political condition, particularly in the principal cities of Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus and Beirut, coarsened. Perhaps that is why Ajami clung to the poets and the novelists. They offered him hope.

I knew Fouad Ajami as a student at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Before I traveled to Egypt for a summer of Arabic study, I asked him what I should read: “I have twenty books for you: all of them Naguib Mahfouz.” He once told me that the few days he spent in the company of Naguib Mahfouz before his death were one of the highlights of his long career.

Fouad Ajami was a prolific writer, but his books held a special place in his heart. They told the stories he wanted to tell, and were laced with a sense of regret and pathos.

In The Vanished Imam: Musa al Sadr and the Shia of Lebanon,, published in 1978, Ajami wrote: “Musa al Sadr led his Lebanese followers at a time when they were beginning to make a claim on their country. He vanished and left them with a text and a memory and some institutions at a time when the country as a whole had become a ruined place. Young men behind sandbags, with their Imam’s posters, defend the ruins that are theirs and their sects. A measure of equality has come to Lebanon.”

In The Arab Predicament, published, 1981, he writes: “There is no ‘fun’ in the material handled here: It is a chronicle of illusions and despair, of politics repeatedly degenerating into bloodletting, of imagined transformations followed by despair that there is some immutable core that disfigures it all, that devours all good intentions, that mocks those who would try change things.”

In Beirut: City of Regrets, published in 1988, he laments the state of civil war in Lebanon, writing, “Before the fall, before the terrible ‘events,’ and the political ruin of the last decade, there were tales of Lebanon; tales of a small, mountainous country by the Mediterranean; of Beirut, the charmed city where a dramatic mountain range descended to the sea. There were tales of an enterprising people who lived by their wits and who reconciled the austere Arabian–Islamic truth of their East with the ways and the truth of the West.”

And in Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation’s Odyssey, published in 1998, he presaged the Egyptian uprising of 2011: “There is no law of social peace, no fated happiness or civility in any land. There had been lamentations on the banks of the Nile and times of celebration. There is a decisive role here for the human will monitoring the cycle of life and all it brings by way of seasons. It is not enough consolation to pay tribute to the good soil and the patient river. Those gauges on the banks will have to read and watched with care.”