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Iran elections: Towards an ‘Islamic government’ | Elections

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Out of the 529 people who registered to take part in Iran’s June 18 presidential election, only seven have secured permission from the Guardian Council.

The Guardian Council is responsible for vetting candidates and deciding who gets to run in most elections in Iran. It consists of six Islamic jurists, appointed by the Supreme Leader, and six lawyers, nominated by the judiciary’s head and selected by parliament.

Among the candidates the Guardian Council barred from running in the upcoming election are the former spokesperson of the Iranian parliament Ali Larijani, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and current Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri.

Five of the seven candidates who have been approved by the council are hardliners: Head of the judiciary Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi; former Supreme National Security Council secretary and nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili; Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezaei, a former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC); and MPs Alireza Zakani and Amirhossein Qazizadeh-Hashemi.

The other two candidates who will be on the ballot on June 18 are Abdolnaser Hemmati, a technocrat and the former governor of the Central Bank of Iran, and Mohsen Mehralizadeh, head of Iran’s national sports organisation and former governor of Isfahan.

Among these seven candidates, Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi is the leading contender. Many Iran observers expect him not only to be elected as Iran’s next president, but also eventually to become the country’s next supreme leader.

The Guardian Council has been carefully engineering elections to produce results that are acceptable to Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei for decades. Nevertheless, the council’s decision to bar a high number of prominent and objectively qualified candidates from running in the upcoming election was still unprecedented.

The council increased the level of control it exerts on the candidate list because the Iranian establishment believes that the Islamic Republic is currently at a turning point and as a close ally of Khamenei, Mehdi Tayeb, recently said, there is a need to “purify the revolution”.

To understand what they mean by “purifying the revolution”, we need to look at Khamenei’s political ideology.

In the late 1990s, Khamenei outlined what he believes to be the five essential stages of a successful Islamic Revolution. The first stage is the Islamic Revolution itself. The second stage is the establishment of an Islamic regime, which should be followed by the establishment of an Islamic government. The fourth stage is the establishment of an Islamic society, which, he says, would pave the way for the establishment of an Islamic civilisation – one that could serve as a model and leader for all Muslim-majority countries across the world.

According to Khamenei, the first two links in this chain have been completed in Iran with the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the formation of the Islamic Republic. But Iran is yet to complete the third link: the establishment of an “Islamic government”.

So, currently, Khamenei’s leading political goal is to ensure that the country is led by a truly Islamic government that is loyal to him and his vision for the country.

To achieve this goal, he published a manifesto in 2019, and has since been working to rejuvenate the regime and prepare the optimum conditions for the establishment of an “Islamic government”. He stocked unelected but highly politically influential posts in the armed forces, judiciary, religious organisations and media with young and loyal hardliners. With the help of the Guardian Council, he also filled the Iranian parliament with his young and zealous supporters in the 2020 parliamentary election.

Next month’s presidential election, therefore, constitutes the final stage in Khamenei’s efforts to establish an ideal “Islamic government”.

Khamenei was elected as Iran’s supreme Leader in 1989. Since then, he worked with four administrations: The Rafsanjani administration (1989-1996), the Khatami administration (1997-2004), the Ahmadinejad administration (2005-2013) and the Rouhani administration (2013-2020).

Among these four governments, the one that was closest to Khamenei’s ideal of “Islamic government” was Ahmedinejad’s – at least during his first term in power. Ahmadinejad worked harmoniously with the Supreme Leader between 2005 and 2009, but the two eventually fell out during his second term as president due to political power struggles.

The Supreme Leader is now working to ensure the establishment of a new administration that would pursue similar policies and strategies to Ahmedinejad, but remain loyal and subservient to the Supreme Leader till the end.

And, indeed, the leading candidate Raisi’s election campaign is being run by veterans of the Ahmadinejad administration, such as Ali Nikzad, who served as the Minister of Transportation and Housing under Ahmedinejad between 2009-2011 and Reza Taghipour, who was his Minister of Communications between 2009-2012.

As was the case during Ahmadinejad’s presidency, the political appointees of a future Raisi administration would also come from the most conservative sections of Iranian society, and specifically from the IRGC and the Oppressed Basij Organisation, a paramilitary group that works for the IRGC.

The IRGC and the Basij are not only the home for the most fervent supporters of the Islamic Revolution and its ideals, but they also serve as the largest and most influential support base for the Supreme Leader.

If Khamenei succeeds in guaranteeing the formation of a new administration that would fill most politically relevant posts in the country with hardliner members of the IRGC and the Basij, the ever closing gap between the Iranian government and the Iranian “deep state” controlled by the Supreme Leader will finally disappear. Such an administration, in the eyes of Khamenei, would represent a truly “Islamic government” and be more successful in implementing policies that would further the goals of the revolution.

According to Khamenei, once established, an Islamic government would work to complete the Islamisation of Iranian society – the fourth step in the Supreme Leader’s long term plan.

Since the revolution in 1979, Iranian society has experienced two waves of Islamisation – the first in 1980 triggered by the closure of universities and the second, in 2005, triggered by Ahmedinejad’s election as president. If an “Islamic government” loyal to the Supreme Leader is formed as expected on June 18, Iran will undoubtedly see a third wave of Islamisation.

As seen during the first two waves, the third wave of Islamisation in Iran will likely have three primary manifestations: Further embedment of Islamic culture and values in daily and political life, a more forceful fight against Western influences on Iranian society, and an increase in the Supreme Leader’s influence and control over all social and political groups in the country.

To achieve this, the new administration will have to use force, as today large segments of the Iranian population do not share the ideals and ambitions of the ruling regime. The new administration will repress those in Iran who try to resist regime-imposed restrictions on their lives and increase pressure over the youth and women – the main two groups that increasingly challenge the regime’s authority.

In terms of foreign policy, a new “Islamic government” will work to achieve all of the Islamic Republic’s long term goals, such as increasing Iran’s influence over the region and exporting the Islamic revolution to other countries by supporting militant groups.

If the new government ends up including many members of the IRGC and the Basij as expected, the cooperation between the Iranian Foreign Ministry and the IRGC will also strengthen, allowing the country to pursue its foreign policy agenda more efficiently.

Anti-Americanism will also be a defining characteristic of any future “Islamic government” supported by Khamenei.

Anti-Americanism is at the core of the Iranian regime and the Supreme Leader’s identity. So any new government supported by the Supreme Leader would likely continue to antagonise the US and its allies while moving closer to Russia and China. Forming better relationships with African and South American countries would also be a priority for the new administration for political and economic reasons.

Ayatollah Khamenei, who is 82 years old, wants his regime and ideals to outlive him. He wants not only the spirit of the 1979 revolution to live on, but also Iran to eventually become an Islamic powerhouse and a leader of the Muslim world. Only time will tell if the Supreme Leader will succeed in overseeing the formation of an ideal Islamic government that is crucial to the success of his long-term political agenda. But for now, it seems Khamenei is well positioned to move to the next stage of his revolutionary plan.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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The scrappy Hong Kong tabloid that refused to bow to Beijing | Freedom of the Press News

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Hong Kong, China – The last edition of the Apple Daily, the small scrappy Hong Kong tabloid that emerged as a champion of democracy and outspoken critic of China, has rolled off the presses, four days after the newspaper celebrated its 26th anniversary.

The paper had been raided by police twice during the past 10 months on suspicion of violating the National Security Law that was imposed by Beijing almost a year ago. Since the first raid last August, founder Jimmy Lai, 73, has been in jail awaiting trial under the law.

Last week’s raid saw five top executives, including its chief editor, arrested for alleged security offences as 500 police officers swooped in on Apple’s headquarters, with another staffer – the head editorial writer – apprehended on Wednesday morning.

The final nail in the coffin, however, was Hong Kong authorities’ freeze on the bank accounts of the media group that owns the paper. The move made it impossible for the paper to pay its staff and vendors, even as readers snapped up copies to show their support.

The decision was based on “employee safety and manpower considerations”, Apple Daily said as it announced its closure on Wednesday.
“Here we say goodbye. Take care of yourselves.”

Staff members of Apple Daily and its publisher Next Digital clap out the final edition of a paper that began publishing in 1995 and became a thorn in Beijing’s side [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” framework meant to guarantee rights and liberties absent in the mainland. For most of the past 20 years, the territory has remained a bastion of press freedom in a country where media is muzzled.

“The demise of Apple Daily negates ‘one country, two systems’ and sets the stage for ‘one country, one system,’” said Willy Lam, a longtime commentator on Chinese politics and a veteran newspaper editor.

Bold, brash

Founded just two years before the handover, Apple Daily was at once a gamble and a leap of faith.

“The paper wanted to have some impact not just on Hong Kong but also to support the liberalisation of China,” Lam told Al Jazeera. “But as China has become less open to Western values, the paper has focused on defending Hong Kong values and holding Beijing to account.”

In its inaugural editorial, Apple Daily said it aimed to be a paper for the Hong Kong people.

Lai, its founder and funder, a devout Catholic who had made a fortune in the fashion business, named the paper after the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden in the Old Testament. Its rhyming couplet jingle – “An Apple a day, no liars can hold sway” – caught the attention of Hong Kong readers used to more staid offerings.

It was loud. It was bold, It was flashy.

The paper grabbed attention when it splashed a surreptitiously shot photo of Deng Xiaoping – China’s then-paramount leader died in February at the age of 92 – on his deathbed on the front page.

Brashness was its selling point.

Its reporters frequently skewered public officials and needled the comfortable.

“It speaks truth to power and finds a way to do profitably,” said Lokman Tsui, assistant professor of journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Jimmy Lai, standing by one of the printing presses in 2009, created a hugely popular paper that supported democracy, was unafraid to speak truth to power and critical of the Communist Party in Beijing [File: Alex Hofford/EPA]
Apple Daily’s founder and funder, Jimmy Lai, was arrested in August under the national security law and the paper’s headquarters raided. He has now been jailed [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

The paper catered to high brow and low. Colourful spreads of scantily-clad female models appeared in the same section of the paper as erudite columns featuring quotes in Latin and Classical Chinese. With a couple of exceptions, its ranks of columnists were the who’s who of the territory’s pro-democracy circle.

Giving people what they want

Launched at the dawn of the internet age, the daily was quick to adapt to the digital world. Its website pioneered animated news – a mix of stills, short clips and clever graphics with narration dripping with sour sarcasm. Its lifestyle channel on YouTube built a fervent following.

A decade in, the paper’s circulation peaked at 500,000 in a city of approximately six million people with a dozen dailies.

Apple Daily’s brand of advocacy journalism would soon make the paper a thorn in the side of the Chinese Communist Party. But to Lai, a rags-to-riches maverick millionaire now named Public Enemy No. 1 by Beijing, it was all about giving his customers what they would buy, even down to protest poster inserts.

In the summer of 2019, amid popular opposition to legislation that would send Hong Kong residents for trial in mainland China, the paper shorthanded “extradition to China” into the homophonic colloquial Cantonese expression of seeing someone to the grave. The expression immediately caught on and became a rallying cry in the protest movement.

“At times, we might have gone overboard but everything we did fell within the bounds of the law,” said Robert Chan, 45, who has covered mainland China for the paper for the past three years.

That is until the passage of the security law, which punishes what the authorities deem subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life sentences.

Prosecutors have used Lai’s frequent meetings with US officials in recent years, from the then-vice president on down, as “evidence” of his alleged “collusion with foreign powers”.

Staff from Apple Daily and its publisher Next Digital work on the final edition of their newspaper on June 23. In its first-ever editorial, the paper said it wanted to be a publication of the Hong Kong people. It printed a million copies of its final edition [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Early last month, rumours started to circulate that Beijing wanted to see the paper be shuttered in time for the Communist Party’s centenary celebrations on July 1.

Technology reporter for a decade, Alex Tang, 37, said like most of his colleagues he had become conditioned to taking unsubstantiated gossip with a grain of salt – until the second raid and the company asset freeze.

During the past few days, some of the 800 reporters at the paper were frustrated by the lack of a definitive answer on the last publishing date and severance.

“Management said they’d hang on till the bitter end, and they’ve kept their word,” said Tang. “The company has done its best.”

Apple Daily will live on as a website on the self-governing island of Taiwan, where it ceased paper publication last month.

But in Hong Kong, China news reporter Chan said he will mourn the loss of far more than his livelihood.

“With the paper gone, so would the values it represents: pursuit of freedom and democracy,” he said.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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‘Real and present danger’: Sydney imposes new COVID curbs | Coronavirus pandemic News

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Restrictions cover an estimated five million people after Delta variant-linked cases, as neighbouring New Zealand raises alert level.

People in Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, have been ordered not to leave the metropolitan area, as authorities scramble to contain a number of new coronavirus cases of the Delta variant – a development that has prompted neighbouring New Zealand to raise its alert level following possible exposure from a tourist from Australia.

New South Wales (NSW) State Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the stricter curbs – affecting about five million people who live and work in the city – on Wednesday.

“Clearly this is an evolving situation,” Berejiklian said at a news conference.

The new rules took effect at 4pm Sydney time (06:00 GMT) and will remain in force for a week.

“Given what has occurred the NSW government will be taking action today to limit the spread of what is a very contagious variant of COVID.”

NSW health minister Brad Hazzard described the situation as “a very real and present danger” for the city as a cluster first identified in the beach surburb of Bondi grew to 21 cases with eight confirmed on Wednesday morning.

Most of the newly confirmed cases were traced to a single event, where a mass gathering was held on Tuesday.

“This is a new and more dangerous version of the virus,” Hazzard said during the news conference.

The new restrictions include a limit on household visitors to five people, including children, Berejiklian said.

Mask wearing, which had already been reinstated on Friday, will be extended with people required to wear masks in all indoor settings outside the home and at organised outdoor events. The measures also include capacity limits on public transport and in gym classes, while singing at indoor venues, including places of worship, will not be allowed.

Authorities are also urging people to come forward for testing.

“If we adhere to the health orders today, we will have a good chance on getting on top of this outbreak,” Berejiklian told reporters.

New Zealand on alert

 

As of Wednesday, Australia had recorded more than 30,300 cases and 910 deaths.

The country has been among the world’s most successful in containing the pandemic, allowing it to reopen its border to New Zealand.

But the new cases are testing the travel bubble between the neighbours.

On Wednesday, New Zealand raised its pandemic alert level in Wellington to level two, which is one level short of a lockdown.

Earlier, an Australian tourist who visited the capital city over the weekend tested positive for COVID when they returned to Sydney.

“These are precautionary measures which will remain in place while we contact trace and test all of those we need to,” New Zealand’s COVID response minister Chris Hipkins said.

Under the elevated alert level, offices, schools and businesses are still allowed to open, but people are required to follow social distancing rules.

Gatherings of more than 100 people are banned, including weddings and other parties.

New Zealand has a population of five million people, and has recorded a total of 2,720 cases and 26 deaths. The country has posted a 98.2 percent recovery rate.

In Australia itself, Queensland and Victoria have both closed their borders to people from many parts of Sydney as a result of the new cases.





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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River Nile dam: Egypt new African allies

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Recent years have seen a dramatic re-engagement with Africa, especially the Nile Basin countries.



Source – www.bbc.co.uk

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