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EL ESPECTADOR

Will Iran Step In To Suppress Lebanon And Iraq Uprisings?

Protesters in Lebanon and Iraq have been venting their fury at Iran, which is accused of practically running their countries. Tehran is not afraid to come down hard on its domestic opponents.

Police and protesters in October in Beirut
Police and protesters in October in Beirut
Marcos Peckel

-Analysis-

For the past several weeks, Iraq and Lebanon have become the settings of major popular protests: a mix of people, coming from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, are rising up against rulers who are rotten, aloof and have long fanned sectarian discord to keep themselves in power. What we may be witnessing is a kind of Arab Spring 3.0.

The first round was in 2010, with its dismal results: Syria, Yemen and Libya are collapsing, and Egypt quickly turned around to restore a military regime. Tunisia, which has found its path to democracy and inclusion, is the admirable exception. The second wave of spring came in 2018 and is still a work in process. It overthrew the dictators of Sudan and Algeria, even as the countries' military are clinging to power for dear life.

Lebanon and Iraq have governments controlled, more or less, by Tehran. For the Lebanese, the terrorist organization Hezbollah, a militia far stronger than the army, is part of the government; while in Iraq after the defeat of ISIS, Shia militias and political parties beholden to Tehran have taken over and now face public ire.

Both countries have suffered from grave deficiencies in governance, from corruption, sectarianism, dilapidated public services, power cuts, rampant joblessness, trash left on the streets and massive theft of young people's hopes.

Iran will use extreme force if necessary.

So the now brazen protesters are directing their rage at Iran, which they accuse of "controlling the country," incidentally reopening a historical division between Arab and Iranian

Shias. They have burned pictures of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and attacked its consulate in Kerbala while chanting slogans against Iran and the pro-Iranian government in Baghdad. In Lebanon, Hezbollah "black shirts' riding motorbikes have attacked protesters, provoking clashes with the army, which still maintains the population's respect.

For Iran, these protests are a challenge to its dominance in both countries, which is why Tehran will seek to block any changes threatening its hegemony and use extreme force if need be. Its proxy militias have been blamed for the 250 or so deaths among Iraqi protesters. In their honor, the residents of Najaf, a sacred city for all Shias, renamed one avenue from "Ayatollah Khomeini​," the leader of the 1979 Iranian revolution, to "Martyrs of October."

The regime of the ayatollahs brutally crushed protests by Iranians in 2009, when fraudulent electoral results robbed the presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Musavi of a likely victory. Iraq and Lebanon are its regional armor, with another uncertain piece tucked inside: Syria. Rest assured, Iran will not let any of them go away.

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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