Don't Trust Rouhani - Iran's Nobel Peace Laureate Speaks

Shiran Ebadi, 2003 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, says Iran's supposed reformist leader Hassan Rouhani has done little to improve human rights. Anyway, he doesn't have final say.

Rouhani marks the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution last month in Tehran
Rouhani marks the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution last month in Tehran
Florian Eder

BRUSSELS — Shirin Ebadi, winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, has been watching with what she calls a kind of sober realism as relations between the West and her native Iran have strengthened in recent months.

Living in exile in Britain since 2009, she was invited last week by the European Foundation for Democracy, a Brussels-based think tank, to meet with members of the European Parliament. Five years after becoming the European Union’s foreign policy representative, Catherine Ashton went to Iran for the first time last year. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani can count her visit as a diplomatic success, and there is now hope for an official EU diplomatic mission in Teheran.

But in an interview with Die Welt in Brussels, Ebadi says that before there can be such an EU mission in Tehran, the Iranian government has to show that it is willing to support minimum human rights standards.

Die Welt: Ms. Ebadi, you have been living in exile since 2009. How do you stay in contact with Iran?
Ebadi: My office is in London. I am in daily contact with my colleagues. We work well together. Just today I spoke with Narges Mohammedi, one of the human rights activists that Ms. Ashton met with during her visit.

Do you mean the meeting with women’s rights’ activists that took place in the Austrian embassy in Tehran? The Iranian government has seriously criticized that encounter, seemingly due to pressure from conservatives.
That meeting was provocative for the hardliners, and the consequences included criticism directed at the foreign minister for having allowed it, and criticism of Ashton’s entire visit by the Iranian Parliament.

Did President Rouhani go too far and endanger his support?
Yes. There are already signs on the streets of Tehran that show half of Ms. Ashton’s face and the other half as Saddam Hussein. Young people demonstrated in front of the Austrian embassy, with signs that said, “Miss Ashton, this is not Ukraine.”

There was a lot of hope for the opening-up of society after Rouhani’s inauguration. That has happened before, more than 10 years ago, when President Mohammad Khatami came to power. But in the end nothing happened. How are the two similar?
The similarity is this: The hardliners are just as big of a problem for Rouhani as they were for Khatami.

The number of executions in Iran has dramatically risen since Rouhani came to power in August. How does that fit with his image of a reformer?
It shows Rouhani’s true colors. He has no power. And that is the whole truth and reality about Mr. Rouhani.

The true power lies with the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei?

What does that say about the chance for dialogue?
It’s good that the Iranian regime understands that it can’t exist in isolation, it can’t build a wall around itself. The pressure from economic sanctions has forced the government to sit at the negotiating table, at least in terms of the nuclear question. I hope that the Iranian government is wise enough not to abandon the negotiating table again.

A file photo of Ebadi (Shahram Sharif)

Now the EU is considering creating an Iran delegation and restarting political dialogue. Would you welcome that?
We should look at the reasons for and the goals of any official dialogue, the motivation of both sides. One can sit together and talk for eternity without achieving anything.

What should the EU’s goals be?
I hope that the goal is to improve the human rights situation in Iran.

The dialogue has already broken down in a spectacular fashion once before, when the Iranian side decided to leave the table. How can Europe be sure that that won’t happen again? What preconditions should the EU insist on?
For starters, Europe should ask Iran to stop holding executions in public.

You think the public nature of the executions is important?
I am against the death penalty. But Iran would never agree to abandon executions entirely. But it is very simple to stop doing them in public. Since Rouhani has been in office, there have been 11 executions on public streets. That should be illegal. Also, minors accused of crimes should not be executed. Now the regime just waits until the minors are over the legal age, and then they execute them.

You are a pessimist.
No, I am realist. That is why I am in favor of very simple preconditions.

In the crisis in Ukraine and in the nuclear conflict with Iran, Europe has been very involved. Do you think the opinions of the EU carry any weight?
Yes, why not?

Because for a long time, that wasn’t the case.
I think that the EU’s voice is often listened to.

Does the EU have a better chance of bringing the Iranian leadership to negotiations than other players?
Yes. Iran’s leaders still call the U.S. the “Great Satan.”

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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