x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Iran's choice: Chicken or Uranium

As the embargo takes hold, Iran has to choose between chicken and uranium, writes an Arabic-language journalist. Plus: Russia's criticism of Saudi Arabia, and the Arab League discusses Arafat

An anecdotal report titled Chickens facing censorship in Iran published in British newspaper TheTelegraph earlier this week commented on the Iranian police chief's call last week for broadcasters to censor images of chicken dinners since they could provoke the underprivileged classes to attack the rich amid rising costs of living in the country.

"This isn't the first report to mock the Iranian government's attempts to direct the media to avoid exposing the economic strains caused by inflation and the effects of the international economic sanctions," said Ali Ibrahim, a contributor in the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

Only a week earlier, the Iranian Minister for Culture advised the media against focusing on the harsh economic day-to-day realities arising from the western-imposed embargo.

Before that, the television authority in Iran had conducted a survey about people's feelings towards enriching uranium, but it was later withdrawn since it showed that the majority of surveyed subjects supported halting the enrichment to avoid sanctions.

The authorities claimed the survey website was hacked and its results tampered with.

The paradox, however, is that these reports about the hardships that affect simple aspects of people's daily lives coincide with announced tests on new types of missiles and information about breakthroughs in nuclear development, alongside threats to close down the Strait of Hormuz. All that is added to increasing external expansion schemes, with added financial burdens that go to serve Iran's external power network.

"Big talk that is supposed to give people the feeling of grandeur and great capabilities juxtaposed with a completely different reality where hardships are on the rise as a result of these policies," observed the writer.

The Iranian case is recurrent among average-sized countries in the Middle East. It is the case of countries where dreams of a bigger external role end up depleting internal capabilities and resources.

A nation can't be blamed for seeking international prominence, but glory comes at a hefty price and the applause of supporters outside the country can't put chicken on the dinner table.

Present indications from Iran reveal that the economic sanctions, mainly the embargo on oil, the primary source of state revenues, are beginning to weigh heavily on the economy.

Nonetheless, the sanctions are recent and they aren't the main factor in the economic downturn, contrary to the exorbitant costs of armament programmes and the enormous budget allocated for Iran's external role or for the support of allied regimes.

There is the source of the economic exhaustion that would surely provoke overwhelming internal outrage, the writer noted.

Russia on Saudi: pot calls the kettle black

For Russia to choose to become the guardian of gravediggers in Syria is madness that some might justify as opportunism. But for Russia to appoint itself as the custodian of human rights in the world, is blatant idiocy, opined columnist Rajeh Al Khouri in the Lebanese daily Annahar.

The Russian Foreign Ministry's commissioner for human rights, Konstantin Dolgov last week expressed "great concerns" over the clash between Saudi police and Shiite protesters in the Qatif district that left two dead.

"This was clearly a Russian attempt to jab Saudi for supporting the opposition in Syria while Moscow continues to champion the Assad regime," said the writer.

But, does this mean that Russia's support for the Damascus regime is unshakable to the point where it is prepared to jeopardise its relations with the Arab and Islamic country? Has it learnt nothing from its grave mistake in supporting the Qaddafi regime in Libya to the last minute?

Riyadh was justified in responding harshly to Mr Dolgov's statement, qualifying it as an "aggressive act and a blatant interference in the kingdom's affairs".

Justifying his statement, the Russian official said his country closely monitors all human rights violations across the world.

"We don't know why such 'concern' disappears when Russian weapons kill more than 20,000 Syrians or when Moscow slaughters Chechnya's people with napalm," said the writer.

Arafat's death finally back in the spotlight

Arab foreign ministers convened yesterday at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo in response to a request by the Tunisian Government to look into the possible assassination of the late Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat.

The London-based newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi said in its editorial: "We don't understand why it took the League eight years to discuss a case as serious as this one, and to seek the formation of an international committee and a special tribunal to prosecute the culprits."

The Palestinian Authority itself never filed a request to this effect, perhaps out of fear of the Israeli and US reactions, or for lack of any Arab support for such a move.

"President Arafat is a symbol for the Palestinian people's uprising and was one of the most prominent world political figures in the last century. He doesn't deserve such neglect from his own authority and from the Arab League," the paper said.

The late president's family have accused Israel of poisoning him. It is crucial at this point that the accusations are legally proved to unveil the hypocrisy of world powers that pretend to champion justice and human rights while they continue to shield Israel from accountability for its crimes, the paper concluded.

* Digest compiled by the Translation Desk