BLOG 294 March 14, 2016
A number of important events have transpired across the Middle East that have not been particularly well-reported in the United State. All the headlines go to the political candidates calling each other every name in the book. Sorry. There’s more important matters afoot. For example—
In Iran, moderates have won a majority of seats in the Assembly of Experts. This group is responsible for choosing the supreme leader of the country. They have the ability to question and dismiss the supreme leader. Every eight years, the 88 member Assembly is elected. Consequently, the new group could play an extremely important role in the future of the country. The Assembly was previously dominated by hard-liners who deferred to the decisions of the head of the country.
In the past, the moderates only held 25 percent of the seats. Today, they have won 60 percent. The staunch hard-line head of the previous assembly as well as the spiritual mentor of hard-liners were not re-elected. Moderates recognize the importance of improving relations with the international community and are far more open than the hard-liners. Probably, the next supreme leader they choose will be in favor of further expansion of democratic freedoms and greater openness to the West. Another difference is that moderates believe that government should reflect the will of the people expressed through elections. Hard-liners want to strict interpretations of Islam law regardless of what the people think or vote for.
Undoubtedly, the successful negotiations of a halt to nuclear weapon production and the lifting of sanctions have given many Iranians an improved view of the West. Regardless of the fierce objections of Israel’s Netanyahu, these negotiations may have opened an important door for better relations.
In Palestine, talk is growing of who will replace Mahmoud Abbas at the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The Arabs have almost universally concluded Abbas is ineffective. Palestinian institutions and finances continue to deteriorate. The current budget deficit is $700 million in a small territory with few resources. At this time, Abbas’s Fatah party controls the West Bank and Hamas controls Gaza. Certainly, there is no unity in sight in that division of authority.
While Abbas probably intends to die in office, candidates are already lining up to take his place. They may overtake him before the undertaker arrives. One possibility is the emergence of a collective leadership. Nasser al-Kidwa, a nephew of Yasir Arafat, might lead such a collision. The removal of Abbas from power could have a dramatic impact on renewed negotiations with Israel.
Hopefully, these shifts will bring a better and more peaceful day.