Some thoughts on the tragic killing of Jamal Khashoggi

NCF Secretary General William Morris interviewed during a debate on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a longstanding family friend and a generous and public spirited journalist who lost his life because what he had to say was not tolerated by his government. Latterly Jamal had been writing for the Washington Post. This broadcast was made before today’s suggestion from the Turks that the killing of Jamal may in fact have been deliberate.

The Kurdish Regional Parliament – the unofficial results

Though the official results have yet to be announced, the NCF has the Unofficial results for the 111-member Kurdistan Parliament (11 reserved for minorities) and they are as listed below by party, number of votes, and number of seats:

  1. KDP 738,698 votes: 45 seats
  2. PUK 343,883 votes: 21 seats
  3. Gorran 195,553 votes: 12 seats
  4. New Generation 120,324 votes: 8 seats
  5. KIG (Komal) The Kurdistan Islamic Group: 113,928 votes: 7 seats
  6. KIU-KIM (Kurdistan Islamic Union-Kurdistan Islamic Movement) 83,562 votes: 5 seats
  7. CDJ (The Coalition for Democracy and Justice) (formerly Barham Salih’s party): 1 seat
  8. Communist: 1 seat
  9. Minorities: 11 seats

Once again, it’s not baseball or football with clear rules. Sometimes they play by the rules, and sometimes they make them up as they go along.

At the regional level, the KDP came out on top with 45 of 111 regional parliament seats. Eleven seats are for minorities – Christians, Armenians, Turkmens – most of whom would likely support the KDP. Along with these seats, plus Socialist and Communist seats, and possibly one or more Islamist seats, the KDP is in a good position to form a majority government without the PUK, Gorran, New Generation, and Islamist parties. But that’s unlikely to happen.

In Iraq, managing divisions is the essential game. Iraq is not a failed state. It’s not a state. It’s just a failure. Managing divisions in Iraqi Kurdistan, however, has been reasonably successful. Otherwise, the Region would have flown apart and disassembled in chaos years ago. At the end of the day, there are only two political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan – KDP and Anti-KDP, with the Anti-KDP divided into factions.

So, we are likely to see efforts toward a consensus coalition regional government, which will be difficult given the perceived “treachery” by each side of the other.

Turnout in the regional parliamentary election was relatively low for the Kurdistan region, only about 60%. There is a sense that if another independence referendum were to be held today, the turnout would increase by about 20 points.

An interesting bright spot is that a top vote-getter was a well-known and much-liked non-politician who drives a ramshackle car and did little if any campaigning. Unlike candidates who littered the roadways with posters, he had none. He is known for conversing with youth in the marketplace, a singer and sometime TV personality, humble and simple.

The ramshackle car driver is Jalal Parishan (parishan means ‘desperate’; in his case, something to do with a lost love). Though the final results have yet to be announced officially, he received the third highest number of votes among dozens of candidates.

Oil Price Excitement – because of Iran

There is excitement this morning at the four year high in oil price at $81 a barrel. They put it down to Iran reduction because of President Trump’s sanctions + Bakken Shale problems (shale sweet spots are running out triggering feverish competition over concessions in the US) + spare capacity fears (spare capacity of mid east countries is is only 2-4 million b/d meaning that unexpected supply interruptions are more difficult to cope with).

In Iraq this triggered renewed discussion this morning of the fact that Kirkuk’s oil is “stranded” meaning 270,00 to 300,000 barrels a day “wasted capacity due to unavailability of pipelines”.

The only prospect of a reduction in demand also, ironically, is a consequence of President Trump’s actions – as a consequence of the possibility of reduced Chinese demand in the aftermath of the Sino-American trade war. But all the indications are that the price will continue to rise, helped by the OPEC decision not to increase production at their meeting in Algeria yesterday.

Refugee Legal Support Needed

Ex NCF intern, Eva Doerr, is known to many of you. She needs your help. She is involved in a refugee project in Athens, Greece – Refugee Legal Support ( Alongside approximately ten other UK asylum lawyers (almost all women), she was part of setting up a pro bono legal clinic in Athens. At the clinic, Iliana (a Greek lawyer), Efi (their coordinator), their three interpreters – Ali, Vafa and Lawrence (all refugees in Greece) – and UK lawyers who travel to Athens on a rota basis (Eva was there in June) provide free legal support to refugees. Eva writes:

Even though the media seems to have stopped reporting on it, thousands of people fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa continue to make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean and arrive on the Greek islands eg Lesvos and Chios every month. The crippling infrastructure in Greece means that many of those are not recognised refugees yet – they do not have a ‘legal status’ in Greece. Many others remain separated from family members elsewhere in Europe without any hope of being reunited with them any time soon (family reunification is supposedly a human right…). Without a legal status a person is trapped in a limbo. You are unable to take part in public life and access services that we take for granted, like healthcare, the ability to rent a home or take up employment.
I could go on about this forever but I am sure you will be well aware of the situation. I feel very strongly that Western Europe needs to take more responsibility for this situation. I believe that the clinic is a small contribution to the solidarity that is needed to tackle what I believe is the ‘issue of our times’. Sadly, we are running out of money and we now need every donation and support we can get. We have launched a crowd justice campaign, a way to fundraise for legal campaigns.
If NCF friends could donate a bit of money and, more importantly, share the campaign amongst your friends and network via email or social media, Eva would be hugely grateful.

The Anti-Semitism Row

Tim Pendry responds to our intern’s blog on the Labour Anti-Semitism row, which he views as a little naive politically. He writes as an independent observer sympathetic to Corbyn’s position on this particular matter. We would view his perspective as being similar to that of a mainstream Labour activist, though not a viewpoint universally held:

We can start with two propositions which are uncomfortable for some activists.

The first is that free speech, as an Enlightenment Project, should be as close to absolute as possible in any political movement that purports to represent the Left and yet it is clear that there has been increasing pressure, mostly from authoritarian elements in society, to restrict that freedom so that defence of free speech has largely and unfortunately fallen into the hands of conservatives and then populists.

The second is that a British political party should be primarily concerned with the welfare of the British people (of all faiths) and should not become the plaything of struggles in foreign lands or allow itself to be directly or indirectly influenced by the interests of a foreign power. The Labour Party got itself into this mess originally by permitting far too much influence to activists more concerned with Middle Eastern politics than social change because it was greedy for votes from new immigrant communities.

This opened the door to Jewish activists whose primary interest (in this debate) was undoubtedly the protection of political support for the state of Israel which was pretty well taken for granted in the higher ranks of the Party until Corbyn was elected Leader. This is all a matter of indifference to most working people who are actually not in the least antisemitic but commit the crime of utter indifference to both sides in this tiresome and eternal squabble.

In this atmosphere of political warfare, it is naive to think that the IHRA guidelines came out of some objective analysis of antisemitism above and beyond these politics. They did not. They are the culmination of a process of linking the narrative of antisemitism and the holocaust to the existence of Israel and then making the definition of antisemitism implicitly include criticism of Israel. So let us take the four guidelines and give another interpretation (since the author’s interpretation is actually fair if one wishes to interpret them that way but there are other interpretations).

  1. “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.” Unfortunately, this is actually a fair criticism from many Jewish activists who do place loyalty to Israel and to the Jewish community ahead of the interests of their own nation. The ‘soft’ version is an unspoken and unthinking assumption that the interests of the UK and Israel are identical. They are not necessarily so. We must be free to call out any community within the country, including Muslims of course, who place their original homeland or their community’s interests or even (in extremis) their faith ahead of the interests of the UK as a whole and certainly of the British working population.
  2. “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.” This is fair since it is clear that Judaism is not racist. However, Zionism is. by definition, ethnicist. There is a slippery slope here given the inability of many modern liberals not to be able to draw the distinction between ethnicity and racism. The existence of the State of Israel is very much an ethnicist endeavour and we must be free to say so.
  3. “Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” This is a fair concern but, again, we have to consider context. Israel claims to be a Western democratic outpost and it is surrounded by non-democratic illiberal countries. There is no comparison. However, Israel’s conduct can and should be compared (even if there may be sound security reasons for the differences) with the way, say, Sweden or Ireland may conduct matters. The clause is clear – it is not ‘of any other nation’ but ‘of any other democratic nation’. While recognising that Israel is largely democratic (though only so because most Palestinians have left), we must be free to compare it if we so wish to the other democratic nations of which it claims kinship.
  4. “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” This is a difficult one but free speech is not about sensitivity, it is about freedom. There is no fair way of claiming the State of Israel behaves like the Nazi State but this should be dealt with in terms of the facts and not sensitivity when, seventy years after the event and with more knowledge of the general scale of man’s inhumanity to man, under conditions where a nation owns the nuclear bomb and has a preparedness to use it, we all know in our hearts that the holocaust narrative has two aspects – as tragic history and as propaganda. What we must be free to say is that there are similarities perhaps between some aspects of national socialism and some aspects of all forms of ethnicist nationalism and perhaps, if evidence can be provided, even in military techniques against settlement or in ‘lebensraum’. An intelligent person would only make the lightest of historical comparisons if they believed them to be true because there is no evidence of the racial politics or chaotics of the German dictatorship but he or she must be allowed to make these comparisons in good faith as a matter of free speech.

The ‘Zionist’ or Jewish activist pressure on the Labour Leadership is purely political, a continuation by other means of a project to recover an influence over the British Left taken for granted over many decades. It is the wrong struggle. The right struggle would have been to ask why the worst sort of faith-based obscurantism has been imported into the Party’s inner city wards without sufficient challenge. Any antisemitism arising from poorly educated Islamists is a mere symptom of something infinitely more concerning – the steady unravelling of Enlightenment values for contingent political advantage across a wide front.

As to ‘feelings’ this represents the decadence of our politics. Politics should be about principle and not pandering to ‘feelings’. The crisis certainly cannot be averted by pandering to a demand that a few inappropriate clauses of the IHRA guidelines are accepted just to defuse the crisis – it simply creates a new crisis, one of the ‘chilling effect’ on free speech. The crisis can be averted by staying strong on the principle of free speech but taking a tough line on antisemitism (as opposed to criticism of Israel) where it appears alongside all other forms of racial or ethnicist politics including perhaps aspects of Corbyn’s treasured Irish republicanism and the clan politics of the migrant inner cities.

Of Boris and of Banning the Burkas

The following represents the personal view of the NCF Secretary General and does not necessarily represent an NCF position:

There are two issues here. One is that the full face covering is a Mediaeval practice and one that is abusive in so much as it enshrines the doctrine of male dominance over the female. In a sense it degrades women.

It may be right to speak out against this practice.

However, even the birds of the air have need of nests. And whatever the rights and wrongs of that great cultural leveler, migration, one thing is certain, we are responsible for welcoming the migrant that arrives at these shores in a way which does not foster prejudice and hatred. Britain’s former Foreign Secretary’s remarks were calculated. They were written by Boris Johnson in a newspaper editorial. They are abusive of women in themselves, comparing those who practice full face veiling to pillar boxes with slits. Furthermore his manner provokes those already inflamed with Islamophobia (often exacerbated by but not because of the recent terror attacks) into further hatred. The former Foreign Secretary behaved as a racist. The sentiment behind his words, a concern about what the full face veil represents, may echo genuine concern for those women who choose, sometimes of their own volition, to do this to themselves. But he had no right to say that in that way. Not a man who may become our next Prime Minister.

Two wrongs do not make a right. Boris Johnson was therefore quite wrong. He should apologise. And if it was not his intention to foster religious hatred, he should apologise at least for the unwitting effect his remarks had.

Christ told us not to judge “Lest we be judged”. But there is an expectation that politicians in a position of leadership make considered judgements on our behalf. Boris’ remarks were unwise. Boris’ remarks can hardly have helped in these difficult times.

We should do better. But should we ban the burka and the headscarf like they do in France and Finland? Well maybe there is an argument for banning the hoody in young men and the burka in women because they are socially divisive and threatening. But not the headscarf. The French have gone overboard there. Women in the West have worn headscarves for generations as a fashion statement. And old fashioned European Catholics have always worn headscarves. The Muslim headscarf may be more concealing but is still just a cultural extension of the same thing and we should all find it in our hearts to accept it.

Mrs June Jacobs CBE

Mrs June Jacobs CBE, Trustee of the Next Century Foundation and former President of the International Council of Jewish Women, has died suddenly following a stroke. She was much loved.

June was one of the founding members of the Next Century Foundation. Many core members of the Next Century Foundation, such as the late Duke of Devonshire, who hosted our first and at that time secret, international conference at his Chatsworth home, were on board because June brought them on board. She was trusted. In those early days it was illegal for Israel’s politicians to meet senior members of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. One of the key functions of the NCF at that stage was to bring together senior PLO members like PLO fund boss the late Jaweed al Ghussein, with senior Israelis, men who even now must remain nameless. And June was often the unheralded facilitator of such meetings.

June had many talents. She was a superb chairwoman for one thing, merciless as the best chairs often are. With an iron fist in a velvet glove she would brook no misbehaviour, and treated king and commoner alike.

Perhaps more importantly June was  a great networker and a great campaigner for women’s rights. These two aspects to her character we place side by side because of her work at the United Nations, where she encountered and supported fellow activists. In which context the NCF is particularly grateful to June. She brought onboard human rights workers across the world, one of the greatest of whom, our anchorwoman in Kirkuk, the great Surood Kirkuky, who often risked her life to support NCF missions to that poor benighted city, only did so because she trusted us because she trusted her friend Mrs June Jacobs whom she loved and respected.

That was the best of June, her enviable capacity to make and keep countless friends across the world, and her great compassion. And June was the embodiment of that word: Compassion. Like the greatest of those with a Jewish heritage, she cared deeply for others. She cared most particularly for the Palestinians. This perhaps because she regarded them as particularly vulnerable and the Jewish people, having reclaimed their ancestral homeland, as having a particular responsibility for the wellbeing of their cousins. In which context her compassion was boundless. She had more close Palestinian friends than any Jewish woman since the beginning of time.

There are not words enough to write of June Jacobs. Her constant love and care was a phenomenon. She never came to a meeting empty-handed, sometimes bringing a bottle of wine but more often bringing her own home baked cheesecake – arguably amongst the best in the world. June was a great woman who embodied the best of what it is to be Jewish. The world is a better place because she lived. The Next century Foundation is, in large part, the organisation it is because of her. She will be sorely missed. May God grant her the place among the angels she so richly deserves.

William Morris, NCF Secretary General

Photo of June at the International Media Awards 2017 copyright Matthew Tomkinson 2017

In Memoriam

For Mrs June Jacobs CBE, 1930 to 2018:

Come Summer,
Wrap her up,
In goodness.
Soft balm’ed breeze,
Careen her home,
Whilst still alone,
She trails dependents,
Like a fisherman,
Trails a net,
Behind her.
Save these her fishes,
She protects,
As duty would decree,
Or destiny,
Or perhaps mere providence,
In evidence of which she holds,
Tomorrow in her hand.
And finding death she walks beyond the grave,
Still trailing those that need her care.
As others did in their time,
She does now,
And stands upon their shoulders in so doing.
So too for all of those who care,
And dare,
To stand defiant ‘gainst decree-ed fate,
And cut a path that’s theirs, however late,
A swathe scythed naked from the Summer grass,
For Autumn’s coming and comes in too fast.

photo: © Jackie Richards 2018

The Debate – Israel’s Iran allegation

In this edition of The Debate, Iran’s Press TV conducted an interview with Michael Springmann, an author and former US diplomat, from Washington, and William Morris, the Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation, from London, to discuss Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s allegation that Iran is secretly working to develop nuclear weapons.

Watching today’s Iran – the situation as I see it

The following is written by NCF Secretary General William Morris and is based on a discussion with Dr Mehrdad Khonsari and friends at the ‘Iranian Centre for Policy Studies’.

Today’s Iran has four distinct political groupings: The pragmatists, the reformists, the traditionalists and the radicals. The traditionalists and the radicals are sometimes grouped together and called ‘principalists’. Thus:

  1. Pragmatists: include President Hassan Rouhani and ex-President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
  2. Reformists: include ex-President Mohammad Khatami and are generally loyal to the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, Hussein Khomeini
  3. Traditionalists: include the speaker of parliament, Dr Ali Larijani
  4. Radicals: include former President Ahmadinejad.

It is important to note that it was the pragmatists and the reformists that brought Rouhani to power. He was not supported by the ‘principalists’, i.e. the traditionalists and the radicals. Interestingly, however, Rouhani is trying to distance himself from the reformists; a stance that he undoubtedly thinks will strengthen his hand given the fact that America is becoming more hard-line. His worry for the future must be that in the 2021 Presidential Elections, to choose his successor, the Iranian establishment will decide to face a hardliner in Trump with a hardliner and back Major General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Soleimani has become something of a superstar in Iran and has political ambitions. Taking the long view, if Trump wins a second term in 2020, which seems a strong possibility, then Soleimani may become the next President of Iran. These developments in Iranian politics disturb many of Iran’s moderates who are attempting to do all they can to keep all those who are pro-modernisation, i.e. the pragmatists and the reformists, as one political bloc.

Saudi Arabia

On the Saudi Arabian question opinions are divided in Iran. Clearly the Sunni-Shiite divide in the Middle East is of concern to many. The radicals, and some of the traditional conservatives, think that Iran must take actions that change the attitude of the Saudis by standing up to them more provocatively. President Rouhani, on the other hand, thinks that the way forward is to use diplomatic channels. However, some in the reformist bloc think that the diplomatic avenue has failed and would like to introduce some new tougher measures against Saudi Arabia, whilst keeping the diplomatic channel open.


Some of the radicals and a good many of the traditionalists think Iran’s situation in Syria is outstanding. The reformists, on the other hand, think the situation is bad. They think the Syrian adventure puts Iran at the mercy of the Russians, on whom they become increasingly dependent, particularly at the United Nations where they need the Russian veto. They feel they need an exit strategy.

On the apparent use of chemical weapons by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Iran finds itself in a difficult position. Many Iranians lost relatives to chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war. Indeed at least 100,000 people were killed in chemical warfare with Iraq, many of them very young. If the Iranian population believed for one moment that President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, then the pressure on the Iranian establishment to stop supporting Assad in Syria would be immense. For this reason, Iran’s media does not even give a moment’s space to the idea that Bashar al-Assad may have used chemical weapons.  Any reference to the possibility is treated as mere propaganda.

The Nuclear Deal

The Iranian nuclear deal with the West, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is approved of and supported by the pragmatists, the reformists and the traditionalists but not by the radicals, who oppose it wholeheartedly. If President Trump decides to not sign the waiver on sanctions on May 12th it will strengthen the hand of the radicals.

Most Iranian intellectuals think the reason the nuclear deal with the United States and the West happened in the first place was because the US had become convinced sanctions were not going to work. As regards a way forward on this sensitive issue, the infighting between the different political factions in Iran has made this more difficult. There was a reformist suggestion that Iran should make a unilateral offer that for three years it would not increase the range of its missiles nor sell missiles to any third party. Their intention was that, though this was to be a unilateral measure, it would be handled in such a way that it was a precursor to a deal of some kind.  The reformists were disappointed when the Commander of the Revolutionary Guard, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, announced this policy in an off-hand manner without beating any drum, failing to give it its proper importance.

The Supreme Leader’s position is that Iran should adopt a policy of what he calls ‘heroic flexibility’. However, this is not likely to help much if, as expected, President Trump decides not to sign the waiver on sanctions on May 12th. The reason it won’t help is because Europe has lost its nerve and will string along with the American position. This means that Europe is no longer a key player as far as Iran is concerned. Iran feels it must either resolve the situation with the USA by reaching some sort of accommodation or prepare itself for more sanctions. Indeed, some of those with a negative outlook in Iran feel they must prepare themselves for a possible war with the United States three or four years down the line.

The consequence is an attitude from Iran whereby they feel that, in the aftermath of Trump’s presumed failure to sign the waiver on the 12th of May, they will give things a month’s grace to see if there is any possibility of signing. One month later, they will restart the six cascades in their Fordow facility. The centrifuge cascade is the machine used to enrich uranium. As part of the JCPOA, Iran agreed to run two of the cascades “without uranium” (i.e. for the production of isotopes for medical use) whilst four would remain idle, thus weakening Iran’s nuclear program. The restarting of these cascades would restart the push for Iranian self-sufficiency in regard to the production of nuclear fuel once again.

From this new position, Iran would wait another month and then release a statement along the lines of ‘we will stop if you honour and observe your side of the agreement’. If things continue to go nowhere, Iran will go flat out to produce all of their own nuclear fuel. There are those amongst the Iranian establishment who are even threatening to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But that seems unlikely given Iran’s Supreme Leader’s abhorrence of weapons of mass destruction, as declared in his famous fatwa on the matter.

Attitudes to America

The chants of ‘death to America’ and ‘death to Israel’ at Friday prayers continue in some of the big mosques. The reformists have been pushing for an end to this practice, which they regard as dishonourable. However, presumably because the reformists take this stance, the radicals continue to back this practice of chanting words of hate, just to irritate the reformists. There is a school of thought that suggests that if the ‘principalist’ wing of traditionalists and radicals actually did return to power they might stop the chanting taking place.

Supreme Leader Khamenei thinks President Trump is better for Iran than President Obama was. He found Obama hard to understand. He regarded him as having an iron fist in a velvet glove. Trump, however, he does understand. He thinks of Iran as having had its own Trump in President Ahmadinejad and he regards men of this kind as straightforward and easy to deal with. Interestingly, the Supreme Leader does not consider Saudi Arabia as an enemy. The Supreme Leader’s enemies are the USA, Israel and Russia. His gravest concerns, internationally, in order of priority are:

  1. The USA
  2. Israel
  3. Chaos in the region
  4. The New World Order

Thus, we have the paradox. Saudi Arabia thinks of Iran as its greatest enemy, whereas Iran, from the standpoint of the Supreme Leader, does not think of Saudi Arabia as an enemy.


Iran does not think there will be a war with Israel. This is because Iran believes that both Iran and Israel are careful to observe each other’s red lines. That is not to say that Israel will not attack Iranian positions in Syria, but there are limits beyond which Israel will not go. Furthermore, Iran does not think that Israel has the military strength to attack Iran at home, even with Saudi Arabian co-operation. In any case the Supreme Leader has given the command of any response, should Iran be attacked, to the Revolutionary Guard. They have made it privately clear to Israel that their immediate response would be a missile attack on Israel. Iran is, therefore, quite confident that there can be no war between Iran and Israel unless the United States of America is fully engaged.

Interestingly, Iran has often made commitments in second-track dialogue to suggest that, if it had true rapprochement with America, it would then devote its energy to supporting a Middle East peace process that engaged Israel and the Palestinians. However, given the fact that the US-Iran relationship had softened under Obama, and Iran failed to deliver on Middle East peace at that point, it would seem this has proved a hollow promise.

The succession

If Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, dies tomorrow (or ‘steps down’ to use the polite Iranian expression) then the probability is that Saeed Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the first Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, will become Supreme Leader, given that he has the support of President Rouhani.

That said, the official procedure, constitutionally, is that the body known as the ‘Assembly of Experts’ chooses the successor. They are all predominantly conservative and many of them take a radical position in Iranian politics.

Another factor, of course, is the immense power of the Revolutionary Guard. They may wish to see former Attorney General Ebrahim Raisi or speaker of parliament, Dr Ali Larijani chosen for this post. Of course there is one other dimension. Should the current Supreme Leader die slowly rather than suddenly, he may nominate his own successor (as did the first Supreme Leader). In which case, all bets are off and the next Supreme Leader could be any confidante close to the existing Supreme Leader, even someone from left-field like Ayatollah Seyed Safavi.

Civil Unrest

Civil society is in no position to bring down the government of Iran. That said, curiously, Iran is one of the few countries in the Middle East whose society would accept secular government should circumstances permit. This is because many Iranians would find a change refreshing after years of religious government. Not that there is any prospect of this happening, and certainly not whilst Supreme Leader Khamenei remains alive. The Revolutionary Guard is totally under Khamenei’s control as is the entire Iranian establishment. Khamenei is quite skilled and Machiavellian in his approach. He understands that he shouldn’t control everything. Instead, he controls key figures. He likes to control those that recruit or promote senior people. Thus, for example, he considers it important to have the loyalty of the ‘Assembly of Experts’. This approach leaves him totally in charge. Furthermore, Khamenei feels supremely confident. He regards himself as having defeated Daesh in Syria and Iraq and as being in a good situation in Afghanistan. He does not consider that he has problems.


The government of Iran may have doubts about the future, but the actual leadership, in the shape of the Revolutionary Guard establishment and the Supreme Leader, feels confident. Perhaps brashly, it considers itself able to face any challenge the world throws its way and retains its simplistic ‘if you love me I will love you and if you hate me I will hate you’ approach to international affairs. Given the levels of hubris and testosterone being manifest at a superficial level, in both in great world leaders like Trump and Putin as well as great regional leaders like Mohammed bin Salman and Bashar al Assad, this does not bode well for the future. What is encouraging is that those that are pro-modernisation, including Rouhani, remain centre stage when it comes to Iran’s interface with the international world. As long as that remains the case, there is real hope for the future. It is interesting to note that levels of human rights abuse in Iran are less unsavoury than they were in Ahmadinejad’s day, though there are still appalling problems to be addressed. Iran is becoming a better place than it once was. It is to be hoped that the world does not drive it back into a corner yet again.

William Morris, Secretary General, The Next Century Foundation