After Ahmadinejad

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Photo: Parmida Rahimi.

WASHINGTON, DC – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s preferred successor, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, will not be running in the June 14 election. Neither will former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The disqualification of both sends a strong message from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei. Simply put, Khamenei will not tolerate any diminution of his power, and he is determined to avoid the type of friction that has characterized his relationships with previous presidents, particularly Ahmadinejad.

The disqualification of Mashai and Rafsanjani reveals, once again, the schism embedded at the heart of Iran’s political structure by the dual executive of Supreme Leader and President. When Khamenei publicly supported Ahmadinejad’s controversial reelection in 2009, no one could have predicted the unprecedented tensions that would subsequently emerge between the country’s two main authorities.

Autumn of the Patriarchs

Hugo Chávez
Hugo Chávez. Photo: Valter Campanato/ABr/Wikimedia Commons.

MADRID – “How difficult it is to die!” Francisco Franco is reputed to have exclaimed on his deathbed. Death, it seems, is always particularly difficult for autocrats to manage, even when they succeed in dying of natural causes.

A dictator’s death throes are always a form of theater, featuring ecstatic masses, would-be successors fighting for political survival, and, behind the scenes, the dictator’s coterie locked in efforts to extend the life of their patriarch until they can secure their privileges. Franco’s son-in-law, who was also the family doctor, kept the dying despot on life-support machines for more than a month.

Latin America after Hugo Chávez: Changes and Continuities

Hugo Chavez mural in Caracas, Venezuela
Hugo Chavez mural in Caracas, Venezuela. Photo by mwausk on flickr (CC BY 2.0)

As a staunch critic of the United States and a leading figure of the left-wing revival across Latin America, Hugo Chávez Frías has undoubtedly left a remarkable footprint on contemporary international politics. But what will come of his legacy?

As Venezuela mourns and a new election campaign commences, many are asking questions about the future of political relations in Latin America, a region where Chávez is credited with strong leadership.

North Korea: A Sign of Change or the Same-Old Rhetoric?

Wall painting of the late Kim Il Sung. Photo: yeowatzup/flickr

Kim Jong-un’s New Year message emphasized, among other issues, the importance of inter-Korean relations. While many observers read this as a signal that North Korea plans to open-up in 2013, some bloggers and defectors beg to differ, claiming that Kim’s message contained the same old rhetoric of the past half century.

The North Korean leader’s message was well-received by some Western and South Korean media outlets. The New York Times, for example, suggested  that Kim’s speech was an ‘overture’ to the South. The paper was particularly intrigued by his comment that the “key to ending the divide of the nation and achieving reunification is to end the situation of confrontation between the North and the South”. Indeed, the same can also be said of Kim’s belief that “a basic precondition to improving North-South relations and advancing national reunification is to honor and implement North-South joint declarations”.

Others dug a little deeper. South Korea’s Unification Ministry blog parsed the statement by keywords and counted that the word ‘unification’ was used 22 times and often in conjunction with “frequent”. This, the blog concludes, reflects a pattern that has emerged over the past three years that suggests that increasing openness by North Korea is on the horizon.

Many observers were also intrigued by the change in format for the New Year’s message. Instead publishing his statement via the North Korean press – as favored by his late father – Kim emulated his grandfather and gave a televised address. This, suggests the North Korean Leadership Watch blog, adds credibility to arguments that Kim has been trying to emulate Kim il-Sung in order to win wider support among the North Korean population. The founder of North Korea was thought to be widely loved by the population, whereas Kim Jong-il was more feared than respected. Some reports have even speculated that Kim Jung-un intentionally gained weight and mimicked the way his grandfather walked and clapped.

Netanyahu the Palestinian

Benjamin Netanyahu at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2009 in Davos. Photo: WEF/flickr

PHILADELPHIA – In January, Israeli voters will go to the polls for an election that promises to hand Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a renewed mandate. Few prospects are more loathsome to the Israeli left, US President Barack Obama’s administration, most European leaders, or many American Jews.

But no one regards the prospect of another Netanyahu government with more anguish than the Palestinians. In the Arab-Israeli conflict’s long, tortured history, they have reviled no Israeli prime minister – with the possible exception of Ariel Sharon – more than Netanyahu. The reason is simple: he is one of them.

Literally, of course, he is not. But, unlike previous Israeli prime ministers (again, with the possible exception of Sharon), Netanyahu has emulated the Palestinian political strategy of sumud, or steadfastness.

The philosophy of sumud is rooted in Palestinians’ implacable belief in the righteousness of their cause and the justness of their methods. It operates both passively and actively in Palestinian culture, demanding stubbornness and tolerating ruthlessness, violence, and duplicity.