In Episode 160 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes hideous ironies in the current horrific headlines. Russia was excluded from the official commemorations of Holocaust Day at Auschwitz-Birkenau as it pursues its war of aggression and extermination in Ukraine in the perverse name of "de-nazification." But Israeli flags were of course displayed at the commemoration—even as Israel escalates toward a genocidal solution to the Palestinian question. The fundamental contradiction driving the conflict is the expropriation of the Palestinian people of their lands, and the denial of their self-determination by Israel. The emergence of an explicitly anti-Zionist bloc in the protests against the new far-right government in Israel is a sign of hope. The US, however, is undertaking its biggest joint military exercises ever with the new Israeli regime, despite Biden's supposed rejection of its extremist policies of settlement expansion and annexation—viewing the Jewish State as a strategic ally against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Meanwhile, the oppressive regime in Iran treats minority peoples such as the Kurds, Baluch, Ahwazi and Baha'i much as Israel treats the Palestinians. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
The national uprising in Iran continued to spread over the past week, with petrochemical workers walking off the job at the major Asalouyeh plant on the Persian Gulf coast of Bushehr province—shortly followed by a similar wildcat strike at Abadan refinery in the neighboring restive province of Khuzestan. Videos posted to social media show workers at the Asalouyeh complex chanting "This year is the year of blood, Seyed Ali Khamenei is done!" and "Down with the dictator!"—both references to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. (Iran International) Security forces fired on protesters in Sanandaj, capital of Kordestan, another traditionally restive province, killing at least five. (BBC News) Lawyers in Tehran gathered in front of the Iranian Central Bar Association to protest the repression, and were themselves dispersed by tear-gas. (Jurist) In scenes across the country, schoolgirls held protests in which they removed their hijabs in defiance of authorities. In the southern city of Shiraz, Fars province, dozens of schoolgirls blocked traffic on a main road while waving their headscarves in the air and shouting "Death to the dictator!" (BBC News)
Angry protests have swept through several provinces of Iran over the past two weeks amid an economic crisis exacerbated by subsidy cuts that have seen the price of basic goods soar as much as 300%. According to reports on social media, at least six people have been killed as security forces have been deployed across the country to quell unrest. The protests have turned political in many areas, such as the Isfahan provincial capital of Golpayegan, with crowds calling for an end to the Islamic Republic. The government has cut off the internet to a number of areas hit by protests, including traditionally restive Khuzestan province.
Facing long lines and bread shortages, Lebanon's government has been forced to give private importers $15 million to bring more wheat into the country. But it's a short-term fix for a government that is broke and waiting for the IMF to approve a bailout deal. And nations across the Middle East may be looking for similar solutions as they struggle with the fallout from Russia's invasion of Ukraine—both countries are key wheat producers, and exports are effectively cut off by the war. Oxfam is warning that wheat reserves could run out within weeks in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Mercy Corps reports that food prices are up in rebel-held northwest Syria, where food security was already a major concern. Last month Egypt put a cap on unsubsidized bread prices before they could get too high. Yemen, which imports the vast majority of its food, is of particular concern as it already has so many hungry people and is heavily dependent on Ukrainian wheat. Last week, UNICEF said that "the number of malnourished children [in the region] is likely to drastically increase."
Six political prisoners began a hunger strike at Tehran's notorious Evin Prison Jan. 12, four days after poet and filmmaker Baktash Abtin died of COVID-19 at the facility. Abtin, who expired after being put into an induced coma during temporary transfer to a hospital, had been serving a five-year sentence on the charge of "assembly and collusion against national security." Ardeshir Zarezadeh, director of the Toronto-based International Centre for Human Rights (ICHR), said in a statement: "The government of Iran must immediately and unconditionally release the political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, especially due to the serious concern over the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Iran's overcrowded jails." (Asranarshism, ICHR, HRW, Al Jazeera)
In Episode 81 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg takes stock of the fast-mounting manifestations of devastating climate destabilization—from Oregon to Siberia, from Germany to Henan. In Angola, traditional pastoralists are joining the ranks of "climate refugees" as their communal lands are stricken by drought. In Iran's restive and rapidly aridifying Ahwazi region, protests over access to water have turned deadly. These grim developments offer a foreboding of North America's imminent future. Yet media commentators continue to equivocate, asking whether these events are "linked to" or "caused by" climate change—rather than recognizing that they are climate change. And the opportunity for a crash conversion from fossil fuels that was posed by last year's pandemic-induced economic paralysis, when already depressed oil prices actually went negative, is now being squandered. Oil prices are again rising, with the return to pre-pandemic dystopian "normality."
Two were killed July 16 as Iranian security forces opened fire on Ahwazi Arab protesters in Ahvaz, capital of southwestern Khuzestan province. The deaths came after days of demonstrations in the Arab-majority region, which is now stricken by withering drought. Hundreds of sheep, cattle, buffalo and other livestock have died in the region over the past weeks. The protests began a week ago, with a peaceful vigil outside the governor's office, demanding that authorities open the sluice gates on the network of massive hydroelectric dams built upstream on the region's main rivers, which divert some 90% of the waters to other regions of Iran. Protesters held up placards in Arabic, Persian and English, with messages including: "Water is a human right", "We are thirsty–give us water!", "Stop killing our environment!", and "Stop drying out the Ahwazi rivers and marshlands!" The protesters also chanted slogans condemning Iran's central government, such as "The regime stole our rights and our wealth!" and "The regime keeps us in poverty in the name of religion!" Small protests were also held at government offices in several rural villages across the region. (Dur Untash Studies Center, DUSC, Ahwazna, Ahwazna)
Rights advocates in Iran's Khuzestan province, homeland of the marginalized Ahwazi Arab people, report another wave of sweeps and incommunicado detention of local activists. Agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on Dec. 11 detained Zeinab Sawari, a teacher and prominent Ahwazi advocate for women's and children's rights. Sawari's younger siblings were also detained when they came to her defense during the raid on the family's home in Neysan district of Howeyzeh shahrestan (county). Agents simultaneously raided the nearby home of their aunt, Fatema Sawari. Zeinab Sawari had recently been involved in fundraising to help victims of the severe flooding that devastated the region both this year and in 2019. Both Zeinab and Fatema Sawari remain in detention at an undisclosed location.