Weekend Roundup: Why the ‘Persian Spring’ May Succeed Where the Arab Spring Failed


Nathan Gardels is the editor-in-chief of Noema Magazine.

Could it be that the ‘Persian Spring,’ manifested by the anti-hard-line vote this week in which over 60 percent of Iran’s eligible electorate went to the polls, has a better chance to succeed than the Arab Spring?

Unlike the brittle autocracies in most of the Arab world that shattered when challenged, Iran has a robust civil society combined with quasi-democratic institutions put in place after the revolution in 1979 that seemingly enable the country to evolve instead of explode. And Iranians are intent on making their own changes without the outside interventions that have roiled the broader Mideast region in recent years.

As Reza Marashi writes, “These elections reflect Iranian society’s continued desire to bring about change through gradual evolution rather than radical upheaval. They are demanding pragmatic and democratic reform within the existing system. No one is calling for a revolution, and a diverse socioeconomic swath of Iranian society rejects foreign interference in its politics.” Former Iranian National Security Council member Hossein Mousavian hopes the West now grasps that his country has the capacity and institutions to make change on its own terms. “Iranians who went to the voting booths have a palpable sense of the indifference of the West to the existence of democracy and elections in Iran,” he testily writes. While no one expects changes overnight, it is clear that, as Iranian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo notes, “the results amounted to a popular endorsement of [President Hassan] Rouhani’s policy of “constructive and dignified engagement with the world.“ Their real impact, he adds, “will be felt in the next few years when the battle for the next supreme leader starts.” Negar Mortazavi explains the unique conjunction of foreign policy shifts, political coalitions and social media that determined the outcome of the elections.

Muhammad Sahimi sees an inexorable outcome down the road: “The hard-liners that have isolated Iran and repressed its people are on the wane,” he writes. Trita Parsi assesses the impact of the nuclear deal between Iran and the West on the vote. “The election results are also a vindication of the Obama administration’s outreach and negotiations with Iran,” he says. “For decades, moderates in Iran could not demonstrate the benefits of their moderate policies because of an unwillingness in Washington to play ball and negotiate directly with Tehran.” Arms control expert Joe Cirincione argues that the tough new sanctions against North Korea imposed this week by the U.N. Security Council — with unprecedented U.S. and Chinese cooperation — should be the prelude to negotiations like those that produced the Iran deal. We also publish this week the final installment of a graphic novel that captures what it is like to be gay in Iran.

Key primary season votes took place in the U.S. on Super Tuesday, vaulting Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump into solid front-runner status for their respective parties. Dan Gillmor explores how the “all fear, all the time” media in America has helped create a welcoming climate for the bigoted, fear-mongering of Trump’s campaign. Martin Eiermann situates Trump and Bernie Sanders within the long history of American populism. World Reporter Nick Robins-Early reports on the support Trump is finding among Europe’s most controversial far-right leaders. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox talks Trump on HuffPost Live. Roque Planas speaks to a Mexico City legislator about a unanimous proposal he said was passed by the region’s local legislature on Wednesday to ban Trump from entering Mexico. Planas also explains how El Salvador became the world’s most violent country in this week’s “Forgotten Fact.”

Writing about the recent election in Ireland, Pavlos Tsimas observes the opposite consequence of populist pandering in Europe. “Ireland repeats a pattern that appeared in the Portuguese and Spanish elections,” he writes. “The governments which implemented austerity programs in exchange for the market’s trust cannot also earn the electoral body’s trust. The prosperous macro-numbers are slow to translate to micro-prosperity in the poorer households. And that anger is recorded by the elections.”

The other major event in the U.S. this week was the presentation of the Oscars at the annual Academy Awards. Writing from Singapore, Chandran Nair scores Hollywood not only for the lack of black actors on the screen, but also for ignoring global voices even as its movies capture the world market. Actress Meryl Streep celebrates the contrasting diversity of global cinema at the just-concluded Berlin Film Festival where she headed the awards jury. As if to prove the exception to the rule, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Maheen Sadiq write from Hafizabad, Pakistan about their film on honor killings, “A Girl in the River,” which was awarded the Oscar for best documentary short and which has stirred widespread public debate in Pakistan.

Writing from New Delhi, Dileep Padgaonkar warns that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is inviting his undoing by not reining in Hindu nationalist zealots. Indian novelist Rana Dasgupta weighs in on the controversy surrounding the recent arrest of students leaders for “anti-national” rhetoric. “A nation cannot be reduced to a territory,” he writes. This photo essay documents the faces of protest over the arrests.

In a moving remembrance of Olof Palme, the Swedish prime minister assassinated on the streets of Stockholm 30 years ago this week, former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou recalls the formative years he spent living as a refugee in Sweden that taught him lessons about democracy and tolerance that he took back to his homeland. Speaking of today’s refugees in Europe, he writes from Athens: “Europe can, and must, utilize this opportunity to prepare for the return of so many who will be called upon to rebuild destroyed societies. Crucially, they will become the architects and engineers of new societies that can withstand the authoritarianism of dictators, fundamentalists and populists.” Writing from Copenhagen, Louise Stigsgaard Nissen chronicles the rise of voluntary civic organizations across Denmark that aim to help refugees in spite of harsh new anti-immigrant laws imposed by the current government. Willa Frej reports on how French authorities razed the famous “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais this week in an effort to ward off more arriving refugees seeking a route to Great Britain. This photo essay shows the inside of the “homes” of refugees inside the Calais camp before it was destroyed.

Writing from Berlin, German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel calls for social programs, such as affordable housing and day care, that benefit all of society, not just the newly arrived migrants. Specialized programs, he argues, “can quickly lead to a belief that refugees are the ones responsible for the fact that other issues in Germany aren’t being addressed.” John Feffer looks inside the illiberal shift of Germany’s neighbor, Poland. Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden examine yet another angle in the global conflict over migrants — this one involving Chinese workers in Africa stranded by the slowdown in China’s economy.

WorldPost Middle East Correspondent Sophia Jones reports from Kabul about a group of women who plan to scale Afghanistan’s highest peak, Mount Noshaq, as a challenge to their country’s rigid gender norms. “They say it’s dangerous — that we can’t climb mountains. But I can do anything,” one young woman tells her.

In the final part of our “Beyond 2050” series, Astronomer Royal Martin Rees boggles the imagination by pointing out that the future ahead will be longer than the past behind, and evolved intelligence in those times to come may not be organic. “The timescale for developing human-level artificial intelligence may be decades or it may be centuries,” he writes. “Be that as it may, it’s but an instant compared to the cosmic future stretching ahead, and indeed far shorter than the timescales of the Darwinian selection that led to humanity’s emergence.” Writing from Paris, Bernard-Henri Lévy offers a personal tribute to the vast erudition of his friend, the Italian scholar Umberto Eco, who passed away recently.

Fusion this week looks at an app that can tell you how to ask your boss for a raise. Peter Diamandis reports on how drones are converging with other technologies. Finally, our Singularity series examines new drugs that could replace the need for physical exercise.


EDITORS: Nathan Gardels, Co-Founder and Executive Advisor to the Berggruen Institute, is the Editor-in-Chief of The WorldPost. Kathleen Miles is the Executive Editor of The WorldPost. Farah Mohamed is the Managing Editor of The WorldPost. Alex Gardels and Peter Mellgard are the Associate Editors of The WorldPost. Katie Nelson is the National Editor at the Huffington Post, overseeing The WorldPost and HuffPost’s editorial coverage. Eline Gordts is HuffPost’s Senior World Editor. Charlotte Alfred and Nick Robins-Early are World Reporters. Rowaida Abdelaziz is Social Media Editor.

CORRESPONDENTS: Sophia Jones in Istanbul

EDITORIAL BOARD: Nicolas Berggruen, Nathan Gardels, Arianna Huffington, Eric Schmidt (Google Inc.), Pierre Omidyar (First Look Media) Juan Luis Cebrian (El Pais/PRISA), Walter Isaacson (Aspen Institute/TIME-CNN), John Elkann (Corriere della Sera, La Stampa), Wadah Khanfar (Al Jazeera), Dileep Padgaonkar (Times of India) and Yoichi Funabashi (Asahi Shimbun).


CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Moises Naim (former editor of Foreign Policy), Nayan Chanda (Yale/Global; Far Eastern Economic Review) and Katherine Keating (One-On-One). Sergio Munoz Bata and Parag Khanna are Contributing Editors-At-Large.

The Asia Society and its ChinaFile, edited by Orville Schell, is our primary partner on Asia coverage. Eric X. Li and the Chunqiu Institute/Fudan University in Shanghai and Guancha.cn also provide first person voices from China. We also draw on the content of China Digital Times. Seung-yoon Lee is The WorldPost link in South Korea.

Jared Cohen of Google Ideas provides regular commentary from young thinkers, leaders and activists around the globe. Bruce Mau provides regular columns from MassiveChangeNetwork.com on the “whole mind” way of thinking. Patrick Soon-Shiong is Contributing Editor for Health and Medicine.

ADVISORY COUNCIL: Members of the Berggruen Institute’s 21st Century Council and Council for the Future of Europe serve as the Advisory Council — as well as regular contributors — to the site. These include, Jacques Attali, Shaukat Aziz, Gordon Brown, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Juan Luis Cebrian, Jack Dorsey, Mohamed El-Erian, Francis Fukuyama, Felipe Gonzalez, John Gray, Reid Hoffman, Fred Hu, Mo Ibrahim, Alexei Kudrin, Pascal Lamy, Kishore Mahbubani, Alain Minc, Dambisa Moyo, Laura Tyson, Elon Musk, Pierre Omidyar, Raghuram Rajan, Nouriel Roubini, Nicolas Sarkozy, Eric Schmidt, Gerhard Schroeder, Peter Schwartz, Amartya Sen, Jeff Skoll, Michael Spence, Joe Stiglitz, Larry Summers, Wu Jianmin, George Yeo, Fareed Zakaria, Ernesto Zedillo, Ahmed Zewail, and Zheng Bijian.

From the Europe group, these include: Marek Belka, Tony Blair, Jacques Delors, Niall Ferguson, Anthony Giddens, Otmar Issing, Mario Monti, Robert Mundell, Peter Sutherland and Guy Verhofstadt.


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