Were Economic Issues the Driving Force For Higher Voter Turnout in #IranElections2016?

What would you rather ponder: the first set of elections after almost four decades of sanctions…or a theory of why a so-called group–whose name will forever not be named in the header of this blog– is gaining more recruits?  Fine, we’ll touch upon both in a very disjointed way.  Economic issues factor into why many turn out to vote…and may factor into why people join crazy groups–not just violent extremist groups across the Atlantic Ocean, but extremist groups (like the Ku Klux Klan) that follow #DonaldDrumpf.

Congrats to Iranian Voters Who Hope Legislation Will Reflect Top Concerns, Like Economy

Post-sanctions, Iran held its first parliamentary elections February 26th where about 28 million Iranians voted.  That’s half of Iran’s eligible voting population–impressive.

  • Eligible voters: 54,915,024
  • Districts: 52000
  • Boxes: 120,000
  • MP seats: 290
  • Candidates: 6200

Why is a huge voting turnout a notable point? Well, Trita Parsi, a U.S.-based Iranian scholar tweeted:

Big turnout in #IranElections2016 isnt cuz of agreement with political system; rather, people recognize votes can lead to change. Peacefully

Post-sanctions also means Iran is developing a pathway to re-engage economically.  Iran’s Energy Minister announced a new development plan that aims to increase its GDP by 8 percent each year beginning this year because foreign companies, like the U.S. giant, Boeing, hope to win contracts.

There’s huge appetite for Turkish business.  It’s a neighboring country where Turkish is widely spoken, with a similar culture. It’s very easy to engage with Iranian business.~Turkish Government Official to Reuters

Within the neighborhood, Turkey is optimistic about increasing bilateral trade with Iran.  Specifically, Turkish Economic Minister, Mustafa Elitas, said that Turkey will increase trade from about $10 billion to $30 billion by 2023.  Turkey’s optimism comes from Iran’s recent parliamentary elections that resulted in 30 moderate candidates winning seats in Tehran.

Of the 290 parliament seats: Reformist-oriented candidates won all 30 Tehran seats as well as 49 seats in other districts. Independent candidates won 44.  Of the 290 parliament seats, 20 women made it into ‘s parliament– a major achievement.  In total, 123 seats may support President Rouhani’s proposals to increase foreign direct investment into Iran and bilateral trade with Iran.

The hope is that, with more moderate legislators, industry reforms will follow in the automobile sector, oil and gas sector, and information technology.  Let’s see 🙂

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Economics factor into why many turn out to vote…but do economic factors influence people, to the same extent, to join violent groups?  #PitaPal, Nathan R. Field [tweets from @betterworld2100], enthusiastically contributed this week’s PITAPOLICY posting.  Although we dislike discussing the so-called Islamic State of the Levant/ ISIL/ ISIS, Field looks at an argument posed by Yaroslav Trofimov in the Wall Street Journal in February.  Field believes that Trofimov dismisses the link between economic conditions, in countries like Tunisia, and reasons for joining groups like ISIL.  Both refer to ISIL as Jihadist groups. PITAPOLICY prefers to use the term violent movements rather than “jihadists” because the term Jihadist assumes that those using violence are justified by Islamic doctrine.

Anyways, here’s Trofimov’s article, “How Tunisia Became a Top Source for ISIS Recruits” that was published in the Wall Street Journal.  Below in red is how Field framed his points and responded to Trofimov’s points.  As always, you be the judge.  The authors’ points below do not reflect wholly reflect PITAPOLICY’s point of view.  PITAPOLICY is on pause and will respond in detail in next week’s posting.

Debating the Link Between Economics and 7k ISIS recruits in Tunisia

By Nathan R. Field, entrepreneur and blogger in Washington, DC

The wise Yaroslav Trofimov  of the Wall St Journal makes a standard “establishment”  dismissal of the link between economics and the appeal of Jihadist groups in a recent article on Tunisia, which has produced more ISIS fighters than any other country.

I have long argued that economics is a major, major factor: 

(1) See a very long 18 comment back and forth with a smart reader a couple of months ago.  Many detailed, post-worthy comments in themselves.

(2) My  In-depth Arabist.net study on ISIS from November – Makes a very important point  that is misunderstood by many Westerners who assume that being educated means that one can’t find Jihadism appealing for economic reasons:

Many commentators are misunderstanding this because of a focus on superficial symbols of economic status, such as university attendance, which are no longer indicative of much in a 2015 world where more people than not attend universities. For example, Saudi Arabia is sending a shocking 78% of its high school graduates to university – one of the highest rates in the world.

Peter Bergen of CNN argued against the Obama administration’s assumption that economics is a cause, by pointing to a lead ISIS terrorist who had received a degree in Computer Science from a British university. Yet what about the fact that this individual could not find a job with his degree? The more important question for those trying to understand the appeal of ISIS, is whether a person could get a job  after university, not whether they went in the first place.

How Tunisia Became a Top Source of ISIS Recruits: 

I am open-minded — happy to consider opposing evidence to my theory.  However, I don’t think he makes a strong case – the comments I would have made if I was editor.

25 February, The Wall St Journal.  By Yaroslav Trofimov

The cradle of the Arabic Spring. Tunisia remains the freest Arab democracy. It has one of the region’s most developed economies [ #1 What exactly does that mean — if the suggestion is that the ” most developed economy” somehow  undermines the link b/w economics and the appeal of Jihadism – how do we explain the  constant stories about massive protests over 37% unemployment ( HERE )  #2 – Even if we assume it’s “developed” in some notable way —  to channel my inner Bernie Sanders — how are the rewards distributed?  Isn’t that important?  All indications are that any economic rewards are confined to maybe 20% of society] and highest literacy rates. And is also by far the largest source of foreign fighters heading to join the Islamic State in Syria and Egypt.

Between 6,000 and 7,000 Tunisians  [#1 – IF  the conventional wisdom of the link to economics is being “defied” — don’t we need to unpack the backgrounds of these 7k people?   All indications are that these 7k people are from the bottom socio-economic 80%  — the Have notes — unable to obtain meaningful status by playing according to the conventional rules of the game.  #2 – Isn’t it problematic to not even attempt to look at the socio-economic background of the recruits while dismissing economics?]  have left the small North African country to fight for the self-proclaimed caliphate – several times more than from much-more populous Akgeria or Egypt. As many as 15,000 others have been barred from international travel because Tunisia’s government suspects them of planning to follow suit.

The Tunisian exodus is remarkable because defies conventional wisdom that has long sought to explain terrorism by evoking “root causes” such as political repression by dictatorial regimes, or the frustrations of poverty [Who exactly says that it’s “poverty”?   This seems like a quick dismissal of an argument about the role of economics that is more nuanced and substantive than this suggestion]

The working-class…. suburb of Tunis a spread of drab concrete buildings that wouldn’t be out of place in parts of Spain or Eastern Europe, is one of the hot spots for such departures to Syria and Iraq [After dismissing the role of economics — we head straight to a “working class suburb” to look at where the recruits come from….doesn’t this undermine the argument that economics is not the driving factor?]

Ahmed Amine Jebri, a 27 year old architecture student, counted some 20 neighbors who had joined Islamic State. Several of them are now dead. “So what explains this paradox? In a country that remains deeply divided, the answer, predictably depends on whom you ask.

Tunisia’s functioning democracy remains an exception: Arab Spring revolutions elsewhere have either turned into civil wars as in Syria, Libya or Yemen, or were crushed by re-established dictatorships, as in Egypt.

Yet even in Tunisia, popular disappointment is spreading, said Moncef Marzouki, a human rights activists who served as democratic Tunisian’s first president from 2011 and until the end of 2014. While the Country’s Jasmine Revolution ushered in democracy, it failed to spur economic growth or curb rampant corruption, he said.

“We had a dream, our dream was called the Arab Spring. And our dream is now turning into a nightmare. But the young people need a dream, and the only dream available to them now is the Caliphat,” he said.

Mr Marzouki’s successor as president, Beji Caid Essebi, served in pre-rev administrations. Many other former officials returned to power after the 2014 elections. To some, especially in disadvantaged areas, the new Tunisia isn’t that different from the Tunisia of old.

“In Tunisia, a policeman can, just as before, stop a citizen on the street and slap him,” said Rafik Ghaki, an attorney, who represents Tunisians who returned from Syria and Iraq.

To more secular Tunisians, such explanations ignore what they see as the ambigious attitudes of post-rev govs towards Islmaic extremists. The local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood dominated Tunisia’s administration after the first elections in 2011, and remains a minority partner in the current government.

An amnesty declared soon after the revolution freed imprisoned jihadists and followed others to return from exile. The government initially tried to entice radical groups to participate in politics. It began to crack down on Islamist radicals after their attempt to storm the US embassy in 2012.

To critics – including some relatives of jihadists – the government is still far too lenient. [Click here to continue.]


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