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CWA # 189, 30 November 2019

The World this Week
Protests in Iran and Attacks in London

  GP Team

Parikshith Pradeep & Sourina Bej


Iran protests: Thousands arrested 
What happened?
The protests in Iran have ascended after they recently announced a petrol rationing scheme leading to fuel hikes. A large number of motorcyclists, taxi drivers, and transport operators have raised concerns over this considering Tehran’s critical dependence on gasoline and energy products. Amnesty International, in its tweet, reported the death of 161 protesters since 15 November. Thousands of protestors have been arrested. The human rights NGO also flagged concerns over the suppression of freedom and rights. 

Despite internet blockade in Iran, there has been substantial global support on news and social media platforms. While Iran has attracted international criticism, it has blamed Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the US among its foes for the protests. Beijing followed a similar tactic in the case of Hong Kong Protests. 

What is the background?
Tehran’s deep-rooted reliance on energy has witnessed similar protests in the past years. More than 30 per cent of Iran's GDP was spent on oil subsidies in 2018. However, the ongoing protest has been a prolonged affair. Similar trends were witnessed in 2007 after the government slashed energy subsidies in their bid to redistribute monetary support towards primary developmental sectors. 

Iranian ventures to rework its economic structure has often backfired with widespread protests and external impediments. The present protests come amid international economic pressure on Iran, leading to budget limitations and state expenditure gaps. Protests in Iran are not new, but the present movement and response from authorities raises eyebrows. 

What does it mean?
The peaceful nature of protests despite a violent crackdown by authorities has been an exciting feature. While this points to the progressive expression of dissent in Iran, it highlights protestors' resentment against the political establishment in Iran. Weak governance and corruption in political leadership could have supplemented the protests.

Second, the US sanctions coupled with Trump’s ‘Maximum Pressure’ policy have been irritants restricting Iran’s autonomy in deciding energy affairs. Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal has aggravated domestic and international tensions. Similar strategic and multilateral frictions could further plummet the living conditions and incite instability.

Third, Iran’s failure to induct diversified economic models have been at the cost of enriching human capital. Iran’s ‘rentier’ status impacts its economic health both domestically and internationally. Its efforts to shift from energy reliant development towards a comprehensive one has been tardy. One could only hope for a gradual shift, bereft of violence towards prosperity.


London attacks: A reality check on radicalisation
What happened? 
The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has condemned the early release of criminals in the country after it emerged that the man who carried out the latest London Bridge terror attack on 29 November was a convict who had been freed from prison on an electronic tag. Two have been murdered and at least three seriously injured when the convict identified as Usman Khan, wearing a fake suicide vest, attacked the passer-by at a criminal justice seminar he was attending at Fishmonger’s Hall. The 28-year-old attacker from Staffordshire was believed to be a lone attacker. The incident began just before 2 pm when the attacker began stabbing fellow delegates with two large knives after taking part in various workshops in which he described his experiences as a prisoner.

What is the background? 
According to the police statement, the attacker was released from prison on parole in December 2018. Khan was among the nine convicted in 2012 for offences ranging from plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange to planning a terrorist training camp. Even though the attacker originally received an indeterminate sentence, it was changed on appeal in 2013 to 16 years. Condemning this reduction in jail time has been one of Boris Johnson’s clear election stands.    

What does it mean? 
The attack on London Bridge brings forth three distinctive trends. 

Firstly, the murders and the stabbing have coincided with one important election underway. The 29 November attack bears visible similarities to the outrage at Borough Market on 3 June 2017, five days before that year’s general election. The eight people murdered were also carried out by an ISIL-inspired cell of three attackers who used fake suicide vests just like Usman Khan. The attackers in the 2017 case had also used stabbing as the tool to attack the passer-by before being shot dead by police. And prior to 2017, the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox took place in almost similar fashion in the run-up to the 2016 EU referendum vote. With crucial election underway and Britain choosing their leader after two years and a say on Brexit, a similar kind of attack could indicate a symbolic gesture being made by unrepresented voices: the non-British migrant populace.  

Secondly, Boris Johnson by condemning the reduction in jail time and most importantly, the attack has laid in the open a faulty and understaffed system. A quick fix in the form of toughening jail sentences is not difficult to bring out, but it will not be the answer to a problem that arises out of a justice delivery system. Khan has served time in prison and was released on licence at a time when the Ministry of Justice budget was slashed by 40 per cent. The impacts of these budget cuts have been inmates spending up to 23 hours a day in the cells of understaffed and overcrowded prisons. Thereby monitoring by the police forces, regular notice and sessions with the convicts have suffered equally. A reality remains and not answered under the Bridge attack is that regular work should have been taking place to rehabilitate Khan. The MoJ says he was enrolled on counter-radicalisation initiatives, but his solicitor said none of these programmes tackled the underlying ideology and Khan ended up writing to organisations outside the prison requesting help. 

Lastly, the London Bridge attack two weeks before the election on 12 December has shifted the election rhetoric from the issue of Brexit, health care and climate change to combating terror cells at home. Narratives of heroism in the face of terror have played out frequently in the mind of the people, media and also reiterated by the political leaders like Boris Johnson and Corbyn who now speaks on “Britain will not be cowed” by the incident. However, a larger question to be answered is where Britain should start in dealing with the matter of radical youth? It should start by looking inwards with a communicative rather than deliverable justice system. 

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