On Tuesday, Iran's Guardian Council confirmed the list of approved candidates for Iran's June 14 presidential elections -- and with it the suspicions of many that this will be a less-than-exciting election season. In whittling down 686 presidential hopefuls to just eight finalists, the Council arguably left off the two most interesting contenders: former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hand-picked successor Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.
So who are the 1 percent of aspirants deemed fit to rule Iran? These eight may all be symbols of the status quo and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's considerable influence in the political realm. But between them they have some pretty colorful qualifications for the job.
Iran's current nuclear negotiator, Jalili is also considered the race's frontrunner -- not to mention Khamenei's choice for president. A former member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, he lost his right leg in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s.
In 2007, when Jalili was chosen as nuclear negotiator by Khamenei, many thought he was too inexperienced for the job. Since then, he has developed a reputation for being uncompromising. And if a recent interview with the Financial Times is any indication, it appears that trait will carry over into his presidency. "My understanding is that the more we rely on our religious and internal principles," he told FT, "the more we can resist [the demands of the international community]."
But you have to give Jalili credit for his optimistic lemons-into-lemonade attitude. "At least over the past few years when I have been carefully following the effects of sanctions, I see that they can be easily bypassed and turned into opportunities," he added. Jalili did not elaborate as to how.
Gholam Ali Haddad Adel
One of the country's self-styled conservative "principlists," Adel, along with Ali Akbar Velayati and Mohammed Baqr Qalibaf, positions himself in direct opposition to the reformists who attracted many Iranians during Iran's contentious presidential election in 2009. He's also a favorite of Khamenei's as both an advisor and a relative (his daughter is married to Khamenei's son).
A lesser known fact about the prominent politician: Adel penned an influential work of Islamic "feminist" thought, The Culture of Nakedness and the Nakedness of Culture, in the 1980s. According to Pamela Karimi, a professor of art history at UMass Dartmouth, he advocates "the concealment of women’s bodies as a way to protect the larger society from the manipulation of capitalism and imperialism." He strove to "catch up with modernity and yet indigenize it through Islam."
Ali Akbar Velayati
Iran's longest-serving foreign minister (from 1980 to 1996), he is currently Khamenei's senior advisor on international affairs. Velayati is credited with helping shape Iran's tough stance toward the West, but he might be more willing to engage than it seems. In 2009, as Velayati contemplated a bid for president, an aide reached out to U.S. diplomats expressing interest in cooperating with the West and asking that some sanctions be lifted in order to help raise funds for Velayati's campaign, according to leaked cables. A doctor by training, Velayati studied pediatrics at Johns Hopkins before the 1979 revolution.
Velayati has also been implicated in authorizing the Mykonos operation in 1992, during which three Iranian Kurdish political figures and a supporter were murdered while dining in a private room of the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin.
A past presidential contender who came in third in 2009, Rezaei has said he's "in it to win it" this time around. In addition to being the former commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, Rezaei is also the secretary of Iran's Expediency Council, which advises Khameini. In 2009, he memorably stated that he would include women in his cabinet if elected.
Not-so-fun fact: Rezaei has the distinction of being on Interpol's wanted list for his alleged complicity in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina that killed 85 people, in the deadliest attack in the country's history. Rezaei, for his part, vigorously denies involvement in the incident (Velayati, above, is also a suspect in the attack).
Rowhani is the closest of the remaining candidates to a reformist. In April, Roberto Toscano -- a former Italian ambassador to Iran -- told Al-Monitor that "if the reformists do not run their own candidate or one who is insignificant, Rowhani could get a lot of votes." He went on to note Rowhani's "impeccable CV" -- if you're really interested you can see it here -- which includes over 100 publications.
Rowhani's candidacy brings the nuclear issue to the forefront, as he was Iran's most cooperative -- if short-lived -- nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005. But although he is close to Rafsanjani, don't expect too much of a departure from Khamenei. Rowhani has also been an advisor to the supreme leader since 1989 and has close ties to the political establishment.
Mohammad Reza Aref
Aref was Iran's vice president during President Mohammad Khatami's second term (2001 to 2005). Though he is a bit more on the reformist side than many of the other candidates, as a current member of the Expediency Council he remains a close advisor to Khamenei.
Though you might not expect it from his long political career, Aref's educational background is actually in statistics. He received a Ph.D. from Stanford. If you're interested in seeing an example of the potential future president's academic work (or if you want to learn about a "mathematical model for a general single-source single-sing communication network"), check out his thesis here.
Mohammed Baqr Qalibaf
Qalibaf succeeded Ahmadinejad as mayor of Tehran in 2005, after losing to him in that year's presidential election. And what a mayor he has been. In 2008, he came in eighth place in the World Mayor Awards (a bienniel award aiming "to raise the profile of mayors worldwide and honour those who have served their communities well"). According to the organization, he beat out other global mayoral heavy weights "for his modernisation of the capital’s infrastructure and public services." The foundation also described him as "a keen student of other metro areas around the world, actively investing in monitoring innovation in traffic management and public transport." Is there a better recommendation for president than that?
On the flip side, Qalibaf recently took heat for acknowledging his role in vigorous government crackdowns on political protests in 1999, 2003, and 2009.
The Guardian Council's inclusion of this former minister of petroleum and parliamentarian has left many scratching their heads. Unlike his fellow nominees, Gharazi has been out of the political spotlight for over a decade and faded into relative obscurity.
One website, Iran's View, says it all with an article entitled "Everything About Mohammad Gharazi, Unknown Qualified Presidential Candidate." Word count: 240.
Ingrid Loyau-Kennett saw the scene in Woolwich -- two men standing over the body of the soldier, Lee Rigby -- from the bus she was riding, stepped out, and tried to find out what had happened. After finding that Rigby no longer had a pulse, she turned to one of the men, trying to calm him down.
"I asked him why he had done what he had done," she told the Guardian. "He said he had killed the man because [the victim] was a British soldier who killed Muslim women and children in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was furious about the British Army being over there."
The photo of Loyau-Kennett, a scout leader and former teacher, calmly speaking to one of the men alleged to have carried out the attack has become a sensation in Britain, where she has emerged as an unlikely symbol of British fortitude. When the assailants told her that they hoped to spark a war in the streets of London, she told one of them, "Right now it is only you versus many people, you are going to lose -- what would you like to do?" "I would like to stay and fight," she quoted the man as telling her. With those words -- "you are going to lose" -- British Prime Minister David Cameron said she spoke for the British people.
Here's that photo, with commentary from Loyau-Kennett's son:
My mum is a motherfucking badass twitter.com/SiibillamLaw/s…— Basil Baradaran (@SiibillamLaw) May 22, 2013
And here's Loyau-Kennett, still remarkably unfazed, recounting the experience in a television interview:
Meanwhile, the two suspects who were shot by police on the scene are reported to be in stable condition. One of the men has been identified as Michael Adebolajo and was previously known to British security services. Two additional people have been arrested on conspiracy charges.
Additionally, the full version of the video of one of the suspects -- his hands soaked in blood -- explaining his actions to a bystander was obtained by the Sun. The clip is below (warning: it's graphic):
China's Global Times - that reliable purveyor of the sublimely ridiculous, the terrifyingly nationalistic, and the just generally offensive -- struck again on Wednesday, with a quick nine-paragrapher that may just manage to combine all three offerings in one: "American Indians descend from Hunan, says expert."
The tabloid reports on the findings of Du Gangjian, dean of Hunan University Law School, who, on a recent trip to study Native American tribes in the United States (the article doesn't specify which ones), made the discovery that "American Indians have many rituals, habits and working tools that are very similar to the ones that exist among Hunan people."
The article goes on:
"The history textbooks in the world should be rewritten," he said.
According to most of the history textbooks, Columbus was the first person to discover the American continent.
Du's claims rest on the theory that famed Chinese Admiral Zheng He -- who accomplished many incredible things, there's no question! -- also made it all the way to the North American continent (a theory also put forth by British writer Gavin Menzies). This he almost certainly did not do.
David McNew/Getty Images; FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
When it comes to U.S. foreign policy in the Arab world, Democrats and Republicans don't agree on much -- be it arming the Syrian rebels or brokering Israeli-Palestinian peace. But the shwarma -- shaved, spit-roasted meat wrapped in doughy pita and smothered in toppings -- has managed to win the hearts of American politicians from both sides of the aisle.
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stopped into a West Bank restaurant to grab one of the tasty sandwiches as part of a trip to the Middle East. The AP reports:
Kerry chomped one of the meat sandwiches after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.
Asked what toppings he wanted, Kerry said, quote, "I want everything. I'm all in."
After the first bite, Kerry declared, "Fantastic."
For those who closely follow the intersection of shwarma and politics, Kerry's ecstatic reaction may have brought to mind an earlier instance of shwarma consumption by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). On a 2012 trip to Libya, McCain rapturously tweeted:
Not convinced of the shwarma's unique power to straddle America's political divide? Just look to its more contentious cousin: falafel.
During his March trip to the Middle East, you may recall, President Obama whipped up a minor controversy when it was announced that he would be dining on the fried chickpea dish with Israeli President Shimon Peres. One Palestinian chef, angry that the dish was being presented as typical Israeli cuisine, told reporters, "We, a group of Palestinian chefs, are prepared to counter this flagrant Israeli attack on our culture by preparing the official dinner for presidents Obama and Abbas." He offered to make a dinner for the American and Palestinian leaders that would "reveal the fallacious claims of the occupation and its continuous attempts to rob our folklore, this time in the presence of the president of the biggest country in the world."
If only Obama had opted for shwarma.
According to the New York Times, President Barack Obama will use his big counterterrorism speech on Thursday to sharply curtail the administration's targeted killings. Going forward, the strict criteria used for approving strikes on American citizens abroad will govern drone strikes on all suspected militants.
The new policy represents a serious shift for a president who has come to rely on drone strikes in remote areas far from traditional battlefields to take out the alleged leaders of al Qaeda and its affiliates. But how does the new policy fit into Obama's broader counterterror strategy? As you listen to Obama's address today, consider the following figures from Obama's time in office:
375: Drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan
241 - 592: Civilians killed in Pakistan as a result of drone strikes
57: Al Qaeda and Taliban commanders killed in airstrikes in Pakistan
1: Al Qaeda chief killed
1,861*: Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan
80,000: Syrians killed in the country's civil war
166: Detainees currently being held at the U.S.-run prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba
103: Gitmo detainees on hunger strike
86: Gitmo detainees cleared for transfer
6: Individuals prosecuted for disclosing classified national security information to reporters -- double the number under all previous U.S. presidents combined
5: Jihadist terror attacks -- either carried out or foiled -- on American soil (the Boston Marathon bombing, the Times Square bomb plot, the underwear bomber, the Ft. Hood shooting, and the cargo bomb plot)
48**: Terrorist attacks in the United States
16: People killed in jihadist terror attacks on American soil (three in Boston and 13 at Ft. Hood)
1: Ambassadors killed in the line of duty
1: Wars ended
* Includes the month of January 2009, when President George W. Bush was still in office
** Includes preliminary data through 2012 as defined by the Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland
Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images
With more than 80,000 people dead and millions more driven from their homes, can Syria's opposition and President Bashar al-Assad's regime really negotiate a political settlement?
At least one opposition leader is willing to give it a try. Former Syrian National Coalition President Moaz al-Khatib presented a 16-point initiative today that would pave the way for a political transition in Syria. It calls for Assad to hand over power to either his vice president or prime minister, and to leave the country with 500 people of his choosing. The Syrian government would then remain in place for 100 days to restructure the security services, after which a transitional authority would replace it. Those fighters who engaged in "legal military action" during the conflict would be granted a pardon -- but Assad and his 500 departing supporters would be provided with no legal protection.
That would be a great deal for the opposition. And given the circumstances, they just aren't going to get it: Assad's forces are on the offensive in several key areas, most notably the western city of Qusayr. Western governments are finally coming to grips with the fact that the regime is more stable than previously believed; German's foreign intelligence agency now believes that the Syrian military can retake large swathes of the country by the end of the year. Khatib's initiative reads like terms of surrender -- Assad isn't going to sign it at a moment when he's winning.
Nevertheless, Khatib's plan is an important indicator of where the Syrian opposition stands on the possibility of a peace deal. He likely released the proposal now because of internal opposition politics, rather than the state of the conflict more broadly: The Syrian National Council launched the beginning of its two-day general assembly in Istanbul today, where it will select a new president. Khatib abruptly resigned the presidency two months ago -- only to immediately try to un-resign, a maneuver thwarted by his rivals in the coalition. Khatib may hope that, by floating his initiative now, he can convince the new opposition leadership to endorse it in the run-up to potential talks with the regime, which will be mediated by the United States and Russia.
The initiative also shows where the opposition disagrees -- and where there is broad consensus -- regarding a negotiated settlement with the regime. Following Khatib's departure, the Syrian National Coalition has been largely dismissive of peace talks, saying that Assad's departure must come first, while Free Syrian Army commander Salim Idris has repeatedly said that the rebels must receive a greater infusion of weaponry before peace talks can begin. But while there is friction between Khatib and other elements of the opposition on opening talks with the regime, they agree on an important point: At the end of the process, Assad must go.
Needless to say, that's not something that Assad is yet willing to contemplate. And until he does, even if peace talks get off the ground, it's doubtful that they will go very far.
DANI POZO/AFP/Getty Images
During a speech on Tuesday in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told his audience that the Jews "have contributed greatly to America. No group has had such an outsized influence per capita," inspiring the New York magazine headline, "Biden Praises Jews, Goes Too Far, Accidentally Thrills Anti-Semites."
But cringe-inducing philo-Semitism is not just a U.S. phenomenon. In a recently published memoir, titled A Collection of Works Written During Leisure Time, Wu Guanzheng, who from 2002 to 2007 was China's top anti-corruption official, reminisces about his time in Israel. "I bought some books on the Jewish people," he writes. One, which he cites later, is written by someone with the name "Abraham" and called --- you guessed it! -- Why Are Jews Intelligent.
Wu notes how Jews "attach extreme importance to study" and how they see scholars "as their spiritual leaders." Somewhat ironically for the man who was once the seventh-highest-ranking figure in an authoritarian system, Wu also praises Jews' ability to "speak truth to power" and "freely express different opinions."
Chinese are notoriously philo-Semitic. Jewish visitors are often greeted with the platitude, "Ah, Jews, you so easily make money" (no joke), and there are dozens of Chinese-language books promising insight into Jewish secrets like raising smart children, succeeding in business, or unlocking the moneymaking secrets of the Talmud.
Wu also tweaks China's conventional wisdom about Judaism. "There are people who say that the world's wealth is in the Jews' pocket," he writes. "Actually, Jews' wealth is in their own brain." (The line works better in Chinese, where Wu uses a word for brain that literally means "brain pocket.")
Many retired Chinese officials publish (or try to publish) books after leaving office. And it is required -- or at least strongly recommended -- that Chinese news outlets covering these memoirs say nice things about them. The People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, has applauded Wu's book for exhibiting a "deep and true unaffected emotionality," while Xinhua, China's state news agency, has noted how the book's "sincere and honest" writing style has received attention "from all walks of life," which explains why the publishers issued 300,000 copies the first week after the release. (According to a write-up in China Publishing News Online, the book includes "essays, reflections, jottings, fiction, discussions" and features discursions on the legal system as well as "how to conduct oneself in society.")
The news website for Wu's birthplace, part of the Jiangxi provincial city of Shangrao (a city I'd never heard of before, but which apparently has a population of more than 6.5 million people), published an article titled, "The Party Officials and Ordinary People of the Entire City Have Set Off a Popular Craze of Studying" Wu's book.
The praise from Chinese state media does not necessarily mean the book is filled with drivel -- Southern Weekly, a liberal newspaper that generally publishes less censored news than its competitors, remarked on its "unconventionality" in featuring a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, China's most powerful body, "exposing his inner thoughts."
Wu's inner thoughts include a verdict on Franklin Delano Roosevelt ("excellent"), Bill Gates ("he stepped down to let talented youth take on heavy responsibility"), and retirement ("I look up and observe the universe, I look down and observe all living things -- I feel totally full of vitality.")
And when he does look down and observe all living things, there's apparently a special place in his heart for the Jews.
FP may have published its list of Ramzan Kadyrov's weirdest Instagrams a bit too soon. Instead of shutting down his account, as he threatened last week, the Chechen strongman appears to be doubling down on the photo-sharing site this week.
Take, for example, the Instagram aficionado's decision to introduce his followers to what appeared to be his doppelganger. According to the Moscow Times, the caption to the photo below reads, "Dear friends, I will reveal a secret to you, but please don't tell anybody. I have sent my double to work instead of me today. Let's see how he manages!"
Around the same time, Kadyrov played guide to British actress Elizabeth Hurley, who is currently in Grozny filming a thriller with French actor (and Kadyrov kindred spirit) Gérard Depardieu. Below, the trio tours Grozny; Kadryov shows Hurley how to use an iPhone?; and the boys inspect a monster truck.
"I can't dictate to Mr Depardieu and Miss Hurley whom they should meet with, but I hope they are not taking money from a person who is accused of involvement in egregious human rights violations," Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch told the Telegraph. (The American actor Steven Seagal arrived in Grozny on Wednesday.)
And then Kadyrov's two worlds collided, as the Chechen leader introduced both Hurley and Kadyrov #2 to his kitten (this is, by the way, a different creature than his cat named Chanel.)
In a vaguely worded Instagram message, Kadyrov later suggested that the photos of his double had been a "joke" he played on detractors who spread "rumors" about him, though he didn't go into detail about how he had pulled it off -- or why posting photos with a lookalike or a Photoshopped version of himself would silence his critics.
Oh, and did we mention this one?
This blog does not have any specific about information tied to it.