Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 05 May 2016 04:13:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Could Chile be the Saudi Arabia of Wave Power? Thu, 05 May 2016 04:13:17 +0000 By Orlando Milesi and Marianela Jarroud | (Inter Press Service) | – –

SANTIAGO, May 4 2016 (IPS) – Chile, a country with 6,435 km of Pacific Ocean coast line, could find in wave and tidal power a solution to its need to diversify its energy mix.

According to a study commissioned by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), this South American country has 164 MW in wave energy potential, which makes it unique in the world.

A calm afternoon in the resort town of Algarrobo, on the central coast of Chile, a country with 6,435 km of coastline along the Pacific Ocean. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The study stated that even if only 10 percent of the country’s tidal and wave energy were harnessed, it would surpass the existing installed capacity of Chile’s central power grid, SIC, which totals 15,500 MW.

“Energy from the sea, in both coastal areas and around the island of Chiloé (in the south), has been studied extensively, and the potential is enormous,” ecologist Sara Larraín, director of the local environmental organisation Sustainable Chile, told IPS.

Studies explain that the Pacific Ocean gets deeper the closer one gets to the South Pole, which generates greater wave and tidal power potential and puts Chile in a privileged position to harness this kind of energy.

Larraín added that these technologies are still at the level of prototypes, from countries like Italy and Scotland, and the progress made depends on international research centres, “because Chile has neither the scientific, technological nor financial capacity to make this technological leap on its own.”

“The pilot projects have gone well, but we’re still a long way from making the leap to industrial-level production,” the environmentalist said.

This South American nation of 17.6 million people has a total installed capacity of 20,203 MW of electricity. The interconnected Central and Norte Grande power grids account for 78.38 percent and 20.98 percent of total electric power, respectively.

Of the country’s total energy supply, 58.4 percent is generated by diesel fuel, coal and natural gas, while the rest comes from renewable energy sources – mainly large hydropower dams.

Only 13.5 percent comes from unconventional renewable sources like wind power (4.57 percent), solar (3.79 percent), mini-dams (2.8 percent) and biomass (2.34 percent).

A map of Chile, a long narrow country between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean, where deep waters off the coast offer a unique potential for wave and tidal energy, which the country is preparing to harness. Credit: Imágenes de Chile

Thanks to wind and solar power plants, the price of electricity in Chile, for years the highest in Latin America, went down to 104 dollars per megawatt-hour – a 34 percent drop since 2013.

According to official projections, the country’s electric power needs will rise by 54 percent over the next decade. In December 2015 the government launched the 2050 Energy Plan, which set a goal for 70 percent of the country’s energy to come from clean sources by that year, seven times today’s proportion.

By 2035, 40 percent of Chile’s electric power should come from unconventional renewable sources.

As part of the plan to achieve these ambitious goals, Chile and France signed a cooperation agreement in June 2015 to set up a Marine Energy Research and Innovation Center (MERIC).

The centre, unique in Latin America, will cost approximately 20 million dollars to build, with the Chilean energy ministry covering 58 percent of the cost, through the Chilean Economic Development Agency (CORFO) over the course of eight years.

MERIC could make this South American country a regional and global leader in tidal and wave power.

According to the government, the aim of the new centre is to develop know-how for Chilean industry, in order to foment integration and promotion of marine energy technologies and, in the near future, contribute to the diversification of the local energy mix and put this country at the forefront in the development of wave and tidal energy technology at an international level.

After studying the regional infrastructure and the national supply chain for the marine research industry, MERIC is studying the specific conditions in the Chilean sea along with a network of researchers including allies like the French engineering company DCNS and the Italian company Enel Green Power, along with two local universities and the Inria Chile foundation.

“The assessment of resources and ecosystems is in the initial stage, with the gathering of information on the behavior of marine mammals, specific Chilean characteristics in marine corrosion and biofouling (the fouling of pipes and underwater surfaces by organisms such as barnacles and algae), numerical wave modeling and the influence of turbines on floaters,” MERIC executive director Luc Martin told IPS.

He added that several potential sites for the studies are being assessed.

Seeking to pool expertise in marine energy, MERIC has signed confidentiality agreements with research institutions from Chile, France and the United States, and is preparing to do so with institutions from Brazil, Finland and Scotland.

“We hope to put together a multidisciplinary platform for applied research in Chile, to boost the development of marine energy in this country and around the world,” said Martin.

To precisely gauge Chile’s marine energy potential and identify sites of interest for the sustainable development of wave and tidal power, the physical, chemical and biological conditions are being studied that would make it possible to establish models of behavior and maintenance of marine energy systems.

From Chiloé to the Strait of Magellan in the extreme south, “there are very significant differences in elevation, which could be used to that end,” said Carlos Finat, executive director of the Chilean Association of Renewable Energies, an industry group.

Finat told IPS that there is still a long way to go, because the development of the technologies that convert wave or tidal energy into electric power “has not yet reached the level of commercially exploitable applications, although significant progress has been made.”

He added that the channels, straits and fjords of southern Chile, where marine energy projects are most feasible, are far from the centres of high demand for electric power, which are mainly in the north of the country.

“The current power transmission system would not be capable of transporting large blocks of energy between those points, which means extensions that are not currently planned would have to be built.

“There is a long way to go before we have commercially viable prototypes, which will undoubtedly take several years to achieve,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

Via Inter Press Service


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Bloomberg: “This Device Could Turn Waves Into Cheap, Renewable Energy”

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Will Climate Change make the Mideast Uninhabitable & trigger mass exodus? Thu, 05 May 2016 04:05:13 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute and their scientific partners have found that even with just a 3.6 degree average rise in global temperatures, parts of the Middle East could become too hot to live in.

Warming won’t be even around the world. Some places will warm more and faster than others. The Middle East is such a place. Summer temperatures are expected to increase twice as fast as the world average.

The even worse news is that despite the Paris COP21 agreement, the world is very very unlikely to limit warming to 3.6 degrees F. (2 degrees C.).

Even under the wildly optimistic 2 degrees C. scenario, by 2050 or so, temperatures in large swaths of the region would never drop lower than 86 degrees F. at night, and would reach 114 F. during the day. By 2100 that midday temperature could rise to 122 degrees F.

(In Upper Egypt and in places along the littoral of the Gulf, it reaches 122 F. already sometimes in the dead of summer; the researchers are saying it will become common, and over a large area).

Heat waves will be 10 times more common than to day in this region by 2100, and unusual, debilitating heat will be experienced 200 days of the year.

It isn’t just the heat. Warming could create new dustbowls in the Middle East, making raising enough food impossible (a lot of the area’s food is already imported).

Already in the spring the strong desert wind or khamseen inundates cities like Cairo in a fog of yellow dust. I remember having to put my electronics in plastic bags during khamseen and tying them up, because otherwise the dust would penetrate everywhere and use them. You’d never want to see more khamseen days a year.

If it is too hot to live, and too hot and dry to farm, a lot of people in the region (which now has 500 million inhabitants) will just have to leave. Some fear a massive exodus of Middle East climate refugees.

The Max Planck Institute study just looked at temperature. But other climate change effects will also create millions of refugees. For instance, the Egyptian Nile Delta is a vast oasis to the east of the Sahara region, which irrigated farming makes a breadbasket for the whole Middle East. The Nile Delta, as with most river deltas, is lowlying land and is sinking anyway. If the seas also rise by several feet by the end of this century, then a lot of the Delta will be swallowed up by the Mediterranean. A majority of Egyptians live in the Delta– Upper Eagypt is relatively sparsely populated.

The people of the Middle East are unusually dependent on producing and selling fossil fuels for their livelihood. But if they want to stay in their own homes, they have to keep it in the ground; and so does everyone else.


Related video:

Climate change: Middle East and North Africa will soon become uninhabitable – TomoNews

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Turkey’s Erdogan ousts PM in Search of Imperial Presidency Thu, 05 May 2016 04:03:50 +0000 TeleSur

President Tayyip Erdogan’s drive to tighten his grip on power has caused an increasingly open rift with his prime minister, possibly leading to his exit.

Turkey’s ruling party is set to replace Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at an extraordinary congress in the coming weeks, officials said on Wednesday, signaling the end of his term and potentially plunging the country into political uncertainty.

The decision, confirmed to Reuters by five AK Party officials, came after a meeting between Davutoglu and President Tayyip Erdogan that followed weeks of increasingly public tension between the two men.

Erdogan wants an executive presidency in Turkey to replace the current parliamentary system, a plan for which Davutoglu has offered only lukewarm support. His departure is likely to pave the way for a successor more willing to back Erdogan’s ambition of changing the constitution and strengthening the presidency, a move opponents say will herald growing authoritarianism.

“The president and prime minister reached agreement on the congress … I don’t think Davutoglu will be a candidate again,” an official told Reuters.

He added the congress would be held as soon as May 21 and no later than June 6, the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and that Erdogan was adamant there should be no vacuum of power at the head of government.

“Davutoglu’s likely early exit as party leader and PM constitutes another episode that show that Erdogan’s dominance over the AKP and the executive is absolute and unchallenged,” said Wolfango Piccoli, head of research at Teneo Intelligence.

“In the short term policy paralysis will prevail and then, once a new party leader is elected, a more incisive effort to amend the constitution could ensue,” he told Reuters.

Turkey is facing various challenges as the European Union is counting on Turkey to help stop migrants streaming into the continent under a landmark accord brokered by Davutoglu, while Washington is drawing on NATO member Ankara’s support in fighting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Via TeleSur


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: “Turkey to Replace Its Prime Minister?”

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A Tale of Two Cities: Muslim Rebels strike back at Hospital in Gov’t held West Wed, 04 May 2016 04:38:09 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)| – –

Muslim fundamentalist rebels, including al-Qaeda, took revenge Tuesday on West Aleppo for the heavy government bombardment of East Aleppo that has killed dozens in the past week, including at a hospital run by Doctors without Borders. At the same time that the government was bombarding the slums of the east into yet more rubble, the rebels were lobbing mortar shells over on to the upscale West, also killing dozens over the past week (though probably fewer dozens than the government did).

On Tuesday the Nusra Front (al-Qaeda in Syria) and its battlefield allies of convenience staged an attack on the al-Zahra Cooperative district, deploying a car bomb and medium weaponry to take some buildings from government troops. But then the government called in reinforcements and halted the breakthrough.

Then al-Qaeda and allies targeted al-Dabit Hospital with rockets, killing at least 3 women and wounding 17. Some sources alleged that al-Qaeda sent 60 rockets in short period of time into the center of East Aleppo, killing and wounding non-combatants.

In sum, the insurgents killed at least 19 and wounded over 50 in these attacks on the West.

West Aleppo from the accounts of the few journalists who made it into there is damaged at the edges and here and there, but people there are able to live their lives; it has a population of some 2 million. The intrepid Declan Walsh, reported of the West:

“One of the most striking things about [West] Aleppo is how much of the city appears to be functioning relatively normally. Much of the periphery has been reduced to rubble. But in the city center, the sidewalks bustle, traffic flows, restaurants are busy and students pour from universities and schools.”

It has a Christian population, which is terrified of the Muslim fundamentalist militias in the East.

East Aleppo is a bombed-out slum. Estimates of its population run from a few tens of thousands to as many as 300,000, but in any case it is tiny compared to the government-held West. It is also miserable. Some neighborhoods are controlled by al-Qaeda, some by the hard line Salafi Jihadi “Freemen of Syria” (Ahrar al-Sham), some by militias of, essentially, the Muslim Brotherhood. It is being gradually surrounded by the Syrian Arab Army and its Kurdish and Shiite allies. At that point where Turkey can no longer send in ammunition and arms and perhaps even food, East Aleppo will go under a deadly siege. It should be remembered that most people who live there are not insurgents. They are just families trapped on the wrong side of the city. It is no longer easy to get out.

I say all this because outside the newspapers of record, the character of Aleppo’s division is seldom stressed. That the West is the size of Houston isn’t mentioned. That the east is small and slummy and ruled by hard line Salafi fundamentalism isn’t brought out.

You see headlines talking about the humanitarian disaster in the city (where renewed fighting has killed perhaps 250 in the past week), but it is hard to know what those headlines are talking about. West Aleppo suffers casualties but it doesn’t sound like it is exactly Stalingrad, at least nowadays. East Aleppo is regularly bombed by the regime and is probably the budding humanitarian disaster. But when al-Qaeda and its allies briefly cut off West Aleppo from food and munitions last October, before Russian air support allowed the Syrian army to restore the route into the city from the south, there wasn’t any outcry at all in the Western press. But far more lives were at stake then.

I think East Aleppo has poor military prospects but a lot of sympathetic Saudi and Turkish press outlets. The poor people of East Aleppo are indeed in danger, and are being indiscriminately bombed, which is a war crime. But they are under the control of militias, some of which are, like, al-Qaeda or allies of it, and these are perfectly capable of war crimes, too, as with the rocket strike on Dabit hospital Tuesday.

John Kerry has now admitted that in order for the ceasefire to be restored in Aleppo, the Muslim Brotherhood militias (the “Free Syrian Army”) are going to have to throw the Nusra Front (al-Qaeda in Syria) under the bus. Al-Qaeda doesn’t accept a ceasefire, doesn’t want it, and is actively disrupting it. Free Syria Army units like Division 19 have followed its lead. The way to forestall a humanitarian disaster in East Aleppo is for the fighters there to kick out al-Qaeda and dicker with the other side. Otherwise, darker times yet are coming to that part of the city.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Rebels launch surprise attack on Aleppo – Syrian state TV”

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Muslim-Americans offer to Patrol Ted Cruz’s Neighborhood after his Defeat Wed, 04 May 2016 04:29:11 +0000 Ana Kasparian, John Iadarola, Jimmy Dore | (The Young Turks Video) | – –

PS: Informed Comment regrets the joke in the title above, or maybe we don’t; it isn’t true and it isn’t in the TYT video.

“After his loss in the Indiana primary, Ted Cruz is bowing out of the 2016 race. It has become mathematically impossible for him to win, and now Donald Trump will be the nominee. Ana Kasparian, John Iadarola, and Jimmy Dore, hosts of The Young Turks, break it down.”

The Young Turks: ” Ted Cruz Admits Defeat”

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Saudi Arabia’s Vision: Cut Subsidies to Workers, Middle Class, put Women to Work Wed, 04 May 2016 04:24:48 +0000 Courtney Freer | (The Conversation) | – –

Saudi Arabia has released details of its Vision 2030 – an immensely ambitious plan which Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says will end the Kingdom’s dependence on oil by 2020.

To help reach that goal, the plan details major targets, such as the establishment of a sovereign wealth fund and the public sale of part of state oil giant Saudi Aramco, which according to some estimates might be the biggest company in the world. There will also be a limited privatisation of government assets. Such measures, if implemented successfully, would no doubt contribute to non-oil income. What is less certain, however, is what impact they will have on the lives of Saudi citizens.

Considering that unemployment is estimated at 29% among Saudis under the age of 30, job creation should be a major priority of economic reform. With a quickly rising youth population, there is little time to waste: around two thirds of the current population of 29m is under 30, and 1.9m Saudis are set to enter the workforce over the next decade. Privatisation will not necessarily create the number or type of jobs needed for a growing number of Saudi citizens.

Public and private

The Kingdom’s workforce remains deeply segmented between an overstaffed public sector, and a drastically underdeveloped private sector. More than two thirds of employed Saudis work in the public sector, while more than 80% of the private sector is made up of expatriate labourers. The vision implies a reduction in public sector jobs, when it states an aim to “cut tedious bureaucracy” and to decrease government spending generally. Considering that high-paying government jobs have become the norm for many Saudi citizens, decreasing their availability could drive up unemployment among nationals.

Significantly, the vision acknowledges the need to create jobs in new sectors, such as military manufacturing, industrial equipment, and information technology, in addition to staffing the oil and gas sector with locals. Such sectors are so specialised, however, that training would be needed to prepare Saudis for jobs within them. Further, the oil and gas sector, even if localised, would only provide a fraction of the new jobs necessary, since it does not require a large workforce.

To restructure the economy in a sustainable way, then, Saudi citizens will need to receive the type of education both relevant for the available private sector positions and of high enough quality for them to compete against the existing large number of expatriates currently employed in these specialised positions.

Lower- and middle-income Saudi citizens are also likely to feel the effects of subsidy reductions. The plan acknowledges this issue, pledging that it will “provide our most vulnerable citizens with tailored care and support”. Lacking an income tax system and reliable and recent census statistics, it will be near impossible to determine which families are, in fact, the most vulnerable. Since the Vision clearly states that income taxes will not be levied, there will not be a straightforward means to determine which Saudis are worse off economically.

Social impacts of liberalisation

Housing is another area in which Saudi citizens face considerable challenges. The Vision 2030 project claims that 47% of Saudi families own their own homes and pledges to increase this proportion five percentage points by 2020. It proposes to do so by encouraging private sector firms to enter the market and by urging banks to provide mortgage and funding solutions for citizens. In principle, this solution makes sense, since government attempts to resolve the housing crisis have been largely unsuccessful due to bureaucratic hurdles and the lack of large developers.

Still, a substantial amount of undeveloped “white land” has stunted growth inside Saudi Arabia, and the only means of leading to its release is the imposition of fees or taxes on owners. Further, where private developers have come into the Gulf, especially in Qatar and the UAE, they have tended to build projects too expensive for a majority of the citizenry. Privatisation, then, does not necessarily heal all economic shortcomings.

Aside from problematic economics, the plan also highlights government attempts to make social changes. It references the need to increase entertainment and cultural activities for citizens, with plans for the establishment of more than 450 registered amateur clubs for culture and entertainment by 2020. The Saudi government, while aiming to decrease its involvement in the economic sphere, appears hopeful of increasing it in the cultural and social realm through creating its own civil society sector.

The social impact of opening up to tourists and more expatriates through a green card system would also be significant. Several statements have reiterated that limits will be put on any additional influx of non-Saudis; for instance, the country “will be open for tourism again on a selected basis.” Mohammed bin Salman himself said that tourists would be allowed into the Kingdom “in accordance with our values and beliefs”. It is unclear how the state will screen potential tourists or immigrants using such criteria, however.

Equality or ambition?

The plan also alludes to increasing the percentage of women in the workforce from 22% to 30% by 2030. How would this happen? Would there be further limits on the types of places and hours during which women can work? At present, women are banned from working in unsegregated places, and there are persistent calls to place limits on how late they can work or in what types of institutions they can be employed. Further, with subsidies reduced, women who once were able to afford drivers may be less able to employ them.

While the plan reiterates the importance of maintaining Saudi culture and religion, including with the world’s largest Islamic Museum, it does ultimately hope to effect economic change, focusing the education system on “market needs” rather than on religion.

The Vision 2030 project is, in a sense, a reflection of the Western consultants who assisted in its drafting. That the deputy crown prince largely turned to them, rather than to fellow Saudis, to craft a vision to localise and liberalise the domestic economy demonstrates how much he is looking to the West for an economic model. As such, the document seeks to apply sweeping economic and social changes without considering their feasibility or their effects on ordinary Saudi citizens. Even if implemented seamlessly, the vision could provoke new economic and social issues inside the Kingdom.

The Conversation

Courtney Freer, Research Officer, London School of Economics and Political Science

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Bloomberg: ” How Saudi Arabia Plans to Overhaul Its Economy”

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Larry Wilmore horrifies White Washington by bringing Up Race at WH Dinner Wed, 04 May 2016 04:16:31 +0000 Larry Wilmore | (White House Correspondents Dinner Video) | – –

C-Span: “Larry Wilmore COMPLETE REMARKS at 2016 White House Correspondents’ Dinner (C-SPAN)”

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With more Women than Clerics, will Iran’s new Parliament improve Women’s Rights? Wed, 04 May 2016 04:10:27 +0000 Leila Alikarami | (Open Democracy) | – –

The problem was the Guardian Council, a body which has veto authority over any legislature, which in this case rejected all 33 bills introduced by women deputies.

Parvaneh Salahshouri in the conference of elected moderates and reformists of Iran, March 2016. Wikicommons/ Hamed Malekpour. Some rights reserved.Seventeen women are going to be elected to office as a result of the recent parliamentary election in Iran. While this marginal increase in women’s representation will not change the overwhelmingly masculine character of the Iranian Parliament, it is still fair to wonder whether these newly elected women deputies and reformists will have an impact. Will they be able to usher in laws that advance gender equality?

The Supreme Leader’s position on women’s rights is not clear. Ayatollah Khamenei encouraged women to take part in this year’s election by stating that, “There is no need for women to take permission from their husbands to take part in the elections.” But will he issue similar statements in support of amendments to the discriminatory laws currently in place? His voice is crucial if the laws that require women to ask their husbands’ permission before taking jobs, obtaining passports and traveling outside the country are ever to be taken off the books. These are laws that most women can hardly fathom living under.

For his part, President Rouhani has said that he admired the Iranian people who “showed their power once again and gave more credibility and strength to their elected government.” Rouhani’s government received a major boost in this election, but we still need more clarity as to whether or not he will stand up for the rights of women, who constitute half of the electorate in the Islamic Republic.

The experience of the Sixth Iranian Parliament—elected in 2000, comprised predominantly of reformist leaders, and yet unable to bring about meaningful reform—could serve as a telling indicator for how to achieve better results 16 years later.

The reformists then, aspired, in their own words, to make use of the capacities of the Constitution to modify the power structure of the Islamic Republic and to bring transparency and accountability into the political arena. To address the gender inequalities in Shari’a law, some reformist figures advocated for a “pluralistic and tolerant Islam, based on human rights and democratic values.” The 13 woman deputies of that parliament, all of whom were aligned with the reformists, challenged the traditional written and unwritten roles of women in Iran. They had little difficulty in persuading their male counterparts to vote for bills which addressed gender inequalities.

Their problem, however, was the attitude of the Guardian Council, a constitutionally mandated and politically appointed body which has veto authority over any legislature, which in this case rejected all 33 bills introduced by women deputies. However, with the intervention of a separate government entity designed to resolve disputes between these two bodies, 16 of these proposed bills eventually became law. Among them were: removing the condition that required a woman to be married and accompanied by her husband before getting a scholarship to study abroad, and amending articles of the civil code to increase the minimum marriage age for girls from 9 to 13.

Thus, the key takeaway from the eslāhāt or reform era was that within the legal and political system of the Islamic Republic, women’s rights is a contested issue which cannot be modified even within an Islamic framework. The clash between Islamic provisions perpetuating gender discrimination and articles that are theoretically able to create full societal equality within Iran’s Constitution fundamentally hinders any reform of Iran’s legal system. Another unavoidable impediment to changing Iran’s legal system (and the introduction of a new interpretation of Shari‘a) is the absolute power of the Supreme Leader and the discretionary power of the Guardian Council over Parliament. As long as these contradictions exist, the possibilities for reform are feeble.

Still, I have hope. Parvaneh Salahshouri, one of the new women elected to the Iranian Parliament, recently gave an interview in which she expressed her views regarding economic growth, sustainable development, the eradication of violence against women at home and within society, women’s unemployment, the growing number of divorces, and more. Salahshouri is the first member of parliament in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran to state that she considers wearing a hijab as a matter of choice for women. At the same time, she acknowledged the difficult process that women face in order to reach the level in which they will be able to decide for themselves.

The only way to reach sustainable change in favour of women is the amendment of the Constitution and the removal of the kinds of substantial legal obstacles outlined above. Pressure from society, and especially from women, might eventually compel the Supreme Leader and the government to revise the Constitution to facilitate the process of gender equality.

Via Open Democracy


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Press TV: “Reformists win 42% of seats in Iran parliament”

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