Trump in Absolute Monarchy during Iran’s Election

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The spectacle of Trump and of cronies such as alt-Neo-Nazi Steve Bannon hobnobbing with the Saudi monarchy, of the president curtsying to King Salman and receiving a huge gold medal from him (for what, bashing Islam relentlessly?) was made all the more seedy by its juxtaposition to the elections in Iran. These were won by center=right Hassan Rouhani, giving him a second term as president, even though he was opposed by Iran’s hard liners.

Neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran is what you might call a democracy. But Iran has a more flexible political system.

President Hassan Rouhani, who won a second term on Saturday, castigated his main political opponents on the right as having been “jailers” of the people for the past few decades. Rouhani’s signal achievement was the nuclear deal with the UN Security Council and an attempt to open to Europe. He attracted the support of youth, women and liberals in Iran.

The Saudi monarchy hasn’t been denouncing its jailers. And while it has all along had friendly relations with the West, those are at the level of oil sales, not values.

Saudi Arabia is arguably the world’s last absolute monarchy. Even constitutional monarchies have been abolished in much of the world. Absolute monarchy is the top endangered species of comparative politics. It is also fragile and clunky. It has no feedback loop. The king and his circle do what they want. Does the Saudi public really want the Yemen war? We don’t know. Polling of that sort would not be allowed. Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the son of the current king, is only 31 and the reckless and arguably genocidal Yemen war appears to have been his idea. Public debate not welcome.

Trump just sold the deputy crown prince another $110 bn worth of high-tech, state of the art weapons. Yemen is having a cholera outbreak and is on the verge of mass starvation.

The Saudis have allowed municipal elections (2005, 2011, and 2015). In the third such elections, in 2015, the citizens elected 2/3s of city council members on 284 municipal councils, and the king appointed the rest. The king appoints the mayor. The city councils have very little policy-making power; they oversee garbage collection. Although the late King Abdullah, a moderate reformer, allowed women to vote and run in 2015, vanishingly few were elected.

Provinces? The king appoints the governor. The national Consultative Council, the embryonic national parliament? The king appoints the members. The cabinet? You guessed it.

Nor is there any freedom of the press. Critics of the Saudi government are routinely imprisoned arbitrarily for as much as a decade or more, and sentenced to flogging, i.e. torture– as many as a 1,000 strokes.

Not only has Saudi Arabia stood for absolutism at home, it has mobilized to destroy populist and democratic movements in the region. Arguably it was a major force behind the derailing of the brief Egyptian experiment with parliamentary democracy. It suborned liberal Syrian revolutionaries into a fanatical Salafism (the Jaysh al-Islam) that threatened Alawite Shiites and other Syrian minorities and preached against democracy. Behind the scenes it has pushed a destabilizing fanatical Salafism throughout the Muslim world.

It is not true, as many American observers keep saying, and as Donald Trump has said, that the Saudi monarchy was entangled in 9/11 (that’s ridiculous– do you know what it did to their stock portfolio?). Nor does the Saudi government deliberately spread terrorism. I don’t think they realize that in Sunni societies, their hard line Wahhabism (coded as “Salafism” outside the kingdom) is not quietist or loyalist, as Wahhabism is in Saudi Arabia. It tends to turn radical.

The Saudis can be pragmatic. They supported the secular government of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt to the hilt, and the current regime in Egypt, backed by Riyadh, hates political Islam. The Saudis want the Egyptian army at their beck and call and want no competitors for religious charisma, whether the Muslim Brotherhood or Khomeinist Shiism.

The Saudis are the most problematic American ally. The alliance was driven by oil and Communism. Since neither are likely to be important in 2040, you’d have to short the stocks of this particular alliance.

In contrast to the Saudis, who talk nice to our faces about the United States even if they don’t actually approve of us, the Iranians are stuck in 1979, chanting ‘Death to America’ and demonizing the US. The Iranian system is dual. It has a clerical theocracy, run by the Leader or Guide (Rahbar) (they don’t actually call him the supreme leader in Persian–that is Western Orientalism). The clerical Leader is head of the armed forces and intelligence and appoints the judiciary and the commissions that censor newspapers and vet candidates.

The Leader is not, however, exactly a dictator. The system has a little bit of wriggle room, and a few feedback mechanisms. There are fairly aboveboard parliamentary and presidential elections. But although the elections themselves are usually not very fraudulent, the candidates are vetted by the ayatollahs and liberals and leftists are not allowed to run. It is sort of the mirror image of the US states that have imposed voter suppression. Iran controls the candidates, not who can vote for them.

Iran also has no freedom of speech or the press, and when newspapers push the limits that are closed. People are arrested and tortured for speaking their minds.

On the other hand, Iranian centrists nowadays have much more power, through the president and parliament, than do any Saudi centrists that might exist.

Although the US politicians brand Iran the major supporter of terrorism, this charge is not true. The Israeli squatters on the West Bank are terrorists, and the US implicitly backs them. The US backed death squads in Central America, i.e. terrorists. The US backed the Mujahidin in Afghanistan, who engaged in a great deal of terrorism against Afghan leftists and feminists. The US brands groups it does not like, such as Hizbullah in Lebanon, as terrorists. But most of Hizbullah’s efforts were aimed at getting the Israeli army out of Occupied South Lebanon. That isn’t terrorism. Nowadays Hizbullah is fighting al-Qaeda and ISIL in Syria (though it also fights more moderate Sunni rebels). Also not terrorism.

Iran could make sense as a US ally if stupid sorts of politics did not intervene on both sides. At some 80 million, it is a substantial country and a huge market. Its GDP is similar to Poland’s. The US and Iran could do a lot of business with one another.

So on the day the Iranian public bucked the country’s Leader and the other hard liners and put centrist President Hassan Rouhani back in for a second term, the American president was being feted with gold metals in an absolute monarchy that spreads an anti-Western Salafism around the Muslim world.

And this is the same president who has endlessly bashed the Saudis in particular and Islam in general.

Electric cars will be as cheap as gasoline cars, probably by the early 2020s, and after that oil will quickly become worthless. How will that change this screwy picture?


Related video:

AFP: “Iran’s Rouhani: a moderate cleric open to the world”

42 Responses

  1. Will the (probable) collapse of the oil market that you point to in the early 2020’s — perhaps just 3 o4 years from now — be occurring before or after the (probable) start of major disruption of human food economic systems from climate change ?

    • In addition to your correct comment the idea that there will be the infrastructure to support tens of millions of electric cars before 2030 in any country in the world that has tens of millions of cars seem to be a word of fiction. I doubt that even Norway will have the infrastucture to support tens of thousands of electic cars before 2025. Not only that I have to wonder how much energy will be used manufacturing millions of electric cars that are even the size of a Smart car.
      But there is something funny about all of this. Trump and the American Miltary are going to protect us from Iranian sponsored terrorists. Therefore there is no need to worry about anything else.

      • Nobody had an iPad in 2004. Now the world is full of billions of them. Electric cars will be the same way. Solar and wind can provide the electricity. It will happen overnight and people won’t even notice it. It was the same way with the Model T.

        • Juan is correct.

          Over the last 35 years I have helped introduce several different technologies to the world and the adoption process has been remarkably similar.

          Just this evening I explained to an environmental engineer how China is ramping up a army of robots to make:

          – Reasonably efficient, very low cost solar panels. China is doing this primarily for internal usage but India and USA are secondary markets. Note that China wants to stop paying higher and higher prices to other nations for carbon energy. They want to “harvest” all the energy they need using inexpensive technology they have perfected.

          – Reasonably efficient low cost house/small business wind turbines.

          – Low cost clones of the Tesla Powerwall, based on standard 18650 Li-ion cells (used in laptops, etc). The competition between Tesla (which is ramping up to flood the west with powerwalls) and the Chinese clones will be fierce and result in high quality powerwalls for very low costs.

          Typically technology introductions have a fairly nice 15% to 20% up slope until one day the slope shoots through the roof exponentially ( the “hockey stick” adoption curve) . The global adoption curves for non-carbon energy are very nicely following the “traditional” technology curves.

          Remember that not only does technology increase in capability over time, but the costs DECREASE over time which is the exact opposite of carbon energy economics. All the low cost carbon energy has already been turned into carbon dioxide. All the remaining carbon energy will get increasingly complex to extract and will get increasingly more expensive. The globe will probably never “run out” of carbon energy, BUT it will soon become far to expensive to use for much of anything .

        • An Ipad costs around 300 Euros. A small inexpensive car around 10,000 Euros. People who have fairly new gasoline or diesel cars are not going to trade them in for a new electric car, even if they see a refueling infrastructure already in place, until their fairly new car is a fairly old car.
          Furthermore that fairly old car will not get dropped off at a recycling center. It will be resold to someone who can only afford to pay 1,000 Euros for a car. A car that will perhaps be a second car for the family. That means that a gasoline powered car produced in 2016 will likely still be on the road in 2030. Heck coal powered trains built more than 100 years ago are still used in some areas of the world. I heard that a coal powered train uses 150 pounds of coal to travel one mile.
          Then there is the airline industry that big expansion plans.
          Ditto for the cruise line industry and shipping companies.
          If electric cars make a dent in automotive fuel consumption and the price of fuel drops airline ticket prices will drop causing more people to take a long distance vacation. That will send a message to the travel industry to build even more hotels than the industry had previously planned.
          The way that I see it there was no way that the global warming problem was going to be fixed with out massive government intervention in the world’s economy. Do I need to point out that intervention is a euphamism for oppression.
          The world that we live in today was one created largely through the free choices of large numbers of people, who had and have disposable income. Yet the system that evolved was and continues to be totally unsustainable and huge numbers of people have not even figured that out yet.
          My guess is that the people who could have taken a baseball bat to the whole mess did not want to because they would have ended up looking like Joseph Stalin to the hundreds of millions of people with disposable income.

  2. I completely agree with this assessment of the situation in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran is certainly not a perfect democracy, but she is way ahead of Saudi Arabia. In election after election, Iranian people, men and women, young and old, have gone to the polls and often have voted for change and reform. In this election more than 41 million people, 75% of the eligible voters, took part in the election and Ruhani who was supported by the Reformists, even by Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karrubi the two reformist candidates in 2009 controversial election and who are still under house arrest, received 23.5 million or 75% of the votes, many more than in his first round. This is a long way away from what is going on under the absolute monarchy in Saudi Arabia.

    Some of your readers may be interested in my interview with Tehran Times two days ago where I also drew attention to President Trump’s arrival in Saudi Arabia coinciding with the elections in Iran: link to

  3. Add despot Salman to Trump’s list of birds-of-a-feather BFFs: Putin, Erdoğan, Bibi, Sisi, LePen, Duterte,…

  4. Surely Iranians don’t have to be stuck in 1979 to chant ‘Death to America’ and demonize the US. What has the US done to Iran since 1979 to ameliorate Iranian attitudes? The US has consistently interfered in Iran for decades, demonising it, suborning its citizens, funding opposition groups, and threatening it with everything on the table. All that plus surviving memories of the assassination of Mossadegh, the bloody Shah, the Iraq war, sanctions, and unbridled support for Israel as it assassinates their scientists, and persecutes their Arab brethren while gorging on their land. Quite enough surely to justify some corresponding response, Iranians, after all, are not masochists. Correct me if I am wrong, but these Iranian outbursts are periodic and normally confined to certain anniversaries or particularly egregious US provocations, quite unlike the all but ceaseless venom sputtering in their direction from the US. I would suggest that negative Iranian attitudes towards the US are entirely responsive and would be reversible with a meaningful change in US. But such a change is not on the menu as the US particularly does not want a nation with such vibrant human potential and so prestigious a culture to stand up and be counted among the world’s great powers; any more than it wants an independent Palestine blocking Israel’s sun.

    • American egos got bruised when the Iranians threw out the USA puppet and that has colored the USA actions for 35 years.

      You are correct that the Iranian actions are a DIRECT response to the deadly threats the USA spews against Iran on an almost daily basis.

      Iran has very valid reasons for being extremely paranoid about the USA.

  5. “Nor does the Saudi government deliberately spread terrorism. I don’t think they realize that in Sunni societies, their hard line Wahhabism (coded as “Salafism” outside the kingdom) is not quietist or loyalist, as Wahhabism is in Saudi Arabia. It tends to turn radical.”

    They know… If for nearly six decades Saudi-funded madrassas in countries all over the Near East have produced extremism, you should pick up that your curricula is teaching extremist theology that demonizes other religious groups. It’s not as though they don’t keep track of their alumni, and don’t realize that a significant percentage of these alumni commit atrocities all over the world. The curricula in these schools is extremely sectarian, and does a great deal of damage to the local communities.

    It’s hard to also accept that Wahhabism is quietist or loyalist when applied in Saudi Arabia. The government actively punishes non-Wahhabis. Quietism is defined by acceptance of things as they are; Wahhabism remains deeply problematic even when applied in Saudi Arabia for it’s local citizenry. That women are not permitted to drive is another example of Saudi intolerance.

    “Electric cars will be as cheap as gasoline cars, probably by the early 2020s, and after that oil will quickly become worthless. How will that change this screwy picture?”

    This day can’t come soon enough. Iran has already demonstrated that it doesn’t need to rely primarily on oil revenue to drive economic growth. It has an educated population base that is innovative and productive. One cannot say the same about Saudi Arabia. Mohammad bin Salman’s ‘plans’ aren’t going to change this problem.

    • First of all, spreading xenophobia and strict religion is not the same as spreading terrorism or the Southern Baptists would all be in jail. Second, it isn’t clear that Salafis produce more terrorism than Sunnis and Shiites. You’re just emoting– there are no facts here.

      • “It suborned liberal Syrian revolutionaries into a fanatical Salafism (the Jaysh al-Islam) that threatened Alawite Shiites and other Syrian minorities and preached against democracy. ”

        Jaysh al-Islam is a terrorist group. John Kerry admitted as much, but our state department did not like to formally put the group on terrorist groups. When xenophobia fulfills it’s stated ambitions of xenophobia and actually ethnically cleanses parts of Syria and Iraq of Alawites, Shias, Christians, and Yazidis, it’s more than fair to call such actions terrorism. Zahran Alloush called for the ethnic cleansing of Shias and Allawites from Syria. These actions are continuously supported from Saudi Arabia.

        With regards to the second observation, I would like to see the analysis of such data (though the inclusion/exclusion criteria of what constitutes a real observation would be contentious).

      • That ordinary Wahabbis in Saudi Arabia might be just like any other citizens in other countries has nothing to do with how the state of Saudi Arabia acts with regards to spreading terrorism. It is a completely ancillary fact.

        That the United States has committed war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan is incontrovertible. Does this make every American a war criminal? Of course not: that’s stupid. It just means that our government has committed war crimes, which many Americans would admit with great shame. In the same capacity, ordinary Saudi’s might be just ordinary like every other ordinary human, but their state pursues policies that support terrorism (ie support of Jaysh al-Islam and other extremist groups) in the Near East.

  6. <>
    Nice writing with the exception of the paragraph above.
    The 11Sept flyers did not come from Malta, the stock portfolios did not tank, Salman et alia “realise” the Sunni challenges, etc…
    You cannot have it both ways without being a hypocrite; absolutist is absolutist – 110$Bn [not from potus – from exxon and jpmchase!] in weaponry -not food or medicine – is american absolutism.
    Oligarchs holding hands!
    You seem to be afraid as saudi critics of getting jailed and tortures.
    Return to straight talking, professor, please.

    • the stock market lost half its value on 9/12 and went on down from there. No one as heavily invested in it as the Saudi royal family would have planned out 9/11, which was actually planned by seedy jihadis in Qandahar and Khost who happened to have some poor Saudi young men among their cannon fodder. They didn’t come from Malta and they didn’t come from Riyadh either. This is just fake news, popular on the American left because of Orientalism and left Islamophobia.

      • The stock market did not lose half of its value on 9/12 – it was closed that day and until the following week. When it reopened on 9/17, the DJI was, at its low for the day, down about 7-8%. The most it was down that week was about 14% and by early November, had recovered all its losses. Some stocks did worse, if course, but others did better.

        • You are wrong about this. I had my retirement in stock and I remember a huge plunge. In any case, if you had a trillion dollars in the market, you wouldn’t want to lose 8% of it either.

  7. Really, Trump is proving to be nothing more than a simple tool.

    Whereas a guy like Obama would’ve started out with ambition for some vision, he would find himself, ultimately, just doing his best not to do too much harm. And, by and large, doing what he was told, maneuvering through the limited options available.

    Trump, on the other hand, is a shameless huckster, saying anything to keep driving the big car, forever compensating for his countless inadequacies. To him there is no inconsistency in what he’s now doing in Saudi Arabia.

    But, once past his vulgarity, incompetence, and shallowness, Trump really is more like a Reagan, fronting an agenda.

    The difference, and what makes it sadder, is that it isn’t even his own.

  8. “Trump just sold the deputy crown prince another $110 bn worth of high-tech, state of the art weapons. ”

    This amounts to more than a fifth of the Saudi foreign exchange reserves. Given that that they are operating a budget deficit, such profligacy hardly makes sense. Just what exactly to they intend to do with all this weaponry. Further attack Yemen? That’s not going their way. Such behavior is so extremely shortsighted. As you note, when electric cars are just as cheap as petroleum cars, the Saudi royal family will wish it didn’t spend this 110 bn USD on something that it can’t even use.

    • Not really knowing what I’m talking about, but making a few defensible observations:

      I’d imagine that $110BM is structured over a number of years, and it takes time to accept and integrate that sort of stuff. The most expensive weaponry would be essential to offset the reality KSA would be the aggressor against Iran. Projecting across the gulf, and facing a big population disparity with a very efficient defensive posture, they will need the most expensive guns available to leverage the forces they do have.

      Increasing conflict, very like kinetic, between KSA and Iran appears inevitable as the economics surrounding oil/gas devolve. This is particularly true with a non-diversified KSA economy, which appears to be on a collision course with negative time and space. As you imply, their actions seem kind of desperate, which suggests what we can increasingly expect.

      War, civil or external, is the endpoint of regime survival imperatives. There is pressure building on Israel and KSA due to Iran, albeit for different reasons, as neither has legitimacy to spare and what they do have is leaking pretty badly. What they also both have is US politicians in their pocket, and in the case of the KSA a lot of money. When an individual or a country lacks any deeper legitimacy, recognized internally and externally, it has to compensate for its vulnerability with the exercise of raw power. They cling to their Guns and Religion (who said that?). In this case, however, either alone or collectively (dragging in the US if at all possible), Israel and KSA will want to neuter Iran, which is far more legitimate and only growing stronger, particularly if it continues to moderate politically and strengthens its ties with the World more broadly. Iran is poised to ascend, legitimately, and that’s a serious threat to the poseurs in Israel and KSA.

      Iran is actually making do reasonably well at the moment, despite sanctions, and is stronger for the adversity. Its relationships with the EU/China stand to improve even as Trump seems poised to (perhaps) cut off his nose to spite his face. However, I read that Trump’s substantive moves behind the scenes are for the improvement of commercial relations with Iran, which he understands, values and appreciates, notwithstanding posturing as he must for the interests of Israel and KSA. So, from his perspective, selling a lot of guns will be good for the US economy and let them blow up the Gulf in a few years: It’ll be good business in a short-sighted way, and that seems to define Trump.

      Keep in mind, Israel chose the time and place of the six day war as Nassar’s regional political offense was beginning to gain traction. Note that KSA and Israel have been getting increasingly chummy recently. Sure, Egypt was beginning to bring back their troops from Yemen to the Sinai in ’67, which must’ve pushed the Israeli timetable, but it was the changing political picture which really threatened them.

    • Keep in mind most of the stuff going to KSA is extremely over-priced USA junk which is overly complex and very prone to failure in usually spectacular ways.

      KSA is getting far less than it thinks.

      On the other hand, Iran has developed a very good arms industry that makes excellent, efficient and accurate weapons that cost very little. Iran is more than a match to the bloated KSA military.

      Basically the KSA military has more money than sense.

      • I am aware that KSA purchases weapons many fold the price that the United States sells to other countries, which makes the purchases all the more insipid. KSA must be the only country in the world that would willingly purchase 110 billion USD of weapons that they are unable to use or don’t even amount to much. This is precisely the problem with the ruling elite in KSA: they believe there isn’t a problem that money cannot fix. Unfortunately, the world is moving beyond petro-carbons, and no amount of money is going to reshape the Near East (much less the world at large) according to their aspirations.

  9. Agreed there will be much less requirement for oil as a fuel in the near future Juan. It won’t be valueless though. Much of our industry requires oil products as raw materials. Can you imagine the modern world without plastics?

  10. The redacted 9/11 Commission pages finally came out last year. They show Federal surveillance encountering many ties between the 9/11 hijackers in San Diego and known “associates” of the Saudi consulate there, slippery figures who always had money and other forms of assistance for the terrorists-in-training.

    I’m not saying the royal family itself was directing this. Saudi Arabia is a corporatized feudal system built around buying off the other noble houses with cushy government and Aramco jobs instead of land. But that buying-off is necessary because, as I understand it, some of those noble houses feel the throne of Arabia is actually their birthright. I would hardly put treachery and funding of terrorism beyond such noblemen inside the state bureaucracy.

    If all that had come out in 2001, there would have been more investigations. It would not be good for the royal family’s business interests for Western tycoons to suddenly discover that this fantasized stable business environment is full of plotters and usurpers.

    • This is such a crock. The Saudi consulate was concerned for Saudi students, they didn’t know those guys were radicals.

      It was the CIA who had been tracking them and didn’t share the knowledge, even with FBI.

  11. Trump has no lock on stupidity and hypocrisy. In 2010 Hillary went to Doha and warned that Iran was becoming a military dictatorship.
    link to

    Speaking in a country that is an absolute monarchy, it was a very bizarre charge to make.

  12. Iran is a “designated enemy”, sort of like Cuba was/is. Ever since the Hostage Crisis in ’79 we Americans have been conditioned to dislike, distrust, hate Iran. We assisted in Saddam Hussein’s unprovoked attack on that country, no problem. We shoot down a Iranian Airliner, killing all 290 people on board, no tears, their fault. And our enduring position that a military attack on Iran is “always on the table”. Why don’t they like us? The Shah police state liked us.

    We like the Saudis need a big capable designated enemies to justify our military budgets (although ,for us, Russia and China are juicer by far for that purpose).

    Given Trumps affection for despots and monarchs, I would venture that his anti-terrorism is more directed at those who use violence to upset the status quo in our favored countries. When that sort of thing occurs in a country on our designated enemies list, it’s characterized as bravery.

  13. You write Iranians “don’t actually call him the supreme leader in Persian”. I am a little surprised by this. According to my wife, who is Iranian, Iranian state TV and newspapers printed in Iran commonly use the term رهبر معظم (انقلاب) , the Supreme Leader (of the Revolution). There are considerably more elaborate examples too, emphasizing the supreme nature of the position. Sometimes, the term Leader of the Revolution is used, dropping the attribute Supreme. In all cases, the elaborate nature of the honorific denotes status, power, and respect. Their use in official media is very likely not optional.

    Having said that, in ordinary speech outside of the media, Iranians do use the term the Leader or Imam.

    In English, the term Leader functions as an unmarked term, referring to both the broad category of leadership and a particular position. As an unmarked term in a Western context, Leader applies equally well to a President or Prime Minister. Because it is unmarked, its meaning depends heavily on context. When people speak of the New Zealand’s leader, for instance, they invariably refer to New Zealand’s Prime Minister, not the hereditary monarch living in London who is the sovereign and head of state of New Zealand.

    It seems to me that in a Western sociolinguistic context the term Supreme Leader is a marked term that lessens ambiguity; using the unmarked form Leader would be confusing for many readers and viewers accustomed to it normally referring to a President or Prime Minister. Given Iran does have a President, its use seems logical to me.

    It is unfortunate that the term Supreme Leader, while logical and I think unavoidable, also has connotations attractive to Orientalists and bigots. However, I am not aware of an alternative term.

    Similarly, it is most unfortunate that the term Islamist is used to name the pursuit of authoritarian Muslim governance, especially when pursued violently. While it’s true that grammatically Islamist shares much in common with terms like socialist, anarchist and capitalist, Islamist is not used to describe nonviolent Muslim movements such as Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s Khudai Khidmatgars (Servants of God). I am not aware of admirers of Khan’s movement wanting to use the term Islamist to describe it, even though many of the Khudai Khidmatgars wanted their society to reflect religious norms. Probably the term has become so strongly associated with political violence and socio-cultural repression that no self-respecting nonviolent devotee would deign to use it.

    Thus we have two terms, Supreme Leader and Islamist, that while both linguistically logical have varying sociolinguistic implications. I’m arguing that the term Supreme Leader is unavoidable despite its potential for abuse, even while I’m also arguing that Islamist is so heavily abused that it cannot be used as a mere neutral term to describe a movement’s desire to see society reflect Muslim norms. Such is the nature of language!

    • Rahbar-i mu`azzam does not mean supreme leader. Supreme would be a`la or a`zam something. Mu`azzam is the passive progressive participle of Form II of `a z m. It isn’t comparative the way ‘supreme’ is & just means exalted, and it is the speaker who is doing the exalting. Persian is flowery. The Western press when they say ‘Supreme Leader’ are not talking about a praised, beloved leader of the revolution. They are implying that he is Hitlerian, which is not the nature of his authority.

      • I totally agree. In fact, the way that Khamenei is normally referred to is not as رهبر معظم انقلاب but often as rahbar-e enqelab or the leader of the revolution, or simply as leader. The honorific title simply means the honorable or esteemed leader of the revolution, rather than Supreme Leader. I believe that a more accurate rendering of his title in English would be the “religious” or the “clerical” leader of Iran, rather than the Supreme Leader.

        In fact, his importance in the society as a whole or in determining the course of the elections or even government policies are often exaggerated in the West. In 1997 election he backed Nateq-Nuri but Mohammad Khatami was elected, in 2013 election he backed Sa’id Jalili but Rouhani won. The only time when his involvement made a big difference was in the fraudulent 2009 election when Mir-Hoseyn Moussavi won but Khamenei forced Ahmadi-Nejad on the nation for a second term, something that he regretted later. The massive demonstrations after that rigged election persuaded Khamenei not to interfere openly in the elections again. Although it was clear that Ebrahim Raisi was his favorite choice this time, he openly said that he was not backing a special candidate and even those closest to him did not know how he would vote.

        To appreciate the difference that a president makes, just compare the governments of Ahmadi-Nejad with those of Khatami and Rouhani.

  14. Totally agree.

    The failure of the Saudi monarchy to police its citizens allowed those plotters to succeed, much as the FBI failed to anticipate Timothy McVeigh.

    Much as we all fail when we let inequity persist anywhere.

    Perhaps in some years our fields should lie fallow, but the hearts and minds of men are more prodigious than soil, and need constant tending to prevent unworthy growths.

  15. While “Rahbar” gets used, it is my understanding that the official title that Khamenei bears is Vilayat-e-faqi (sp?), which is usually translated as “Supreme Jurisprudent.”

    It is the case that when many Salafis fled from Egypt to Saudi Arabia decades ago, with many becoming school teachers, there a convergence of views between Wah’habism and Salafism took place. And many indeed do equate the two outside of KSA. But I think there is some use in keeping the distinction between the two, with Wah’habism having the specific demand that the Hanbali Shari’a code be adopted, whereas Salafism is looser on that point, if in many places more prone to support violence.

    • Valiy-i faqih is the function of the rahbar or leader, which is to say that he is a jurist-guardian. It is not a superlative. Just as an orphan has a guardian, so society has a guardian who acts as a jurisconsult. I’m not saying it is good or bad, I’m saying that the English “Supreme Leader” is an invented term that has no equivalent in Persian and is just designed to make Iran’s leader sound like an Oriental Despot.

  16. ~$110 billion on infrastructure? Now that couldn’t mean that dumps Mexican wall will by built, would it?

  17. When Daesh are finally driven out of Mosel and especially Raqqa, do yo think they might find Saudi Arabia somewhere they could hole up and lick their wounds?

    • No, back in those days it was the king of Guatemala, the king of Haiti, and the king of of one of the many west African countries, whose name I forget at the moment, that had the gall to elect a leftist Prime Minister.

    • No, Liinda. Abdulaziz took power in Riyadh in 1902 by a dawn raid. Hi family had ruled from there or nearby largely since the mid-1700s, although replaced by the Rashid family in the mid-late 1800s. Abdulaziz took Mecca and Medina in the 1920s from the Hashemites, where the title “King of Hejaz” was being used. By 1932, the current borders of modern Saudi Arabia were established and it had officially become what it is now, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. in the late 40s, Abdulaziz managed to get the first 50-50% profit-sharing deal with the oil majors operating as Aramco. Abdulaziz died in 1953, being succeeded by one of his 43 sons, Saud. All the kings since have been one of his sons, including the current one, Salman, although they are nearly all gone now. The biggest threat to their rule since 1902 was in 1929 when the Rashidis and the Ikhwan revolted against Abdulaziz, but he defeated them with significant assistance from the British through St-John Philby, father of later Soviet spy, Kim Philby. The older Philby was the first European to cross the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia. The US never propped up a seriously threatened Saudi monarch.

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