Sanam Vakil

Nota: Este archivo abarca los artículos publicados por el autor desde el 1 de diciembre de 2008. Para fechas anteriores realice una búsqueda entrecomillando su nombre.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards patrol around the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero, anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. Photo by HASAN SHIRVANI/AFP/Getty Images.

It was like something out of a movie. To shouts of ‘Allahu Akbar!’, masked soldiers drop down ropes from a military helicopter on to a British oil tanker while Iranian navy speedboats surround the vessel. By radio, a voice warns the ship’s captain in English: ‘If you obey you will be safe’.

There is no doubt that the Friday seizure by Iranian Revolutionary Guards of a British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, was in part a piece of theatre intended to appease domestic clamour for Tehran to assert itself.

It came in response to the UK military’s 4 July detention of an Iranian tanker, the Grace 1, in Gibraltar, allegedly for shipping oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.…  Seguir leyendo »

A shared agenda: strengthening democracy at home

Leslie Vinjamuri

As Britain is set to leave the EU, many have argued that the US–UK relationship is bound to suffer a lasting setback, since a UK outside the EU cannot possibly be as important or helpful to the United States as one that is in.

To make matters worse, Trump’s policies on Iran, trade and climate are making it hard for the UK to align with its American ally. And Trump’s popularity among the UK electorate is reported to be as low as 21%, so the UK’s candidates for prime minister are likely to be cautious when considering how to engage this American president.…  Seguir leyendo »

Bahraini election officials wait for voters at a polling station in Manama. Photo: Getty Images.

Bahrain’s lower house and municipal council elections on 24 November have been heralded a success by the ruling Al Khalifa family and the government, who had hoped to use a successful election outcome to erase the public and international memory of Bahraini instability after the 2011 Arab Spring protests.

This narrative, however, provides a one-sided account of the election that seeks to paper over a boycott from banned opposition parties Al Wefaq and Al Waad and a long-standing government-led crackdown on popular dissent.

The Arab Spring: a turning point

During the over 200-year rule of the Al Khalifa family, Bahrain has had a unique and vibrant scene of domestic politics and protest, at least as compared to the rest of the Arab Gulf states.…  Seguir leyendo »

An Iranian flag painted on a wall in Tehran. Photo: Getty Images.

The fallout from Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance is the latest political misstep from Saudi Arabia that will geopolitically benefit Iran. In the face of forthcoming US oil sanctions and coordinated pressure from the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel strategy– and as the EU attempts to preserve the nuclear accord after Washington’s withdrawal – the opportunity could not come at a better time for Tehran.

Iran has repeatedly seized on Saudi miscalculations to gain leverage and protect itself from regional isolation.

In Yemen, since 2015, Tehran has built a robust relationship with the Houthis opposing the Saudi coalition, providing more training and equipment than was expected at the outset of the war.…  Seguir leyendo »

An Iranian woman walks past a mural on the wall of the former US embassy in Tehran. Photo: Getty Images.

For Iranians, Donald Trump’s announcement that he is withdrawing the US from the nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions, despite Iran’s compliance with the deal, is deeply disappointing.

This is a manufactured crisis, and in making it, Washington and its allies in Tel Aviv and Riyadh have set their sights on a zero sum option of containing and even forcing political change in the Islamic Republic.

This naive thinking reflects Washington’s limited understanding of Iran and its internal politics as well as the deep regional divide between Iran and its Arab neighbours. So rather than address the principal challenge of Iran’s regional meddling and the wider tensions in the Middle East in an initiative separate from the already functioning nuclear deal, Trump has unleashed a genie that will not so easily go back in its bottle.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protests over economic malaise and corruption have spread across Iranian towns and cities. Photo: Getty Images.

Who are the protesters and what are their grievances?

For over a week, protesters in Iran have demonstrated and rioted in over 60 cities and towns around the country, rallying against economic malaise, corruption, mismanagement and Iran’s activities in the region.

The protesters can very generally be divided into two groups – workers and Iranian millennials. Both have deep-seated economic grievances against the Islamic Republic.

Workers have actually been protesting and striking for many years now, particularly over limited labour protection, working conditions, unpaid and poor wages, as well as growing income inequality and rising prices.

The youth are deeply angry over their prospects within the Islamic Republic and many feel they have nothing to lose.…  Seguir leyendo »

Total’s agreement to re-enter Iran after an absence of five years is a major boon for former US president Barack Obama’s landmark nuclear deal reached in 2015 between Iran and the P5+1. The deal is significant because it signals Total’s confidence in the Iranian market in spite of growing anti-Iranian rhetoric in Washington, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which aims to further isolate Iran and actively discourage international businesses from investing in the country. As an energy deal, it is not groundbreaking, and is unlikely to unlock the floodgates and lead to an early rush of international businesses entering Iran. But it does carry with it an opportunity to embolden President Hassan Rouhani’s economic reform agenda and strengthen the hands of the moderates.…  Seguir leyendo »

Last week, ISIS-sponsored terror attacks hit the symbolic sites of Iran’s parliament and the shrine of revolutionary founding father Ayatollah Khomeini’s mausoleum, revealing a massive internal security failure and Iran’s vulnerability stemming from its involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts. What do the attacks mean for Iran and its foreign policy?

The attacks will bolster public support for Iran’s regional activities. The leadership has long trumpeted its position at the forefront of the global war on terror, arguing that its military involvement in the Syrian civil war and in supporting proxy and militia groups in Iraq and Yemen puts it on the front lines against ISIS.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the run up to Iran’s presidential election on 19 May, the idea of ‘resistance’ has become a key theme. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei set the tone in his annual Persian New Year address in March by declaring the coming year the ‘Year of the Resistance Economy’, a term that has been reiterated by conservative candidates who also speak of ‘the axis of resistance’ and ‘Islamic resistance’. But exactly what is Iran supposed to be resisting?

Resistance is not a new concept in the Islamic Republic. Indeed, since the 1979 revolution, conservative politicians have continued to invoke the concept of ‘resistance’ to exploit popular fears of Western meddling in Iranian affairs.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, is under pressure. Two ticking clocks—the 8 November US presidential election and Iran’s June 2017 presidential election—will weigh heavily on his mind as he attempts to build on the momentum of the nuclear deal with the P5+1 and push through needed economic reforms.

Regardless of whether Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz or Donald Trump win in November, relations between Iran and the US are likely to become more confrontational, with both candidates seeking to distance themselves from the perceived ‘leniency’ of President Obama.

Clinton has stated that, ‘As president, my approach will be to distrust and verify. I will vigorously enforce the nuclear deal as part of a comprehensive strategy that confronts all of Iran’s negative actions in the region and stand side-by-side with our ally Israel and our Arab partners.’ Donald Trump last month took an even stronger stance, saying that his ‘number one priority will be to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iranians vote in key elections for parliament and the Assembly of Experts in Tehran on 26 February 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

On paper, the outcome of elections to Iran’s parliament and Assembly of Experts has led to significant gains for allies of President Hassan Rouhani, at the expense of traditional hardline incumbents. However, it is important to not overstate the impact of reformist and centrist gains. The results are promising for Rouhani, who now has a strengthened mandate to meet constituent expectations of greater economic and social reform in advance of next year’s presidential election. But Iran’s domestic arena remains a factional minefield, and Rouhani will only be able to navigate this volatile terrain through gradual, incremental consensus-based reform.

Factional politics

On one level, Iran’s elections are always surprising because of the ever-fluid and dynamic nature of factional politics in the Islamic Republic.…  Seguir leyendo »

Demonstrators in Tehran protest against the execution of prominent Saudi Shia cleric Nimr Baqir al-Nimr on 4 January 4 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

The sectarian lens provides a convenient and easy prism to understand the ongoing Saudi-Iranian standoff. But it produces, at best, an incomplete picture.

Yes, the majority of Saudis are practitioners of Sunni Islam and the majority of Iranians Shias, but deep-seated historical tensions between the two groups is not what is at the heart of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry, nor is it the cause of recent escalations.

At heart, the tensions are about regional competition where both countries are trying to contain the other’s influence throughout the wider Middle East. Conveniently the sectarian narrative suits the interests of elites in Tehran and Riyadh seeking to distract their populations from domestic crises of governance.…  Seguir leyendo »