Prince Harry and fiancee Meghan Markle arrive at an AIDS Day charity event on Dec. 1. Their spring wedding plans have sparked controversy over the homeless in Windsor.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Planning a wedding in fairy tales is bibbidi-bobbidi-boo easy but in today’s England, where Prince Harry plans to marry American former-actress-because-she’s soon-to-become-a-princess, Meghan Markle, the to-do list is a lot more complicated. And for some officials, it should include moving the homeless out of sight and getting rid of street beggars.
But a call by the leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead to remove vagrants and their detritus from the streets surrounding Windsor Castle — where the wedding will take place — has been met with outrage from residents and political leaders within the highest echelons of government, including Prime Minister Theresa May.
Sadly there is an epidemic of rough sleeping and vagrancy in #Windsor@RBWM. I will be writing to @StansfeldPCC copying @TVP_Chief@Bhupinderrai70 at @ThamesVP@TVP_Windsor asking for them to focus on dealing with this before the #RoyalWedding
— Simon Dudley (@MrSimonDudley) December 27, 2017
Simon Dudley made the remarks over Twitter, writing that police should focus on “dealing with” the “epidemic of rough sleeping and vagrancy” before the #RoyalWedding in May.
They have since stirred up a controversy in London and other parts of the country over the root causes of homelessness and the most effective methods of addressing the problem.
Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday weighed in on Dudley’s comments making it clear she disagrees with his views.
“I don’t agree with the comments that the leader of the council has made,” she told The Guardian.
“I think it is important that councils work hard to ensure that they are providing accommodation for those people who are homeless, and where there are issues of people who are aggressively begging on the streets then it’s important that councils work with the police to deal with that aggressive begging,” she added.
In a letter to Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner, Dudley wrote, “The whole situation also presents a beautiful town in a sadly unfavourable light.”
He also argued that eliminating beggars would be imperative for the safety of tourists expected to descend on the city for the royal nuptials. “It is becoming increasingly concerning to see the quantities of bags and detritus that those begging are accumulating and leaving on our pavements, at times unattended, thus presenting a security risk,” he added.
But, in a story for the BBC, the police commissioner, Anthony Stansfield, said the situation is complicated because many of the people living on the streets of Windsor were “very vulnerable and have mental health issues.”
Homeless charity workers had a similar, if not more extreme response, to Dudley’s suggestion that homelessness be treated as a criminal matter.
James Murphy, of the Windsor Homeless Project, conveyed his outrage to Express, “It’s absolutely abhorrent that anybody has got these views in this day and age, especially a lead councillor of the borough.”
Prince Harry and Markle plan to be married on May 19.
For nearly five decades, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has been technically free for all, the price of admission but a suggestion offered at the front door. All visitors could pay what they wished — or what they were able.
That’s set to change later this year: Beginning March 1, adults who live outside New York state and who are out of school will have to pay $25 to enter the museum. Seniors will pay $17 and students outside the tri-state area $12, while children under 12 will still enter for free.
“The world has changed dramatically in the almost 50 years since our admissions policy was last reviewed, and the way we budget and plan for the future needs to change as well,” the Met’s president and CEO, Daniel Weiss, said in a detailed statement announcing the change. “What is clear is that our current pay-as-you-wish policy is no longer sufficient to meet the Museum’s daily operational demands.”
Last July, the museum celebrated surpassing 7 million visitors in the span of a year, a milestone for “New York City’s most visited tourist attraction for domestic and international audiences,” according to its release at the time.
But Weiss said those attendance numbers have failed to translate to paid admissions, as “in the past 13 years the number of visitors who pay the full suggested admission has declined by 73 percent.”
In the coming years, the museum expects a reduction in public funding from the city, which it says constitutes just 10 percent of its annual budget already. Faced with a lack of the kind of public funds that support the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., Weiss says it’s financially necessary to abandon the Met’s traditional pay-as-you-wish system.
“Effectively the policy is failing,” Weiss told reporters Thursday.
The announcement immediately attracted outrage.
“The ‘pursuit of happiness’ wasn’t mentioned in the Declaration of Independence because it sounds good. It is an important aspect of a nation’s health, on all fronts,” said New York Times art critic Roberta Smith, in a piece published with fellow critic Holland Cotter. “So I worry that the Met’s plan is classist, and nativist. It divides people into categories — rich and poor, native and foreign — which is exactly what this country does not need right now.”
But the criticism was not confined to columns of newspapers.
“The wonder of the Met is that it’s as open to the public as Central Park,” tweeted Alexandra Schwartz of the New Yorker. “You can walk in with not a penny in your pocket and see some of the greatest art in the world. That’s an ethical mission. Crazy that the Met is willing to renounce it.”
Others worried that a plan based on visitors’ ability to provide proof of residence would effectively bar undocumented New York residents — though the museum’s Twitter account responded that it has been working with the city’s Office of Immigrant Affairs “to develop policies that ensure we sustain the great diversity of our 7 million annual visitors.”
Despite an endowment reported by Vanity Fair to be $2.5 billion, and a group of trustees with a combined net worth reported to be above $500 billion, the Met has publicly faced more fiscal woes than merely declining admission revenues. As The New York Times reported last year, it also faces a ballooning, millions-deep deficit that has thrown a wrench in otherwise ambitious expansion plans — and led to the resignation of former Director Thomas Campbell amid claims of mismanagement.
Still, such woes have done little to nurture skeptics’ sympathy.
“It’s hard to believe that there were no other solutions to the fiscal crisis, given that the museum estimates that the new admission policy ‘will increase admissions revenue as a percentage of The Met’s overall budget by 2 to 3 percent,’ ” Washington Post art critic Philip Kennicott wrote Thursday.
“For a mere 2 to 3 percent increase in what the new admission revenue will contribute, the museum has fundamentally changed the cultural status of the institution, its position within the larger ecosystem of American museums and its relationship to the American and international public, especially families who visit New York on a budget.”
Salma (Sana Jammelieh), Nur (Shaden Kanboura) and Laila (Mouna Hawa) share a quiet moment In Between.
In Between, a bold, brassy and beautiful first feature about living while Arab and female in Israel, was made by a young Palestinian woman with Israeli funding. But that is not what earned writer-director Maysaloun Hamoud a fatwa from her own people. Set in Tel Aviv, Israel’s most secular and free-wheeling city, the movie glances briefly and with astringent black humor at the contradictions of living in a Jewish-dominated world whose Arab citizens are often treated with fear and suspicion. Mostly, though, In Between points a accusatory finger at the ways in which Arab patriarchy and its enablers try to keep things medieval for their upcoming young women.
Politically this is fire-breathing material, but Hamoud’s skill at pop storytelling and mastery of shifting tones are such that In Between unfolds less as a polemic than as a warmly human, often very funny, sporadically tragic story about three young women who are far more fleshed-out than they might seem on paper. Still, gender politics is built into character without apology here. Laila (Mouna Hawa), a feisty criminal lawyer whose swaying, willowy beauty puts one in mind of Amal Clooney, lives with her friend Salma (Sana Jammalieh), a sulky but warm-hearted lesbian bartender and DJ, under the radar but far from in secret. They share a cramped but inviting apartment whose vivid palette and design — emerald-green walls, red furniture, pineapple table lamp — may make you hanker for your own adventurous early adulthood.
The two drink, smoke and party into the small hours with similarly boho, mostly gay male friends and sympathetic Jewish Israelis. When the plump, pretty and devoutly Muslim Nur (Shaden Kanbour), a student completing her degree in computer science, shows up as their new roommate, the two treat her with cool amusement that quickly turns to concern and then rage when her pious, overbearing fiancé (Henry Andrawes) turns savagely abusive in a rape scene that — appropriately — gives no quarter.
The ensuing revenge plot is entirely satisfying and funny. But the movie’s allure lies in Hamoud’s intimately detailed world-building of a Palestinian subculture seldom seen in Israeli public life, let alone onscreen. As the three young women emerge from the shadows of tact and subterfuge, In Between draws its energies from their struggles to live between the cracks of several cultures, each of which extracts its own sacrifice of identity. Tough though it may be to deal with a Jewish state that treats its Arab citizens with mistrust, it is if anything more challenging for Laila, Salma and Nur to defend their independence to an older generation of families whose values they no longer share.
There’s little sense of grievance or victimhood here, only a liberating anger and a sharp but empathic intelligence that pops up in unexpected places. The lone understanding male in Nur’s world turns out to be a much older close relative. Conversely, when Laila’s handsome, hip, ostensibly secular boyfriend (Mahmoud Shalaby) suddenly wants her to give up smoking for propriety’s sake, you can be sure that their rift — we are brought to see that the problem is much wider and deeper than smoking — won’t resolve with make-up sex.
Hamoud’s narrative instincts can be broad, but she is rarely glib or coy. That she has chosen to focus squarely on internal tensions within the Arab community — the widening cultural and political gulf between the generations — is a mark of her courage, her bravado and her brutal honesty.
Melissa (Spencer Locke) could reeaaally use that key right about now, in Insidious: The Last Key.
In the desert outpost of Five Keys, New Mexico in 1953, the Rainier family lives so close to the federal penitentiary that all the lights in the house flicker from the surge of a nearby electric chair. While her little brother Christian greets the occasion with boyish enthusiasm (“You’re on the Hades Express, mister!”), Elise quietly sketches a vision of the man in his final moments and recites certain facts about him, like how he chose a ribeye steak for his last meal and told the witnesses to “Go to hell!” before the executioner flipped the switch. Her father, a mean and abusive drunk, dismisses his daughter’s extrasensory gifts as fantasy, but anyone familiar with the previous three entries in the Insidious horror franchise know otherwise. This is Elise Rainier’s business.
As a conduit between the material world and the spirit world (known as “The Further”), Lin Shaye’s Elise has become the center of the Insidious series, which started as a quick-and-dirty haunted house movie from director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, the team responsible for the Saw phenomenon. Much like Elise, Wan and Whannell were themselves acting as conduits, shrewdly bridging the retro-’80s horror of Poltergeist and Ghostbusters with the more aggressive, digitally enhanced shocks of contemporary studio horror. The sequels have edged more toward the Ghostbusters side of that equation, with Elise and her exceedingly goofy partners, played by Angus Sampson and Whannell, offering their spook-expelling services to those in need.
The fourth entry, Insidious: The Last Key, shows some inevitable signs of wear-and-tear, but that shift in perspective from the home-dwellers to the exterminators has distinguished it from typical haunted-house fare. Though it delivers the requisite stingers — albeit not as skillfully as past entries — there’s something fundamentally whimsical about Elise and company sputtering along from one case to another like the Scooby Gang in their Mystery Machine. And Whannell, who has scripted all four of them, seems aware of it, too: In The Last Key, the Spectral Sightings crew travels in a custom-designed black Winnebago they picked up for $700.
In the series’ chronology, The Last Key connects Insidious: Chapter 3, a prequel, with the events of the first film, though the pleasing tidiness of the plotting doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a fifth entry. After starting with harrowing scenes from her childhood in 1953, the story opens in 2010 California with Elise getting a call from Ted Garza (Kirk Acevedo), the current tenant of the New Mexico home she had fled decades earlier. With Tucker (Sampson) and Specs (Whannell) working support, Elise discovers that all the malevolent old spirits are present again, marshaled by a creature with sharp metal keys for fingers. Those keys open the door into “The Further,” which Elise must enter not only to sort out her client’s problems, but to quiet the ghosts that haunt her soul, too. She also reunites with Christian (Bruce Davison), the brother she’d abandoned when she ran away from home.
The Last Key queasily engages with flesh-and-blood instances of horror and abuse, not just spectral ones, and the conclusion it draws about evil as an external force has the unfortunate effect of absolving real-life monsters of responsibility. The film is on steadier ground, however, when the Spectral Sightings team springs into action through various low-tech forms of ghost-busting, from amateur hypnosis sessions to crudely jury-rigged cameras and directional microphones. The hot-and-cold interplay between Shaye’s earnest, determined seer and Sampson and Whannell’s dopily enthusiastic nerds is by far the film’s most appealing feature, because it pushes against the gothic self-seriousness that often smothers the genre.
Once the action shifts into “The Further,” however, and director Adam Robitel has to conjure up a metaphysical hell on a budget, The Last Key starts to resemble a more typical dregs-of-January studio horror film. Four films into the series, the layout of the spirit realm has become too familiar, a soundstage of fog machines and grotesquerie that Robitel and Whannell haven’t populated with any fresh shocks. If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, the Insidious movies have answered the question of “Who you gonna call?” But there’s only so many times you can hit redial.
Ayana Lekach (L) is comforted by Rotem Dar (R) in the documentary In the Land of Pomegranates.
First Run Features
First Run Features
In the most hopeful story recounted by In the Land of Pomegranates, a mother takes her young son from the Gaza Strip to an Israeli hospital for repair of a potentially fatal heart blockage. But no other hearts are mended in Hava Kohav Beller’s documentary, whose centerpiece is an encounter session between 20-something Israelis and Palestinians in Germany, the historically fraught land of the director’s birth.
The New York-based Beller is a dancer and choreographer who turned to filmmaking with 1992’s The Restless Conscience, an account of German resistance to Hitler. Where that study had the benefit of historical perspective, Pomegranates covers recent events, and also enters the realm of myth. It opens with an audio montage of voices from the region, the first of which says, “This land is promised to us in the Torah.” Such convictions don’t allow for much nuanced give-and-take.
In addition to the boy with the heart defect and his mother, Beller introduces three other representative figures: The Israeli woman who lives with her kids and cats within range of mortars fired from Gaza. The Israeli man whose life and marriage were convulsed by PTSD after he was wounded in the suicide bombing of a bus. The older Palestinian man, a veteran of Israeli jails, who says “the Jews are the ones who are imprisoned, not me.”
Beller includes a few historical flashbacks and the occasional random Israeli-Palestinian clash in Pomegranates, whose title is never explained in the film. (A press release notes that while the fruit symbolizes rebirth, its name is local slang for hand grenade.) But the bulk of the movie observes conversations during a 2007 “vacation from war” in a scenic small town near the Rhine. (The director is known for working on her films for years, and this one took at least a decade.)
The talk proceeds in a jumble of Hebrew, Arabic, and English, with no apparent guidance. There must have been facilitators and translators, but the movie doesn’t show them.
One field trip takes the participants, who include an Israeli army veteran and a Palestinian manager of a McDonald’s, to a former Gestapo torture facility. Afterwards, the visitors can’t even agree on the significance of the Holocaust. To the Israelis, it justifies the existence of Israel. But the Palestinians insist that what’s happening to them now is worse than the near-extermination of Europe’s Jews.
On an individual level, it’s a disagreement that can’t be settled. The depiction of the impasse is both Pomegranates‘ strength and weakness. It’s a bit tiresome to spend so much time with the young people’s dialogue, since it’s clear that it won’t lead to any sort of breakthrough. Narratively, the story of the boy’s heart surgery is much more satisfying. It has a setup, a resolution, and even an epilogue.
But the inconclusive discourse is more telling. If watching it is frustrating, so is the larger process of seeking understanding, or at least a nonviolent mutual tolerance. In the Land of Pomegranates doesn’t, and can’t, show how such modest advances might be achieved. The young Israelis and Palestinians’ vacation from war is merely physical, not emotional.
Thomas Gloning/Getty Images
The snow and severe cold of the “bomb cyclone” currently hitting the East Coast is no joke.
But for a TV nerd, a storm that shuts down work and school means more time for binge-watching!
It may be only a day or two, so viewing choices are crucial. Can’t waste time with dramas that go nowhere or marginally funny sitcoms (yes, Twin Peaks and Curb Your Enthusiasm, I’m talking about you). I’m here to give you some suggestions tailored to your tastes. Hopefully, these shows will act like a hot bowl of chicken soup and a thick, warm blanket.
If you’re a sci-fi geek looking to disappear into new worlds …
Netflix‘s latest season of Black Mirror is the perfect getaway for a day inside; an anthology series with exquisitely framed stories on how technology can transform society and individuals. It’s like The Twilight Zone for an era of Snapchat and self-driving cars. Season four’s batch of six episodes stand out because few fans can agree on which episodes are best.
This unapologetic Star Trek geek loved “USS Callister,” a story about a coding nerd who creates a virtual reality fantasy game where all the people who torment him at work are recreated as characters in a Trek-like starship which he commands. “Black Museum” is a convoluted but compelling story about how human consciousness is stored inside artifacts within the most depressing exhibits on Earth. And “Arkangel” is a Jodie Foster-directed morality play on the dangers of installing a chip that allows parents to see what their kids see and affect perception through a tablet computer. Before long, you’ll be tethered to your streaming device like one of the characters from the episode.
If you’re a comedy nerd with a taste for period drama …
Amazon‘s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is the tale of a 1950s housewife who develops a career in stand-up comedy after her husband — who she had been supporting in his hobby as a comic — leaves her. It’s partly a look at the early days of stand-up (Midge Maisel enlists the help of legendary comic Lenny Bruce to hone her act). And it’s a wonderful showcase for star Rachel Brosnahan, who snaps off the one-liners (provided by creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, of Gilmore Girls fame) as if she were born to play this character.
If you’re a sucker for stories about blood feuds between powerful men …
Showtime‘s Billionswas one of the best dramas no one talked about last year. Its most recent, 12-episode season is available for viewing through the premium cable channel’s streaming platforms, and earlier seasons are available through Amazon. The show features Damian Lewis as the billionaire head of a top New York hedge fund and Paul Giamatti as the U.S. attorney obsessed with arresting him. Giamatti’s final scene in the season is one of the best moments of acting I saw on TV last year.
If you’re a Star Trek fan on a budget …
The first half-season of the newest Trek TV series, Star Trek: Discovery, is available for viewing on the streaming service CBS All Access. (It costs $5.99 with ads, but you can sign-up for a free, 7-day trial and watch the first nine episodes of Star Trek: Discovery in one binge.) This show has boldly tried re-inventing and updating Trek, and, after the first episode, it works. You’ll see one of Trek’s coolest heroes in Sonequa Martin-Green’s Starfleet mutineer Michael Burnham, a human orphan raised as an adopted daughter by Mr. Spock’s dad, Sarek. What self-respecting Trekkie could pass up that?
If you love behind-the-scenes stories about the craziest figures in music…
The Cinemax series Mike Judge Presents: Tales from the Tour Bus is an overlooked gem. Judge (co-creator of King of the Hill and Silicon Valley) puts together Behind the Music-style documentaries about legendarily dysfunctional figures like Johnny Paycheck and Jerry Lee Lewis. He interviews relatives, employees and members of their backup bands. Then, he animates their stories. Judge recreates a scene of Lewis shooting up a dental lab with a machine gun, and one of Paycheck’s backup musicians declaring “there’s nothing worse than a hillbilly with a hit record.” It’s funny, shocking and a great counterbalance to the perfectly manicured images some country artists present these days. (Tales From the Tour Bus is available by subscription on Cinemax, or for $1.99 per half-hour episode on YouTube or Google Play.)
For the last several months, Congress was almost all tax bill almost all the time. Lots of regular business got postponed.
As a result, there is an insane amount of economic policymaking that has to be done by both Congress and the president by the end of the month.
From tariffs to immigration to funding for the military and social programs, the next 27 days are going to be huge.
Demonstrators shout anti-U.S. slogans at a protest in Karachi on Jan. 2.
Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images
Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images
Following a harshly worded New Year’s Day tweet by President Trump accusing Pakistan of “deceit” and harboring terrorists, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert confirmed Thursday that the U.S. will suspend most security assistance to Islamabad.
The cutoff is not permanent, Nauert said, and only affects military assistance.
Nauert told reporters that the suspension will remain in effect until Pakistan “takes decisive action” against groups such as the Taliban that are “destabilizing the region and targeting U.S. personnel.” Although Pakistan “certainly has been helpful in some instances,” she said, “they are not taking steps they need to take to fight terrorists.”
The aid suspension is to include equipment and the transfer of security-related funds, with possible exceptions for U.S. national security reasons.
Nauert was not immediately able to provide a total dollar amount for the cutoff. “We are still working through the numbers,” she said.
In his first tweet of 2018, Trump said the U.S. “has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”
Ahead of Nauert’s remarks, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor told a Pakistani news channel Wednesday that Pakistan would continue to cooperate with the U.S. but would not “compromise on national interests and prestige.”
“Aid cuts will not hurt us,” Pakistan’s finance ministry head Miftah Ismail told Reuters.
Back in August, when announcing his new policy on Afghanistan and South Asia, the president said: “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change, and that will change immediately.” He vowed to “no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.”
Later that same month, the administration notified Pakistan it was delaying a payment of $255 million in military aid, pending progress against Haqqani network militants the U.S. says are based in Pakistan and aid the Taliban.
The military aid, known as foreign military financing, “promotes the development of Pakistan’s long-term [counter-insurgency/counter-terrorism] capabilities and improves Pakistan’s ability to participate in maritime security operations and counter-maritime piracy,” according to the State Department.
U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. would withhold the $255 million payment, saying, “Pakistan has played a double game for years.” That $255 million is included in the suspended aid announced Thursday by Nauert.
This is not the first time the U.S. has cut assistance to Pakistan. In the 1990s, Washington imposed aid-cutting sanctions related to Pakistan’s nuclear program and a military coup that deposed an elected prime minister.
The George W. Bush administration waived those sanctions and reinstated aid following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but reduced it in 2008. During President Barack Obama’s first term in office, aid levels rose again but then dropped drastically following the 2011 U.S. raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin Laden.
Since 2002, U.S. aid to Pakistan has totaled nearly $34 billion but declined in recent years, according to the Congressional Research Service. The country received more than $1 billion in U.S. assistance in 2016.
Relations between Pakistan and the U.S. long have been strained, and tensions have only grown since the summer, when the Trump administration announced its policy on Afghanistan and South Asia.
Pakistan, which serves as a key transport route for supplies to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, denies harboring terrorists. Officials say the country has made enormous sacrifices to support the U.S. war on terror.
“We have contributed and sacrificed the most in fighting international terrorism and carried out the largest counter terrorism operation anywhere in the world,” Pakistan’s U.N. Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi said Wednesday. “We can review our cooperation if it is not appreciated.”
“You carried out 57,800 attacks on Afghanistan from our bases, your forces were supplied arms and explosives through our soil, thousands of our civilians and soldiers became victims of the war initiated by you,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif tweeted in Urdu Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, the State Department Thursday also placed Pakistan on a “Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom,” Nauert said in a statement. Conditions for the country’s religious minorities, including Hindus, Christians and Ahmadis, are widely considered poor.
A protester chants slogans against the Iranian government outside the European Union Council in Brussels, Belgium on Wednesday.
The protests that began last week in Iran are different from most unrest that has previously roiled the country since its 1979 revolution.
They have covered more geography, engulfing small and midsize cities across the country. But they also have reportedly drawn smaller turnouts than the massive 2009 election protests in Tehran. Although more information is needed about the makeup of the demonstrators, significant differences have emerged. Iranian reformists and middle-class residents in large urban areas are reported to have largely steered clear this time around.
Economic protests are not rare in Iran. When they occur it’s usually in response to a specific government action.
For example, Mashhad, the northeastern city where the latest demonstrations began, was rocked by protests and riots in 1992 after authorities tried to demolish homes built without permits in a squatter area on the city’s periphery. Several police officers were killed, government buildings destroyed, hundreds were arrested and at least four protesters were executed.
Then there was the 1994 protests in Qazvin, northwest Iran. That was triggered when the Iranian parliament’s narrowly rejected legislation to create a new province with the city of Qazvin as its capital. But, like in Islamshahr, the structural adjustment policies of then-President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and high inflation were broader underlying factors. In a couple of years Qazvin did become a province a couple of years later.
In 1995, protests in the squatter settlements of Islamshahr, on the southwestern outskirts of Tehran, were set off by an increase in public transportation costs. The domestic security forces of the Revolutionary Guard cracked down after protesters took over government and law enforcement buildings. It is not known how many people were killed.
The latest protests are different in that they are spread out and simultaneous, probably thanks to the existence of social media and not necessarily in reaction to particular triggers specific to the cities involved. (Although, in Kermanshah, an inept government response to a recent earthquake may have been a delayed trigger.)
The wider spread and simultaneity of the latest protests have led some outside observers, perhaps dreaming of regime change, to overlook key elements.
The most significant missing element is the reported lack of a middle-class presence in protests within large urban areas. Many of these folks were key participants in the 2009 protests and, a few years later, instrumental in President Hassan Rouhani’s election. The economic and political centrality of cities like Tehran, Tabriz and Isfahan makes their presence critical for a broad-based challenge of central authority.
It’s not that the many segments of the Iranian middle class are content with current conditions in Iran, the government or regime. Rather, they are ambivalent about the drivers behind the protests and implications for their personal security.
Also missing is organizational leadership. This is partly due to the suppression of independent labor and nongovernmental organizations, which could provide conduits for citizens to air their grievances and demands to the government.
To be sure, citizens have been encouraged to protest against the regime by certain leaders in exile — at least, until social media platforms such as Telegram were blocked. One of the most vocal advocates is Reza Pahlavi, the Washington-based son of the former shah of Iran. Another is Maryam Rajavi, the Saudi-funded, Paris-based head of a controversial Iranian resistance group called Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. But the latter is loathed inside Iran way more than the regime, and the former has failed to create and lead a viable and unified opposition outside of Iran. In any case, as a recent Iranian joke put it, “Iran already has one shah!”
Because the call for wholesale regime change largely comes from the outside, and without any linkages to the struggle for reform inside Iran, the country’s reformist movement has distanced itself from the protests rather than try to give them direction and organization.
None of the above is to suggest the demonstrations are without impact. The protests came suddenly and are a reminder of how quickly Iranian protests can get out of control, turn into international events and challenge the legitimacy of the whole national system. Unless the country’s divided and discordant leadership can reach a consensus on changing the ways of the Islamic Republic, allowing independent organizations to form and effectively articulate the demands of the variegated society, Iran’s leaders will be playing with fire, endangering the country’s stability and security. It really doesn’t matter if these protests are encouraged by “enemies of Iran,” as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested this week. The responsibility that encouragements to take to the streets succeeded inside Iran falls squarely on the shoulders of the Islamic Republic.
Farideh Farhi is an independent scholar and affiliate graduate faculty at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa.
Academics and students shout slogans during a protest against the dismissal of academics from universities following a post-coup emergency decree at the Dil ve Tarih Cografya campus of Ankara University last February.
Adem Altan /AFP/Getty Images
Adem Altan /AFP/Getty Images
Intellectuals are leaving Turkey in large numbers amid President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on dissent after the failed coup attempt against his government in July 2016.
In the aftermath of that coup attempt, which led to the deaths of more than 240 people and the subsequent arrest of tens of thousands, the Turkish government also fired more than 100,000 people from their jobs, including civil servants, university professors and soldiers.
Many in Turkey’s intellectual and professional class who remain are concerned about Erdogan’s shifting emphasis on religious nationalism and the future of democracy in the country, BBC Turkey Correspondent Mark Lowen tells Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti.
“What you’re seeing is a steady exodus of those who are opposed to the direction that Turkey is taking,” he says. “I suppose in years to come, Turkey could count the cost really of that steady demographic change.”
While there are no national statistics tracking recent migration, Lowen collected some examples in the course of his reporting to illustrate the mass flight. In the two years since 1,128 Turkish academics signed a petition calling for the government to make peace with Kurdish militants, 698 academics have applied to U.S.-based organization Scholars at Risk to be moved abroad.
The U.K. Home Office estimates nearly 17,000 Turkish people moved to Britain in the past five years. In the same period, about 7,000 came to Germany, according to the German Federal Statistical Office, and 5,000 moved to France, according to the French Interior Ministry.
Others are buying their way out of Turkey, Lowen says. As many as 430 wealthy Turkish nationals have been granted so-called Golden Visas in Greece by purchasing property in exchange for residency. And there could be even more Turks there than official statistics suggest.
“Many are in hiding and don’t want to risk revealing themselves by seeking help from the Greek authorities,” Antonis Spathis, a human rights lawyer in Thessaloniki, told NPR in December. “Some came to Greece with the intention of going on to other European countries or the U.S., but those pathways are closing.”
Turks have also taken advantage of similar Golden Visa programs in Spain and Portugal, and over 4,500 Turks of Jewish descent have also applied to those countries for nationality.
Turkish academics say they are leaving the country because they don’t feel safe in their own classrooms.
“They are worried about students recording their lectures and releasing excerpts … to the pro-government media and labeling them as somehow insulting the president or enemies of the state,” Lowen says. “It tells the story of a much greater clampdown on people who challenge the government,” that is accounting for this growing brain drain.
Lowen says Erdogan still has a large following of supporters who make up the religious, pious sector of the country.
“Half the country absolutely supports him. They are behind his reforms to give a voice to the more conservative side of the country, to reform the economy, to expand the middle class,” he says. “The secular side — the ones who feel that Turkey has lost its anchoring to Europe and the West and relations with the U.S. — … they revile him. “
Turkey stands to feel the effects of losing so many intellectuals in the coming years, Lowen says. Fethullah Gulen, the Islamic scholar who Erdogan blames for orchestrating the failed coup, told NPR in an interview last July he is struggling to remain optimistic about Turkey’s future. Gulen is currently living in exile in Pennsylvania and denies plotting the coup attempt.
“It pains me, but I have some hope, I pray for it to be better,” he said. “It is a blessed country, a NATO member, and was an E.U. candidate. These were things we wanted — to see progress in the democracy, to see respect for diversity of thought.”