The issues facing the region are complex and reflect a number of factors, according to experts who spoke on March 27 at the Atlantic Council. Among them are climate change, water scarcity, mismanagement, and poor governance. These challenges have become politicized in both the region and in the United States, and have undermined international cooperation to address them.
The change was the latest in a series that started about two years ago. The most important so far has been the appointment of Muhammad Javad Haj Ali Akbari as the Friday imam of Tehran in December 2018. Haj Ali Akbari had been chosen as the chief of the “Imams of Friday Prayer Policy Council” a year earlier. The organization is an umbrella body that manages Friday prayers in Iran and nominates prayer leaders to the Supreme Leader, who makes the appointments. Under the auspices of this body, 273 Friday Prayer imams have been replaced over the past two years. Most of the new prayer leaders are young clerics and often pupils of Khamenei, rather than independent traditional clerics of the Qom Seminary.
Moreover, Netanyahu’s role as defense minister also promotes his security agenda while he makes regular appearances at military bases as part of his electoral campaign. Netanyahu’s March 6 speech at the graduation ceremony of the Haifa naval cadets, contrary to what Hebrew language press reported, was not without controversy.
But to Iranians and Iran-watchers the March 13 meeting marked a historical moment. The image of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani seated with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif graced the front pages of almost every Iranian newspaper the next day.
Based on this authority, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appointed Ebrahim Raisi as the new chief justice on March 7.
One policy issue that has caused a great deal of controversy among Iran’s ruling elite is whether to implement requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on money laundering, terrorism financing and transnational organized crime.
The timing was suspect as well. Zarif decided to leave office just as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a completely unexpected visit to Tehran which was quite unbeknownst to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to sources in Tehran. To reporters who asked him about the news, Zarif responded, “After the pictures of today meetings, Javad Zarif has no more credibility in the world as the foreign minister.”
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has viewed Asia as part of “Saudi Arabia’s visionfor the future.” His trip across Asia this month had a short-term goal as well: repairing a public image badly damaged by the Yemen war and the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.