Iran: Re-elected In A Landslide President Rouhani, Promises To Open Iran Up To The World

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

By Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh | DUBAI/BEIRUT

President Hassan Rouhani pledged on Saturday to open Iran to the world and deliver freedoms its people have yearned for, throwing down a defiant challenge to his hard line opponents after securing a decisive re-election for a second term.

Rouhani, long known as a cautious and mild-mannered establishment insider, reinvented himself as a bold champion of reform during the election campaign, which culminated on Friday in victory with more than 57 percent of the vote. His main challenger, hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi, received 38 percent.

In his first televised speech after the result, Rouhani appeared to openly defy conservative judges by praising the spiritual leader of the reform camp, former President Mohammad Khatami. A court has banned quoting or naming Khatami on air.

“Our nation’s message in the election was clear: Iran’s nation chose the path of interaction with the world, away from violence and extremism,” Rouhani said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose country has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since 1980, said he hoped Rouhani would use his second term to end Tehran’s ballistic missile program and what he called its network of terrorism.

Iran denies any involvement in terrorism and says its missile program, which U.S. President Donald Trump recently targeted with new sanctions, is purely for defense purposes.

Although the powers of the elected president are limited by those of un-elected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who outranks him, the scale of Rouhani’s victory gives the pro-reform camp its strongest mandate in at least 12 years to seek the sort of change that hardliners have thwarted for decades.

Rouhani’s opponent Raisi, a protege of Khamenei, had united the conservative faction and had been tipped as a potential successor to the 77-year-old supreme leader. His defeat leaves the conservatives without an obvious flag bearer.

The re-election is likely to safeguard the nuclear agreement Rouhani’s government reached with global powers in 2015, under which most international sanctions have been lifted in return for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

And it delivers a setback to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), the powerful security force which controls a vast industrial empire in Iran. They had thrown their support behind Raisi to safeguard their interests.

CHEERING AND DANCING

Thousands of people gathered in central Tehran to celebrate Rouhani’s victory. Videos on social media showed young people clapping and chanting “We love you Hassan Rouhani, we support you.”

Some youngsters wore wristbands in violet, the color of Rouhani’s campaign. Others wore green, representing the reformist movement crushed by security forces after a 2009 election, whose leaders have been under house arrest since 2011.

During campaigning, Rouhani promised to seek their release if re-elected with a stronger mandate.

A supporter of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani holds his poster as she celebrates his victory in the presidential election, in Tehran, Iran, May 20, 2017. TIMA via REUTERS

“We won. We’ve done what we should have for our country. Now it’s Rouhani’s turn to keep his promises,” said coffee shop owner Arash Geranmayeh, 29, reached by telephone in Tehran.

Videos from the cities of Kermanshah, Tabriz and the holy city of Mashhad showed hundreds of people in the streets, cheering and dancing.

Rouhani, 68, faces the same limits on his power to transform Iran that prevented him from delivering social change in his first term, and that thwarted Khatami, who failed to deliver on a reform agenda as president from 1997-2005.

But by publicly thanking “my dear brother, Mohammad Khatami” in his victory speech, Rouhani seemed to take up that mantle. It was a remarkable challenge to the Shi’ite Muslim religious judicial authorities, who have blacklisted Khatami from public life for his support for other reformists under house arrest.

Many experts are skeptical that a president can change much in Iran, as long as the supreme leader has veto power over all policies and control over the security forces. Some said the pattern was all too familiar from Rouhani’s first victory four years ago and Khatami’s victories the previous decade.

“The last two decades of presidential elections have been short days of euphoria followed by long years of disillusionment,” said Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment who focuses on Iran.

“Democracy in Iran is allowed to bloom only a few days every four years, while autocracy is evergreen.”

The re-elected president will also have to navigate a tricky relationship with Washington, which appears at best ambivalent about the nuclear accord agreed by former U.S. President Barack Obama. Trump has repeatedly described it as “one of the worst deals ever signed”, although his administration re-authorized waivers from sanctions this week.

Trump arrived on Saturday in Saudi Arabia, his first stop on the first trip abroad of his presidency. The Saudis are Iran’s biggest enemies in the region and are expected to push hard for Trump to turn his back on the nuclear deal.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his U.S. counterpart in Riyadh, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Iran’s presidential election was an internal matter. “We want to see deeds, not words” from Iran, he added.

Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, an ally of Saudi Arabia, congratulated Rouhani on his re-election.

BREAKING TABOOS

Rouhani’s reinvention as an ardent reformist on the campaign trail helped stir the passion of young, urban voters yearning for change. At times he broke rhetorical taboos, attacking the human rights record of the security forces and the judiciary.

During one rally he referred to hardliners as “those who cut out tongues and sewed mouths shut”. In a debate last week he accused Raisi of seeking to “abuse religion for power”. The language at the debate earned a rare public rebuke from Khamenei, who called it “unworthy”.

The contentiousness of the campaign could make it more difficult for Rouhani to secure the consent of hardliners to carry out his agenda, said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies program at Stanford University.

“Rouhani upped the ante in the past 10 days in the rhetoric that he used. Clearly it’s going to be difficult to back down on some of this stuff.”

The Guards could also use their role as shock troops of Iran’s interventions across the Middle East to try to derail future rapprochement with the West, said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born lecturer at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

“Since the 1979 revolution, whenever hardliners have lost a political battle, they have tried to settle scores,” he said.

“I would worry about the more confrontational policy of the IRGC in the Persian Gulf … and more confrontational policy with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.”

Among the congratulatory messages sent to Rouhani by world leaders, Iran’s battlefield ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looked forward to cooperating “to strengthen the security and stability of both countries, the region and the world”.

The biggest prize for Rouhani’s supporters is the potential to set Iran’s course for decades by influencing the choice of a successor to Khamenei, who has been in power since 1989.

A Raisi victory would have probably ensured that the next supreme leader was a hardliner. Rouhani’s win gives reformists a chance to build clout in the body that chooses the leader, the Assembly of Experts, where neither reformists nor conservatives dominate.

Khamenei praised Iranians for their big turnout after voters queued up for hours to cast their ballots. The strong turnout of around 73 percent of eligible voters appeared to have favored Rouhani, whose backers’ main concern had been apathy among reformists disappointed with the slow pace of change.

Many voters said they came out to block the rise of Raisi, one of four judges who sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death in the 1980s, regarded by reformers as a symbol of the security state at its most fearsome.

“The wide mobilization of the hardline groups and the real prospect of Raisi winning scared many people into coming out to vote,” said Nasser, a 52-year-old journalist.

“We had a bet among friends, and I said Raisi would win and I think that encouraged a few of my friends who might not have voted to come out and vote.”

(Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Andrew Roche and Helen Popper)

Iran’s Presidential Charade: Is Another Fraudulent Slap To The Face Of The Iranian People Coming?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Iran’s Presidential Charade: Another Slap Coming?

In old Hollywood, the word “chestnut” denoted a formula which though lacking originality could still provide the kernel for a moderately successful B-movie.

Anyone following the latest presidential election campaign in the Islamic Republic in Iran is bound to notice stark similarities between this Islamicized chestnut and those of old Hollywood.

Every four years, Iranians and others interested in Iranian affairs are invited to participate in or at least observe what is presented as a dramatic quest for power by rival factions defending sharply different programs. Thus a few weeks of excitement are created out of thin air to give the impression that the peculiar system created by the late Ayatollah Khomeini is an Islamic version of the cursed democracy promoted by the “Infidel”. The show is also used to blame all that is wrong in the country on the president in charge for the past four years and, almost always, end up re-electing him for four more years.

The “chestnut” script provides for the presence in the election of at least three candidates representing “the bad”, “the worse” and “the worst”.

This is important for confusing not only Iranians but also foreign powers interested in or bothered by Iran.

In 1997, quite a few Iranians fell for the fiction that Muhammad Khatami, a mid-ranking mullah, represented “the bad” option against Ali-Akbar Nateq Nuri, another mid-ranking mullah, who was cast as representative of “the worst”. Khatami won and Iran ended up with eight years of a presidency that witnessed the chain-killing of intellectuals, mass arrests of regime critics, strict censorship, increased support for terrorist groups and, finally, the massive expansion of Iran’s clandestine nuclear project.

In the 2005 presidential campaign, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, branded “the worst” candidate, emerged victorious. Paradoxically, in some important cases, he turned out not to be as bad as Khatami. He overlooked corruption that was spread like wildfire, but toned down the crackdown organized against critics and dissidents. His clownish performance amused some and revolted many more but it did not translate into a substantial increase in the Islamist regime’s repressive measures.

Four years ago, US President Barack Obama bent backward to help Hassan Rouhani, then believed to represent “the bad” for fear that Saeed Jalili, identified as “the worst”, might become Iran’s president. Rouhani’s four-year stint has been even worse than that of Khatami’s first term. Iran is now the world’s number one in executions, number two in political prisoners and on top of the list of states sponsoring international terrorism.

To add more spice to the mix, the regime and its lobbyists in the West also urge support for the candidate supposed to be farther from the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei. That was supposedly the case with Khatami, Ahmadinejad and Rouhani.

This year, the candidate supposed to represent “the worst” while being closest to Khamenei is Ibrahim Rais al-Sadat, alias Raisi, a mid-ranking mullah who was recently appointed as head of the Imam Reza Foundation in Mash’had, perhaps the most lucrative post in the Islamic Republic.

Barring a last minute surprise, Rouhani will remain in the race as “the bad” candidate, wearing his trademark smile and waving the cardboard key that symbolizes his promise to “open all doors”.

Not surprisingly the old chestnut themes are back.

Tehran lobbyists in the West are going around demanding support for Rouhani who is supposed to be determined to do in the next four years what he couldn’t or didn’t want to do in the last.
One US-based apologist, Abdul-Karim Sorush, alias “The Martin Luther of Islam”, invites Iranians to choose “the bad”, which he dubs “Aslah” (the most qualified), meaning Rouhani.

Others have identified Raisi as the candidate closest to Khamenei and thus deserving a thrashing from an angry electorate. The list of candidates this time may also include the same old Jalili, “the worst” of four years ago who, presumably will be only “the worse” this time.

However, the fact is that in 1997 Nateq-Nuri was not Khamenei’s favored candidate just as in 2005 “The Supreme Guide” did not particularly favored Ahmadinejad. The only time that Khamenei has indicated a personal opinion about any presidential candidate was when, in 2005, he made it clear he did not want his old friend and new foe Hashemi Rafsanjani to regain the presidency.

For Khamenei, the presidential election is nothing but a four-year endorsement of the Khomeinist system, a kind of referendum on the regime’s legitimacy rather than a choice of an individual president. In the current election, too, I doubt that Khamenei is particularly keen on seeing Raisi become president. True, Raisi is an old protégé of Khamenei, hailing from his native Mash’had and holding the same narrow view of things as the “Supreme Guide”. However, Khamenei won’t mind if Rouhani wins again or if any of the other candidates whom he has pre-approved end up victorious.

Though a protégé of the late Rafsanjani, Rouhani has a 30-year record of service to the security services controlled by Khamenei. He is also close to powerful elements in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard who provide the backbone of domestic support for the regime.

The only factor that might have concerned Khamenei as far as Rouhani is concerned would have been the latter’s tentative attempts at easing tension with the United States. However, with President Barack Obama no longer around to do the pas-de-deux, Rouhani, has quickly switched to Khamenei’s “looking East” strategy of alliance with Russia. In fact, Rouhani launched his presidential campaign with a flash visit to Moscow and a photo-op with Vladimir Putin.

Four years ago Rouhani, like Khatami before him, promised reform. Now, however, it is once again clear that the Islamic Republic cannot be reformed. In his time, Ahmadinejad promised to end corruption, discrimination, and poverty, exactly as Raisi did today. Eight years later, Iran ended with more poverty, discrimination, and corruption.

The problem is not about who plays the role of president in a charade of pseudo-democracy. The problem is about an atrophied system in which all paths to reform, development and progress are rundown.

Thus the question Iranians face is not about which of the various puppets is “aslah”. The real issue is whether they wish this broken system to continue. If they have no interest in taking part in this charade. Four years ago, the presidential election scored the lowest rate of voter participation and Rouhani won with the smallest margin in Islamic Republic’s history.

In its limited way, the last election was a slap in the face for the Khomeinists. Will we see another such slap this time, too?

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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Iran’s Supreme ‘Fraud/Liar’ Will Never Allow Honest Elections Or Any Semblance Of Honesty Or Freedom!

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Iran Blocks Telegram

It is not strange that Iran is the only country in the Middle East that blocks services which are considered essential now like Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp as part of its continuous blackout policy. Tehran even disturbs the signal of several broadcast channels blocking citizens from any external media access.

Of all international social media applications available, Iranians are only left with the messaging application Telegram.

Telegram was formed by two Russian brothers and is headquartered in Germany. Almost 40 million Iranians use its voice messages, while 20 million use the application for texting. Being the only application available, this precious service is in high demand among Iranians who amount up to a quarter of Telegram’s users across the world.

But then the government quelled Iranians’ sole source of joy by blocking most of Telegram’s services, precisely the voice messages under the pretext of protecting national security.

The truth is that the regime blocked the application fearing it would affect the course of the upcoming elections; a course that had already been engineered.

Thousands of local candidates are “filtered” according to the criteria of the “democratic Iranian religious clerics”. In the end, only those whom they are satisfied with are allowed to run for elections. It is not a secret system and, eventually, no one is allowed to win the elections or even run for it if the Supreme Leader doesn’t agree.

The 2009 elections caused a great embarrassment both domestically and internationally because those who diverted from the leadership were figures licensed by the leaders of the regime to run for the elections.

The supreme leadership decided that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would become president and forged the results accordingly. This angered the candidates who had the best chance in winning and led to the famous “Green Movement” revolution, during which many died or were injured and arrested. The memory of the uprising has been haunting the authorities that believe this massive antagonist movement wouldn’t have been possible, especially in Tehran, hadn’t it been for Twitter and Facebook.

Indeed, back then al-Arabiya Channel relied almost completely on the videos, photos and information it received from those two platforms to cover the Iranian events after the authorities shut down its office and expelled its correspondent. The results were astounding! The regime was in confusion after images of the protests, clashes, and injuries were broadcast on international media outlets.

After reading a report published about a month ago in the Los Angeles Times about the influence of Telegram inside of Iran, I sensed the regime’s fear and anticipated its next move. The report mentioned that the security authorities had already begun warning users of political messages and forced anyone who owned a channel with over 5,000 subscribers to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Culture. The government then began a series of arrests for active users on the application.

Iran has now shut most of Telegram’s services hoping to contain the atmosphere of the parliamentary and presidential elections, which are mostly an encore of the same charade. Results can be partially or completely forged, even after the filtration and suspension done during the early stages of candidacy.

The regime is really concerned with controlling the reactions of the Iranian street to avoid the repetition of the Green Revolution.

No surprises on the level of the presidential elections are expected because the approved candidates are just copies of each other.

Even former President Ahmadinejad, despite his importance and history, was banned by the Supreme Leader from running for this election. Ahmadinejad shocked everyone and announced himself a candidate with a series of clarifications and apologetic statements saying he didn’t disobey the directives of the Supreme Leader. He pledged to withdraw from the elections after the first round and said he only participated to support his friend, a presidential candidate, and give him the media and public attention.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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