Iran’s Islamic Republic ‘in a period of flux and tension’


The 2016 elections resulted in important gains for moderates in the parliament and the Assembly of Experts, reaffirming developments that have been visible in Iranian politics since 2013, Stanford University analyst Farzan Sabet writes for the Carnegie Endowment:

The moderate alliance of centrists and reformists that backed Rouhani that year remained in place in this election, while the rifts in the conservative alliance deepened. The latter alliance showed early signs of weakening when hardliners and traditionalists could not close ranks behind a single candidate in the 2013 presidential election; this time around, they largely ran on separate lists in the parliament.

Popular engagement with electoral politics, which helped Rouhani win in 2013, continued to be a key factor, argues Sabet, managing editor of IranPolitik, a website on Iranian politics:

A majority of voters decided to participate in elections in their pursuit of the least-bad alternative. Even Green Movement leaders Mousavi and Karroubi, who remain under house arrest, supported participation and sought to cast votes. The traumatic experience of the Ahmadinejad era—with its profound corruption, mismanagement, repression, and international isolation—was the main impetus for this engagement.

Finally, access to alternative media—notably the Telegram messaging app—undermined the state’s monopoly on information and played an important role in mobilizing voters. The decision by Mahmoud Vaezi, the minister of information and communications technology, to resist hardline pressure to close alternative media entities during the campaign and on election day was very important in allowing the moderate campaign to succeed.

Iran’s domestic and foreign policy is anchored in the three pillars of preserving the revolutionary ideology, national interests (regarding economic, strategic and geopolitical spheres) and Iranian nationalism, says Iranian-American political scientist Majid Rafizadeh. Khamenei is a firm advocate of prioritizing ideological norms over the other two backbones of the regime, he writes for the Gatestone Institute.

Despite weeks of reformist spin about the spring election results, the decision to name a notorious hardliner as head of the Experts Assembly shows that Khamenei is intent on making life even more difficult for President Rouhani’s camp, adds Mehdi Khalaji, the Libitzky Family Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy:

When members of Iran’s fifth Assembly of Experts gathered on May 24 to choose a new chairman, they confirmed what many already knew: that the recent election did not change the body’s hardline fabric or the Supreme Leader’s ability to exert his will over supposedly democratic processes. Since February, reformists and other supporters of President Hassan Rouhani have been claiming victory in both the assembly and parliamentary elections. The regime had taken pains to disqualify their favorite candidates before the race, so they produced an unorthodox list of “reformist” contenders that included many hardliners and conservatives. Yet today’s inaugural assembly meeting indicates that this strategy will fail to influence decision-making in a body that could eventually be tasked with naming the next Supreme Leader.

The main function of the country’s judiciary is to subdue Iranian citizens and consolidate the government’s power, notes a report from Tavaana, the Iranian civil society group. As a sociologist of law, the author explains the main shortcomings and challenges of this system that is abused by an authoritarian and semi-totalitarian system of government.

According to the United Nations, Iran “continues … to execute more individuals per capita than any other country in the world” and executions “have been rising at an exponential rate since 2005.” The Boroumand Foundation – a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group – recorded that Tehran carried out 1,084 executions in 2015, the highest rate of executions in Iran in 25 years. Just last month, one of Iran’s vice presidents revealed that the country had executed all of the adult males in a single village, while the persecution of religious minorities and civil society actors also continues unabated.

“The Islamic Republic is in a period of flux and tension in which Rouhani and moderates will have to carefully consider where to boldly push for change—by trying to lift the restrictions on Khatami, for example—and where to tread carefully to avoid a backlash, for instance in negotiations with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to end the Syrian civil war,” adds Sabet. “The latest election results enhance Rouhani’s and moderates’ leverage to push for change and will be crucial to the way in which tensions with hardliners are managed and unfold.”


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