How Rouhani won in Iran


The significance of the Iranian elections has not been fully appreciated, notes Vali Nasr, Dean and Professor of International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and the author of The Shia Revival and The Dispensable Nation. To be sure, Iran still poses serious security challenges to U.S. interests in the Middle East. But the election made clear what Iranian voters want: economic growth and engagement with the world. And that is what Rouhani has promised them, he writes for The Atlantic:

In the years ahead, Rouhani is bound to face stiff resistance from conservative clerics and the Revolutionary Guards, whom he took to task during the presidential campaign. But to keep the people on his side, he will have to take risks, with the encouragement and rewards of the United States and its allies—economic and diplomatic engagement—when he does. That cannot be achieved by escalating tensions and confrontation.

Many will interpret [Rouhani’s victory] as evidence that so-called moderates have the upper hand, but this is an over-simplification, notes Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of ‘A World in Disarray’. It is not just that any moderation is relative, but also that many of the instruments of power will remain in the hands of still dominant conservative leaders backed by some 40 per cent of the population, he writes for The Financial Times:

Iran will remain a hybrid political system for the foreseeable future, with limited reform. Expect also the continuation of an imperial foreign policy that employs militant groups such as Hizbollah and Hamas and projects armed force directly. The election campaign did not in any way promise a reining in of Iran’s reach. This is likely to translate into prolonged conflict in Yemen, the survival of the Assad regime and more civil war in Syria and growing influence throughout the region.

Theocracy cannot reform itself

The Rouhani presidency will once more remind the Iranian people that the theocratic state cannot reform itself, says Council on Foreign Relations analyst Ray Takeyh, adding that it would be inaccurate to call Rouhani a reformist:

He has always been part of a pragmatic cohort of Iranian leaders attracted to the so-called China model of offering citizens economic rewards in exchange for political passivity. During his campaign, he hinted at better times to come by claiming that he would succeed in lifting all the remaining sanctions on Iran. This is impossible, given Iran’s penchant toward terrorism, its human rights abuses and its imperial ravaging of the Middle East. The fact is that Iran has never been able to emulate China’s economic trajectory.

“He faces a difficult task,” Fazel Meybodi, a Shiite Muslim cleric from the city of Qum, said of Mr. Rouhani. “Now he must provide more freedoms, break the hard-line monopoly on the state-run radio and television, and increase freedom of press.”

To achieve all that, Mr. Rouhani must persuade the hard-line-dominated judiciary and security forces to change their outlook, Mr. Meybodi said. “If he fails to deliver on at least 70 percent of those promises, his future is dark,” he told The New York Times.

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