Rohani’s Iran: Between Two Hopes

Rohani’s Iran: Between Two Hopes

Hazem Saghieh |

There is one important, very important, outcome of the election of Sheikh Hassan Rohani as president of the Islamic Republic of Iran: It has revealed the real desires of the Iranians, and their opposition not only to the policies of outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the so-called Guardian Jurist.

It was difficult to rig this election while the memory of the electoral fraud in 2009, and of the ensuing green revolution, is still cruelly fresh in the minds of the Iranians.

But elections in Iran, as we know too well, are rigged in advance through the Guardian Council, where the most prominent candidates are disqualified. In the last election, only eight candidates were allowed to run (two of whom withdrew later) out of 600. If we add this to the fact that Rohani received half of the votes, it would become clear how popular will is not in the same place as the Supreme Leader is.

However, the regime in Iran, regardless of the wave of sardonic cheering for ‘Iranian democracy,’ does not reflect the will of the people, but the will of the Supreme Leader and his instrument, namely, the Guardian Council.

This imposes limits on what Rohani can achieve, and evokes previous experiences against which the ability of the president to effect change can be measured.

In 2009, the election was rigged to undermine two presidential candidates at the time, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who were once among the founding pillars of the Islamic regime. Similarly, on the eve of the last election, Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and another regime pillar, was disqualified.

If we go back further in time, to 1980-1981, when the first building blocks of the Khomeini regime were being laid down, we may recall the experience of the first President Abul Hassan Bani-Sadr, the relatively unknown professor of economics who resided in France. Khomeini nominated Bani-Sadr, whom he called “my son.” But at the first sign of differences between the president and his “father,” Bani-Sadr returned to exile, in Paris.

True, the two terms of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) relatively deviate from this norm. But then, that is exactly what Khatami’s presidency is: a relative deviation. To be sure, Khatami’s importance lies not in his achievements, as most of his time and efforts were consumed by the ‘dialogue of civilizations,’ but in the new climate that his presidency allowed to be expressed.

Khatami, with passion and good intentions, sought to improve relations with neighboring countries. This is what seemed possible on the back of the US ‘war on terror,’ and then the US-led regime change in Iraq which Tehran was confused and troubled by, long before its nuclear program went on to become the major issue of contention. So one can only imagine how different things are now, with the Syrian issue having occupied the top of the list of priorities for the Iranian regime, amid increasing withdrawal of American power.

In fact, the president cannot influence sovereign issues as such except in agreement with the Supreme Leader. Otherwise, the president may face a similar fate to Bani-Sadr, Rafsanjani, or Mousavi.

The foregoing, in general, produces hopes but shatters others. As for the hope that is being resurrected, it involves the Iranian people who, despite everything, insist on continuing to confront the Guardian Jurist and his will. And as for hope, the death of which is becoming more evident, it involves the good that a regime like this can ever bring to Iran and the world.