Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1285, (3 - 9 March 2016)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1285, (3 - 9 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Mending relations in Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has re-established trust between the people and the system by his successful conduct of the country’s elections, writes Camelia Entekhabifard

world
world
Al-Ahram Weekly

Iran’s twin elections last week were sealed when Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader and commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), endorsed them. They have brought about a balance of power among independents, conservatives and reformists in the country’s parliament and the influential Assembly of Experts.

Hopes of making changes to the system are thus now over, and public expectations have shifted to a mature perception that moderates can work better than reformists in a system that was previously controlled and run by conservatives.

The fact that no streets were taken over by jubilant reformers after the election results were announced, and there were no clashes between the supporters of different factions expresses the level of expectations now at work in Iran.

With the limitations and huge disqualifications of popular well-known figures before the elections took place, public choices were very limited, but they made significant differences in very tight circumstances.

The pragmatist president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, scored another success in the short life of his government by conducting peaceful and highly anticipated elections for the next parliament. Not only has he successfully signed a nuclear deal with the West, but Rouhani has now also succeeded in rebuilding trust between the people and the system, which had been broken since 2009.

In 2009, during the earlier presidential elections, supporters of Mir-Hossein Mousavi did not accept the election results and confronted the system. Tehran and other cities were paralysed for months amid demonstrations challenging the authority of the supreme leader and the system.

The demonstrators claimed that their votes had been stolen and led demands for fresh elections. Riot police and security personnel crushed the demonstrations. Some of the protestors were killed and many were arrested, and the two opposition leaders are still being kept in custody.

In the wake of this experience and other disappointments, gaining public support has been a challenge for Khamenei. It is in this context that Rouhani’s restoration of trust between the people and the system by conducting the elections on 26 February must be placed.

In the elections, some major hardline candidates defeated less well-known ones. The two lists that were supported by the most popular politicians were the winners, with the two former presidents, Mohamed Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani endorsing the lists and leaving it up to Rouhani to conduct the elections and safeguard the votes.

The results of the elections have been impressive in claiming legitimacy for the system through a high turnout. However, those who want to see immediate changes argue that the results are just the beginning. Rouhani now has the upper hand to enter forbidden zones such as foreign policy, and this is what the international community has been asking for.

For the majority of Iranians, economic improvements and the restoration of the rule of law and an end to corruption are very important, and they are counting on Rouhani to fulfill his promises.

But Iran is a very politicised nation, and international affairs are followed avidly by the population, especially when it comes to government spending on other nations. In the past, a major topic of conversation was Lebanon and the money Iran was spending in supporting the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah. Today, the conversation has shifted to Syria.

People are upset about the money being spent in the conflict in Syria and especially about the country’s young men being killed in this conflict. The economic costs of Iran’s activity in Syria are a concern also, and there have been worries that the physical reconstruction of Syria after the war will be paid for out of Iranian pockets.

If sufficient trust has now been built up between Khamenei and Rouhani in the wake of the elections, it is possible that this will result in more diplomatic engagements for Iran. A balance of power in parliament makes time available for Rouhani to repeat the success he had with the nuclear deal, this time by hopefully finding a solution to the Syrian crisis.

The Syria talks are supposed to resume next week in Geneva, and there are hopes of finding a diplomatic solution.

Rouhani has two more years in office before the presidential elections in 2018. His main goal now will be to improve Iran’s economy, but he cannot ignore foreign policy given Iran’s involvement and interests in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

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