Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013
Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Khamenei speaks

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made one of his most important speeches on Nourouz, the first day of the Iranian New Year, writes Camellia Entekhabifard

Al-Ahram Weekly

In a speech made in his hometown of Mashhad during the vernal equinox of Nourouz, the first day of the Iranian New Year, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that the sanctions in place against Iran had significant effects, but at the same time blamed the country’s governments for their failure to reduce the nation’s dependency on oil revenues over the past 30 years.

Khamenei blamed government technocrats for not believing that the nation could function without oil revenues and for not investing in diversifying the economy. These technocrats were identified as supporters of former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and the members of the two-term Rafsanjani government.

Despite media reports stating that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has had significant disagreements with the country’s supreme leader, Khamenei did not make any statements relating to disappointment with the current government’s domestic or international performance.

The most interesting part of the speech related to internal matters and the upcoming elections in Iran. Ahmadinejad in his New Year message had told the nation that everyone in the country, including the supreme leader, only had one vote in the elections, and that it was up to the people, and no one else, to choose the country’s president.

Khamenei echoed this sentiment when he said in Mashhad that “I have only one vote, and no one will know for whom I am voting.” He also gave the country’s Council of Guardians the green light to ease the approval process for candidates in the elections.

Khamenei said that the elections did not belong to any specific group or party. “The recognition of the system and of our national interests and sovereignty” are the only criteria for eligibility, he said. “The elections belong to everyone, and voting is the right of everyone.”

This kind of quasi pre-approval of the elections process may ease the work of the Council of Guardians, and it will be a welcome development given the bitter taste left in people’s mouths after the last elections in Iran. 

The supreme leader also clearly stated that people’s participation in the elections was important — an attempt to create an air of excitement among the public by encouraging people to believe that the upcoming elections will be free and fair.

Khamenei’s objectives may be well received, and he may agree to reformist and former president Mohamed Khatami’s candidacy as well as to those of candidates endorsed by Ahmadinejad, among them his top aide Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.

Mashaei, who enjoys public popularity but is less popular among conservatives in Qom, is Ahmadinejad’s top choice to run in the elections. If Khamenei’s pre-approval allows a popular reformist figure like Khatami and a hated figure among conservatives like Mashaei to run, the election promises to be both challenging and exciting.

It would be a shrewd political move on the part of the supreme leader to encourage a range of political opinions in the elections. Khamenei has also cleverly calculated that competition between Khatami and Mashaei will make it difficult for either of them to win a majority. 

In the absence of a clear frontrunner, the elections can only benefit the conservatives. While it is a risk for Khamenei to encourage various parties and groups to participate in the elections, he may see this as the best solution to break the current domestic and international deadlock.

The talks between Iran and the 5+1 Group over Iran’s nuclear programme have not ended, and despite the optimism generated by the meeting in the Kazakh capital Almaty recently, the follow-up technical meeting held in Istanbul less than a week ago did not leave bright expectations behind it.

The two sides are scheduled to meet again after the Iranian holiday in Almaty in early April, but according to Western diplomats the meeting in Istanbul was “passive”, with the Iranian side apparently coming to the Istanbul meeting stating that in exchange for suspending uranium enrichment to 20 per cent it wanted larger concessions.

The international community had been offering to reduce energy and banking sanctions against the country. Meanwhile, calls in Israel for action to be taken against Iran if diplomacy breaks down are starting to be heard once more, and Iran’s supreme leader has threatened “to level” Israel’s major cities if it acts against Iran.

Khamenei believes that the intentions behind the negotiations are aimed at regime change in Iran, and the international community may have to offer Iran something more than simply lifting part of the sanctions if Iran is to suspend its high-grade uranium enrichment.

Surrounded by neighbours that are armed to the teeth with new technology, Iran is clinging on to its nuclear programme, whether or not for civilian purposes, as its only deterrent. Giving up the programme would be a huge concession for Iran, and in return it wants more than merely the lifting of a few sanctions from an already tight economy. 

Khamenei’s speech included another important element in that he also said he was not optimistic about having direct talks with the US but that he was not against them either. There seemed to be a recognition that direct talks could be more important than anything else, and even the nuclear stand-off could be solved if the two nations sat alongside each other and negotiated.

Clearly, such talks cannot take place in the short time before the Iranian elections. And Iran is now preparing itself for the major decision indicated by the supreme leader in his speech: war or peace.

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