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Opinion: The Iranian Mood - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The election of Hassan Rouhani—a moderate, pragmatic conservative around whom the forces of reform were united in the recent Iranian presidential elections—was a surprise according to many Western reports trying to analyze whether there will be change in Iran. However, the fact is there were indications pointing to this result.

The scenes of jubilation and great joy witnessed in many Iranian cities, including Tehran–especially among the middle class–after the announcement of the result, as well as the high election turnout, may demonstrate a number of things. The most important of these is that there is a changing mood in Iran, which is different to that in the 2009 elections, which were followed by a huge wave of protests that were dealt with violently. Some of the icons of the 2009 elections, such as Mousawi and Kharroubi, are still under house arrest.

Rouhani, who comes from the heart of the Iranian ruling establishment, is not a reformist per se, but his political stances and his statements prior to and after the elections reflect pragmatism and a desire to extend bridges to the outside world, and to reduce authority’s grip on society. Iranian voters, who want progress and lack other options, decided in large numbers to elect the most open candidate from within the establishment, one who can deal with the main players and decision makers. Rouhani has strong relations with the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on most matters. He has also been the president of the National Security Council and a former nuclear negotiator.

Reports from Iran indicate that the Iranian electorate’s main concern was the economy, which has deteriorated due to economic sanctions imposed as a result of the lack of progress in international negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, in addition to the growing desire to break Iran’s international isolation.

Externally, two issues concern the world internationally and regionally: the first is the uranium enrichment program, and suspicions that Iran is trying to produce nuclear weapons, or at least acquire the capability to do so; and the second are Iran’s regional policies in Syria and other countries, which cause unrest and instability in the region.

Rouhani’s problem is that time is short and the world wants quick answers. While he will assume office in August, there must be immediate signs of the possibility of forward movement on these issues. Many statements were made about this year being decisive, whatever that term may mean. The Syrian issue has also reached a dangerous point, and if Iran continues to be involved further it will be locked into confrontation, not conciliation and bridge building.

The other problem is that the final decision regarding sensitive issues–such as the nuclear issue and regional involvements–is not in the hands of the president, but the supreme leader. Even President Ahmadinejad said a few days ago that the nuclear issue was not under his authority—so we must ask ourselves if Rouhani’s election will actually make any difference.

The two presidential terms of Rafsanjani and Khatami have proved that the president can leave his own stamp on foreign and internal policy. Ahmadinejad’s term has also proved that conservatives and reformists have both failed to totally impose their agenda, not to mention the intense conflict between Ahmadinejad and the parliament.

The next few weeks—not months—will show if there was real change in the mood among Iran’s ruling elite, in a way which reflects the street’s desire for openness and the lifting of economic sanctions. More information will also come to light as to whether there is any evidence of pressure from the ruling establishment to unite the conservatives behind one candidate, or if all that was just a mirage.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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