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The People in Iran Have Turned the Table

Israel, Ma'ariv

By Nadav Eyal

Indeed, the dawn of Iran’s new president-elect is certainly a result of the depletion of Iranian ammunition. 



Translated by Viktoria Lymar

Edited by Steven Stenzler


16 June 2013



Hassan Rouhani's victory is a remarkable testimony to the will of the Iranians to return to dialogue with the world and get out of the suffocating noose of isolation imposed on it over the past eight years by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. So one may, perhaps now, at least in the nearest period, respond with wary hope for a continuation.



Henry Kissinger once noted that “An Iranian moderate is one who has run out of ammunition.”1  It could be that we’ve witnessed over the last day the surprising rise of an Iranian moderate, Hassan Rouhani. And indeed, the dawn of Iran’s new president is certainly a result of the depletion of Iranian ammunition. The worsening economic hardship due to the sanctions, the feeling of isolation, the expanding influence of the hated civil militias (Basij) and the general sense of gloom. Iran is in misery, and it has once again proven the power of the Republic in the term "Islamic Republic:" the ability to change the government.

Rouhani was the only cleric who competed in these elections, and his competition was considered the candidacy of a centrist. The Iranian scale ranges between the extreme conservatives ("principlists," as they call themselves), the reformists, and in the center the moderates, the centrists. Rouhani was regarded as such. On the one hand, he is an integral part of the regime, Khomeini's favorite student, an important leader in the Iran-Iraq War, and one who called to impose the death penalty on students demonstrating against the regime in 1999; on the other hand, in the recent years Rouhani supported the "Green protests" after the 2009 elections, and is particularly close to the former president Khatami the undisputed leader of the reformists in the whole of Iran. Rouhani negotiated for Khatami on the nuclear matters; he was sent there for his suavity and expertise in the West (he speaks German, English, Russian and French, and holds [MA and PhD] degrees in law from the Glasgow [Caledonian] University). Only because of these elements in his biography, Rouhani was repeatedly attacked by the conservatives in the election campaign: they presented him as a conceder, a compromiser, a leftist the troublemaker of Iran who is going to sell the national interests to international pressure.

The decisive moment in the campaign was Khatami's decision to put all his weight behind him, and the announcement of his endorsement of another ex-president, Rafsanjani (who was disqualified by the loyalists of the supreme leader). Upon withdrawal of the only contending real reformist candidate, Rouhani suddenly became the leader of the center along with the reformists. This happening was not supposed to be enough for his victory  merely for moving up to the respectable second round, where a handsome defeat had been planned for him which on the one hand, would demonstrate that there are free elections in Iran, and on the other hand, would make it absolutely crystal clear that conservatives and the spiritual leader (who wanted the election of the ultra-conservative Saeed Jalili) are those controlling the country.

The Iranian people have come and turned the table, and hasn’t enabled the run-off. Faking elections in Iran, contrary to rumors, is not an easy and acceptable thing. Their rigging in 2009 almost cost the fall of the Islamic Republic itself. Therefore, this time the regime was circumspect and estimated that it would manage, through media propaganda, to distance the voters from Rouhani. This was a blatant error.

The new president of Iran ran one of the most subversive campaigns since the Republic was founded. He has chosen the purple color, and the very choice of color is meant to remind the green color of the reform. "I will be friends with all of the world!" said Rouhani at his people’s rally. "They [the conservatives] threw the country into sanctions and they're proud of it! Now there are 867,000 college graduates without work... Instead of thanking the reformists for keeping war away, they insult us. Instead of thanking us for keeping the Security Council away, they condemn us..."2 (These quotes appeared in reports of the rally at Shahid Shiroodi, a sports complex near Tehran). It didn’t just look and sound like opposition  it is an opposition for real and yesterday, it has won the presidency.

Those who expect the Rouhani victory to lead to a change in Iran’s policy in Syria, let’s say, are likely to be disappointed. The activities of the Revolutionary Guards and cooperation with Assad and Hezbollah are the product of the supreme leader’s decision and the operation of the IRGC oligarchy. And those expecting Rouhani to be the one to conduct the contacts with the West, on the way to suspending the nuclear project, may be disappointed as well. As the Iranian President, Rouhani might be completely disabled by the Spiritual Leader Khamenei. However, his victory is an impressive testament to the Iranians desire to return to dialogue with the world and get out of the stifling circle of isolation. So it’s allowed, maybe just this morning, to respond with cautious hope.


Original Hebrew article:


Photo credit: AFP/Ma'ariv; AP/Ma'ariv


The author is foreign news editor at Channel 10 


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