NEW YORK – Prof. Hooshang Amirahmadi is no outsider to Iranian politics.
Understood to have close ties to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he personally
knows Ayatollah Khamenei and other high-ranking Iranians.
founder and president of the American Iranian Council, has a PhD from Cornell
and teaches planning and public policy at Rutgers University.
He says he
will be running for president in the June 2013 elections because he thinks Iran
is in desperate need of dramatic change. And he has absolutely no chance of
coming anywhere close.
“I would put his chances at getting through the
Guardian Council, optimistically, at zero percent,” said Hooman Majd,
Iranian-American author of The Ayatollah’s Democracy: An Iranian
“[Amirahmadi has] been respected on the Iranian- American
scene for quite a long time. He’s never showed antipathy toward the Islamic
Republic, so he can claim accurately that he’s not a regime- change candidate.
But on the basis that he’s not a pious Muslim, alone, they could deny his
candidacy,” said Majd.
And yet the very idea of Amirahmadi’s candidacy
poses fundamental questions to the state of democracy in the Islamic Republic in
That is Amirahmadi’s goal, he says: to highlight challenging
questions on the health of the state as a republican institution, through a
slowly growing network of volunteers on the ground and through social media
activity, on which he will rely heavily for support.
Educated in the
United States, he knows just as many dignitaries in the West as he does in Iran,
a country he calls home and visits often, now having lived elsewhere for 40
If Amirahmadi’s politics were to be compared to any former
candidate allowed to run by the Guardian Council – the oversight body in Iran
that conducts a shari’a litmus test on all parliamentary statutes and
procedures, and which will make its ruling mid-May – it might be to reformist
Mehdi Karroubi, who ran in the 2009 election and is currently under house
Fundamental to Amirahmadi’s campaign platform is normalization of
relations between Iran and the US. He believes the P5+1 negotiating framework –
allowing Iran to maintain civilian enrichment up to 5%, as allowed by the
Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, while inspectors maintain a watchdog presence
over the program – will satisfy Western powers and would demonstrate Iran’s
commitment to international cooperation.
He thinks that a combination of
rhetoric that threatens the existence of Israel and denies the documentation of
the Holocaust is plainly toxic to the interests of his people.
undiplomatic, counterproductive, and totally wrong,” Amirahmadi told The
. “Israel is a reality. And the threats on both sides have
gone too far.”
Amirahmadi has run for president before, in 2005, when the
Guardian Council first denied his candidacy because of his democratic platform
(and, perhaps, his dual citizenship). But he insists his campaign strictly
adheres to the requirements as outlined in the constitution of the Islamic
Republic, and he can envision no reason why he would be denied a second
He also says Iran has experienced a tectonic shift since 2005. The
rial has been devastated, civil rights aren’t spoken of and a nuclear program
dominates the debate of a large, diverse and complicated country. The root cause
of hatred toward Israel is unhistorical, he asserts; it is a modern phenomenon
that can and should be reversed.
“What stands between Israel and Iran is
just like what stands between America and Iran: the revolution,” he
“Zionism was seen as an extension of American
imperialism. The revolution was an anti-American act, and it was and
remains a popular revolution.”
Amirahmadi insists sanctions will never
work, and notes that they have never worked in modern times. But he believes the
supreme leader, whose wisdom he thinks underrated, is fighting against those to
his right who want to develop fissile material from the uranium that spins
unabated within centrifuges in Natanz, Bushehr and Fordow.
right in saying there is nothing in Islam that prohibits us from building a
nuclear weapon,” he stated.
“But what he doesn’t understand is the nature
of Khamenei’s position as the supreme religious leader.
When he says we
cannot build one, that remains the true word,” Amirahmadi said. “But that is
only for as long as he lives.”