Analysis: What does the election of Rohani mean?

Cleric unlikely to alter Iran’s strategic positions, unless it is to make tactical retreats to ward off int'l and domestic pressures.

June 16, 2013 04:12
3 minute read.
A supporter of Hassan Rohani celebrates his victory in Tehran.

Hassan Rohani370. (photo credit: Reuters)

The election of cleric Hassan Rohani as president of Iran came as a shock to many analysts who thought that the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, would have favored the more conservative candidates – Saeed Jalili or Muhammad Baqer Qalibaf.

Khamenei, who wields ultimate authority, may have not been up to pushing through one of the more conservative candidates because it would have risked sparking protests like those in 2009 when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad beat a leader of the Green Movement, Mir Hussein Mousavi in what many thought was a fraudulent election win by Ahmadinejad.

Now with celebrations in the streets of Iran for the victory of the “moderate” Rohani, who was backed by the reformists and its leaders such as Mousavi, who is still under house arrest, Khamenei can sigh with relief as he has diminished the chances for any popular protests or uprisings in the near future.

Though Rohani is described as a moderate, especially when compared to Ahmadinejad, perhaps it would be more accurate to describe him as more pragmatic.

He is a long-time regime supporter and an early follower of the leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Rohani’s criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s unbending policy toward the West over the country’s nuclear program, and his past service under the reformist ex-president Muhammad Khatami, have gained him support from reformists.

In an interview with the Arabic newspaper Asharq Al- Awsat published on Thursday, Rohani said that “Iran has an exclusively peaceful nuclear program,” and the campaign against Iran “is being fueled and directed first and foremost by Israel, in order to divert international attention not only from its own clandestine and dangerous nuclear weapons program but also from its destabilizing and inhuman policies and practices in Palestine and the Middle East.”

Therefore, instead of making concessions, what is needed, said Rohani, is to better explain Iran’s position to the world.

“Iran should articulate its positions and policies in a more coherent and appreciable manner, and the United States and its allies should abandon their deception of manufacturing new enemies and portraying Iran and its exclusively peaceful nuclear program as a threat,” he said according to the paper.

Rohani also defended the embattled Syrian regime, saying it was the “only country in the region to resist Israeli expansionist policies and practices.”

And when it comes to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, we also see a continuation from previous Iranian policies.

Rohani stated in the interview that the Palestinian issue has always been of prime importance since the inception of the Islamic Republic in 1979.

“Iran will continue to support the Palestinian cause wholeheartedly,” he asserted.

Prof. David Yerushalmi, a senior fellow at the Alliance Center of Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Jerusalem Post that predictions two days ago were that the turnout would be small, but during the last few hours of the elections lots of people who either are supporters of the reform movement or very disaffected with the regime showed up in large numbers.

Asked if it was possible that Khameini did not want to push through a more conservative candidate, fearing unrest, Yerushalmi said this is quite possible.

“It is very possible that Khameini wanted him to win and did not intervene” because he would be better able to deal with the West and ease pressure from the sanctions due to the country’s nuclear program.

He added that people opposed to the system are relieved by the results, putting their hope on the lesser of two evils.

However, their hope may be misplaced, according to analysts, as Rohani is a longtime supporter of the regime since its establishment, and he is unlikely to alter Iran’s strategic positions, unless it is to make tactical retreats to ward off international and domestic pressures.

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