Iranian presidential candidate Hassan Rohani (L) mural 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hassan Rohani, the winner of Iran’s presidential election, is being touted as a
“moderate.” And in some respects this title appears fitting. Of the six
candidates vetted by Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Rohani was
the most outspokenly critical, injecting a bit of controversy into an otherwise
lackluster presidential campaign.
“We will open all the locks which have
been fastened upon people’s lives during the past eight years,” Rohani said
during a June 1 speech in Tehran.
Last Tuesday, a documentary aired on
Iranian TV showed Rohani criticizing the harassment of Iranian civilians by
“plainclothes people” – a reference to the Basij, the paramilitary volunteer
militia fervently loyal to the ayatollah. In other segments of the documentary,
Rohani talked of “interaction with the world” and of gender
Rohani was in Isfahan on Tuesday to attend the funeral of
reformist-leaning cleric Ayatollah Jalaledin Taheri instead of the
state-organized ceremonies commemorating the anniversary of the death of
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founding father of the Islamic Republic. During the
funeral, crowds chanted “Death to the dictator,” directed at
And Rohani’s campaigners did not try to play down the
candidate’s attendance at what has been described as the largest anti-government
protest in the country in more than two years. Unsurprisingly, when the only
other “moderate” in the presidential race was asked by Khamenei to drop out,
Rohani became the unchallenged choice of the reformists.
would be misleading to see Rohani as a political leader who is set to bring
about major reforms.
Firstly, it is unclear how much power the president
wields, if any. Iran is a theocracy. Though the presidential elections are not
meaningless (the president can have a profound influence on domestic policy),
the man who decides on critical issues such as Iran’s nuclear project is
Khamenei, the country’s unelected supreme leader who rules on the basis of the
Godgiven vilayet-e-faqih or custodianship of the people.
like the other five candidates who were allowed to run, was carefully vetted by
the Guardian Council, a group of mullahs loyal to Khamenei.
Rohani was purposely chosen by the Guardian Council precisely because of his
ostensibly moderate views. This solved a dilemma face by the council: On the one
hand, it was imperative that not just blatant sycophants be included on the list
of approved candidates because this would undermine public interest in the vote,
result in low voter turnout, delegitimize the incoming president and potentially
lead to the sort of demonstrations that took place during the 2009 elections
known as the Green Revolution. At the same time, the new president had to be
loyal to the mullahs. Enter Rohani.
The election of Rohani makes the job
of those who are working to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons much
harder. Whereas Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was candid and outspoken in his hatred of
both the West and the Jewish state, Rohani is likely to attempt to exploit his
“moderate” image and his popular mandate to advance Iranian interests,
particularly the ending of Iran’s international isolation.
It will be
much harder to portray Rohani as an unstable, irresponsible leader whose country
must be prevented from receiving nuclear weapons. He is said to have a Ph.D. in
constitutional law from Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland. He is an
experienced statesman who was a longtime ally of former president Hashemi
Rafsanjani. Between October 2003 and August 2005, he served as Iran’s chief
nuclear negotiator, and he has published articles and at least one book on
strategic and foreign policy issues.
If Rohani is permitted by Khamenei
to offer even limited concessions on the nuclear front – even concessions that
do not effectively end Iran’s march toward the attainment of a nuclear weapon –
the international community might be tempted to loosen sanctions against the
Islamic Republic, under the misperception that Iran under Rohani is more
moderate. This must not be allowed to happen.