In Iran, it’s only the illusion of change

Apparently the real revolution will only take place in the next round.

June 20, 2013 21:00
Iranian President Hassan Rohani [file].

Hassan Rohani 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi RH/CJF/AA)


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Last week we witnessed the final stage of Iran’s supposed “democratic festival”: The election of the “moderate” candidate, Hassan Rohani.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is scheduled to vacate his position in early August. He will leave without having left his mark on his people’s history.

Ahmadinejad has been accused by Iranian courts of various charges which have not been made public, and he will probably disappear from the public eye just as quickly as he came.

It seems as if almost everyone across the board is happy with the surprising and seemingly encouraging election results.

Iranian citizens who had even the slightest glimmer of hope for reform took to the streets in celebration.

The US administration has received an excellent opportunity to pursue diplomatic dialogue with the Iranians without having to make any decisions regarding military action, which is anathema to it.

The European Union will most likely take advantage of this happy turn of events to return to its role as leader of mediation talks with the Iranians on the nuclear issue. Even Saudi King Abdullah, who is a vigorous opponent of the ayatollahs in Iran, sent a message of congratulations to Rohani.

Even in Israel a number of officials voiced hope that this change would have a calming effect in the Middle East.

Optimism is one of the most important components for successful diplomacy in the modern era; however, understanding the reality of a situation is no less important.

To comprehend the significance of the election in Iran, it is worthwhile analyzing the situation from two distinct points of view. We need to look at the how the Iranian leadership operated throughout the election process, as well as to scrutinize the president- elect himself.

In recent months, it appears that the leadership, under the direction of the all-powerful leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, succeeded in presenting Iran as the epitome of democracy to the entire world, as well as to the Iranian people. The large number of candidates fell at different points along a wide political and religious spectrum.

The media shared footage of citizens freely voting for the candidate of their choice. Iran even broadcasted a live debate between all the candidates. Moreover, the president-elect adopted a Western-style campaign strategy; Rohani chose purple as his official campaign color, which apparently endeared him to many Iranians. He used slogans aimed against Ahmadinejad and in favor of improving relations with the West.

But the reality of what actually happened is quite different.

Khamenei, and the special committee he headed, had the exclusive power to decide who was and who was not eligible to run for president.

Anyone who was deemed too moderate, or too old, or too resisting, or too secular was disqualified. Only candidates whom Khamenei considered no threat in any way received committee approval.

Candidates who were approved were given strict instructions about which topics they were allowed to voice opinions, and especially issues about which they were forbidden to speak. They were given clear instructions to refrain from criticizing Khamenei’s leadership and told specifically that they were welcome to criticize Ahmadinejad – but only him.

In the televised debates, the candidates were expected to follow extremely strict guidelines and were only allowed to express their real opinions on a very limited number of issues – and only if they followed a script that had been previously approved by Khamenei’s strict censorship.

At the end of the debates, it was difficult to determine what the differences were among the candidates.

And Khamenei successfully pulled the wool over our eyes.

The entire world, including the citizens of Iran, bought the story and believed that they were participating in a true democratic election. They were so relieved to see that there was at least one candidate who seemed relatively moderate – someone who might really be able to bring about the changes that the Iranian people has been waiting for so long. A candidate who would lead Iran on a new path, and establish a new relationship with the West.

But you must understand that the president-elect must abide by policies set by Iran’s supreme leader – Khamenei – which have not changed one bit. The president-elect is not only another protégé of the current regime, but one of its founders.

Rohani is not exactly the symbol of moderation and pluralism. Although he has a doctoral degree in law and speaks a number of languages, he is still a religious cleric in all respects. He was a member of the regime that came to power after the shah was overthrown in 1979.

He was responsible for the reorganization of the Iranian military and was appointed head of the Iranian Broadcasting Authority, and thereby was able to ensure that the only voice being heard throughout Iran was that of Khamenei.

Rohani was the supreme leader’s representative on the National Security Committee, as well as the Iranian representative in nuclear talks with the West in 2003 to 2005. In these talks, Rohani was viewed as relatively moderate and he even agreed to freeze Iranian uranium enrichment for a short time.

His opponents in the West claim that he is an expert negotiator, and that he is especially talented at carrying out negotiations for negotiations.

In other words, he expertly succeeds in endlessly drawing out discussions, which gives his country time to continue doing whatever it wants.

The real reason Rohani won the election is that over the years he has always been associated with former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is also relatively moderate compared to the regime. Despite statements Rohani recently made, about his desire to move closer to the West and to hold successful negotiations, he still considers Israel to be the Great Satan that should be attacked in every way possible.

So what did Iran get in the end? A new brand, but from the same ayatollah production line. President-elect Rohani is an excellent orator and is more moderate, yet he still represents Khamenei.

Apparently the real revolution will only take place in the next round.

The writer is a former brigadiergeneral who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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