US scholar campaigning to be Iranian president

Rutgers professor aims to challenge the regime in Tehran; says regime's anti-Zionist rhetoric is "toxic" to Iranian interests.

Hooshang Amirahmadi 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Hooshang Amirahmadi 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
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.
Amirahmadi is 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 Challenge.
“[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 2013.
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 years.
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 arrest.
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.
“It’s undiplomatic, counterproductive, and totally wrong,” Amirahmadi told The Jerusalem Post. “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 time.
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 said.
“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.
“Netanyahu is 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.”