Home > International politics, Iran > “Rouhani, Rouhani, we support you!”

“Rouhani, Rouhani, we support you!”

No matter what happens next, Iranians will have known relief and a great burst of enthusiasm after the results of Friday’s presidential elections were announced, an overwhelming and unexpected majority for 64-year old cleric Hassan Rouhani. Not wanting to risk bloody demonstrations such as the ones following its rigged elections of 2009, the regime played it safe this time, sharing the returns as they came in and waiting for the total countdown before announcing Rouhani as the new president. It’s safe to assume that the Supreme Leader was not dancing in the streets with the exuberant crowds—his preferred candidates came in a very distant second and third.Rouhani
Putting behind the eight mortifying years of Ahmadinejad posturing on the world scene and turning Iran into both a joke and a threat, eight years of brutal crushing of dissidents, of nonstop public hangings, of censorship and restricted individual liberties, of an economy weakened by poor management as well as crippling international sanctions, Iranians poured into the streets, not in protest as in 2009 but in celebration, chanting “Rouhani, Rouhani, we support you!” (Rouhani, Rouhani, hemayatat mikoneem). The battle is far from won, the shadow of the Supreme Leader still darkens the land, Ahmadinejad supporters in the establishment and among the masses–these in thrall to the most rigid and superstitious form of Islam–are still there, and unknowns are many. Will Rouhani hold his campaign promises of mending fences, does that include talking to the U.S. and to Israel, does that include disengaging from Syria, and mainly, does that include transparency into Iran’s nuclear program?

Questions and more questions.

Rouhani, a respected cleric who has occupied important positions and repeatedly taken a stand against Ahmadinejad’s most outrageous policies and actions will have limited freedom to enact any kind of reform in a country where the Supreme Leader makes all major decisions and sets the course. Still, backing him are the two heavyweights who helped get him elected, both men clerics and former presidents– Khatami, a popular and moderate reformist, and Rafsanjani, who, sponsor of terrorism and assassination in the early days, has, over the years, not only become the richest man in Iran but a powerful and pragmatic politician not afraid of confrontation. These men, although part of the Islamic Republic establishment, stand in stark contrast to Ahmadinejad with his populist strategies and slogans hawking to the little people.

It’s far too early to start predicting the future. Whether Iran’s relations with the rest of the world can truly change, sanctions be lifted or become more benign—helping the economy to recover—internet access become easier, the hyperactive killing machine of these last few years slow down and individual freedoms become greater, the coming weeks and months will show.

The heavy price to pay for Rouhani’s victory is that the Islamic Republic may become more palatable and therefore have more of a chance to endure. It may mean a strengthening of the regime and radical change becoming more elusive. But since the revolution of 1979, Iran has continuously come up with surprising turns of event, including the present development. The results of these elections may lead to more.

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  1. June 17, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Another excellent analysis Saideh. Inside Iran, the sense of relief is palatable. This contrasts with the feeling among the emigre community,that Rouhani might prolong the life of the despised regime. No one however is prepared to see the liberation of Iran at the price of a Syrian-style civil war. The only palatable way out thus is a gradual change “a la Gorbachev”.

  2. Melinda Barnhardt Jud
    June 19, 2013 at 3:01 am

    Let’s hope that Rouhani is able to use the political clout resulting from his stunning victory and his years as a political insider to beat the system. A naive hope, I suppose, but one that intrigues and is perhaps no more naive than hoping that the U.S. will “read” any gradual change “a la Gorbachev” accurately.

    • June 19, 2013 at 9:05 am

      I’ll take “naive” if that means never stopping to hope for the (im)possible.

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