Opinion

The Iranian election does not change the fact the West is in a catch-22 situation

The Iranian election does not change the fact the West is in a catch-22 situation

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Regardless of the outcome of Friday’s presidential election in Iran, most Iranians were already resigned to a familiar fate. Disillusionment and voter apathy have chastened the fervor and passion for reforms seen throughout the conservative Ahmadinejad era, which facilitated the rise of the moderates headed by the departing President Hassan Rouhani.

However, despite a changing of the guard eight years ago that was accompanied by promises to implement a platform curated by a disaffected Iranian public, the Rouhani years failed to result in any substantial improvements in the daily lives of most Iranians. 

While some modest changes encouraged personal liberties, and a conciliatory Tehran experienced an improvement in diplomatic relations, Iran’s flirtation with tamped-down conservatism proved to be short lived.

Yet in that same period the Iranian “shadow government” has only grown in size, influence and complexity. This “deep state,” composed of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and elements loyal to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has become the tool of last resort to quell a seemingly growing protest movement and tighten the regime’s grip on the Islamic Republic, where general strikes and civil disobedience have become annual occurrences.

Neither hardliner conservatism nor piecemeal moderate policies have managed to absorb the shocks from a free-falling, sanctions-riddled economy, or prevent the Iranian rial losing as much as 80 percent of its value, let alone reduce unemployment that is at record highs. It is unsurprising that for most Iranians the foremost priority is the restoration of the economy, which has not recorded any growth in the past four years.

Such a transformation will only be possible if US sanctions on the oil and banking sectors are lifted. This would be conditional on Tehran returning to full compliance with the terms of 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal.

Khamenei’s deep state is eager to secure a deal by August, before the new president takes office, possibly to link the achievement of sanctions relief and expected improvements in economic conditions to what will likely be a conservative presidency under the Guardian Council’s favored candidate, Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s chief justice and a close associate of Khamenei.

Of the more than 500 people seeking candidacy in the presidential election, only two notable figures were clear stand-outs in an election that most observers derisively labeled a mere selection process by a panel of unelected jurists and scholars.

At first glance, the election appears to have been engineered to guarantee victory for Raisi, given that the other approved candidates had considerably less name recognition and public support than a front-runner who enjoys close ties to the IRGC and is widely considered a potential successor to the supreme leader. 

However, Iranian elections can be unpredictable. A record turnout would certainly help Abdolnaser Hemmati, a former governor of the central bank and the leading reformist candidate, especially if moderates defy expectations and the calls to boycott the election.

On the other hand, a Raisi victory with a low voter turnout of 40 percent or less would be disastrous for the Khamenei deep state, since it derives much of its legitimacy from a popular mandate.

This is perhaps why there is some measure of impatience in Vienna, where talks have been taking place between Washington and Tehran on reviving the nuclear deal, because sanctions relief and an improving economy under a conservative presidency will stifle some of the proposals from moderates for populist reforms and reduce the grievances that could spark renewed protests.

The Iranian president may nominally be the head of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), which determines overall government strategy, but control rests firmly in the hands of the supreme leader, through his two representatives among the council’s 12 permanent members.

Hafed Al-Ghwell

This sort of calculus and long-term planning is emblematic of Iran’s quixotic power structure, where presidents do not materially influence foreign or domestic policies despite the ambitions outlined by candidates every four years. Such policy deliberations and determinations are the purview of an unaccountable internal system that is mostly dominated by hardliners, IRGC stalwarts and Khamenei loyalists whose priorities rarely coincide with those of the public. 

The Iranian president may nominally be the head of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), which determines overall government strategy, but control rests firmly in the hands of the supreme leader, through his two representatives among the council’s 12 permanent members.

This structure ensures that the final decisions of the SNSC can sometimes conflict with the president’s policy preferences and campaign pledges. The departing Rouhani attempted to circumvent such hurdles, and seemed to have succeeded, when the JCPOA was signed six years ago. However comments made by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif this year seemingly exposed the realities of the long reach of the IRGC.

For now, though, it appears as though the SNSC is in the driving seat in terms of Iranian foreign policy, so it is likely the new president will abide by any agreement reached in Vienna. This would be a win for the Biden administration but in no way an indication of improving relations between Tehran and Washington. If anything, the relationship is likely to become more tense. The US will be keen to ensure Iranian compliance with a revived deal, while Tehran will look east to steadily develop ties with Russia and China in an effort to boost its military and secure backing for vetoes should its continued support of malign forces in the region attract the attention of the UN Security Council.

For an Iranian public desperate for jobs that would be created in an improving economy, and possibly an end to their country’s status as an international pariah, there was little motivation to head to the polls to choose a president with such limited power.

However, low turnout and disenchanted citizenry only incentivize malign interests to supersede the national will. As a result, rather than dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and prioritizing domestic issues, the regime has instead focused on accelerating its nuclear-enrichment programs in defiance of global nuclear non-proliferation treaties, escalating regional tensions through its proxies in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and the Gaza Strip, and continuing its long-range missile-development program.

Furthermore, the Vienna talks on the nuclear deal ultimately will only deal with one aspect of Iran’s troubling behavior. Meanwhile the sanctions and related restrictions that target its missile-development program and regional destabilization activities simply do not go far enough.

The result is a Catch-22 scenario: Success in the Vienna negotiations and the re-emergence of Iran on the world stage will effectively rubber-stamp for the next eight-to-12 years the continued leadership of an IRGC-dominated, hardliner government that will resist any efforts to extend the JCPOA or negotiate follow-on agreements targeting Tehran’s malign and destabilizing influence in the region.

However, failure to agree a return to compliance with the nuclear deal will result in acceleration of the Iranian nuclear program, which some experts estimate could produce highly enriched uranium on an industrial scale within weeks for military purposes.

There is therefore no alternative but to ensure the talks in Vienna succeed, and so US allies in the Gulf must continue to press Washington to develop a coherent strategy for addressing Tehran’s other troubling activities.

In seeking to curb Iran’s nuclear program, the P5+1 nations (the UK, the US, China, France and Russia, plus Germany) must not inadvertently underwrite its malign influence in other countries or the Lebanization of the region’s Shiite Crescent.

  • Hafed Al-Ghwell is a senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Institute at the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Twitter: @HafedAlGhwell
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Rights groups call for probe into Iran’s President-elect Raisi for crimes against humanity

In this file photo taken on June 06, 2021 Iranian presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi gestures during an election campaign rally in the city of Eslamshahr. (AFP)
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Updated 20 June 2021

Rights groups call for probe into Iran’s President-elect Raisi for crimes against humanity

  • Iran’s new leader will control all regime’s branches, fill Cabinet with radicals: Expert

JEDDAH: Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said Ebrahim Raisi’s election as Iran’s new president was a blow for human rights and called for him to be investigated over his role in the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

“That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity, enforced disappearance and torture, is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran,” said London-based Amnesty Secretary-General Agnès Callamard, citing the group's report

“In 2018, our organization documented how Ebrahim Raisi had been a member of the ‘death commission’ which forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret thousands of political dissidents in Evin and Gohardasht prisons near Tehran in 1988. The circumstances surrounding the fate of the victims and the whereabouts of their bodies are, to this day, systematically concealed by the Iranian authorities, amounting to ongoing crimes against humanity.”

The report also said: “‘As Head of the Iranian Judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi has presided over a spiralling crackdown on human rights which has seen hundreds of peaceful dissidents, human rights defenders and members of persecuted minority groups arbitrarily detained.

“We continue to call for Ebrahim Raisi to be investigated for his involvement in past and ongoing crimes under international law, including by states that exercise universal jurisdiction,” she added.

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New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) echoed this. “Iranian authorities paved the way for Ebrahim Raisi to become president through repression and an unfair election,” Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW, said.

“As head of Iran’s repressive judiciary, Raisi oversaw some of the most heinous crimes in Iran’s recent history, which deserve investigation and accountability rather than election to high office.”

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist, told Arab News “With Raisi’s victory, Iran’s hard-liners will be controlling all the regime’s branches — the executive, legislative and the judiciary. The last time the hard-liners were in such a position was during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency. Raisi will most likely choose members of radical organizations such as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Quds Force, the Ministry of Intelligence, and paramilitary groups Basij to fill his Cabinet.”  

Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, said: “Ebrahim Raisi, the henchman of the 1988 massacre and murderer of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, is Khamenei’s final bid to preserve his regime. Weak, crisis-riddled, and rattled by looming uprisings, Khamenei purged all rivals to install Raisi as president, one of the vilest criminals against humanity since World War II.”

“There is no longer any justification for the international community to deal with, engage, or appease a regime whose president is a notorious criminal,” said Rajavi.

Reza Pahlavi, son of deposed shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and heir to the throne before the 1979 Islamic revolution, tweeted that Iranians had shown “unity and solidarity” by “boycotting and saying no to the authoritarian regime in Iran”. 

Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, said that after a poll that was “not an election (but a) selection,” Raisi should not be absolved of his “long record of gross human rights violations.”

Describing him as a “major rights violator,” he said that as well as the 1988 killings, in two years as overall judiciary chief he “has been responsible for countless, severe violations of citizens’ rights.”

Dressed in a black turban and cleric’s coat, Raisi casts himself as an austere and pious figure and an corruption-fighting champion of the poor.

Critics charge the election was skewed in his favor as strong rivals were disqualified, but to his loyal supporters he is Iran’s best hope for standing up to the West and bringing relief from a deep economic crisis.

Raisi is not renowned for great charisma but, as head of the judiciary, has driven a popular campaign to prosecute corrupt officials.

Raisi is set to take over from moderate Hassan Rouhani in August.


(With AFP)

 

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Iran’s meddling in affairs of other countries threatens regional security: GCC chief

Iran’s intervention in the internal affairs of other countries is a threat to the region, the chief of the GCC said on Saturday. (File/AFP)
Updated 24 July 2021

Iran’s meddling in affairs of other countries threatens regional security: GCC chief

  • The GCC chief said that economic integration is on the list of priorities for the council
  • Al-Hajraf: Current situation in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen represents direct threat to the security of region

LONDON: Iran’s intervention in the internal affairs of other countries is a threat to the region and a matter of concern, the chief of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) said on Saturday.
Iran’s nuclear program, ballistic missiles, and its support for militias, must also be included in ongoing talks in Vienna and they should not be limited to reviving the nuclear deal, GCC Secretary-general Nayef bin Falah Al-Hajraf said at a virtual Gulf Research Meeting.
Representatives of Iran and the five world powers still party to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action have been meeting in the Austrian capital since April, with US envoys participating indirectly. An agreement has yet to be reached.
Al-Hajraf added that the current situation in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen represents a clear and direct threat to the security and stability of the Middle East.
The GCC chief said that economic integration is on the list of priorities for the council, as is strengthening the leading position of GCC countries in the region and the world.
He said Saudi Arabia holding the G20 presidency in 2020, the UAE hosting Expo 2020 from October, and Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup are examples of this effort.
Al-Hajraf added that the national visions and development plans in GCC countries are creating the appropriate momentum to focus on the future and exploit opportunities.


Jordan to vaccinate children aged 12 years and older against COVID-19

Updated 24 July 2021

Jordan to vaccinate children aged 12 years and older against COVID-19

  • Jordanian children can be given Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine with the approval of a guardian with no prior appointment necessary

BEIRUT: Jordan will start vaccinating children aged 12 years and older against COVID-19 from Sunday, the state news agency said on Saturday.
Children can be given the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine with the approval of a guardian with no prior appointment necessary, the agency quoted the health ministry as saying.
The decision comes as Jordan lifted most restrictions at the start of July, reopening gyms, pools and night clubs at hotels after cases dropped from a peak in March when several thousands of new cases were recorded daily.
Total active cases reached 7,489 on Friday with 331 new cases and four deaths.
Since the start of the pandemic, Jordan has recorded a total of 763,437 cases and 9,933 deaths.
Several other countries in the region are vaccinating children, including Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.


El-Sisi: Decent Life Initiative ‘unprecedented achievement for Egypt’

Updated 24 July 2021

El-Sisi: Decent Life Initiative ‘unprecedented achievement for Egypt’

  • El-Sisi said that there will be a competition for the best center, governorate and village within the initiative
  • The Decent Life Initiative is working to develop about 4,600 Egyptian villages by building 175 administrative centers in 20 governorates

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said on Saturday that the newly announced Decent Life Initiative for rural development would be an “unprecedented achievement” for Egypt.
During an inspection of road developments within the Together We Build the Future initiative, El-Sisi said that “citizens must see the amount of work that will be done” to develop the Egyptian countryside under the new project.
He added: “I dream that what is being accomplished pleases our Lord and then pleases us. The lives of people in the villages must be changed, and there must be cooperation from the people in the villages so that they help in the final output.”
El-Sisi said that there will be a competition for the best center, governorate and village within the initiative, adding that the rewards will be “big and meaningful.”
The Decent Life Initiative is working to develop about 4,600 Egyptian villages by building 175 administrative centers in 20 governorates.
The most impoverished villages were targeted for funding according to data and surveys by the Central Agency for Mobilization and Statistics, in coordination with government ministries and other authorities.
So far, the initiative has succeeded in reducing poverty rates and providing critical services to targeted villages.


Egyptian leader turning to ‘pedal power’ to interact with public

Updated 24 July 2021

Egyptian leader turning to ‘pedal power’ to interact with public

  • El-Sisi's public cycling tours have become a tradition, beginning in 2014 during his bid for presidency
  • Three videos of the leader riding and talking to citizens have gone viral online in the past few days

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has caught the public’s attention after being filmed cycling around various locations during the Eid holiday.
Three videos of the leader riding and talking to citizens have gone viral online in the past few days.
His public cycling tours have become a tradition, beginning in 2014 during his bid for presidency.
During his latest tour, he met an Egyptian family to learn about their quality of life and listen to their demands.
While cycling on Friday in New Alamein, El-Sisi also talked to one of the military security officers accompanying him, a man named Ayman from Menoufia Governorate. El-Sisi asked him about his job, which he maintained while studying.
“Do you need anything, Ayman? I’m like your father, no need to be shy,” the president told him.
Ayman, who also runs a library from a rented property, replied that he wanted a job after completing his military service, and would like to rent a large store on a main street in order to increase his revenue.
El-Sisi then offered to personally buy him a commercial property of his choice.
During the 2016 Eid Al-Fitr holiday, the president toured the Maamoura area in Alexandria wearing a sports outfit, and in the same year, took part in a sports day that included a cycling marathon.
The leader also attended a cycling marathon in Cairo’s Fifth Settlement, in which he accompanied students of the local police academy.
And during the second edition of the World Youth Forum in 2018, El-Sisi was spotted cycling around Sharm El-Sheikh at dawn.


Tunisia reports a daily record of 317 COVID-19 deaths

Updated 24 July 2021

Tunisia reports a daily record of 317 COVID-19 deaths

TUNIS: Tunisia recorded 317 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours, a daily record since the start of the pandemic, the health ministry said on Saturday.
The ministry also reported 5,624 new cases, increasing concerns about the country's ability to fight the pandemic, with intensive care units in hospitals completely full and a lack of oxygen supplies. The vaccination campaign is moving slowly.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says the daily COVID-19 death tally in Tunisia is now the highest in Africa and in the Arab world.
The total number of cases since the start of the pandemic has reached about 560,000, with more than 18,300 deaths, out of a total population of 11.6 million.
This month several European and Arab countries have sent medical aid and more than three million doses of vaccine to help Tunisia tackle the rapid spread of the coronavirus.