Insider news & Analysis in Iran

By INU Staff 

INU - On Thursday, a day after former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad surprised the world by registering as a candidate in the upcoming presidential election, the Associated Press published an article purporting to outline why his candidacy matters and what impacts it might have on regional and global affairs. According to the article, “his entering the race could upend politics in the country of 80 million people,” and have substantial knock-on effects as a result.

The AP also highlighted three specific areas of interest regarding Ahmadinejad’s candidacy, namely Iran’s internal politics, the anxieties of its neighbors and rivals, and the prospects for continuing enforcement of the controversial nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers. Of course, this can hardly be considered a comprehensive list, since it leaves aside Ahmadinejad’s legacy with regard to the national economy and the status of civil rights, especially following the 2009 mass uprising that resulted from his disputed reelection.

On the other hand, many critics of the Iranian regime would argue that civil rights issues don’t stand to see any significant improvement regardless of the outcome of the May 19 presidential election, seeing as the supposedly moderate candidate and incumbent Hassan Rouhani has overseen an increase in the application of the death penalty, and has failed to seriously pursue the fulfillment of campaign promises related to the removal of restrictions on internet and the media or the release of political prisoners.

The same critics might similarly argue that there is little prospect for economic improvement under Rouhani or a more recognizably hardline candidate, but this is not to say that Ahmadinejad and other hardliners do not substantially differ from Rouhani and his supporters in terms of economic strategy. In fact, a guide to political factions in Iran, released by the English-language propaganda network Press TV, specifically emphasized economic strategy as the main difference between the hardliners or “principlists” and the “reformist” faction.

The Press TV article claimed that reformists lack a unified economic strategy, whereas principlists as a whole support large-scale privatization and opposing Iranian integration into a neo-liberal, globalist system that they see as benefiting only established world powers like the US. In this way, the potential economic consequences of Ahmadinejad’s candidacy are closely related to the nuclear deal, the latter being one of the areas of concern highlighted by the AP.

According to that article, “Ahmadinejad's return to Iran's presidency could see the West, particularly the US, reevaluate the nuclear deal,” which US President Donald Trump harshly criticized while on the campaign trail. Iran’s hardline faction does not appear to be firmly behind Ahmadinejad’s candidacy since it goes against the advice of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, but that faction would certainly benefit if either his candidacy or his electoral victory prompted the US to undermine the nuclear deal, which has been a source of tremendous hardline animosity against the Rouhani administration.

The AP suggests that this hardline desire for disengagement with the world could lead to Ahmadinejad’s candidacy inflaming regional adversaries’ anxieties about Iranian influence and foreign policy. But on this topic, as well, stringent opponents of the Iranian regime, such as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, view the differences between Ahmadinejad and Rouhani as being primarily rhetorical.

Although Ahmadinejad acquired a clear reputation as a firebrand, his successor has done little to change Iranian foreign policy, other than by pursuing the nuclear agreement and thus securing relief from US-led sanctions. In fact, hardline entities like the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps have remained unconstrained throughout Rouhani’s first term in office, and their foreign intrusions into the Syrian and Yemeni civil wars, among other regional affairs, have only increased.

One might argue, therefore, that the key difference between the controversial Ahmadinejad and the supposedly moderate Rouhani is that under the latter administration, the Islamic Republic has remained relatively more silent about its confrontational behavior in the broader Middle East. The Washington Post provided an object lesson in this phenomenon on Wednesday in the form of an article detailing how Iran and Russia have been gradually increasing their support and coordination with terrorist groups and anti-American factions in Afghanistan “while the US wasn’t looking.”

This is in keeping with the strategy that Rouhani had espoused prior to assuming the presidency, as when he boasted that his nuclear negotiations with Western powers had helped to maintain a “calm environment” while Iran quietly increased its nuclear enrichment capabilities. Ahmadinejad’s candidacy may dispense with any pretenses about a calm environment, but it is difficult to imagine that he will oversee much worse activity than the arms transfers and direct support of the Taliban that the Washington Post reports as ongoing in Afghanistan alongside various Iranian intrusions into the region as a whole.

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