In his January 25 article for The Thinker, Heshmat Alavi, political and rights activist focusing on Iran, looks at the policymaking mechanisms at work in Iran, especially with the upcoming Iranian presidential election.
With Hassan Rouhani as its president, the regime in Iran has attempted to portray a government mending fences with the international community.
Alavi writes, “However, no beginning of true political change has occurred in Iran despite Rouhani’s deceptive smiles. The so-called “reformist-moderate” initiative in Iran has only further strengthened and secured Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) in power.”
Iran is perceived to have two divergent political trends, one pursuing a “hardline” approach led by the Khamenei-IRGC camp, and the other claiming a more “reformist” attitude via Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his mentor, the late former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
“Yet the harsh reality is that these seemingly competing trends are quietly harmonious in practice. Khamenei continues to monopolize power in Iran, while in need of the rival camp to portray a satisfactory canvas of his regime to the outside world,” Alavi writes, adding, “Khamenei has the last word on all national security and foreign policy matters. Concern at times raised by outside analysts over escalating tensions between the two sides over subjects such as the nuclear deal are the result of Iran’s deceptive propaganda machine at work. The regime, in its entirety, focuses on swaying all attention far from the true policymaking mechanics at work deep in Tehran.”
Khamenei gave his personal blessing to Rouhani’s presidency, as a means of averting another 2009-style uprising in Iran, according to Alavi. The Guardian Council, vets every candidate, and has the authority to bar any individual considered unpalatable. “Rest assured that Khamenei considered Rouhani useful, or else he would have joined the long list of disqualified others,” Alavi says.
Khamenei’s regime faced an economic crisis after former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plunged Iran into international isolation. Sanctions were frustrating the Iranian population and the global oil prices plummeted.
Alavi writes, “At first glance the IRGC, taking control over a large portion of Iran’s economy, was benefiting as sanctions burdened private sector competitors. Yet little by little even the IRGC’s profits began to plunge, and Khamenei realized his desperate need for sanctions reliefs at the price of taking a major step back from his nuclear ambitions.”
The Iran nuclear was an attempt to calm domestic unrest and to revive the IRGC’s former economic stature, and Khamenei needed a “moderate” such as Rouhani to convince the international community to make the deal. Tehran also enjoyed the pro-appeasement dogma adopted by U.S. President Barack Obama.
However, Khamenei also had to preserve his image. Alavi says that this is where the regime pursued a “two-faced approach”. While Rouhani and his top diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, shook hands with the West, Khamenei resorted to blatant rhetoric against America. This has become the doctrine to maintain control over increasing domestic agitation while presenting an appealing portrait to the outside world.
“While regime loyalists stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and Khamenei threatened Riyadh with “divine revenge,” five American hostages were released in return for the United Nations declaring Iran in compliance with the nuclear pact. A further in-depth evaluation proves Iran’s new economic exchanges with the West are not parallel to any political improvements. In fact, safeguarding the IRGC’s grip on the economy is considered vital to enhancing their political position,” Alavi writes, adding that, “The IRGC has also been described as ‘a major force’ when it comes to controlling Iran’s economy. Many Iranians in and out of the country have called the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ‘Iran’s mafia.’”
A preview to the upcoming presidential elections, was the elimination of 99% of so-called “reformist” candidates in the February 26 parliamentary elections.
Pragmatic behavior by Iran will not render any meaningful change. Tehran will not abandon regional ambitions in which it has invested billions, including Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon, says Alavi. “In fact, boosting efforts to realize such objectives is necessary to maintain Iran’s political status quo,” he writes.
Recent developments in Syria, as Russia and Turkey try to work out a ceasefire agreement, are completely against Iran’s interests while Khamenei remains in control.
This is occurring while dissent inside Iran is intensifying prior to the May 2017 presidential election. Khamenei faces a major dilemma.
“The 37-year-old experience of the destructive and murderous mullahs’ regime in my country has shown that no degree of political and economic concessions, which have been carried out at the expense of the Iranian people, have led to a change of behavior or policies of the Iranian regime either inside or outside of Iran,” said Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group of dissident entities including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).
Sanctions relief providing temporary life-support for Tehran may not last, as the international community, and the new administration in Washington, may take advantage of the nuclear deal to increase pressure on Tehran, and force it to abide by international laws and standards.