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If Rouhani is not allowed to deliver his election promises

May 31,2017 - Last updated at May 31,2017

Following his landslide victory in Iran’s presidential election, Hassan Rouhani declared that stability in this region cannot be achieved without Tehran’s input.

He is right.

Since Tehran signed the 2015 agreement with the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany to curb Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting of sanctions, it would be against the “spirit” of the deal to refuse to re-engage with Iran.

The “spirit” of the deal was expressed in a tripling of trade with Europe and an increase of Iran’s oil exports to three million barrels a day, a level not known since the 1979 revolution ousted Shah Pahlavi dynasty.

Iran cannot be ignored or isolated any longer. It is a vast country strategically situated between the Middle East/West Asia and Central Asia and the Indian Sub-Continent.

Iran has borders with Turkey and Iraq and a long coast on the Gulf. It is the second most populous country, after Egypt, in this region and the fifth largest oil producer in the world.

Iran has an active army of more than half a million and reserves of 350,000.

On the regional diplomatic front, Iran enjoys close relations with Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Iran has developed lucrative ties with China, India, Russia and several European states.

The main regional non-state actor Iran supports, Lebanon’s Hizbollah, has been deemed a “terrorist” group by the US and the West, but is in fact a legitimate Lebanese political party, with members in parliament and ministers in government.

Furthermore, Hizbollah’s military wing was created in 1982 to resist Israel’s occupation of Lebanon and, in 2000, succeeded in driving Israeli troops and surrogates out of Lebanon.

Iran’s past support for the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also dubbed “terrorists”, was part and parcel of its backing for the legitimate Palestinian struggle to liberate territory from illegal Israeli occupation.

Without the support of Iran and Russia, the Syrian government might well have collapsed and the country fragmented into feuding radical taqfiri emirates.

In the early years of the Shiite Iranian republic, the clerical establishment attempted, wrong-headedly, to export its revolution. Iran failed to foster Arab revolutions.

Iran is not Arab, but Persian, and 85 per cent of Arabs are Sunnis rather than Shiites. This effort was a no-hoper from the outset and the clerics in Tehran eventually realised this and stopped trying to appeal to Sunnis.

Instead, they urged Shiite minorities in the Arab world to demand political and religious rights, causing considerable consternation.

Rouhani rightly made the point that Iranian military personnel and Iranian-trained militiamen are at the forefront of the war against Daesh and Al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria.

In Iraq, the Shiite militias are paired with the US-backed Iraqi army in the battle for Mosul.

Without the firepower provided by these militias — which, in my view should never have been formed — the Iraqi army would not prevail.

Once the battle for Mosul concludes, the army and its militia allies will have to turn to Hawija, west of Mosul, and drive Daesh from this town and the surrounding area.

The creation of Iraqi Shiite militias and the repression of the country’s Sunnis by the US-sponsored Shiite fundamentalist government of Nouri Al Maliki were major causes of Sunni resentment and alienation that led to the rise of Al Qaeda and, eventually, its offshoot Daesh.

There is general agreement that they are “terrorist” not national liberation movements. They do not seek to free a people from foreign domination but to impose their dictatorial ultra-religious regime on conquered Sunnis, whether in Iraq, Syria, Mali, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Libya.

When 57 per cent of Iran’s voters cast their votes in the May 19 presidential election for Rouhani, they opted for change.

During this year’s campaign, he went further than he did in 2013 when he was first elected to the presidency. 

This time he called for a host of changes: social and political freedoms, gender equality, free access to information, and an end to political interference by the military and judiciary, imprisonment of dissidents and executions.

By speaking out, he took on the mantle of failed but iconic reformers:  former president Mohamed Khatami, and former prime minister and presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

The latter’s defeat in the 2009 election, almost certainly engineered by the clerical establishment, precipitated a revolt, dubbed the “Green Revolution”, which inspired millions of Iranians to go into the streets and demand “change” until the authorities clamped down after many months. 

In his bid for re-election, Rouhani had the support of both Khatami and Mousavi and can count on their backing as long as he sticks to his declared agenda.

When Khatami was in office (1997-2005), a Persian Spring flowered in Tehran. 

He reached out to the international community for reconciliation and rehabilitation. He was shunned.

Iran was sanctioned. Reforms and openness died during the two terms of his successor, hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-13) who not only outraged the international community with his words and antics but also presided over rampant corruption.

During his first term (2013-17), Rouhani honoured his pledge to conclude the seminal agreement to dismantle aspects of Iran’s nuclear programme, which the Western powers and Israel said was undertaken to make bombs not electricity, although Iran argued power generation was its aim.

This agreement should have opened the door to better relations, but the US and its allies continue to contend that Iran must be punished for other activities and contained.

If the Trump administration adds fresh sanctions, refuses to lift its restrictions on banking and orchestrates a campaign against Iran, Rouhani will not be able to deliver his election promises to provide jobs, services and goods for the majority of Iranians, upgrade the country’s oil sector and industries, and carry out essential administrative and economic reforms.

If the campaign to isolate and ostracise Iran succeeds, Rouhani, a moderate who in his second term has promised major reforms and regional and international outreach, could be obstructed by the ultra-conservative clerical establishment, the Revolutionary Guards and the businessmen who have grown rich by exploiting the punitive sanctions regime.

If Rouhani fails to effect change, his opponents could regain the presidency in four years’ time, restoring their control of the unelected clerical establishment and the elected executive and the legislative branches of government responsible for domestic and external policy.

 

This would be the worst possible scenario for this region at a time another non-Arab heavyweight, Turkey, has sunk into autocracy and demagoguery.

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