By Barry Rubin
Hasan Rowhani, the only reformist candidate allowed in Iran’s presidential election, has won a landslide victory. There won’t even need to be a second, run-off round since he won over 50 percent of the vote.
If this was a regime maneuver to portray Iran as suddenly moderate, it seems to be working. Around the globe, mass media outlets are claiming that Iran has been transformed and now is the time for the West to show patience or make concessions.’
Consider this: A stronger man and a more dedicated reformer and moderate than Rowhani, Muhammad Khatami, was president for eight years and did not accomplish a single reform under this regime. Khatami, according to what is being claimed now, broke the power of the radical regime in 1997. That was 16 years ago. And yet the radical regime is still there.
Did the Tehran regime put in a seemingly moderate but actually helpless or compliant front so it could claim moderation and thus stall for time to build nuclear weapons? Or did he masses simply overwhelmed the regime so that his victory was undeniable? Perhaps the regime figured that a second straight election stolen by the regime from the reformists–the previous one was in 2009–would set off a revolt.
New York Times correspondent Thomas Erdbrink reported that Tehran has turned into a massive street celebration. The police and militia vigilantes stayed off the streets where pop songs ruled instead of regime dress standards. People chanted, Erdbrink tweeted, “We are celebrating that we are free after 8 years of Ahmadinejad.”
Since supreme guide Ali Khamenei congratulated Rowhani it appears that the rulers have accepted his victory and he will not be denied office.
No matter what the regime’s intentions or acceptance, the outcome will be this:
1. Rowhani will have little power. Remember that a moderate already served eight years as president and accomplished nothing. Rowhani is clearly loyal to the regime or he wouldn’t have been the only reformist candidate who was approved for the election by the regime.
2. A lot of Iranians will be very happy. One big thing they will hope for is better management of the economy.
3. There will be many analysts and politicians and government officials saying that since Iran has now turned in a moderate direction, it must be given a chance to show whether this is true. Rowhani is a very articulate and glib man. He will know how to make things look good in Washington especially compared to Ahmadinejad’s outrageously radical style.
4. Therefore, the Obama Administration will spend the rest of 2013 in exploratory negotiations as Iran moves forward toward nuclear weapons. People will talk about gestures toward Iran like reducing sanctions and certainly not increasing them. Russia, Turkey, and China will continue to get waivers on sanctions.
5. This will have no effect on U.S. policy in Syria, giving weapons to rebels.
6. What will this mean for the Green Movement, the reformist forces some of whom have been put under house arrest? These were the people from whom the 2009 election was stolen? Would Rowhani be like the sincerely reformist president Muhammad Khatami who, despite real efforts, had no successes in his eight years in office?
Many analysts–including myself–cynically suggested that the election would be once again fixed so a regime candidate would win. In retrospect, of course, this was wrong. In hindsight, perhaps it was a tip-off (if the regime wanted Rowhani to win–that it let in several regime supporters who took votes from each other. In the end, though, it didn’t matter. The key decision was to allow an honest tally of votes.
At any rate, while the Iran regime has not changed policy really, many will think it has done so. If the regime really wanted to change its aggressive and nuclear-oriented policy, it would have put into power a regime supporter who would announce a new set of positions. At any rate, all of these questions about Iranian politics and foreign policy will have to be seriously evaluated now.
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Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs
(GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International
Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His next book, Nazis, Islamists and the Making
of the Modern Middle East, written with Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, will be
published by Yale University Press in January 2014. His latest book is Israel: An Introduction, also published by Yale. Thirteen of his books can be read and downloaded for free at the website of the GLORIA Center
including The Arab States and the Palestine Conflict, The Long War for
Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East and The
Truth About Syria. His blog is Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.