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Understanding Hassan Rouhani’s Election as Iran’s President

Rabbi Dr. Daniel M. Zucker - 6/18/2013

Dr. Hassan Feridon Rouhani’s victory in the June 14, 2013 Iranian presidential election took many by surprise, not least of all the Iranian regime’s leadership, including the faqih, Supreme Leader Sayeed Ali Khamenei.

The question that challenges political analysts is why this occurred and why Khamenei acquiesced to the will of the people. Two possible interpretations may be offered. First—although it seems unlikely—is the possibility that Khamenei actually wanted this outcome as it provides him with several advantages. Those benefits include the fact that as a fellow cleric, Rouhani is more likely to adhere to the will of the faqih, if only because of the hierarchical nature of the Shiite clergy. Coupled with this is Rouhani’s personal character which seems less combative than the other leading candidates. After having to wrestle with Rafsanjani, Khatami, and Ahmadinejad, Khamenei may be happy to have a more pliable personality with which to work. The second point that Khamenei would see as advantageous is that by accepting Rouhani as president, the faqih regains some of the prestige that he lost in 2009 when he appeared to descend from his perch as supreme guide and sully himself in the muddy waters of partisan politics by supporting Ahmadinejad. With this election, Khamenei was able to regain that lost status. And of course, because Rouhani seems the most moderate of the available candidates, there is the possibility of using that image to Iran’s advantage. In the game of “good cop, bad cop”, Ahmadinejad had aptly fulfilled his role as “bad cop”, so now a friendly face towards the West could be used to win concessions and possibly dial back the sanctions which are beginning to have true deleterious effect upon the Iranian economy.

The second possible interpretation is that Khamenei and the hard-liners indeed were taken by surprise, the hardline camp having squandered their advantage by having three candidates (Jalili, Ghalibaf, and Rezaei) as opposed to the “moderates” single candidate in Rouhani after Mohammad Reza Aref dropped out on June 12th in favor of Rouhani. Rouhani’s promised championing of civil rights and a less combative stance on the nuclear issue clearly found resonance with the Iranian public, tired of the hardline rhetoric and mounting privation of the past eight years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency. Ali Khamenei may have had to swallow hard at the prospect of a “moderate” president, but he is no fool, and the advantages of accepting the people’s will would be readily apparent. Besides, with so much at stake in Syria, and the apparent need to send 4,000 Pasdaran (IRGC) to Syria to reinforce Assad’s troops, the prospect of bloody riots at home in repetition of 2009 clearly was distasteful to say the least. Ali Khamenei has not stayed in power for twenty-four years without learning to be flexible when needed.

There is one additional point that needs to be mentioned, and that is that Khamenei controls foreign policy; Rouhani’s influence in that arena will be negligible. The new president will have some say in domestic policy, and if he keeps the populous calm, Khamenei will reward him for doing that. In all other areas, Iranian presidents are window dressing—it’s the faqih—the supreme leader—Ali Khamenei that calls the shots. Hopefully, the West will not be fooled by the change of presidential puppet characters on the Persian stage; the puppet-master has not changed, nor has his nefarious plans for world conquest.

Rabbi Dr. Daniel M. Zucker is founder and Chairman of the Board of Americans for Democracy in the Middle-East, a grassroots organization dedicated to teaching the public and its elected officials of the need to promote genuine democratic institutions throughout the Middle-East region as an antidote to the dangers posed by Islamic fundamentalism. He may be contacted at contact@ADME.ws

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