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Iran president-elect Hassan Rohani and the long road to change

By Boaz Bismuth/

Click photo to download. Caption: Iran president-elect Hassan Rohani. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

How can reforms be implemented in
Iran without breaking from the Islamic system? That is the necessary, yet
complex, challenge facing Iran president-elect Hassan Rohani.

Rohani will have to please both
sides. On one end, there is the regime, from which Rohani hails, that seeks the
preservation of the status quo. On the other, there is the Iranian people, or
more specifically, the 18 million Iranians (50.7 percent of voters) who cast
their ballots for Rohani. They desire change, particularly in the economic
realm. (There is a 32-percent inflation rate in Iran and the value of the rial
has dropped by more than 60 percent over the past two years.)

Rohani’s two predecessors in the
presidency, Mohammad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had two different styles.
Khatami was moderate and Ahmadinejad was conservative.

Things didn’t work out between
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and either Khatami or Ahmadinejad. Khatami quickly
succumbed to Khamenei’s dictates, and Iranians who had voted for Khatami began
calling him a “coward” on the streets. Ahmadinejad tried in his second term to
take an independent stance on a number of issues, including Iran’s nuclear
program. It’s no wonder then that over the past two years, Ahmadinejad became a
lame duck disfavored by the regime.

Rohani has one advantage over his
predecessors. He is very accepted by Khamenei, who is no longer young.
Khamenei, 73, became ayatollah in 1989 after the death of Ruhollah Khomeini.
Khamenei has now ruled Iran for 24 years. Only the sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin
Said Al Said, has been in power longer.

Rohani will know how to deal with
Khamenei, people in Iran say, something that is arousing hope among Iranians.
But there is still a long road to true change in Iran, particularly since
Rohani is not interested in changing Iran. Rather, he wants to improve the
Islamic model. How? Rohani thinks it can be done by a change in style, shunning
extremism and smiling at the West. Under Rohani, Iran will become an advocate
of peace. At this rate, don’t be surprised if in a few years Rohani is among
the candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In other words, Rohani is going to do
everything that Khamenei can’t. So how will they get along? “My government
won’t be one of compromise and surrender,” Rohani declared. Those words were
music to Khamenei’s ears. A moderate Iranian? Rohani doesn’t plan on cutting
Iran’s support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, something
that Rohani considers to be a national interest. It’s safe to assume that the
reported 4,000 elite Iranian troops on their way to Syria won’t be turning
around and coming home to their families because of the election results.

Foreign ministries in Western
nations have sounded optimistic since Rohani’s victory. This optimism, by the
way, is legitimate. Since the ousting of the shah in 1979, the West has been
eagerly awaiting the downfall of the Islamic regime. But Western governments
know well that great hopes in the Middle East generally breed great

Persian radio might suddenly start
broadcasting pleasant tunes. Holocaust deniers may disappear from the stage and
the West could find itself a partner that is happy to negotiate. Rohani might
also make trips …read more

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Posted by on June 18, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.