Out with the old (Ahmadinejad) and in with the new, Iran has elected a new president, Hassan Rohani. Rumour has it that he’s a reformer and more amenable to negotiations with the West, but since he was one of a list hand-picked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, how much of a reformer is he really?
Ynet has some background on Rohani:
The decision cemented Rohani’s reputation as a moderate who rejected Ahmadinejad’s combative approach in world affairs in favor of the more nuanced philosophy of Ahmadinejad’s leading political foe, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
“Rafsanjani was really the only choice to re-energize reformists,” said Rasool Nafisi, an Iranian affairs analyst at Strayer University in Virginia. “Rohani only got their support because he is seen as Rafsanjani’s man and a vote for Rohani was a vote for Rafsanjani.”
This deep connection between the two men could give a potential Rohani presidency a dual nature: Rohani as the public face and Rafsanjani behind the scenes as its powerful godfather and protector.
Although all key policies such the nuclear program are directed by the ruling clerics, the alliance with Rafsanjani may give Rohani more latitude to put his stamp on Iran’s negotiation tactics with world powers after four rounds of talks since last year have failed to make any significant headway.
At campaign rallies, Rohani has pledged to seek “constructive interaction with the world” that includes efforts to ease Western concerns about Iran’s program and lift punishing international sanctions that have pummeled the economy. The West and its allies fear Iran could be moving toward development of a nuclear weapon. Iranian officials, including Rohani, insist that the country only seeks nuclear reactors for energy and medical applications.
Rohani later graduated from Tehran University with a law degree in 1972. He then went abroad to Glasgow Caledonian University for a master’s degree in legal affairs, according to his campaign biography.
While outside Iran, the stirrings of the Islamic Revolution were growing stronger. Rohani returned to Iran and stepped up his denunciations of the shah, but fled the country to avoid arrest. He then joined up with Khomeini, who was in self-exile in France, and the rest of his inner circle, including Rafsanjani.
After the revolution, Rohani rose quickly with various roles, including reorganizing the military, serving in the new parliament and overseeing the state broadcaster, which became a valued mouthpiece for Khomeini.
With that background he doesn’t sound like such a reformer to me. Perhaps he can put a gentler face on Iran’s dealings with the outside world, but that doesn’t change the contents.
The Times of Israel has more (plus a different way of spelling Rohani’s name):
But in Iran, even landslides at the ballot box do not equate to policymaking influence.
All key decisions — including nuclear efforts, defense and foreign affairs — remain solidly in the hands of the ruling clerics and their powerful protectors, the Revolutionary Guard. What Rowhani’s victory does is reopen space for moderate and liberal voices that have been largely muzzled in reprisal for massive protests and clashes in 2009 over claims the vote was rigged to deny reformists the presidency.
Rowhani’s supporters also viewed the election as a rebuke of uncompromising policies that have left the Islamic Republic increasingly isolated and under biting sanctions from the West over Tehran’s nuclear program. The 64-year-old Rowhani is hardly a radical — having served in governments and in the highly sensitive role of nuclear negotiator — but he has taken a strong stance against the combative international policies of outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and others.
“I’ve never been an extremist,” Rowhani said on state TV shortly after the official results were announced. “I support moderation.”
Alireza Nader, a senior policy analyst at the Rand Corp. who follows Iranian affairs, described Rowhani as a de facto hero for reformists who couldn’t support any of the other five candidates on the ballot.
“It remains to be seen how much room will be given to Rowhani by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard,” he cautioned.
But clearly for Iran’s leadership, the resounding strength of Rowhani’s victory underscores the resilience and reach of the opposition that coalesced four years ago around the now-crushed Green Movement.
In the divided country, it also may provide a bit of buffer. The outcome could ease some of the opposition anger and be used by the ruling clerics to try to bolster their image and legitimacy.
The White House congratulated Iranian voters for “their courage in making their voices heard” despite clampdowns that included severe restrictions on the Internet, a key tool of Iran’s opposition. Washington urged Tehran’s leadership to “heed the will of the Iranian people and make responsible choices,” while noting the U.S. remained open for direct dialogue with Iran.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement with a reminder that Khamenei and his inner circle control Iran’s nuclear program and “Iran will continue to be judged by its actions, in the nuclear sphere as well as on the issue of terror.”
Iranian officials, including Rowhani, insist the country’s nuclear efforts are only for energy and medical purposes.
While the nuclear issues are ultimately under the wide powers of the ruling clerics, one of the top duties of Iran’s president is guiding the economy.
This could quickly become a huge burden for Rowhani’s government with new U.S. sanctions set to take effect July 1 — about six weeks before he officially takes over.
Western sanctions have shrunk vital oil sales and left the country isolated from international banking systems. The new American measures will further target Iran’s currency, the rial, which has lost half its foreign exchange value in the past year, driving prices of food and consumer goods sharply higher.
Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu urged caution and not to be fooled by the new president:
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made clear in Sunday’s cabinet meeting that he was unimpressed by new Iranian President Hassan Rohani’s ‘moderate” credentials, saying that he too calls Israel the “Great Zionist Satan.”
Netanyahu, in his first public reaction to Rohani’s victory, advised the world not to have any illusions, or to now be enticed to soften sanctions on Iran.
“We are not deluding ourselves,” he said. “We need to remember that the Iranian ruler at the outset disqualified candidates who were not in line with his extreme world view, and from among those whom he did allow, the one seen as least identified with the regime was elected. But we are still speaking about someone who calls Israel the ‘great Zionist Satan.”
Netanyahu said that in any event it was Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s Supreme Leader, who determines Iran’s nuclear policy, and not the country’s president.
“The more the pressure on Iran increases, the greater the chances of stopping the Iranian nuclear program, which still remains the worlds’ greatest thereat,” Netanyahu said.
In a reference to former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, who served from 1997- 2005, Netanyahu said he too was considered moderate by the West but did not bring about any change in Iran’s “aggressive” policies.
Netanyahu’s caution is very well-placed. I hope the rest of the world takes note and doesn’t get too carried away by the excitement of this pseudo-democratic election.