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Why Iran’s election doesn’t matter

The past six months have not been short of momentous elections. In 2016, Donald Trump surprised the world by snatching the White House from under Hillary Clinton’s nose. In France, Emmanuel Macron fought off the challenge of the far-right Marine le Pen to take his place in the Elysée Palace, while the UK goes to the polls in June to decide whether to elect Prime Minister Theresa May or her socialist challenger, Jeremy Corbyn.

All these elections share a common trait that is totally absent from the presidential election in Iran, where the first round of votes is counted on 19 May: choice. Their choice has in effect been made for them – and the clerical regime will win.

Whatever the result of the poll itself, whether the winner is incumbent Hassan Rouhani or Ebrahim Raisi, his hardline challenger, the Iranian people will have been robbed of a democratic vote. Business in Iran will continue as usual. The clerics and their supporters will keep Iran isolated, the people subjugated and the economy in tatters in order to maintain the status quo. Most importantly, this election will give the clerical revolutionary regime a veneer of democratic legitimacy that it does not deserve.

The realities of Iran’s election make for a depressing picture. Aside from the repression of political freedoms that happen every day in Iran, when it comes to the actual election the regime is in full control from the start. Strict criteria must be met by candidates for them to be allowed to run; effectively, this allows the Guardian Council (the body of clerics and jurists tasked with selecting eligible candidates) to exclude anyone who could challenge the regime. Last month 1600 candidates – including all 137 women – were disqualified so that six hand-picked contenders could contest the race.

Of these six men, two stand out as the real favourites. The first is Hassan Rouhani, the current president and cleric who has been part of the ruling establishment for several decades. During his presidency, Iran taken small steps back into the international fold, symbolised by the agreement of a nuclear deal in July 2015. However, despite the deal Iran’s economy has failed to flourish as predicted and its foreign policy – under the control of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – remains as mischievous as ever. If ‘moderate’ Rouhani is elected, this will not change.

The other favourite is another cleric, Ebrahim Raisi. Raisi’s background is more worrying: a powerful conservative who is close to the hardline Republican Guard, Raisi is considered a front-runner to succeed the Supreme Leader and, with the backing of Iran’s deep state, is a genuine threat to Rouhani’s chances of re-election. He has spoken of his “religious and revolutionary responsibility” to run in the election, underscoring the two main sources of his support. A victory for Raisi would have dangerous repercussions across the region, with Tehran adopting a more assertive and aggressive stance towards its neighbours and the US.

Whatever the result, it is clear that the people of Iran are – knowingly or unknowingly – being duped into taking part in this charade of democracy.

Iran presidential candidates lay blame for ‘failed’ nuclear deal on reformer Rouhani

President Hassan Rouhani faced accusations of a failed nuclear deal which has not benefitted the Iranian people, during the final televised debate with his rivals before the country’s presidential election next week.

The vote is being seen as largely a referendum on reformer Mr Rouhani’s outreach to the rest of the world following a landmark accord with global powers, which ended sanctions but bitterly divided the country. 

The president is believed to be the frontrunner in the May 19 election but the failure of the 2015 accord to bring economic gains for the public has brought an opening that his main competitors, powerful conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi and hardline Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, have sought to exploit.

In the most heated of the three debates, his opponents focused on his inability to deliver the jobs and growth he said would follow the unlocking of billions of dollars worth of assets.

“The country is facing an economic crisis, with unemployment, recession and inflation,” Mr Qalibaf, a former Republican Guard and police chief, said. “A tree that has not borne any fruit in four years will not yield anything positive in the future.”

The economic crisis can be seen in pictures of homeless people sleeping in graves outside of the capital Tehran, images that shocked the nation and Mr Rouhani himself. The poor, both young and old, are forced to search the rubbish for food or cleaning car windows for loose change.

Iranians have been shocked by images of people sleeping in a graveyard in Shahriar, Iran, Dec. 27, 2016.  
Iranians have been shocked by images of people sleeping in a graveyard in Shahriar, Iran, Dec. 27, 2016.   CREDIT: SAEED GHOLAMHOSEINI

The president found himself heckled and his vehicle beaten by angry miners last week as he visited the site of a coal mine disaster that killed at least 42 people, as they used the opportunity to complain about lay-offs and late payments from the state.

Mr Rouhani, who is seeking a second four-year term, has promised during his campaign to normalise relations with the west, greater foreign investments and a revival of tourism.

“I’m ready to, over the next four years, lift the rest of the sanctions against the Iranian nation, like the nuclear sanctions that I lifted over the past four years, with strength,” he said in Friday’s debate.

But his main rival, Mr Raisi, said it would do little to help, and that the president had bet too strongly on rapprochement with the West and on foreign investment.

Mr Raisi has campaigned on job creation and bigger cash handouts for the poor, but he has remained vague on other issues, including foreign policy. He has however committed to uphold the nuclear accord despite reservations.

Mr Raisi, seen by some as a protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is the president’s main challenger but is still a very distant second with less than a week to go.

Historically, the more Iranians who cast ballots the greater the chance a reformist or a moderate like incumbent President Rouhani will be elected.

However, Mr Rouhani’s bid for another four-year term comes amid widespread apathy among younger voters.

“I like Rouhani, but I do not want to vote at all,” said Aidin Yahyavi, 32. “Years after graduating, I am still unemployed and my parents support me.”

If no candidate wins 50 per cent of the vote, there will be a run-off between the top two one week later.

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/13/iran-presidential-candidates-lay-blame-failed-nuclear-deal-reformer/

Trump’s Policy in the Middle East: Gunboats at dawn?

“Speak softly and carry a big stick” was a favourite saying of President Theodore Roosevelt, used to describe his style of using intelligent, subtle diplomacy combined with decisive action to promote the foreign policy interests of the United States.

President Trump’s approach has been a little different.

Not known for his subtlety, the new President has shown in his first 100 days that he is willing to adopt a more obvious approach, using shows of brute force to match his threat-laden rhetoric.

This has been particularly prevalent in the Middle East. As one of Trump’s main foreign policy concerns, Iran has borne the brunt of the President’s vitriol. It should not expect the forgiving treatment of the Obama Administration to continue.

This is no surprise. Iran’s support for terrorists and rogue regimes – many of which expressly oppose the US and its allies – make it an easy target. Wherever you look in the burning conflicts in the region, more often than not Iran is working to fan the flames of sectarian division and instability.

In Syria, perhaps most catastrophically, Iran has supported the sadistic regime of Bashar al-Assad as he crushes his opposition and murders his own people. In Yemen, the Iranians are training and arming the Houthi rebels whose overthrow of the Yemeni government has led to a humanitarian crisis and famine of near biblical proportions.

Elsewhere – in Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia – Iran backs the insurgent efforts of divisive militant proxies to destabilise existing regimes.

Unlike his predecessor in the White House, President Trump appreciates Iran’s malicious actions for what they are, and he does not believe that the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism should get away with this behaviour unpunished.

The US Administration is currently reviewing the status of Iran and may impose further sanctions on the Islamic republic. Although many sanctions relating to its nuclear programme were lifted after the nuclear deal in 2015, the US is considering unleashing a new round of restrictions because of Iran’s support for terrorists and its human rights abuses. For instance, testing and developing inter-continental missiles, Trump believes, does not constitute friendly behaviour.

Few would argue with this view, and few in Washington are arguing for Iran to be given more chances. The clerics, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have long ignored the West, confident in their ability to delude their counterparts with diplomatic niceties while pushing their revolutionary agenda throughout the Middle East. An alliance with Russia has lost much of its public support in the West, while its actions in Syria and Yemen have alienated any former allies.

Now, faced with a President whose own grasp of diplomacy is questionable and whose unpredictability is unprecedented in the Oval Office, Iran is struggling to work out how to react to Trump’s aggressive rhetoric. If it continues with its current destructive foreign policy and further aggravates the international community, the clerical regime will not be able to say that it had not been warned about its behaviour. If it is not careful, the Iranian gunboats that regularly harass US warships in the Gulf may be in for a surprise.

 

Conservative candidate gets £338,000 payout after winning libel case against Iranian state television channel Press TV

A Conservative candidate has been awarded a £338,000 payout after winning a libel case against Iranian state television channel Press TV.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 09.06.07

The channel falsely accused Nadhim Zahawi, who is of Kurdish background and was born in Iraq, of facilitating the trade in oil between Isil and Israel.

The broadcaster has been ordered to pay Mr Zahawi £200,000 in damages and over £138,000 in costs after the judge described the defamatory allegations as “exceptionally grave”.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has previously been paid £20,000 for appearances on the channel.

Mr Zahawi said in a statement:  “The ludicrous allegation that I, while a Member of Parliament, had firstly betrayed all of my deepest held moral principles, and secondly had somehow managed to avoid international security services, and the law, to personally trade oil with Daesh was of course completely untrue.

“In my role as a member the Foreign Affairs Committee, I have often spoken out against the malign influence Iran has so often chosen to exercise in international affairs. It was of particular note that the libellous article was published on the exact same day that I had publicly criticised Iran in Parliament.

“I hope that this libel judgment can draw a line under this episode and deter outlets such as Press TV, and by extension states such as Iran, from attempting this sort of attack on anyone again.”

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/04/tory-gets-338000-payout-winning-libel-case-against-iranian-state/

Ayatollah Khamenei’s favorite underperformed in Iran’s first presidential debate

Just a few days ago, hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi was the contender to watch in the race to unseat Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. By the weekend, his candidacy was already in doubt.

In the harsh, fast-paced politicking typical of Iran’s campaign season, Raisi’s candidacy quickly foundered after his poor performance in a live television debate.

Six candidates approved by Iran’s Guardian Council, a clerical oversight body, took the stage Friday in the first of three planned debates ahead of the May 19 election.

Debates have become a popular feature of the country’s elections, drawing large audiences and producing some of the most memorable moments of recent campaigns. They can also make or break candidates in an election period that takes place over a period of just a few weeks.

Friday’s debate, which was supposed to focus on social issues, saw Rouhani, a moderate, face off against Raisi, a powerful cleric; the hard-line mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf; a conservative former culture minister, Mostafa Mirsalim; Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, a moderate and reformist; and former vice president Mostafa Hashemitaba, also a reformist.

Raisi, a potential successor to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the nation’s supreme leader, and favorite among the conservative camp, kept a very low profile and made little impact, observers said.

Raisi “clearly decided to stay calm. … He avoided any major confrontation with other candidates,” said Reza H. Akbari, program manager at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Washington, where he researches Iranian politics.

“Regardless of the question, Raisi hammered the key populist policies of alleviating poverty, reducing unemployment and providing government housing,” he said.

But, according to Arash Azizi, a PhD student and writer at IranWire, a portal for Iranian journalists abroad, Raisi “doesn’t seem to have what it takes to perform well in the Islamic Republic’s tricky political arena.

“He didn’t offer a compelling a coherent alternative to Rouhani,” Azizi wrote. Raisi “was the evening’s main loser, and this left open the question of who will now be the main challenger to Rouhani’s candidacy.”

In a country where the supreme leader still dictates foreign and military policy, Iranian presidents are almost guaranteed second terms. But Rouhani, who has been president since 2013, has been criticized for his strategy of diplomacy with the West in exchange for foreign investment — he presided over Iran’s negotiation of a nuclear deal with world powers, agreeing to limit the country’s nuclear program for international sanctions relief — which has failed to improve the lives of ordinary Iranians.

It was clear during the debate whom Rouhani saw as his primary rival — and it wasn’t Raisi, despite the latter’s backing from the religious establishment. Along with his first vice president, Jahangiri, Rouhani went on the offensive against Ghalibaf, the conservative, scandal-prone mayor of Tehran.

“Compared to Raisi, Ghalibaf is a better-known political figure and technocrat with a long history of public service,” Akbari said. “So he has an established support base.”

“Ghalibaf is an articulate and eloquent speaker and very knowledgeable about the nuances of public policy,” he said. “This makes him a strong presidential contender.”

But Jahangiri, acting as Rouhani’s attack dog, confronted Ghalibaf on everything from his past as Iran’s police chief to poor garbage collection in Tehran.

“It’s a slaughter,” tweeted Mohammad Ali Shabani, editor of Iran coverage at Al-Monitor, an online news portal focused on the Middle East. “Jahangiri now attacking Ghalibaf over Tehran trash collection.”

“Mr. Ghalibaf is the mayor of Tehran,” Jahangiri said during the debate, but “he speaks like he is in charge of the whole country.”

Jahangiri’s performance drew praise among Iranians on social media Friday, including a computer-altered photograph showing the vice president as Superman or a gangster smoking a joint and wearing sunglasses. He was widely seen as the winner of the debate.

But according to analysts, Jahangiri is expected to withdraw from the race in favor of his boss. His role was as a “shadow candidate” who could defend Rouhani’s record but also throw blows while allowing the president to remain above the fray.

Still, the president’s own debate skills were well received by some Friday night.

One line stood out among Iran watchers in particular, where Rouhani referenced his government’s moves to open Iran up to the world.

“If it wasn’t for this government,” Rouhani said, “even our friends here today couldn’t have campaigned on the Internet.”

 

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/04/29/the-ayatollahs-favorite-didnt-do-so-well-fridays-iranian-presidential-debate/?utm_term=.408b8fc208f2