The Islamic Republic of Iran had its 11th presidential election on January 14, 2013. Cleric Hassan Rouhani, considered to be a moderate and a vocal critic of Ahmadinejad, won the election with a majority vote of 51%. But will Rouhani’s victory mark the beginning of progress and change in the Iranian regime, or will it preserve the dangerous status-quo? Before attempting to answer this question, one must become more familiar with Rouhani.
Hassan Rouhani was born in 1948 in Sorkheh, Iran. He grew up in a religious Shiite family and began religious studies early in his youth, studying under leading scholars of Islamic thought. In 1969, he began to study more modern subjects at the University of Tehran. In the 1990’s, he pursued his PhD in psychology at the University of Glasgow. Besides from being Western-educated, Rouhani is a polyglot, fluent in about six languages. His family fought against the Shah, and in 1962 Rouhani joined the revolutionary forces. He was first arrested shortly after.
A year after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Rouhani served as a deputy commander of the Iran-Iraq war, a member of several councils and eventually became the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. In 1989, he declined an offer to become the Iranian Minister of Intelligence. Rouhani later represented Khamenei at the Supreme National Security Council and then served as secretary of the council for 16 years.
Rouhani is a smooth talker and uses much more cautious rhetoric than Ahmadinejad, hence he served as a high-ranking diplomat. For two years he served as Iran’s top nuclear negotiator and later published National Security and Nuclear Diplomacy, a 2011 memoir on Iran’s nuclear program.
Dr. Rouhani’s campaign slogan was “Government of Prudence and Hope.” The issues he targeted were the instability of the economy, the continuation of the nuclear program, more attention to women’s rights and increased diplomacy with the West. He is well-liked by the Supreme Leader and had the support of several reformists.
Will Rouhani’s victory mark the beginning of progress and change in the Iranian regime or will it preserve the dangerous status-quo? Unfortunately, it will most likely preserve the dangerous status-quo and perhaps even give the Islamic republic greater power in the international arena.
Based on the Iranian system of government, the president functions as a puppet controlled by its master, Ayatollah Khamenei. The 2009 elections were clearly rigged and Khamenei suffered grave consequences for it—his regime was nearly toppled. Thus, this year he let the people choose a moderate, yet a moderate that he knew he could trust. Khamenei knew his audience well and realized that he must show the puppet that the people want, yet one that he can still control. It was a strategic move for him to avoid uprising and preserve his regime. Rouhani is not even a true moderate. During the Iranian student demonstrations in 1999, he called for the students guilty of sabotage to suffer the death sentence.
Rouhani’s victory also has the ability to make the West more comfortable with Iran. Under Ahmadinejad, Iran was isolated in the international community. His outrageous statements, denial of the Holocaust and tyrannical rule made it difficult for many Western governments to work with him. Rouhani, though, is a Western-educated diplomat and can manipulate the West into thinking that the regime is more moderate and should no longer suffer from harsh economic sanctions. However, it is important to note that the major points of conflict with the United States and Iran cease to change. The main issues are Iran’s proxy war on Israel and its nuclear program. Both of these issues are certainly not going to change under Rouhani.
Rouhani refers to Israel as “the great Zionist Satan” and claims that sanctions only benefit Israel. As for the nuclear program, he explicitly states that he will not terminate the program. Rouhani stated, “First, America must not interfere in Iran domestic affairs based on the Algiers Accord. They have to recognize our nuclear rights, put away bullying policies against Iran.” Rouhani’s position as the chief negotiator of the nuclear program demonstrates the importance of the program to him. He has always been a strong supporter of it and his support for it is unlikely to change.
Hassan Rouhani’s victory in the Iranian presidential elections will not mark a change in the regime. Khameini merely installed a Western-appearing puppet, who will continue the same policies of the regime under the guise of reform. There is only one way for change—through revolution. Unfortunately, it will take time for this to come.
Contributed by Blake Fleisher
Blake Fleisher is president of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) CCAP supported group, University of Chicago Friends of Israel. He is a rising third-year linguistics major. His piece BDS a Hypocritical Movement was recently published in the Algemeiner. This piece has been republished in the Algemeiner as well.