Iran’ presidential elections are run by the theocracy, the Velayat-e faqih. The winner is always the choice of the Leader, Ali Khamenei. The Iranians are as yet to question their constitution and the oppressive regime of Velayat-e faqih.
Waltzing with Ali Djoun Continues
In May, Iran re-elected its ex-president for a new mandate to bring about changes so much needed and so much daydreamed by millions of citizens throughout the decades of the Islamic Republic rule.
For another four years, Ali Khamenei’s pawn is Hassan Rouhani. Those who gave him their vote, and participated in this charade, once more approved the theocratic dictatorship. We are inexorably waltzing with Agha, our Leader, Ali Djoun for now, some other leader in the near future.
During his first term of mandate, Rouhani talked a great deal about reforms in the future tense, albeit cunningly institutionalising censorship further by passing bills on restricting the activities of the media, publishers and women’s rights. No structural changes took place. Iran stayed in the lines and limits drawn by Imam Khomeini in 1979 and strengthened by men such as Rouhani ever since.
Of course, there was the Nuclear deal (JCPOA) signed in July 2015 between Iran and the West and much talked about since. However, the road to the signature was paved by the financial hardship that US sanctions and embargo have brought, forcing Iranian negotiators to the international talks. The patience and efforts from Obama’s administration did the rest. The theocracy badly needed ready money and got it. The nuclear deal (JCPOA, Barjam), though wrapped with many promises, did not improve the daily lives of most Iranians, either economically or politically.
For the Iranian sectors and businesses to be open to the world by improving trade and investment, structural reforms have to be envisaged. But that would threaten the omnipresence of the Pasdaran’s tentacles (IRGC) in economic and financial sectors and might shed some light on the systemic opacity. This is not to be tolerated in the Velayat-e Faqih’s realm.
Besides, the Iranian authorities, using the excuse of “preserving” the Islamic values and morals, would not yield to a minimalist and even symbolic open access to the civil society in order to facilitate the exchange of views and meetings in Tehran between them and the European delegations. Many of the European delegates were women; their hijabs made headlines and were scrutinised. If the seated European man happened to cross his legs while meeting with the Iranian officials, or untimely shake hands with a woman, he was said to be rude and churlish.
Hardly ever a European delegation left Tehran without a trail of criticism from the ayatollahs amid a campaign of smears and vilification by the Iranian media. Give us the money, stick to our rules of business and etiquette, do not interfere with human rights and shut up your face, was the hardcore message given by Tehran to the various delegations, notably when the German Vice-Chancellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, visited Tehran in October 2016. Hours before flying to Tehran, his wish for improving Iran’s relationship with Israel, and his remarks on the human rights issues, were publicly expressed. Therefore, Gabriel was not a welcome guest any more.
“Don’t let this friend of Zionists enter Iran”, read the headlines in the press. During his visit, he was snubbed by and barred from meeting the Supreme Leader, the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, M.J. Zarif, and Head of Parliament, Ali Larijani.
The JCPOA momentum faltered both in Iran and in the USA. In Iran, amid the Leader’s anathema to the USA, and the system’s infighting, and endogenous corruption and broken promises. Even if the word Barjam (JCPOA) made the second word of every sentence written or broadcast, it flip-flopped. In the USA, the agreement was attacked by overbearing GOP representatives to show Obama’s “weakness”.
Furthermore, after a flashy start, even the most enthusiastic European commercial delegations were wary of the financial opacity within the country’s system and the risk that dealing with Iran would leave them alone to face the wrath of the US prosecutors. In the past decades, multinationals have been fined billions for circumventing the sanctions on Iran. According to the terms of the JCPOA, American individuals and businesses stayed under the USA’s sanction bills against Iran, whereby they are banned from doing business with it.
The European businesses, especially banks and financial institutions, after consulting their lawyers, threw in the towel. The siren song from the Iranian regime’s lobbyists active in Europe, promising high profits for businesses, fast diminished.
The lobbyists came from small businesses set up as window dressing by the IRGC, and various “friendly” associations or chambers of commerce throughout Europe. Many websites created for the occasion in the summer of 2015 by the pro-regime middlemen, praising the Iranian economic vitality and potential competence, were short-lived.
In short, the start to the economic growth was only a flash in the pan.
Further, with alarming regularity, the authorities and even the deputies took to the dual nationals handpicked for their second nationality. If they lived abroad and visited Iran, they were and are still likely to be imprisoned under false accusations and be used as bargaining chips. If they happened to be a resident of the country, they faced barring from holding public offices and even their properties being confiscated.
On the domestic scene, by the end of Hassan Rouhani’s first term mandate, there was not much to show and even less to praise. By way of example, only the threats and pressure on the exchanges businesses in the private sector, together with the fall in the domestic demand for foreign currencies, kept the value of the USD below 40,000 rials. On the international level, Rouhani followed the path set by Ali Khamenei, the decision-maker: stronger ties with the Russians and the unfaltering backing of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria. The people from many towns and cities across Iran participated in much-publicised burials of those “martyred in Syria” for “a noble cause”, highly advertised in the local media. However, the pay claims by the teachers and bus drivers of the public sector, just to name a couple, were repressed or played down and met with short-lived promises.
Between The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea
Traditionally in the presidential elections, the choice of the electorate is between the Bad or the Worse candidate.
This time, 2017, the duel was between the Bad, the cunning Hassan Rouhani, and the Worse, Ebrahim Raïssi. The latter is considered a mass murderer. He acted as the deputy prosecutor at the Revolutionary Court of Tehran in the mass executions of 1988, under the direct orders of Khomeini. However, no Iranian president has failed to be re-elected during the history of the Islamic Republic. So, to a large extent, the outcome of the elections was predictable.
The Iranian Presidential election is a referendum for the Velayat-e Faqih and serves as a safety valve to the regime. The outcome is of little importance. Either way the winner is the Supreme Leader.
Between June 2013 and May 2017, Rouhani’s government failed to use the domestic capacities in all sectors, and was unable to solve any problems in any domain. He never denounced the unconstitutional behaviour of the Judiciary and revolutionary judges and prosecutors.
Moreover, the clerical avarice and worldliness have contaminated all social and economic issues. Corruption, lethargy and laziness now have their roots so deep in society that the necessity of denying them has become routine for the Iranian rulers, including Ali Khamenei. After enjoining Iranians to practise a hazy “Economy of Resistance/اقتصاد مقاومتی”, the Supreme Leader now invites Iranians to follow the path of “the revolutionary logic and rationality/منطق و عقلانیت انقلابی “, the pragmatism and sense of which has yet to be demonstrated.
For the regime, the point of importance in any presidential election is the turnout of the voters: the higher, the stronger citizen support is for theocracy, Velayat-e Faqih. In the run-up to the election day, Khamenei and his cronies made no secret of it and repeated this point unrelentingly.
Despite the fact that the election is too much of a sham to consider it as being a democratic act, bizarrely, the Iranians have developed a taste for it and play the game every four years. The Economist wrote: “Every four years, Iran’s theocracy plays at electing a president. Pre-approved candidates take part in a process designed to give the system a mandate while, at the same time, preventing anyone acquiring a power base that might challenge Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader for the past 28 years.”
The election gives the Iranians a little hope for change, amid the illusion of normality and regularity. For a couple of days, the authorities tolerate the slips of un-Islamic manners and the mild remonstrations against the system, thus buying the voters’ presence for figurations in a grandiloquent show of democracy.
Most voters are in denial of reality: a democratic process is to express the wishes of all citizens throughout free press, free association and meetings. In Iran, as long as the women cannot be candidates, the minorities (ethnic or religious) are prosecuted, the media are censored and even the male/Shiite candidates are to be scrupulously vetted by the autocrats and kept on leashes during the campaign, there is no democracy; only an Islamic grip on the political agenda.
The day after the elections, the headlines were telling: “Homeric elections» «Once More People Secured The Revolution”. Four years ago they printed: “YES/ LABEIK to the Leader”.
Iran: Business as Usual
On the international scene, visiting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the US president Donald Trump and his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, made outrageous comments on Iran. Their views, expressed in the presence of the head of Islamic states in Riyadh, shaped the Iranian election’s highly democratic appearance, compared with many Middle-Eastern Muslim countries, not to mention KSA, where such an exercise is not only denied by their despots to their own population but the dream of the total suppression of all human rights looms at the back of their minds.
The Saudis and their satellites have backed and funded the intolerant, fundamentalist, Wahhabism movement, very influential in Sunni states and communities for many decades. However, Donald Trump, in a world of his own, ranted against Iran to the delight of his hosts, the Saudi princes and their satellite heads of state; emboldening them at the same time. Till now, the US President has proved himself short of decency and discernment. He has been working hard to wreck the little credibility left in the world for his country.
In its most secretive dreams, the Iranian regime could not imagine a worse US president and a chaotic administration to so well illustrate its decades of loathing for the “Amerika”. And for that at such a timely occasion, i.e. the presence of so many voters at polling stations where they were photographed happily brandishing their ID cards.
The Supreme Leader reacted fast to Trump’s ranting by calling the Saudis stupid and the KSA the milking cow of the USA, in the process forgetting his ambitious plans of arming the militias in the region, of cultural diplomacies, i.e. exporting the Islamic Revolution, and waging proxy wars in the Middle East as they were already pencilled in in 1979.
However, when diplomacy is based on spite and malevolence, it is reduced to the confrontation of individuals with oversized egos, who believe themselves to be infallible, ready to make enemies but impotent in building bridges.
As the young Iranians have claimed in the past elections: “I will vote. On the one hand, I’m Iranian. On the other hand, when it’s a question of choosing between bad and worse, what should one do? […] When you look back, in every presidential election in the history of this regime, there is a candidate who acts as the villain. A candidate that Iranians hate and therefore decide to vote against.”
Now a couple of weeks after the election day, it is business as usual. All those in charge before the elections are being confirmed to their posts. The Larijani brothers, controlling the country’s parliament and the judiciary and many other posts, will remain in power. After the death of Hashemi Rafsanjani, they seek to gain enough power to spread their influence. In protecting their interests, the replacement of the ailing Khamenei is of paramount importance. In the process of naming the future leader and omnipotent despot, the Iranian citizens have no say
The change so much needed will not come from the president. If the system is to evolve, the system itself and our submission to it have to be questioned.
Velayat-e Faqih is despotic and the constitution is tailor-made to serve it, as is the process of presidential election.
As Iranians, no matter what we say, all we have is the hollow claim of thousands of foot soldiers of the regime, mullahs of different ranks within the Shiite hierarchy: “The most democratic system [the Islamic Republic] is deep-seated in Iran; the famous and exceptional leadership [plays] a role in holding magnificent elections.”
In Iran, disobeying the instructions of the Leader is one of the gravest sins. Rouhani, in his second mandate, is bound to follow his instructions. No major reshuffle in his government are foreseen. The government is a hotchpotch of charmless chaps, awaiting instructions from the Leader’s office. As an example, the highly incompetent and impotent Minister of Petroleum, Bijan Namdar Zangeneh, has wrecked the little credibility left in the sector by bending to the IRGC wishes and dancing to the tunes of their middlemen in the export of gas and oil.
And the wheels of the Islamic Republic of Iran turn as before, well oiled. Already after a couple of weeks from the election day, people are going about their lives as before, unbothered about holding Rouhani responsible for his promises, and in fact forgetting all about them in their daily routines.
Perhaps changes will come, perhaps not. Perhaps there is a Messiah/Mahdi to save us all, perhaps not. Carpe diem, as always.
In the West, the Iranian diaspora, bystanders and inadequate as communities, are unable to get politically organised and make themselves heard. In the weeks before the elections, a few academics of Iranian origin holding posts at Western universities were found to be speaking learnedly of the theocracy. They tried to put a square dovetail in a round recess, by keeping a “coherent” view of the electoral process and omitting many aspects in their analysis. Fine for a 90-second TV interview.
Till the next presidential election, who knows what will happen.
But, if we are to gain freedom of expression one day, we have to be able to name our own shortcomings: fear and self-censorship for a start. For now, the Shiite hierarchy will go on flip-flopping with moderate/radical/traditionalist labels when necessary and uses the citizens in window-dressing manoeuvres.
For a change, a real one, we must stop waltzing with Ali Djoun or whoever replaces him as our next infallible master/Agha. What if the next Supreme Leader were Ebrahim Raïssi or someone with his background? Velayat-e Faqih can supply a large number of them.
In 2021, we may well waltz with Ebi Djoun, seeing that the Iranians overseas cannot name one person that heads a credible movement and a vision to overthrow the ayatollahs.