Sunday, June 16, 2013

Mideast Media Sampler - 6/16/13: Everyone Says New Iranian President Rohani Is A Reformist -- Except Rohani

by David Gerstman, contributing blogger at Legal Insurrection

Long Live Rouhani the Reformer

To read the New York Times, the election of Hassan Rowhani was a victory for the people of Iran. Thomas Erdbrink reported in Iran Moderate Wins Presidency by a Large Margin:
The cleric, Hassan Rowhani, 64, won a commanding 50.7 percent of the vote in the six-way race, according to final results released Saturday, avoiding a runoff in the race to replace the departing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose tenure was defined largely by confrontation with the West and a seriously hobbled economy at home.

Thousands of jubilant supporters poured into the streets of Tehran, dancing, blowing car horns and waving placards and ribbons of purple, Mr. Rowhani’s campaign color. After the previous election in 2009, widely seen as rigged, many Iranians were shaking their heads that their votes were counted this time.

“They were all shocked, like me,” said Fatemah, 58, speaking of fellow riders in the women’s compartment of a Tehran subway. “It is unbelievable, have the people really won?”
Hassan Rohani
Hassan Rohani -- the Reformist who never
called himself a reformist. Credit: Wiki Commons
Similarly the Washington Post reports in Moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani wins Iran’s presidential vote:
This time, Iran’s Interior Ministry took no chances, releasing the official vote total in live updates, which showed a steady increase in Rouhani’s margin of victory over Ghalibaf.

Until last week, Ghalibaf was widely considered the front-runner, but he likely lost votes to fellow conservative candidate Jalili.

In the end, though, it did not matter, as Rouhani took a majority of the votes, which is already being viewed as a repudiation of not only the Ahmadinejad years but also the hold that conservatives have maintained over Iranian politics since 2005.
And further reported:
Rouhani probably will bring with him a cadre of more moderate diplomats, technocrats and nuclear negotiators who favor a more pragmatic foreign policy, said Trita Parsi, author of “A Single Roll of the Dice,” a book on the Obama administration’s dealings with Iran.

But whether the political shift leads to a deal to restrain Iran’s nuclear program depends on many factors, much outside the control of Iran’s new president, Parsi said.

“Ultimately the ball comes back to our side of the court,” Parsi said. “Neither side can break this impasse alone.”
Frankly, this is inexcusable. Trita Parsi isn't a disinterested expert, but someone who actively advocates on behalf of the Iranian regime. (Whether or not he qualifiesas a lobbyist for the regime seems to be a matter of some dispute.)

In this case, the New York Times was more cautious in predicting that Rouhani's election would bring about change in Iranian policies than the Washington Post. Worse, the reporters for the Washington Post seemingly advocate for more American forbearance towards Iran.

Even if all of this is true, Barry Rubin points out:
Consider this: A stronger man and a more dedicated reformer and moderate than Rowhani, Muhammad Khatami, was president for eight years and did not accomplish a single reform under this regime.

However, as Israeli journalist by Avi Issacharoff writes in “The Regime Wanted Him to Win”:
So how did a member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts and Supreme National Security Council – and a confidant of Khamenei – become the “great hope” of the moderate camp? It may be the embrace he received from the two former presidents, Khatami and Rafsanjani, rivals to Khamenei, that put him into the reformist category.

“He never called himself a reformist,” explains Dr. Soli Shahvar, who heads the Ezri Center for Iran and Gulf Studies at Haifa University. “But he uses rhetoric that is less blustery than that of Ahmedinejad, and speaks more moderately, including on the subject of nuclear negotiations.” Shahvar’s conclusion with respect to Rouhani’s win is unambiguous. “I interpret his election in one way only: The regime wanted him to win. If they had wanted one of the conservatives to win, they would have gotten four of the five conservatives to drop out of the race, paving the way for [eventual runner-up, Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Bagher] Ghalibaf to win. But they didn’t do that. Moreover, it was the regime that approved the candidacy of Rouhani alongside only seven others. This is striking evidence that Khamenei wanted Rouhani to win, both internally and externally.”

According to Shahvar, from the internal perspective, a victory for another candidate like Ahmedinejad risked provoking a renewal of the demonstrations like those of 2009. “Victory for a candidate who is perceived as more moderate yet still has the confidence of Khamenei, serves the regime in the best way. Externally, Iran today is in a very difficult situation with regard to sanctions and its international standing. A conservative president would only have increased Tehran’s isolation in the world. A victory for someone from the ‘moderate stream,’ however, will immediately bring certain countries in the international community to call for ‘giving a chance to dialogue with the Iranian moderates.’ They will ask for more time in order to encourage this stream, and it will take pressure off the regime. And so we see that in the non-disqualification of Rouhani and especially in the non-dropping-out of four of the five conservative candidates there is more than just an indication that this is the result the regime desired.”
Rohani is being called a moderate, much as Rafsanjani has been in the past. Iranian moderates don't get past the Guardian Council.
— Lynette Nusbacher (@Nusbacher) June 13, 2013
C'mon. do u really belief #Iran's Supreme Leader would have approved #Rouhani as a candidate if he were a reformer or moderate? Get real
— Lenny Ben-David (@lennybendavid) June 16, 2013
A "reformer" winning a clear cut victory was probably the best case for Supreme Leader Khamenei. Someone who could put a more palatable face on the regime, could lead to the relaxing of sanctions. A clear victory meant no runoffs.

In the week before the election someone leaked and then denied that the Guardian Council - the body charged with vetting presidential candidates - wasreconsidering Rouhani's candidacy. What better way to buttress his reformist reputation?

Then two candidates, including the other "reform" candidate, Mohammed Reza Aref, dropped out of the race. Then there was one reformer, Rouhani.

In the end Rouhani was approved by the Guardian Council and did not stray so far as to be subjected to house arrest, like Mir-Hossein Mousavi did four years ago. Is it really possible that Rouhani was not approved?

Finally, Rouhani won 50.7 percent of the vote. That isn't even a full percent more that what was required to avoid a second round of voting. A second round of voting would have raised suspicions that the regime was trying to cheat him out of his rightful position.

If Rouhani is a true reformer, his election could spell real trouble for Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei. But that assumes that Khamenei isn't the real power behind the presidency and that Rouhani is a true reformer. Evidence and experience suggest that neither is true and that the Khamenei got a friendly face to present his extreme agenda.

The White House's statement suggests that this tactic has already met with success:
We respect the vote of the Iranian people and congratulate them for their participation in the political process, and their courage in making their voices heard. Yesterday’s election took place against the backdrop of a lack of transparency, censorship of the media, Internet, and text messages, and an intimidating security environment that limited freedom of expression and assembly. However, despite these government obstacles and limitations, the Iranian people were determined to act to shape their future.
The premise of this statement is that the Iranian voters demonstrated independence from Khamenei. In a sense, they did. But it couldn't have happened if he didn't allow it to happen.

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