Future Path of Iranian Moderates Remains Tough and Long

http://www.apdnews.com/Insightsi/654450.html | 作者: Li Zixin | 时间: 2017-05-24 | 责编: Wang Jiapei
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On May 20, the Iranian Interior Ministry announced that the incumbent president, Rouhani, was successfully re-elected in the 12th presidential election of the Islamic Republic of Iran by garnering 57 percent of the votes. The conservative candidate Raisi gained 38.5 percent of the vote. The percentage of total vote in the election is over 70 percent, showing the largely increasing enthusiasm in political participation and concerns on future political trend of the public.

The Iranian moderate reformists, represented by Rouhani, have won with total success in the election, which may create more opportunities and time for Iran to continue its current open policy. Notwithstanding, due to the domestic political reality, geopolitical game, and high pressure exerted by the US, the path to reform by Iranian moderates is still tough and long.

Domestic conservative forces remain strong

As for Rouhani, the final result of the election may be better than expectation. Before it, the polls and the public opinion believe that the campaign would be tough.

The biggest advantage of Rouhani is nothing more than the ruling outcome over the past four years. In his first term, Iran and the international community signed the Iran Nuclear Agreement, which partially eased the sanctions that had troubled Iran for more than three decades, and introduced the western capitals and advanced technologies that injected vitality for Iran's economic and social development. Over the past two years, with the expanding oil exports, the state capital of Iran has increased significantly. Notwithstanding the above mentioned, due to the deep-rooted social problems, the Iranian society is still suffering a high unemployment rate. The overall unemployment rate in the country still remains double digits, while the unemployment rate for young people is as high as 30 percent. In particular, in the context of the widening gap between the rich and the poor and the hysteresis of social reform, there will be an increased risk of social conflicts in Iran. This is both a major obstacle to the reelection of the Rouhani and an important challenge for his administration in the next four years.

Despite losing the election, Ebrahim Raisi, the main rival of Rouhani and tough conservative candidate obtained nearly 40 percent of the vote. It still represents a considerable part of the voters in Iran. Raisi takes the elimination of poverty and anti-corruption as the highlights. His campaign program is very attractive for the lower classes, especially in the context of serious social contradictions in Iran. In fact, due to Iran's special political system, the Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Seyyed AliKhamenei has an unparalleled influence on the political trend. Khamenei's support in favor of Raisi in this election cannot be overlooked. Despite the final lost in election, his follow-up influence cannot be underestimated. In particular, Iran is still facing a strong external pressure, which provides a good opportunity for the conservative forces to gather cohesion and strength. Strong conservative forces will inevitably form a huge containment force on the future administration of Rouhani.

Geo-competitors with eyes of hostility

Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran has been deemed as its largest regional security threat by Saudi Arabia. The two countries belong to the Islamic Shi'ite and Sunnis, respectively. Though believing in the same religion, the hostility caused by the sectarian differences is extremely serious. Especially in the early years of the revolution, Iran declared that the "export revolution", which made Saudi Arabia anxious. Saudi Arabia has two holy places of Islam, Mecca and Medina, which are "base camp" for the Islamic Sunni world. The wrestling between Saudi Arabia and Iran is not only related to the geopolitical influence of the two countries, but also considered as an important vane between Sunni and Shiite.

In addition, Israel's opposition to Iran is well known. This is also largely due to Iran's long-standing policy of opposing Israel. As a result of the Iranian influence, Saudi Arabia and Israel, the old foes are trying to contact and even cooperate with each other. Especially after the signing of Iranian Nuclear Agreement, the sanctions imposed to Iran has been gradually released and Iran’s geopolitical influence has been significantly improved. Saudi Arabia, as well as the majority of Islamic Sunni forces led by the same, has recently reached agreement with Israel on the issues related to Iran.

Of course, Iran is also not alone in the region. Other Shiite-led countries and regional forces remain close relationship with Iran or directly form an alliance. For example, the Syrian Assad administration, the Hezbollah of Lebanon, and the Hussein forces in Yemen are Iran's "faithful partners", with whom Iran has maintained a close military, financial and political relationship. The so-called "Shiite Crescent Zone" constituted by "Iran - Iraq - Syria - Yemen" line is gradually encircling the Saudi, while the Lebanon's Hezbollah's threat to Israel has never been reduced.

For Iran, the "output revolution" is by no means the "mission" of the moderate reformists. However as the main body of the Shi'ite, it is difficult to retreat on the issue of maintaining sectarian and geopolitical balance. Rouhani's highlight for the election is "to promote social openness and change". A more open Iran will certainly be welcomed by other countries in the region, but it cannot solve the fundamental contradiction of the geopolitical struggle.

Potential storm for America - Iran Relations

Although President Obama had regarded the Iranian Nuclear Agreement as his important diplomatic heritage, it is well known that the current US President Trump objects and disgusts this agreement. Due to the Republican Party is in charge of Senate and House of Representatives and has agreed with the President on the Iranian issue, the United States is ready to strengthen its sanctions against Iran. In this regard, Trump’s first trip shows his great determination to reshape the influence of the United States in the Middle East. For the United States and its allies, Iran is one of the biggest threats to the region that can be compared with the terrorism. The alliance between the United States and regional allies is largely based on the repression of Iran, which constitutes the cornerstone of the alliance system.

In addition, Trump's trip also has the intention to appease allies and to strengthen the cooperation with its allies. In order to welcome Trump, Saudi Arabia and Israel have made every effort, and Trump will also pay back with rewards. Strengthening the sanctions against Iran will undoubtedly be the most appropriate "return".

Thus, despite the victory of the moderate reformists represented by Rouhani in this election and Iran will still perform the Iranian Nuclear Agreement on a regular basis, the US-Iranian relationship is difficult to improve. This is not related to Iran's internal political trends, but to the geopolitical and international political structure. Therefore, how to deal with the increasingly difficult external situation will be the tough issue for the Rouhani’s government.

The re-election of Rouhani indicates the strong desire of Iranian people to lift the sanctions, develop the economy, and moderate reform. However, to realize such wish, the Rouhani government and the Iranian people may walk a tough and long way.



Li Zixin is a Research Assistant of Department for American Studies, China Institute of International Studies.



Source: Asia Pacific Daily, May 22, 2017.