A fake moderate versus a true hardliner: poor Iran

The elections in Iran, which will be held on the 19th of this month, are a spectacle for international audiences, a debate on the candidates that wouldbe decided in Florence with thenonaristocratic formula, “It doesn’t matter.”It is, in short, one of those misconceptions that the whole world, instead of bothering to ask who is the most “moderate” among the candidates, is allowed to doubt democracy in its utmost expression, “one person, one vote.” In any case, whoever wins won’t be satisfied with the power connected to his role, but nonetheless he’ll be of crucial importance with respect to the identity (and perhapshimself the successor) of the next supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, who is 77 years old.

This time, after a preliminary selection that eliminated the silly hypothesis of reviving Ahmadinejad’s power, two candidates dominate the scene under Khamenei’s black cloak. He, a master of the Islamic State’s policy, skillfullymaintains the agreement with the US and the rest of the world as he incites crowds in the streets to continue chanting the slogan “Death to America and Israel” in view of parades showcasing ballistic missiles, he seems in the end to bebacking the candidate that the international press identifies as the worst: the hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi. Remaining vague, Khamenei has also said that he dislikes those who allow Western culture to enter inthe Shiite House, that is to say, as we read it, Rouhani. He actually uses good manners while playing cat and mouse with us. A gentle pawis offered and then out comes the claw.

Raisi probably isn’t any more of ahardliner than the current president, but at least he clearly states his credentials as suchand is rewarded for them. He was a member of the committee overseeing the execution of thousands of dissidents in 1988. He has been a protégée at the theological school of the supreme leader for fourteen years since the early 1990s, and his unquestionable fidelity to Khamenei paid off last year with his appointment as custodian and chairman of the multibillion-dollar religious foundation, Astan Qods Razavi.

However, hisessential and politically promising feature is that of being the preferred candidate of the Revolutionary Guards and of the Basiji, the militia that holds Iran under its heel, that controls citizens one by one so that they don’t deviate from the holiness they demand, that crushes all dissent even if has to kill (as it did with the famous public assassination of Neda during the uprising against Ahmadinejad), and organizes the best soldiers for imperialist campaigns, which Iran by now, starting from Syria, is winning.

The IRGC is interested in the presidency, its power, and its economic interests. Moreover, according to experts, it has a vested interest in controlling the upcoming Supreme Leader and eliminating all political figures, so-called “technocrats,” whoimpede his absolute power. The parliamentarianMahmoud Sadegki had the courage to write a letter to the Guards in order to ask them to not interfere in the elections, while in March dozens of administrators and journalists for Telegram were arrested and thrown in jail. Raisi is seen as their candidate: the Revolutionary Guards went to find him in the city of Mashad last year when he became head of the Foundation.

Hassan Rouhani, the standing president for past four years, is the other major pole in the debate. Commentators write that he has had frequent clashes with the Revolutionary Guards because of divergent economic interests: and it is, for the IRGC, about bigmoney issues. Rouhani in the eyes of the West is a moderate icon, just like Khatami who was the president that beat the all-time record in relation to the physical elimination of intellectuals, mass arrests, support for international terrorism, and expansion of the nuclear project.

Rouhani, with that smile of a fox in love,took power having Obama’s hand in mind: but he holds, as the famous intellectual dissident Amir Taheri writes, the absolute record in terms of executions and imprisonments, in support of international terrorism, exportation of armed men and arms for imperialist designs in the Middle East (people don’t like his efforts in Syria alongside Hezbollah, and in Yemen, as well as in Iraq), and in underground workings to circumvent the agreements with the G5 +1. Nothing is ever said, after all, that Khamenei forgets his 30 years of service in the secret services at the service of the regime against all and everything alongside the IRGC.

It’s sad, but there’s no need to fantasize about the next Iranian president’s “moderation:” the only hope is that the turnout will be so low (and it was in the last elections) to certify before the world the people’s desire to turn the page, and achieve change. However, the Revolutionary Guards are there for that.

Translation by Amy K. Rosenthal

This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (May  17, 2017)

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.