By Katya Mavrelli,
The results of the June 18th presidential elections suggested the continuation of the regime, the adoption of an evidently more hardline attitude, and the growing concerns of the west. President-elect Ebrahim Raisi held his first press conference on June 21st, and one thing was clear: Iran pivoted towards a more intense domestic and foreign policy, and there seems not to be going back. What does this mean for the nuclear deal? How should the west treat this previously sleeping titan, who seems to have finally awoken now?
In the first contact with the Iranian people soon after his election, Raisi, who is set to become Iran’s eighth president since the 1979 Revolution, emphasized Ayatollah Khomeini’s role in dictating Iran’s current political path, and placed emphasis on the role of the martyrs, “especially Qassem Soleimani”.
Evidently, statements like these only suggest that a “revolutionary” government will be formed and thus the international community will face more hardline stances, policies, and attitudes on domestic, regional, and international issues. Allies of the Islamic Republic in neighboring Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, and Venezuela will be embraced more warmly, and nations representing an obstacle to the revolutionary approach of the current regime will be dealt with efficiently.
Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, Hamas in Palestine, Ahl Al-Haq in Iraq, and even Bahrain’s February 14th Revolution Youth Coalition expressed their congratulations to Raisi, encouraging and depicting him as the fortress that stands “against the aggressors”. This only raises warning signals to the neighboring Arab states, making them feel increasingly more concerned in a climate of uncertainty. The message of support of Iran’s allies signified that Iran may be becoming exponentially more isolated in the international context, but this is set to change. As Raisi mentioned, “an effective, sound and strong regime derives its strength from revolutionary cadres”. This only means that the presence of fundamentalist parties, like the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), will become more evident and directly linked to the organization of the current government.
Despite gaining unexpected international coverage due to the June elections, Iran is set to continue pursuing its far from subtle, determined, well-outlined, and methodological foreign policy. A hardening stance is believed to be the new future of the nuclear deal negotiations. The revival of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has not gone according to plan so far, with Iran and the US failing to find a common ground and negotiations continuing without end in sight. Six rounds of negotiations in Vienna have yet to reach an agreement on a deal that both the Biden administration and the Iranian leadership will be willing to adhere to. While Iran wants the lifting of hundreds of US-imposed sanctions, the US wishes for Iran’s return to compliance and the permanent termination of its relations with proxy forces in the Middle East. Tehran wishes to reach a quick and painless agreement with the US, in order to ease the domestic economic pressures, combat the rising unemployment, the rising inflation and the declining commercial and industrial relations.
Beyond a possible return to the 2015 agreement, Raisi’s election represents a greater resistance towards the west and especially the Biden administration. The conundrum that will follow will have clear destabilizing implications, not only for the greater MENA region, but also for the priorities that the US administration will have to set to address Iran’s behavior. US President Biden is now treading on a thin line: Imposing more sanctions means Iran will depart from nuclear negotiations possibly forever while leaving more room for maneuverings for the new Iranian government, which will help them gain lost confidence.
Yet, the most important equation that needs to be solved before addressing other issues is the relationship between the regime and the people. The increasingly irreligious, young Iranian polity, unsatisfied with the current situation, wishing to change the theocratic establishment peacefully from within, has grown tired of a regime that wishes to leave no room for reform. Voter turnout was the lowest in history, with only 26% of registered voters voting in Tehran and 48.8% nationwide turnout.
The difference between previous elections was not the absence of reformist candidates – though this was evidently noted in the 2021 elections. It was the active decision of the people to refrain from even participating in the elections, demonstrating their exasperation and their lack of faith to the current and future governments. Iranian history tells a tale of organized efforts by some dreamers to bring as much reform and change as they were allowed. After their term, however, the return to an even more strictly monitored regime is the norm. Such were the cases of Mohammed Khatami and Hossein Mossavi, which enjoyed the wide support of the Iranian people but were stopped before too much change could be introduced.
Iranians have grown disillusioned with the Islamic Republic and its leaders from across the political spectrum, realizing that the distinction between reformists and moderates, is nothing but a linguistic one. Politically, there is little separating the two factions. Their common axis stems from the centered control the representatives of the Islamic Republic, such as the Ayatollahs and the mullahs, wish to instill.
Raisi represents a new chapter in the political book being written in an age after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The paths of the previous Presidents will serve as the map upon which scientists will base their analyses, yet the factors of unpredictability are much more intense and harder to detect in this case. The only thing that is for certain is that Iran will not be a sleeping giant anymore. His presence will be made clear and his foreign policy maneuverings are set to dictate the future of the Arab and Western world.
- Dr Majid Rafizadeh, Iranians have had enough of the regime’s ‘elections’, Arab News, Available here
- Kareem Fahim, Karen DeYoung, Hardening stance by Iran and US complicate negotiations to revive nuclear deal, The Washington Post, Available here
- Najmeh Bozorgmehr, Ebrahim Raisi, the hardliner poised to take power in Iran, Financial Times, Available here