Dr. Hassan Rouhani’s surprising sweeping victory in Iran’s June 14 presidential election marks an important, refreshing change in Iranian politics. His public statements during the campaign and since his election reflect different positions from those sounded regularly during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tenure, not only in tone but also in content, and not only on internal matters but also in reference to the West, with promises of greater transparency regarding the nuclear project and even a critical assessment of the way Iran has conducted its negotiations with the West over its nuclear program.
But the structure of the revolutionary regime, its power mechanisms (constitutional and governmental, civilian and military), the election process that doesn’t actually allow free elections, and the strong ties between the new president and the regime, including the security establishment, have for many only emphasized the continuity of the system rather than the opportunity for change with the election of the new president. Some did not even wait for the election results to be announced before averring that no real change is to be expected, certainly not on the issue of particular interest to the world outside Iran – the nuclear program.
This essay, focusing on Iran’s internal dynamics, attempts to answer three main questions:
1. To what extent is there potential for real change in Iran’s policy given the conditions that led to the election of the current president, the scope and sources of his support, his personality and world view, and his abilities to confront the conservative forces at the helm of other governing mechanisms, headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is supported by the Revolutionary Guards, the security establishment, the regime’s institutions, and the religious structure?
2. Which elements encourage change in Iran’s policy? In this context, the essay examines long term factors (the struggle for social justice and civil liberty) and the more immediate issues (President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s economic policy and the growing, cumulative effects of the sanctions, especially in the year preceding the election) that paved the way for political change and encourage the prospects for change.
3. Even assuming that Hassan Rouhani will in fact work to promote a process of change, what is the probability that this will also entail a significant shift in relations with the West, particularly regarding the Iranian nuclear program, which is striding consistently on a tight schedule toward the critical threshold?
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