Iran’s Lesson to Washington’s Arabs

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Iranian president-elect Hassan Rowhani waves as he attends a press conference in Tehran on 17 June 2013. (Photo: AFP - Behrouz Mehri)

By: Ibrahim al-Amin

Published Monday, June 17, 2013

Iran’s presidential election poses some important and uncomfortable questions to its Arab neighbors across the Gulf: How has the Islamic Republic’s theocratic political system succeeded in maintaining its religious and ethnic diversity and developing its economic and technological abilities in the face of modern history’s most restrictive financial sanctions?

The election surprised many with its 70 percent turnout and the overwhelming victory of Hassan Rouhani in the first round, the reasons for which will have to be carefully considered over the coming days. It’s clear that Rouhani was the candidate most different from current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

One has to ask why is it that none of the conservatives candidates were willing to pull out in order to put forward a united front, knowing full well that the other side was gaining in the polls. One theory may be that the conservatives, who are more influential in state affairs, had decided that a change of course was necessary.

The conservatives’ miscalculation may also be due to an underestimation of their rivals, even though the reformists were clearly gaining momentum during the campaign period. By all appearances, the Iranian public had grown weary of Ahmadinejad’s leadership, particularly his economic policies and his tense relations with the West and the Gulf Arab countries. The question remains, however, can Rouhani remain true to the Islamic revolution’s principles while at the same time satisfying the needs of the people?

Even with all the difficulties the country is facing, it is clear that Iran’s democratic experiment has been successful to a large degree. Despite the Arab Spring and the recent protests in Turkey, Tehran did not hesitate to go forward with the presidential election, which could easily have been exploited by one side or another to undermine the regime as a whole.

And, of course, everyone is waiting to see what the new president plans to do on the Syrian front. For those who are betting on an Iranian retreat from the region’s burning issues, I advise them to take advantage of the opening that a Rouhani presidency may provide to find a political settlement that would stem the relentless bloodshed.

Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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