With the beginning of intensive negotiations on the Iran’s nuclear program after the Rouhani team came to power, a lot of analytical articles contemplating about who gains or loses saw the light. However, even now, after Iran fulfilled a bulk of its obligations and IAEA flashed a green light for withdrawing the sanctions, the forecasts do not appear that rosy.
Historical low of the oil price (on the eve of Iran’s come back to the pre-sanctions supply levels), cutting off the diplomatic ties between Tehran and Riyadh as well as the other GCC capitals, detention of two American patrol boats by Iranians and, finally, successful outcome of behind the scenes negotiations on the exchange of prisoners – all these served a lush scenery to the historical moment – sanctions are withdrawn and the regional power returns to the international community as a full-fledged member. However, does it mean the radical paradigm change inside the country?
During Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency Iran’s position on the nuclear issue was a matter of life and death; during Hassan Rouhani’s time in office the resolution of the nuclear issue and sanctions relief became the same torch. Indeed, many efforts were put on it, just look at the unthinkable – direct open channel between Iran and the USA. A big step was made since April 2007 when Tehran and Washington representatives gathered in Baghdad to conduct the direct negotiations for the first time since 1979. Now it became possible to imagine Iran’s foreign minister in a hand-shaking pose with the US secretary of state. It seems that with the new negotiations team even the extra-serious head of Iranian atom Ali-Akbar Salehi blossomed with smiles, disregarding disenchanted opponents of the agreement.
The so-called ‘anxious’, the kind of movement that mobilized against the agreement during the time of negotiations, have reasons to keep on with the criticism of the moderate politicians which are currently in power. Disregarding freshly-tailored smiles on the faces, Iranians are uncomfortable – many ‘red lines’, set up by Iran for these negotiations, were crossed over, and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed upon in July 2015 is still considered an interference into domestic affairs. The new US sanctions against Iran’s ballistic program just confirmed the theory about that the historical rival would try to expand sanctions under another excuses, rather than conditionally resolved nuclear issue.
‘The anxious’ are viewing the whole story around sanctions as a political standoff with the independent Iran, who raised its head as a result of the Islamic revolution. And while, for example, the confident voice of Iranian moderate conservatives, the professor of Tehran University Mohammad Marandi opined that international community will see through the actions of the United States that – despite the agreement between the two countries – is “trying to make ordinary Iranians suffer until Iran bows down to the will of the US”, someone of the Revolutionary Guards could not hold temper and released the video with American marines kneeling in front of the coast watch after the US crew was detained in Iranian territorial waters. And yet ‘the anxious’ will have to back down with the JCPOA, in particular due to the landmark approval letter of Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei to the President Rouhani, and concentrate on the upcoming elections to Majlis and the Assembly of Experts (which in its new composition may be responsible for electing the next Supreme Leader) that will be held on 26 February 2016. Especially, in the situation when the conservatives themselves also mobilized against ‘the anxious’ movement.
For example, in November 2015 a representative of the conservative faction Awaz Heydarpoor warned ‘the anxious’ committed to participate in the elections, that their counterstand to JCPOA will not be left unanswered at the ballot boxes. With regards to this, he offered them to read and re-read the Supreme Leader’s letter to the President, while reminding that their actions deviate from the opinion of rahbar who approved both the plan and the negotiation team strategy in general. So if ‘the anxious’ are planning to keep undermining the agreement, it will play into the hands of Iran’s enemies, concluded Heydarpoor.
He was joined by the other conservative faction member Mohammadali Madadi, who reminded that given the tension within the country, at the regional and international arenas, the Supreme Leader brought up the mutual support between government and people as a uniting motto of the year. «When the Supreme Leader supports the plan of actions, the eleventh government and the negotiation team, the counteraction from the part of fundamentalists does not make sense. I hope that at least fundamentalists will not be competing with the power of rahbar who rules over Iranian politics relying on comprehensive and accurate information» – commented Madadi.
More important that the elections remain a more reliable playground for ‘the anxious’ who aim at maintaining the internal balance in favor of conservative forces, in spite of the seeming shift in governmental priorities to the reformists as a result of their achievements in the course of nuclear negotiations.
Some 12000 candidates were registered for the parliamentary elections of 26 February 2016. The majority of 3000 reformists and moderates close to Rouhani were disqualified; only 30 of them overpassed the sieve of the Expediency Council, that is 1% of the initially registered reformists. Thus, despite the achievements of Rouhani’s team in withdrawing sanctions from Iran, success in bringing moderate allies to the parliament appears to be very limited. It is more likely that the developments at the international political scene made this possibility of success very remote: too high tension with regards to whether the agreement opens up the door for more interference into domestic affairs, and if the modernist wave would possibly erode the regime foundations from within.
However, besides Iranian political elites, their parties in various negotiations, there is a third variable in the equation of the upcoming elections – Iranian public. And it is good that somebody remembered about it too, like the government’s senior counselor on economical matters Masoud Nili. Nili stressed that Iran needs an internal agreement for the country more than just achieved international one. Indeed, the expectations from negotiations conclusion and sanctions relief are reminiscent of the situation in 2013 when the electorate inspired by the ascendance of a moderate politician to power cherished hopes for changes within the country – in economy, social life, in the sphere of personal freedoms. It has been three years since then and Rouhani is now met more with criticism about the unfulfilled election promises. Similarly, against the public expectations, withdrawal of the EU and UN sanctions will not do miracles, when Iran is so desperately in need of the fundamental institutional changes. Iranian public, according to Nili, is like a passenger requiring the driver, which represents the government, to come back to the right track. However, due to the initial technical flaws of the car, the driver is not managing well, while the passenger keeps persistently asking why the direction is still wrong.
That’s it, the celebration is over – the moderate president is elected, JCPOA is approved, implementation started. Festive mood will probably not last even until Nowruz, because the parliamentary election is scheduled already on February, and not numerous registered candidates aligned with Rouhani have slim chances to change the agenda, even if each of them would be elected to Majlis. The political will is needed to change the agenda, and Rouhani is not its main source. After the election the internal discussion will be dealing with principally domestic problems, and this is completely different story, rather than the nuclear issue, which received its solid opinion from «not optimistic» Supreme Leader.
After the relief of international pressure Iran will attempt to start an offensive in all external domains – trade, investment, development of tourism, and it is already doing it. But how far the existing limitations of the system would allow restoring the healthy situation inside the country? The sole fact of JCPOA implementation will not regulate the rate of Iranian Rial to US Dollar, economic problems, will not fight corruption, as well as the other fundamental problems of the car which passenger and driver are riding, especially considering the imbalances between various factions’ aspirations and public expectations. And what these two eventually negotiate between themselves will be more intriguing for the nearest future.