Iran's President Rouhani Is No Agent of Change

Iran Focus

London, 6 Jul - During his campaign Hassan Rouhani, recently elected to a second term, routinely invoked “violence and extremism” rhetoric in opposition to his leading opponent, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner candidate. However, Rouhani demonstrated during his first term that he is not a ‘moderate’.

Rouhani is seen as a veteran regime insider who “was a senior security official during the systematic execution of 30,000 political prisoners in the summer of 1988, many of whom were supporters of the main opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK),” according to a Forbes article, by Tom Ridge, homeland security secretary and former Pennsylvania governor.

The nuclear deal brokered in 2015, between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany with the Iranian regime, imposed restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief. Ridge claims, “The agreement has rightly been criticized for offering too many concessions to Iran’s ruling theocracy, while effectively abandoning the original goal of definitively halting permanently the mullahs’ march to nuclear weapons.” However, the approach was prompted by the expectation that Iranian behavior and U.S.-Iran relations would improve under Rouhani’s presidency.

“Tehran’s anti-Western rhetoric has intensified, backed up by illicit ballistic missile tests and public declarations of readiness for war by officers of the Iranian military and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC),” writes Ridge, who adds, “IRGC military and financial support for the murderous Assad regime has continued, as has its arming and funding of the terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon. And in Iraq, the regime in Tehran wield more influence than the United States, despite all the blood and treasure we have invested in that country since 2003.”

Dual nationals have been arrested in Iran, and imprisoned to use as bargaining chips. They join thousands of Iranian political prisoners. They risk death from the absence of basic medical care and sanitation.

Less than a week before the election, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a statement to Iranians to vote, regardless of their political views. But Ridge says that, “by phrasing his call in terms of ‘maintaining the regime’s authority’, he effectively added to the incentive for a boycott by all those rejecting that authority.”

Iranians stayed away. In an attempt to draw international attention to the fundamental lack of choice in Iran’s elections, many Iranians boycotted the presidential election. In Iran’s system, candidate are vetted by unelected clerics and judiciary officials based on their loyalty to the Supreme Leader and the ruling theocracy, and only a handful are approved. The Iranian people expressed more than just general frustration with a political system, but also exhibited support for the alternatives to those factions. Support for opposition organizations like the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and the MEK seem to be on the rise.

Ridge and many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle attended an international convention in Paris, which drew upwards of 100,000 supporters of the MEK from around the world, and was broadcast live to millions of Iranians. Although support for the MEK can be punished with a death sentence inside Iran, many Iranian citizens are willing to take the risk.

This should tell us how fragile that regime is, according to Ridge, and “how effectively the international community can encourage the democratic transformation of Iran by supporting the democratic alternatives to the current regime.”