U.S. treat­ment of Iran sets a dou­ble stan­dard

Dis­il­lu­sioned Ira­ni­ans may be set to elect hard­line cleric

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT -

The six-week cam­paign is over, and 55 mil­lion Ira­ni­ans will vote in the first round of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion on Fri­day. Or rather, most of those 55 mil­lion peo­ple will vote, but many will not, be­cause there is great dis­il­lu­sion­ment with Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani’s prom­ises to im­prove the econ­omy — and there­fore also with the in­ter­na­tional treaty on curb­ing Iran’s nu­clear weapons am­bi­tions that was sup­posed to bring back pros­per­ity.

Don­ald Trump (who calls the treaty “one of the worst deals ever signed”) is not alone in see­ing it as a fail­ure. Although Rouhani’s main chal­lenger in this elec­tion, hard­line cleric Ebrahim Raisi, does not for­mally re­ject the deal, his whole cam­paign is fo­cused on the fact that the end of for­eign eco­nomic sanc­tions did not bring Ira­ni­ans the rapid eco­nomic re­lief that Rouhani had promised.

Iran has a big, mid­dle-in­come econ­omy with a large in­dus­tri­al­ized sec­tor, but largely be­cause of those sanc­tions it has been in the dol­drums for the past decade. In­comes have stag­nated or fallen, youth un­em­ploy­ment is 26 per cent, and many peo­ple have lost faith in Rouhani.

Forty-three per cent of Ira­ni­ans “strongly ap­proved” of the “Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion” (JCPOA), as the deal is called, when it was signed two years ago. Now only 21 per cent “strongly ap­prove.” Yet noth­ing has ac­tu­ally changed with the deal. Rouhani’s prob­lem is that noth­ing much has changed in the econ­omy, ei­ther.

Ebrahim Raisi is cap­i­tal­iz­ing on this dis­il­lu­sion­ment by run­ning a pop­ulist cam­paign promis­ing “work and dig­nity.” He is thought to have the tacit back­ing of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, who is the fi­nal au­thor­ity in Iran’s pe­cu­liar blend of democ­racy and theoc­racy.

Khamenei has not given his pub­lic back­ing to any can­di­date in this elec­tion (there are also two less well-known can­di­dates run­ning for the pres­i­dency). It is gen­er­ally as­sumed, how­ever, that he sup­ports Raisi, who is best known as one of the four Is­lamic judges who or­dered the ex­e­cu­tion of thou­sands of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers in 1988.

As a re­sult, Raisi is do­ing well with his tar­get au­di­ences, the poor, the de­vout and the ill-ed­u­cated. If they turn out to vote in large num­bers, while more ur­ban, more so­phis­ti­cated vot­ers ex­press their dis­ap­point­ment with Rouhani’s fail­ure to work mir­a­cles by stay­ing home, it is en­tirely pos­si­ble that he will beat Rouhani and be­come the next pres­i­dent.

This would plunge the coun­try’s re­la­tions with the West back into the deep freeze, but Raisi says he doesn’t care about that: Iran doesn’t need out­side help, and his goal is to re­store the val­ues of the 1979 Is­lamic Revo­lu­tion. But it cer­tainly wouldn’t im­prove Iran’s prospects for pros­per­ity, or the en­tire re­gion’s prospects for peace.

Rouhani is trapped be­tween two fires in this elec­tion. At home he faces a con­ser­va­tive back­lash that con­demns his open­ing to the West and (im­plic­itly) his nu­clear deal. And on elec­tion day the vot­ers who might come out to sup­port him are likely to hear Don­ald Trump just across the Gulf in Saudi Ara­bia, spout­ing anti-Ira­nian rhetoric to a sum­mit meet­ing of Arab coun­tries.

It’s not just Trump. Hil­lary Clin­ton, while giv­ing the nu­clear deal her tepid ap­proval, was just as neg­a­tive about Iran in gen­eral, and Barack Obama reg­u­larly re­cited the mis­lead­ing mantra about Iran be­ing the “lead­ing state spon­sor of ter­ror­ism.” As did his pre­de­ces­sors in the U.S. pres­i­dency all the way back to Ron­ald Rea­gan.

Iran is no worse than many of Amer­ica’s al­lies in the re­gion (and bet­ter than some) in its treat­ment of its own cit­i­zens. It is no more prone to in­ter­fer­ing in its neigh­bours than they are. Yet it is rou­tinely treated by U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tions of both par­ties as a rogue state that poses a huge and unique threat to the peace of the Mid­dle East. Why?

Be­cause it de­fied the United States and got away with it. The Ira­nian Revo­lu­tion of 1979 over­threw Wash­ing­ton’s pup­pet ruler, the Shah of Iran, and just as in the case of Cas­tro’s revo­lu­tion in Cuba, the United States has never for­given it for that crime. Whereas by now Ira­ni­ans have more or less for­given the U.S. for the CIAbacked coup in 1953 that de­stroyed Ira­nian democ­racy and gave the Shah supreme power in the first place.

Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles on in­ter­na­tional af­fairs are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

GWYNNE DYER

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