How Is Iran’s Hassan Rouhani A Moderate?

Following the May 19th presidential “election” in Iran and the incumbent Hassan Rouhani reaching a second term, there was an outpouring of Western mainstream media describing him as a moderate again.

As described by the National Review, Iran’s sham election was nothing but “a ridiculous farce. In reality, an anti-American jihadist beat a slightly-worse anti-American jihadist.”

Rouhani was the first Iranian regime official in the early days after the mullahs’ hijacking of the 1979 revolution who openly called for public executions.

He Is #Rouhani is he a #MODERATE?!!!
watch & share 2 others know him#humanrights #executions #humanity #UK #Terrorism#IranElections2017 pic.twitter.com/R5mjOgwCdB

— Shawn HarrisⓂ️ (@HarrisShawn5) May 23, 2017

During Rouhani’s first tenure (owing it to the ultraconservative Guardian Council, a 12-cleric body appointed directly and indirectly by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, that vets candidates of all elections in Iran), the regime in Iran:

  • sent over 3,000 to the gallows and escalated domestic crackdown,
  • increased its export of terrorism through Shiite proxies across the Middle East,
  • boosted the Levant dictator Bashar Assad in his massacring and displacing millions of innocent Syrians,
  • supported the IRGC in test launching a significant number of ballistic missiles in violation of UN Security Council resolutions and harassing US Navy vessels in international waters,
  • went as far as increasing Tehran’s support for the Afghan Taliban, according to the The Washington Post,
  • and made having dual nationality a threat, as experienced by too many hostages.

And Rouhani has actually become very useful for the ruling hardliners in Iran.

“For hard-liners and their affiliates — including the office of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Basij, the judiciary and the Intelligence Ministry — Rouhani is more helpful in achieving their major objectives,” as explained Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy and president of the International American Council.

For this regime the selection of Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric renowned for his three decade role in the judiciary and being involved in the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners across Iran, would have raised tensions domestically and with the international community.

Desperate to maintain the nuclear deal intact and to prevent any possible snapback of UN Security Council sanctions, Khamenei and his regime succumbed to blueprint a second term for Rouhani.

In fact, Rouhani allows the entire so-called “hardliners” in this regime, including the IRGC and its extraterritorial Quds Force, to seek their interests, such as expanding their hegemonic reach across the region, especially in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Reports also indicate Iran has unveiled a new underground missile factory, another asset of the IRGC.

In March 2014, Iran unveiled what appeared to be tunnel storage for Qiam ballistic missiles.

Aviation Week

In March 2014, Iran unveiled what appeared to be tunnel storage for Qiam ballistic missiles.

The Iranian regime’s lobbies and apologists in the West dubbed Rouhani as a “moderate” while he was busy negotiating to release billions of frozen assets in order to fuel Iran’s military demands and fund its influence also in Bahrain, the Horn of Africa and elsewhere. The unfortunate attacks targeting innocent civilians in Manchester and Coptic Christians in Egypt should make those dubbing Rouhani as a moderate think twice, considering he is the president of a regime described as the leading state sponsor of terrorism.

Rouhani goes on to depict himself as a “moderate” good cop to seek legitimacy, as the world considers the IRGC as the “hardliner” bad cops. Under whose tenure has the IRGC and Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani expanded their reach to Syria and Yemen?

On the other side of the spectrum, however, is the fierce criticism raised against the election in its entirety, described by Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), as a “sham.”

Tehran will most possibly press the gas pedal in its belligerency during Rouhani’s second term, as seen vividly in his latest remarks pledging Iran will continue its Middle East warmongering, adding their boots are on the ground in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and fought against terrorism in the region.

“Iran has and will support these through its diplomats and military advisors,” he said according to an NCRI statement.

Unfortunately, the West’s decades of appeasement, dating back to the years of Chamberlain and Hitler prior to World War II, has led to the word “moderate” to now include even dictators willing to be just a notch more reasonable than a ruthless entity. In this case, leaving the world to choose between a deceptive-smiling Rouhani and the notorious IRGC.

When Westerners think of “moderates” they begin their comparison process against faces in their own countries. Even “conservatives” in many European countries are against a single execution, but this “moderate” Rouhani in Iran is very much for it. In fact, 2 per day is his report card over the past four years. The regime has already executed ten individuals in the first days of Rouhani’s second tenure, reports indicate.

And the Iranian people inside the country have voiced their opinion about Rouhani being a “moderate”. Defying all odds and accepting the risk of arrest and possible execution even, dissident activists took to the streets in unprecedented numbers in the past months and put up large posters, placards and even graffiti to voice their true vote of “regime change” and describing Rouhani not as a moderate, but as a “demagogue” and “king of executions.”

Rajavi, long presenting a 10-point-plan for a free Iran of tomorrow, delivered her input in this regard:

“In this light, portraying him as a moderate figure bears no color. Those who adhere to this notion must be challenged by asking them to make him unveil the true number of victims of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners and details of their cases, respect human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of political parties, and freedom of political prisoners and pull out from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Afghanistan.”

While the argument is often made of this and that being beyond the powers of Iran’s president, and former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami referred to the president’s role as that of a tea boy, it begs the question then as to how moderation is to take place.

What Does the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Want Out of Iran’s Upcoming Elections?

Can the faction known as the “principalists” in Iran, loyal to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, engineer the upcoming presidential elections‘ outcome in a manner similar to 2005 and 2009? Back then, this group resorted to fraud and vote-rigging to have their desired candidate selected. Is the Khamenei-allied faction even seeking to engineer the election outcome against the faction currently behind President Hassan Rouhani, who claim to be “reformists” or “moderates”? If the answer is yes, what measures have been taken so far?

The truth is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Khamenei’s inner circle have been planning these measures and plotting their steps for at least several months.

Their plan essentially relies on forcing the election into a second round, similar to the 2009 scenario when Ahmadinejad was selected from the ballot boxes. This time around, the Khamenei faction is seeking to have Ebrahim Raisi, a cleric known for his notorious role in the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, or Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, selected as president. Ghalibaf is a former IRGC member known to have undergone Airbus pilot training in France.

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To implement this, this faction first held a session with senior IRGC officials, including former IRGC intelligence chief Mehdi Taeb, IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari, IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani and others to establish the Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces, dubbed JAMNA, according to its Farsi abbreviation. Mohammad Bagher Zolghadr is the chair of this new entity.

Zolghadr is known for his role in rigging the 2005 presidential election that led to the selection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency while claiming to enjoy the support of 20 million voters. Zolghadr was then the regime’s chairman of the armed forces Joint Chiefs of Staff and deputy to former IRGC chief Mohsen Rezaie. He was then appointed as deputy interior minister in Ahmadinejad’s cabinet while maintaining his IRGC posts.

“The [2005] presidential election was unprecedented, held under very complicated political circumstances when foreign powers and acquisitive currents inside the country had long planned to direct the election results in their favor and prevent the establishment of a principalist cabinet. Complicated actions were needed and the principalists were fortunately able to gain the majority’s support,” Zolghadr said following Ahmadinejad’s victory.

In January 2013 Ali Saeedi, Khamenei’s envoy in the IRGC, made interesting remarks about the elections. “It is our [IRGC] inherent duty to logically engineer the elections,” he said.

Although Saeedi provided no further explanation about “logically” engineering the vote, his remarks shed further light on their plan and agenda. He referred to individuals, who according to him, attempted to “divide the state between the selected and the elected.” “In fact, those who were selected acted far better than those who were elected,” he stipulated.

This is exactly why in the past few months JAMNA has attempted to reach a consensus over a single candidate through the IRGC’s continued intervention. Numerous sessions were held with Khamenei to have him agree with Raisi taking part in the race and all principalist candidates rallying behind him.

The IRGC continued its engineering through the Guardian Council by disqualifying the vast majority of candidates. A week prior to the Council’s final announcement rumors indicated only six of over 1,600 candidates would be qualified. This made it clear all announcements by the Guardian Council were in fact decided previously by the IRGC.

The combination of the current six candidates in the presidential election is the necessary package for the IRGC to correctly rig the entire vote outcome.

An issue discussed on a daily basis among the IRGC senior command is how to plan their next move, aiming to inflict the utmost damage to the Rouhani faction and yet also prevent any possible ignition of massive protests and/or nationwide uprisings similar to those of 2009.

Following the candidate vetting process leaving only six candidates, this IRGC plan has been pursued on a daily basis in three different fields.

First, they have sought to increase the number of votes and finesse specific rigging methods. Second, they have expanded their propaganda activities in the media. And third, they have taken daily measures and guided the general rigging apparatus, such as attacking Rouhani’s brother Fereidoun Rouhani on his involvement in theft, creating havoc at Rouhani’s campaign events, depicting Raisi as the candidate of all factions.

In all three fields the IRGC apparatus enjoys a daily role, all while this security entity should have nothing to do with the elections.

Of course, Rouhani has nothing to boast about either as he too oversaw more than 3,000 executions during his tenure as president. He is also known to have ordered the horrific 1999 student uprising crackdown, especially during the protests in Tehran. Throughout his political career he has played a role in the regime’s decision-making bodies and is known to be a figure very well acquainted with the regime’s security apparatus. Rouhani was also Rafsanjani’s right-hand-man during the Iran-Iraq War, where the regime dispatched juveniles to the frontlines.

In the end, how far the IRGC’s plans can be implemented in practice is a different story altogether, depending highly on a range of factors. For example, considering the fact that Rouhani’s Interior Ministry is the administrative body running the election, will the IRGC be able to implement its objectives?

Only time will tell.

Iran’s presidential election: Nothing new after 38 years

We were recently witness to the first debate of Iran’s 2017 presidential election, which can be evaluated from a variety of perspectives.  One simple conclusion is that all candidates failed to provide any hope for a better future.

Remembering how the 2009 debates paved the way for nationwide uprisings, rattling the regime’s entire establishment, this year’s debate was shortened in timing to prevent any uncontrollable sparks.  Despite all this, the arguments provided a vivid view into the regime’s critical domestic crises.

More important is the fact that, similar to all previous so-called “elections” in this regime, no candidate was able to provide a comprehensive political and economic agenda.  Twelve rounds of presidential elections, parliamentary polls, and votes for city councils have provided nothing but more of the same.

Why is it that nothing changes in Iran?  Why is it that with a new president in the U.S., all policies are completely refurbished, including immigration, health, education, and so forth?  The Trump administration’s foreign policy is being overhauled, to say the least.

Why is it that in smaller countries more similar to Iran – say, the Philippines, Chile, or Turkey – a new government brings with it changes across the spectrum in people’s lives, all linked to the state’s domestic and foreign policies?

Yet when it comes to Iran, we see nothing but a cycle of the same factions coming and going, while further plundering the country’s wealth and making the least difference in people’s lives.

The reason must be pursued in the very roots and nature of this regime.  This is a dictatorship ruled by the four percent, as described by presidential candidate and Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf in the recent debate.  A vast 96% majority of Iran’s population remains under the wrath of this cruel minority that relies on a completely fascist-minded set of laws resembling anything but a constitution.

And when elections are held, all candidates are vigorously vetted by the Guardian Council, a body of 12 conservative clerics, of whom six are appointed directly and the other six indirectly by the supreme leader himself.  And when a president is actually selected, he is nothing more than a puppet, acting according to the supreme leader’s will.  Based on the regime’s “constitution,” the president’s authority must be confirmed by the supreme leader no matter what the people have “voted.”

All this brings us to a certain set of conclusions:

Firstly – The president in Iran has no true power or authority, as the supreme leader enjoys the final say in all subjects, including national security and foreign affairs.

Secondly – No regime president has ever had any specific economic-social agenda.  Assuming any one of them had prepared such a blueprint, his agenda would need to be in complete compliance with the supreme leader’s demands.

Thus, one may ask the purpose of holding elections in such an establishment.

Mohammad-Tai Mesbah-Yazdi, an influential senior cleric in the mullahs’ ruling elite, provided probably the best response in an interview:

Elections have two purposes[.] … [T]he nation considers itself involved in establishing a religious state. As a result, they will further strive in supporting a state established with their backing, leading to the realization of important religious state goals.

The second purpose is … the importance of the people’s role and votes disarming opponents. They intended to depict this Islamic establishment as authoritarian. However, when the people’s votes are respected, opponents will lose all excuses[.]

This brings us back to our initial argument: as faces change in this regime, it is to no avail for the greater good of the people.

For example:

  • The so-called “reformist” Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005, doubled the number of executions in comparison to 1996 and quadrupled them in comparison to 1995!
  • The so-called “principalist” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was even worse, and the “moderate” Hassan Rouhani has stood above all with a record of 3,000 executions in four years.
  • Poverty and human rights violations have been on a continuous increase.  Iran has 16 intelligence services, and the numbers could go up, according to the semi-official Fars news agency, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards.
  • The mullahs’ own laws define around 1,800 counts of crimes that people must not commit!  The slate includes what clothes to wear, what to eat, what to read, and what satellite TV they are permitted to watch.  It is worth noting that France has only 300 such criminal measures.
  • The country’s national currency has constantly nosedived.
  • Embezzlement cases have been on the rise year after year.
  • Meddling in the internal affairs of regional countries, including Iran’s involvement in Syria, has climaxed.  This has been parallel to Tehran continuing its nuclear program and ballistic missile drive.

Neither in domestic policy nor foreign strategy can we pinpoint any significant differences among Khamenei, Rafsanjani, Khatami, Ahmadinejad, and Rouhani.

To this end, don’t hold your breath or have any hope that the May 19 presidential “election” – read: “selection” – will render anything new from within the mullahs’ regime.

Iran’s Presidential Election And The Raisi Twist

Various media outlets and Iran regime elements have commented recently over the candidacy of Ebrahim Raisi, an influential cleric described as the protégé of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, pumping new life into Iran’s so-called presidential election (read selection).

Of course, this perspective in some way is considered correct. Raisi’s candidacy has caused quite a stir in the entire poll, but not as Khamenei and his apparatus initially intended.

The role Raisi played in the “Death Commission” presiding over the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, mostly members and supporters of the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), has come into the spotlight like never before. The 1988 dossier was once considered a highly controversial matter and no senior Iranian official would raise the issue, all knowing their involvement would eventually unearth and play against their ultimate interests.

People from all walks of life in Iran are now becoming more informed about the matter and questioning both Raisi and incumbent President Hassan Rouhani about the entire ordeal. Such a phenomenon is even reflected in Iran’s state-run media, including Keyhan daily, considered Khamenei’s mouthpiece.

While placing its crosshairs on Rouhani, a piece in Keyhan is titled, “They attack Raisi, but we should not forget Rouhani’s past!”

The British state network says the positions adopted by Hassan Rouhani up to this day have been similar to others inside the apparatus. However, the ‘reformists’, seeking their own interests, only target their rivals in their remarks, leaving [Rouhani] out of the picture… There are considerable accounts in Rouhani’s report card. For example, at a time when Rouhani’s government in recent years supported efforts to revoke capital punishment, he himself in 1980 had suggested, ‘Bring traitors to Friday prayers and have them hanged for people to see. It would have more impact…’

Following the 1999 student uprising crackdown, Rouhani described the protesters as devious, foreign agents, affiliated and corrupt, adding they are ‘far more despicable for us to label them an overthrowing movement… if senior officials had not prevented us our people, our Muslim, brave and revolutionary youth would have resorted to the harshest of measures against these hoodlums.’ Back in December 2013, he described a march staged by regime supporters against those protesting the election results as clear insight. In 2015 he described that rally as the day ‘the Iranian nation defended the mullahs’ establishment.’

In other words, from 1980 to this day [Rouhani] has constantly supported crackdown measures against protesters and those opposing the government. In yet another move, Rouhani’s selected Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi as his minister of justice, saying he is delighted of Raisi’s presence in his cabinet.

(Pour-Mohammadi is another member of the abovementioned “Death Commission”.)

In yet another example, Rouhani praised his measures in imposing ‘mandatory hijab regulations in army administrative offices’. In his memoir Rouhani has written, ‘I went to Fort Dushan Tapeh and all the women employees, many in numbers, gathered in a large room where I spoke about hijab. Many of the women made a big fuss, but I stood firm and said: This is an order and no disobedience is tolerated… I ordered the guard that from the next morning women without proper hijab should no longer be allowed onto the premises.

As a result, it is crystal clear how the 1988 massacre dossier has become a trending topic amongst the Iranian people, especially college students who have been seen recently bravely questioning senior Iranian regime officials. A student in Tabriz University, northwest Iran, dared to state strong remarks and questions about this grave and horrific crime against humanity against Hassan Abbasi, a known theoretician of Khamenei’s faction.

As a result, it is natural to raise a question about the possibility of Khamenei being forced to set Raisi aside – due to his role in the 1988 massacre – and place his faction’s weight behind Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, one of the six candidates approved by the Guardian Council?

The truth is both Raisi, and Khamenei’s faction who currently support him, and Rouhani, and his so-called “moderate” faction, know the Iranian people have for decades had nothing but hatred for this regime. However, one cannot deny the fact that the possibility of Raisi stepping aside in favor of Ghalibaf has been raised in Iran’s state media outlets.

In such an outcome, this will deliver a highly unprecedented blow to Khamenei’s own image, and thus the entire Iranian regime establishment. This will ultimately play into the interest of the Iranian people and their organized resistance, resembled in the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

This coalition, represented by its President Maryam Rajavi and her 10-point plan for a future Iran, has for over three decades strived to establish a free, democratic and non-nuclear Iran. The May 19th presidential election in Iran is a major turning point and the international community should take the opportunity and stand alongside the Iranian people.

Understanding Iran’s presidential elections crisis

It appears Iran’s presidential elections, scheduled for May 19th, are becoming ever more complicated. The question of who might face the incumbent President Hassan Rouhani was a trending topic recently, including the significant news of Ebrahim Raisi‘s entry into the race (Raisi is a mullah very close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei).

The final list of six candidates in the upcoming so-called election — read selection — was announced on Thursday. The slate includes Rouhani, Raisi, Iran’s First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, former Minister of Culture Mostafa Mirsalim and former Industry Minister Mostafa Hashemitaba. A first glance indicates the remaining four will most probably step aside eventually in favor of Rouhani and Raisi.

Khamenei, the highest ranking official in Iran, is facing two major political knots in the elections. His faction, known as the “hardliners” or “principalists,” has been divided over who to promote their candidate against Rouhani, the so-called “moderate” or “reformist.” Khamenei’s faction faced a similar situation in 2012 and 2013, leading to his assent to the election of Rouhani, who was supported by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who passed away this past January.

This is a sad story. For obvious reasons, I am changing names and certain details to protect the memory of…

This first dilemma before Khamenei escalated to an unprecedented level, forcing him to very publicly call on the firebrand former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to not take part in the polls. Ahmadinejad disobeyed and registered his candidacy, only to be disqualified on Thursday by the ultraconservative Guardian Council, a 12-cleric body whose members are appointed directly and indirectly by Khamenei himself.

The second issue hovers over the highly sensitive subject of Khamenei’s successor as supreme leader. Raisi’s name has been heard for some time, causing quite a stir. Rafsanjani was knee-deep into this subject during the elections of Iran’s last parliament and Assembly of Experts, the entity responsible on appointing the next supreme leader.

Khamenei’s elements suffered a major defeat then. To this end, selecting the ideal figure as his successor is the second dilemma standing before Khamenei. And Rafsanjani’s death does not make the situation any easier.

Khamenei also has reservations on placing his full weight behind Raisi in the presidential elections, fearing such a policy will create dangerous divides in his establishment. Both factions in Iran share this sentiment, knowing such rifts will allow Iran’s powder keg society to explode after suffering four decades of human rights violations and economic hardship.

The issue of Khamenei’s successor goes far beyond the presidential elections, and yet it is linked to the polls in an intriguing manner. Khamenei seeks to take advantage of Raisi’s presidency as a springboard to his appointment as his successor. Despite having the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps‘ loyalty, Khamenei knows he does not enjoy his establishment’s full support. The roots of selecting a supreme leader has been a major dilemma dating back to the 1989 death of regime founder Ruhollah Khomeini.

In 1988, Khomeini ordered the massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, mostly members and supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the main Iranian opposition group to this day. His designated successor, the late Ayatollah Hassan Ali Montazeri, protested Khomeini’s fatwa, leading to his house arrest and banishing from the ruling elite.

This created a major rift among the regime’s senior ranks, fueled by the dispute between Khomeini and the PMOI/MEK. With Khamenei becoming very ill, and Rafsanjani out of the picture, the subject before this regime is too complex for Khamenei to consider easily resolved as a simple dispute between his regime’s factions. This is especially important as Iran finds its role in Syria becoming a major burden.

The question is, is this entire scenario not against Khamenei’s interest?

Rest assured Khamenei had thought this move through many times before ever mentioning Raisi’s name, knowing his role in the “Death Commission” supervising the 1988 massacre has, and will, cause further dilemmas in the future. To this end, both factions in this regime have suffered defeats.

At this stage, no rival can take advantage of their opposition’s weakness in their own interest. Rouhani, also having a member of the “Death Commission” Mostafa Pour Mohammadi, ironically, as his justice minister, finds himself in a very weak position, having lost Rafsanjani and with the July 2015 nuclear deal with world powers not having changed the status quo for ordinary Iranians. However, Khamenei’s faction, unable to unite behind a single candidate, cannot adopt a strong position against Rouhani.

In short, this leaves the entire regime facing a major crisis prior to the crucial presidential elections turning point. Both factions are also terrified of a possible repeat of the 2009 scenario of nationwide uprisings, considered a red line for the entire Iranian regime establishment.

What the near future holds for Iran prior to the elections is a matter to be seen for all. What is certain, however, is the fact that such a scene has the potential of exploding into a disaster for the ruling mullahs.

As we near the so-called election day in Iran, the regime sees intensifying crisis, with potential developments ending in results in favor of the people and a future democratic Iran without the mullahs in power.

Iran’s Elections: A Breaking Crisis?

The 12th presidential election in Iran will be held on May 19th. These polls are taking place at a time when the regime in Tehran, and especially Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, are facing three distinct crises.

a)  Khamenei, suffering from prostate cancer, sees his days as numbered and must designate a successor. From March 2015 he has held various sessions with senior regime and Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) officials for this very purpose. Khamenei insists that his successor be clarified prior to his death.

b)  A major policy overhaul in Washington following the end of Obama’s tenure. This has terrified Iran and placed this regime in intense isolation on the international stage and across the region in the face of Arab and Islamic countries.

c)  The presidential election crisis in May.

Khamenei, witnessing his establishment coming to its knees during the 2009 uprisings, is extremely concerned about a repeat scenario. In such circumstances, the possibility of his entire regime crumbling at the hands of a revolting population is very serious and even likely. Khamenei is weighing how to properly engineer the elections while not providing any pretext for popular upheaval.

In contrast to the viewpoints of various parties in the West, the rifts inside Khamenei’s faction and those supporting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani does not arise from a difference between two so-called “moderate” and/or “hardline” mentalities. The fact is that the sham election is a dispute over two solutions aimed at safeguarding and maintaining a religious dictatorship in power, furthering their expansionism and ambitions.

Both factions, including Khamenei and the current formerly represented by the influential Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, believe in resorting to a domestic crackdown, obtaining nuclear weapons, meddling in the internal affairs of other countries such as Iraq and Syria, and using instability and terrorism leverage as a tool to pursue their foreign policy. The only difference is how to advance in their goal to realize these objectives. Therefore, when we are talking about two factions, we must not mistakenly compare the Iranian regime with today’s advanced democracies.

Khamenei is considered very weak due to the current crises his regime is facing. In contrast to last year, when he constantly lashed out at Rouhani for the deal sealed to curb Iran’s nuclear program and similar initiatives sought for other purposes, Khamenei refused to mention Iran’s current political crises. Furthermore, following the major U.S,-Iran policy change, Khamenei has set aside his stereotype threats against the U.S. and maintained a state of hesitancy in his remarks.

Khamenei and Election Engineering

Candidates for Iran’s presidential elections will register from April 11th to the 16th. The ultraconservative Guardian Council, a 12-man body directly and indirectly appointed by Khamenei himself, will weigh the candidates’ qualifications from April 17th to the 27th. The elections are scheduled for May 19th.

Iran’s presidential elections always feature a large number of candidates. However, the main candidates from the two main factions must receive Khamenei’s explicit or implicit approval.

“Rouhani’s candidacy was confirmed after gaining the approval of the establishment’s senior officials,” according to the Ebtekar daily.

By establishing the “Popular Party of Revolutionary Forces” and the membership of the same individuals who elevated firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president from the ballot boxes back in 2005, Khamenei has revealed signs of how he has engineered the upcoming elections.

In his “Nowruz” message marking the Iranian calendar New Year, Khamenei came to admit his role in the results of the 2009 presidential election.

“I entered the 2009 [presidential election] and stood firm,” he said. In his remarks, Khamenei warned about the May election by stipulating, “I will stand firm and intervene.”

It is worth noting the IRGC command, and especially Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani, are seeking the candidacy of Ibrahim Reisi, who is also considered one of Khamenei’s options as his successor. Khamenei has yet to reach a final decision over Reisi’s candidacy in the May elections. If he registers as a candidate and fails to become president, his chances of succeeding Khamenei will be severely undermined. And if Khamenei seeks to select Reisi as the next president at all costs, he faces the severe possibility of instigating nationwide uprisings.

What is the Forecast?

Naturally, due to the numerous different elements facing Khamenei and his regime’s factions, forecasting even the near future is quite a challenging task. However, there are three different scenarios facing Khamenei:

1) Eliminating Rouhani and selecting a candidate meeting his standards, and that of the IRGC.

2) Rouhani is severely weakened after losing Rafsanjani, considered a major pillar in the regime’s apparatus. He will be reappointed as president on the condition of succumbing to the hegemony of Khamenei and the IRGC.

3) Rouhani views Khamenei weak in the balance of power and stands as a major opponent against his faction.

Of course, Khamenei prefers to realize the first scenario. If concerns of nationwide uprisings cancel this possibility, he will give in to the second scenario.

Although Rouhani is in favor of the third scenario, considering the society’s powder keg conditions and losing the support of Rafsanjani, such a turn of events would be considered dangerous for both the regime’s factions. This outcome can bring an end to the public’s fear of the regime’s domestic crackdown machine and ignite a new nationwide uprising. This is a red line for both of Iran’s factions.

Those supporting Khamenei, and especially the IRGC, seek to eliminate Rouhani from these elections. However, Khamenei cannot take very bold measures and officially oppose Rouhani’s candidacy. When confirming Rouhani’s candidacy, Khamenei asked him to hold coordinating meetings with Sulemani and IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari. This request brings us closer to the second scenario.

However, the Iranian people and their organized opposition, symbolized in the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), consider such elections under the mullahs’ regime as baseless and demand free and fair elections held under the United Nations auspices. Such polls are only possible through regime change in Iran and establishing a democratic system.

Shahriar Kia is a political analyst and member of Iranian opposition (PMOI/MEK). He graduated from North Texas University. He tweets at @shahriarkia.

Iranian Regime’s Concerns Persist Ahead of May Elections

Khamenei focused his speech on two main topics, covering both Iran’s economic crisis and the upcoming presidential elections in May. However, his words on the economy can be evaluated as a prelude to the disputes that will most definitely engulf Iranian politics. The comments Khamenei made on the economy were mainly focused on the failures and embarrassments brought about by the cabinet of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, including increasing unemployment and doubt over statistics published by the government.

Unlike Western democracies, there are no real “political parties” in Iran. Despite all the brouhaha in the media about “moderates” or “reformists” facing off against “hardliners,” they are all part of one system loyal to one leader, and are only considered members of different factions within this one system. Their only difference hovers over how to maintain their dictatorial regime in power.

Khamenei very specifically said the people should not elect a “tired” president and went as far as saying that the president must not be involved in any case of economic corruption.When discussing the elections, Khamenei very vividly referred to Rouhani’s cabinet as an inactive, low energy and a “non-revolutionary” entity. These very same terms were used the day before by various Friday prayer imams and representatives of his faction in the parliament.

Rouhani wasted no time in responding, taking advantage of a speech in the city of Sanandaj, in western Iran, on March 25. In response to Khamenei demanding that the government must present a report card of its accomplishments, Rouhani targeted the judiciary – known to be extremely loyal to Khamenei’s viewpoints – and called for this powerful institution to present its own report.

The question now is what the purpose of Khamenei’s remarks might have been. Does he truly intend to eliminate or disqualify Rouhani from the polls in any way?

Of course, Khamenei would prefer Rouhani to not be his regime’s next president. However, it appears he can no longer disqualify Rouhani through the ultraconservative Guardian Council, a 12-man body selected directly and indirectly by Khamenei, that is in charge of vetting all candidates for all so-called elections in Iran.

Although various members of Khamenei’s faction may seek such a fate for Rouhani, it appears that Khamenei himself knows the consequences of this outcome. A development of this type would significantly tear open the rifts inside the Iranian regime and provide adequate circumstances for Iranian society to explode in uprisings and protests similar to those of 2009.

To this end, Khamenei will go the distance to discredit and destroy Rouhani’s image and as a result decrease his popularity at the polls in a second and engineered round of elections. This would be the easiest of all scenarios for Khamenei, resulting in the elimination of Rouhani “by the books.”

And if forced to accept Rouhani for another term, the least Khamenei expects is to have a completely weakened Rouhani who won’t raise any demands and follows his orders. Khamenei especially needs such conditions after he lost one of his regime’s main pillars, former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Despite their differences, Khamenei knows that the road ahead is far more difficult without him. To this end, he senses a need to continue his attacks against Rouhani to gain a full and complete control over all aspects of his regime.

The irony, however, lies in the fact that Khamenei faces many obstacles in his path to this objective.

First, the probability of a social outburst transforming into nationwide uprisings would be no less than a nightmare for him. If such a threat did not exist, rest assured Khamenei would have disqualified Rouhani through the Guardian Council and rid himself of this problem.

Second, Khamenei also has major reservations about the huge rifts existing within his own faction, vivid through the fact that his camp has not been able to select and support a single candidate for the elections. If Khamenei is unable to convince the hardliners to rally behind one candidate, he can assume the election lost beforehand.

Third, all said and done, who is the one figure Khamenei can select to have his camp rally behind? Does such a person even exist in Iran today who can bring an end to the long-lasting divisions among the so-called hardliners?

This all comes down to the major challenge before the entire Iranian regime: Can these sham elections be held without the population rising up, similar to 2009, in demand of fundamental change? We’ll find out soon enough.

Originally posted in The Diplomat

What Is Iran’s Policy-Making Mechanism?

assembly-of-experts-iran2

By Heshmat Alavi

As we close in to the Iran presidential election — read “selection” — a more precise look at the policymaking mechanisms at work in this very peculiar theocratic system is necessary.

The regime in Iran, with Hassan Rouhani as its president, has been eager to portray an image of a government mending fences with the international community.

However, no beginning of true political change has occurred in Iran despite Rouhani’s deceptive smiles. The so-called “reformist-moderate” initiative in Iran has only further strengthened and secured Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) in power.

There is a misleading notion of two divergent political trends in Iran, one pursuing a so-called “hardline” approach led by the Khamenei-IRGC camp, and another claiming a more “reformist” attitude by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his mentor and fierce Khamenei rival, the late former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Yet the harsh reality is that these seemingly competing trends are quietly harmonious in practice. Khamenei continues to monopolize power in Iran, while in need of the rival camp to portray a satisfactory canvas of his regime to the outside world.

Khamenei has the last word on all national security and foreign policy matters. Concern at times raised by outside analysts over escalating tensions between the two sides over subjects such as the nuclear deal are the result of Iran’s deceptive propaganda machine at work. The regime, in its entirety, focuses on swaying all attention far from the true policymaking mechanics at work deep in Tehran.

Rouhani only became president with Khamenei’s personal blessing, as the latter understood fully the potential of another 2009-style uprising brewing in Iran. The Guardian Council, Khamenei’s lever to control all elections by vetting each and every candidate, enjoys the authority to bar any individual considered unpalatable. Rest assured that Khamenei considered Rouhani useful, or else he would have joined the long list of disqualified others.

Khamenei saw his regime facing a massive economic crisis threatening to spark a major uprising after former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, described as a firebrand, plunged Iran into serious international isolation. Sanctions were frustrating the Iranian population and the global oil price nosedive added insult to injury.

At first glance the IRGC, taking control over a large portion of Iran’s economy, was benefiting as sanctions burdened private sector competitors. Yet little by little even the IRGC’s profits began to plunge, and Khamenei realized his desperate need for sanctions reliefs at the price of taking a major step back from his nuclear ambitions.

Tehran is taking advantage of the Iran nuclear deal as a medium to calm domestic unrest and to revive the IRGC’s former economic stature. To this end, Khamenei needed a figure such as Rouhani to help convince the international community to make the deal. Of course, Tehran also enjoyed a major lifeline through the pro-appeasement dogma adopted by U.S. President Barack Obama.

In the meantime, Khamenei also needed to preserve his domestic image, as kowtowing to foreign pressure would be recipe for disaster. This is where the regime pursued a two-faced approach. While Rouhani and his top diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, played “good cop” shaking hands with the “Great Satan,” Khamenei remains the “bad cop” in resorting to blatant rhetoric against America and Co.

This double-standard policy, pursued in parallel, has become the doctrine for the Iranian regime to maintain control over increasing domestic agitation while presenting an appealing portrait to the outside world.

While regime loyalists stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and Khamenei threatened Riyadh with “divine revenge,” five American hostages were released in return for the United Nations declaring Iran in compliance with the nuclear pact.

A further in-depth evaluation proves Iran’s new economic exchanges with the West are not parallel to any political improvements. In fact, safeguarding the IRGC’s grip on the economy is considered vital to enhancing their political position.

The IRGC has also been described as “a major force when it comes to controlling Iran’s economy. Many Iranians in and out of the country have called the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ‘Iran’s mafia.’”

The elimination of 99% of so-called “reformist” candidates in the February 26 parliamentary elections can provide a preview to the upcoming presidential elections, with higher stakes at play.

No pragmatic behavior by Iran will render any meaningful change within. Nor will Tehran ever abandon regional ambitions in which it has invested billions, including Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. In fact, boosting efforts to realize such objectives is necessary to maintain Iran’s political status quo.

While Khamenei remains in control, recent developments in Syria, with Russia and Turkey spearheading a ceasefire agreement, are completely against Iran’s interests. This is parallel to snowballing dissent inside Iran on the verge of intense times prior to the May 2017 presidential election. This leaves Khamenei before a major dilemma over how to play his cards.

“The 37-year-old experience of the destructive and murderous mullahs’ regime in my country has shown that no degree of political and economic concessions, which have been carried out at the expense of the Iranian people, have led to a change of behavior or policies of the Iranian regime either inside or outside of Iran,” said Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group of dissident entities including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Sanctions relief providing temporary life-support for Tehran won’t last long. The international community, and the new administration in Washington, should take advantage of the nuclear deal to increase pressure on Tehran, forcing it to start actually abiding by international laws and standards.

Originally posted in American Thinker

Heshmat Alavi is a political and rights activist. His writing focuses on Iran, ranging from human rights violations, social crackdown, the regime’s support for terrorism and meddling in foreign countries, and the controversial nuclear program.

He tweets at @HeshmatAlavi

What is behind Iran’s escalating domestic feuds?

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani replies to a question during a news conference on the sidelines of the 69th United Nations General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters in New York
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani

By Heshmat Alavi

With only four months to Iran’s next presidential “elections,” the political stage inside the country has been the scene of new and intense disputes, with both so-called “moderates” and “hardliners” pointing fingers.

“Can a single individual steal $3 billion all by himself?” asked Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in reference to the case of oil tycoon Babak Zanjani who was recently sentenced to death for his massive fraud case.

“To whom was he connected to? Who supported him and who were his partners? How could have oil, property and hundreds of millions of dollars been placed at his disposal?” Rouhani continued. “Now, if one individual is executed, so what? What happened to the money? Who were involved?”

Iran’s judiciary chief Sadegh Amoli Larijani, loyal to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his “hardliners,” held Rouhani’s cabinet and the Foreign Ministry responsible for the Zanjani dossier.

“The government and Foreign Ministry must provide answers regarding the Babak Zanjani case… Zanjani said he provided millions of dollars to the President’s election. Now you are saying let’s take a look at what was behind the scenes? No problem. We will summon all individuals he was in contact with in this regard and if needed, we will have them arrested to get to the bottom of this… Very high-tech security equipment were transferred to the presidential building without security being informed; with whose authorization? Where did the money come from? The government should be held accountable, yet everything is being portrayed lopsided,” he said.

Prior to his sudden death, former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a mentor and supporter of Rouhani, shed light on hundreds of billions of dollars wasted by this regime in wars abroad.

“I am shocked at how they actually wasted $700 to $800 billion of oil revenue! Those who use national media and other tribunes to spread political lies and insults… they should answer where those unprecedented profits went,” he demanded in reference to the government of firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Now, the real question is why has the Iranian regime’s factional dispute reached such a climax, and where is it headed?

The fact of the matter is there is a fundamental and a timely reason behind all this. The fundamental reason is the internal dispute over factional interests and the riches they have plundered from the deprived Iranian people. One such case is the $3 billion mentioned above, which no faction can back down from.

The timely—and maybe main—reason behind this recent flare in domestic disputes is the upcoming presidential “elections” in Iran. Both factions are pressing the gas pedal to rivals’ disclose massive theft cases.

For example, why is Sadegh Larijani so furious over Rouhani’s remarks? It is obvious that Larijani, who has close ties to Khamenei, is seeking Zanjani’s execution to bring an end to this fiasco and cover up the trace for all other Khamenei-loyalists involved. It is also crystal clear that Larijani himself is threatening to reveal the role of Rouhani’s senior cabinet ministers in this regard.

Here is a review of the possible scenarios before us and their impact on the upcoming presidential “elections.”

These disputes will continue to erupt more than ever before and both factions seek to deliver further blows to their rivals at the “ballot box.”

Before the elections, Khamenei may seek to eliminate Rouhani through the ultra-conservative Guardian Council, the body responsible for vetting all election candidates, or other mechanisms.

Although Khamenei understands quite well that such a scenario may tear open internal divides, allowing a 2009-like uprising at a much larger scale across the country.

Therefore, Khamenei is seeking to deliver as many setbacks to his rival Rafsanjani-Rouhani faction and weaken their ranks and files to the utmost extent.

This, in itself, is a very dangerous risk. The Iranian population will without a doubt reach the conclusion that all factions and senior regime officials are thieves and corrupt, parallel to atrocities such as the grave sleepers.

It is worth noting that the Iranian people have never believed in the existence of any so-called “hardliners” or “moderates” in Iran.

“There is often talk about there being two divergent lines in Iran, a hardline one dominated by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards and a pragmatic line represented by President Rouhani and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But far from the existence of two competing currents in Tehran, the two lines actually work harmoniously. Power in Iran remains firmly in the hands of the supreme leader, while Rouhani’s camp is useful for Khamenei to present a palatable image of Iran to the West,” as written in the Middle East Eye.

All regime elements seek their own mutual interests, with small differences here and there, and view the Iranian population as their number one threat and enemy.

The Iranian society can be summarized as a dangerous powder keg ready to explode at any moment.

The Future Of Iran Following Rafsanjani’s Death

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Former Iran’s president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, speaks during Friday prayer ceremony in Tehran on Friday May, 26, 2006. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

Originally published in Forbes

By Heshmat Alavi

The regime in Iran suffered a major setback after former president and figurehead Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani died of a heart attack on Sunday. He was 82.

Following the 1979 revolution, Rafsanjani played an influential role in structuring the regime’s policies, and his death will leave a significant power vacuum, coming less than four months prior to significant presidential elections.

Known for his persuasive role in shaping the regime’s politics following the 1979 revolution, Rafsanjani will leave a power vacuum in his wake.

During the past four decades Rafsanjani preserved a top role in the regime’s domestic crackdown, exporting Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism and extremism, and spearheading Iran’s effort to acquire nuclear weapons through an underground program.

“The death of Rafsanjani, one of the pillars of the religious fascism ruling Iran and its balance factor collapsed, and the regime in its entirety is closer now to its overthrow,” said Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Following the Iran-Iraq War from 1980 to 1988, serving as Parliament Speaker and deputy commander of armed forces, Rafsanjani reached the presidency in 1989 and held this post until 1997. After two years of the so-called “reformist” Mohammad Khatami as president, Rafsanjani attempted to run for the office once again in 2005, only to succumb to hothead Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Recently Rafsanjani gained a reputation for his aggressive challenge against Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, while playing the role model for Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s so-called “moderate” president.

Of course, Rafsanjani was definitely considered part and parcel to the religious establishment in Iran, bearing in mind his special ties to regime founder Ruhollah Khomeini, who died back in 1989. However, appeasement advocates in the West dubbed him as a “pragmatic conservative” willing to work with the outside world, especially the “Great Satan.”

While Rafsanjani’s power diminished noticeably in recent years, he continued to enjoy a final post as chief of the Expediency Council, assigned to seemingly resolve disputes between the Guardian Council and parliament. The former is an ultra-conservative body closely knitted to Khamenei and known to screen all electoral candidates according to their loyalty to the regime establishment.

Rafsanjani sought last to take part in the 2013 presidential elections as a “reformist,” only to be disqualified by the Guardian Council. Angered at being purged, Rafsanjani lashed back by criticizing the measure as ill-informed.

Parallel to his rivalry with the Supreme Leader, Rafsanjani went on to place his weight behind Rouhani in 2013 when the latter assumed authority as president.

Alongside his political campaign, in the past decades Rafsanjani also used his post to slice his entire family an economic fortune from the country’s organs and natural resources.

“One brother headed the country’s largest copper mine; another took control of the state-owned TV network; a brother-in-law became governor of Kerman province, while a cousin runs an outfit that dominates Iran’s $400 million pistachio export business; a nephew and one of Rafsanjani’s sons took key positions in the Ministry of Oil; another son heads the Tehran Metro construction project (an estimated $700 million spent so far),” states a 2003 Forbes analysis.

The report also mentions billions stashed by the Rafsanjanis in overseas bank accounts.

“Some of the family’s wealth is out there for all to see. Rafsanjani’s youngest son, Yaser, owns a 30-acre horse farm in the super-fashionable Lavasan neighborhood of north Tehran, where land goes for over $4 million an acre. Just where did Yaser get his money? A Belgian-educated businessman, he runs a large export-import firm that includes baby food, bottled water and industrial machinery.”

Despite canvasing as a reasonable negotiator to the West, Rafsanjani was in fact shoulder to shoulder with his “hardline” partners in quelling dissident voices, specifically members and supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the leading opposition group gaining reputation after being the first to blow the whistle on Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program.

“Four rulings are a must for the [PMOI]: 1. Be killed; 2. Be hanged; 3. Arms and legs be amputated; 4. Be separated from society,” Rafsanjani said back in 1981. He also played a dominant role in the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners in jails across the country.

As president, Rafsanjani supervised a slate of dissident assassinations abroad, such as renowned human rights advocate Dr. Kazem Rajavi, former Iranian ambassador to Italy Mohammad Hossein Naghdi and Iranian Kurdish leader Abdulrahman Ghassemlou.

Continuing this string of terrorist attacks, Rafsanjani has also been indicted for his part in the 1994 Buenos Aires AMIA bombing that left 85 killed and hundreds more wounded.

Rafsanjani has, through the past four decades, acted as the regime’s No. 2 figure and a balancing component, always preserving the regime’s higher interests. His death will considerably weaken the entire regime and spark major disturbances throughout the regime’s ranks and files. If the past is any sign of the possible road ahead, the mullahs will most probably resort to additional violence and the export of extremism, terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism to avert this latest crisis from escalating beyond control.