Nowrouz to mark war or promote peace in Iran?

On Nowrouz, the Iranian New Year (the first day of spring), Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made one of his most important and milestone speeches.

Khamenei who was in his hometown of Mashhad at the vernal equinox for the first speech of the year admitted that the sanctions have had an effect but blamed the Iranian governments (in general) for its inability to reduce the nation’s dependency on oil revenue in the last 30 years.

Khamenei blamed the technocrats for not believing that the nation could function without oil revenue and for not investing in diversifying the economy. These technocrats are no other than former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s supporters and the government Hashemi Rafsanjani held for two terms.

Despite media reports, which state that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in confrontation with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei did not make any statements relating to his disappointment with the current government’s domestic or international performance.

President Ahmadinejad in his New Year message told the nation that everyone in the country including the Supreme Leader, has only one vote and that it is the people who choose the president and not anyone else

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

The most interesting part of his speech was related to internal matters, and the upcoming election. By contrast, President Ahmadinejad in his New Year message told the nation that everyone in the country including the Supreme Leader, has only one vote and that it is the people who choose the president and not anyone else.

The Supreme Leader also echoed this sentiment when he said in Mashhad, “I have only one vote and no one will know for whom I vote.” Interestingly, he even gave the Council of Guardians the green light to ease the approval process for candidates.

Khamenei also indicated that the election does not belong to a specific group or party. “The recognition of the system, our national interest and sovereignty” are the criteria for eligibility according to Ayatollah Khamenei. “It belongs to everyone and it’s the right of everyone.”

The guise of free, fair elections

Perhaps this semi–pre-approval will ease the work of the Council of Guardians—a welcome development given the bitter taste left in the people from the last election. The Supreme Leader clearly stated that the people’s participation in the elections is important—an attempt to create an air of excitement in the public by encouraging people to believe that the upcoming election will be free and fair.

Khamenei’s objectives may be well received as he may agree with reformist and former president Mohammad Khatami’s candidacy as well as those whom President Ahmadinejad endorsed, namely his top aide Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.

Mashaei, who enjoys popularity among the public but less so among the conservatives in Qom, is Ahmadinejad’s top choice to run the election.

If Khamenei’s pre-approval allows an extremely popular reformist like Khatami and extremely hatred figure among the conservatives like Mashaei to run, the election promises challenges and excitement.

It would be a shrewd political move for the Supreme Leader to encourage a range of political leanings in this election. Khamenei has cleverly calculated that a competition between Khatami and Mashaei would make it difficult for either to win a majority. In the absence of a clear frontrunner, the election can benefit the conservatives. Of course, it is a risk for Khamenei to encourage various parties and groups to participate but perhaps he sees this as the best solution to the domestic and international deadlock.

The talk between Iran and 5+1 over Iran’s nuclear program has not ended. Despite the optimism generated from the Almaty meeting earlier, the follow-up technical meeting in Istanbul, which took place less than week ago, did not leave a bright forecast.

The groups are scheduled to meet after the Iranian holidays in early April in Almaty again, but according to Western diplomats, the meeting in Istanbul was described as passive. Apparently Iranians came to the Istanbul meeting stating that in exchange for suspending enriching uranium to 20 per cent, they wanted bigger concessions. The international community was offering to reserve energy and banking sanctions.

War or peace

While in Israel the calls for action against Iran in case diplomacy breaks down is starting to get loud again, Iran’s Supreme Leader has also threatened Israel to level its major cities if it acted against Iran.

The fact is Ayatollah Khamenei still believes all aims behind negotiations are aimed at regime change in Iran. Perhaps the international community has to offer Iran something bigger than lifting part of the sanctions if Iran is to suspend high-grade uranium enrichment. Surrounded by neighbors armed to the teeth with new technology, Iran has this nuclear program (for civilian purposes or not) as the only deterrent weapon. Giving it up is a huge deal and in return Iran wants to gain more than merely lifting a few sanctions from the tight economy.

Khamenei’s speech included another important segment: he mentioned that he is not optimistic about having talks with the U.S. but that he is not against it either. It seems like the urge for direct talks was more important than anything else. Even the nuclear scandal can be solved if the two nations can sit alongside each other and negotiate.

Clearly this talk cannot take place in the short time before the election. Iran is preparing itself for a big move as indicated by the Supreme Leader: war or peace.

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard

Last Update: Monday, 25 March 2013 KSA 19:15 - GMT 16:15
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