According to the Wall Street Journal, the new Iranian hardliner president is another message to the Biden Administration that Iran does not intend to improve, even if the comprehensive nuclear deal is revived. As residents in the region, we are aware that this has been the case since the revolution, and the belief that the Iranian regime would change is just another misguided belief about a regime that has not witnessed a shred of change for the last 40 years. The new president, Ebrahim Raisi, is no fledgling to the Iranian political scene given his leadership positions he held since the eighties.
Tehran’s extremist religious views of itself and the world have not changed, neither did its military projects. It does not take a profound understanding of Iran’s political culture to recognize that no president could ever run, get elected, and be inaugurated unless approved by the Supreme Leader in theatrical elections with predetermined results.
The important part of the elections is that they publicly display the conflict between religious leaders, and particularly, those affiliated with Khamenei, the Supreme Leader with the sole political authority and the last say in all matters; any Iranian president must refer to him before making any decision.
The strife among them is no secret to anyone. Most presidents had to pay the price after their terms had come to an end as a result of their disagreements with the ruling powers. President Mohammad Khatami’s brother and a hundred of his companions were arrested when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the 2009 presidential race. Then, after Hassan Rouhani became president, Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad’s relative and most powerful minister, was arrested. In response to Ahmadinejad’s criticism, Mashaei was removed from prison and placed at a psychiatric hospital. After Hashemi Rafsanjani sought to run for president in 2013, conspiracies were formulated to exclude him from the race while his son, Mahdi, was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
As Rouhani was preparing to leave the presidential office, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) threatened his Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, accusing him of offending the memory of Qassem Soleimani. The conflicts do not pose a real, existential threat to the regime just yet, however, they are probably expediting the ruling in favor of one of the powers, most likely the IRGC.
As for the president’s position and powers, they have become weaker and more marginalized than ever before, especially with the emergence and control of Mojtaba, the son of the Supreme Leader, and the growing influence of the IRGC, which is about to bring to an end the governance of the Islamic Seminary of Qom, whose features and powers were formed in the early years with the arrival of Khomeini, the founder of the Iranian regime.
Perhaps this wheel of change was slowed down, but not stopped, when the US assassinated Soleimani; the IRGC now controls the country’s economy and its highest security positions, imposing its opinion on foreign affairs and managing wars in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.
We do not expect significant changes in the Iranian foreign policy after Ebrahim Raisi’s election since it falls within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Leader. As for the comprehensive nuclear deal negotiated by Rouhani’s team in Vienna, it will be revived.
But a hardliner president, like Raisi, will increase popular resentment against the regime, which we have been seeing its escalation amongst the people since the emergence of the Iranian Green Movement in 2009. The popular uprisings were first limited to the main cities, then later ones appeared in rural areas, where the regime believed it had a popular support.
Tehran’s triumvirate of President Raisi, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and Mojtaba Khamenei, will maintain the policy of continuing external expansion in Afghanistan and the Arab countries while suppressing the rebellious interior.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.