Rowhani election creates surge of hope in Iran

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The election of moderate Hassan Rowhani as Iran’s next president has sent a surge of expectation through a nation anxious for relief from international sanctions and seeking more freedoms at home.

Rampant inflation, a plummeting currency and rising number of people out of work in an economy struggling under the weight of the sanctions have all made their mark.

Navid Fathi, the chief technology officer for a Tehran-based computer engineering firm, laments restrictions imposed by sanctions devised to force Iran to curb its controversial nuclear activities.

“Professionals in my field need to be able to interact with the world,” he said.

“We need to be able to procure devices, to exchange data and to engage in financial transactions” with the outside world, he complained.

Rowhani, a 64-year-old mid-ranking cleric, won the election outright on June 14 with more than half the votes, sweeping aside rivals from the conservative camps which have held sway in Iran for the past eight years.

Head of a relatively moderate nuclear negotiating team under reformist President Mohammad Khatami in the early 2000s, Rowhani has pledged greater transparency in the long-running talks with world powers over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Fathi said the sanctions, which have been largely blamed for the country’s economic woes, must be removed.

“The first issue that must be resolved is sanctions, which have restricted us,” he said.

Tehran has been negotiating with the so-called group of P5+1 – the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members plus Germany – over its nuclear program.

But those talks have failed to produce any breakthrough.

In a news conference two days after his election, Rowhani slammed as unjust the EU and U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and banking sectors that have crippled its economy.

But Iran, he said, will be “more transparent to show that its activities fall within the framework of international rules” as “the nuclear issue cannot be resolved without negotiations.”

His remarks, along with a pledge to bring about “the change” desired by people whose lives under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency have been hit hard by the sanctions, have energized Iranians.

“A sane person takes sane decisions, which affect our lives,” cartoonist Jamal Rahamti told AFP. “Rowhani is a sane person.”

Iran has repeatedly denied claims from the world powers that its nuclear program is aimed at developing weapons, and insists it is for peaceful purposes only.

Reinforced by U.N. Security Council sanctions, punitive measures have cost the economy billions in vital oil revenues and foreign investment, leaving Iran struggling with raging inflation and a depreciated currency.

Inflation is more than 30 percent, the rial has lost nearly 70 percent of its value and unemployment is rising.

“I want to see a fall in prices,” said Siamak, owner of a corner shop in western Tehran. “Then my regular customers will stop haggling and complaining about how expensive everything has become.”

Throughout his campaign Rowhani refrained from using fiery or potentially confrontational rhetoric, and at the same time promised greater freedoms at home.

The editor of a Tehran-based newspaper told AFP that he expects more leeway for the country’s media.

“I hope Rowhani improves media conditions and provides a more relative freedom,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “This will certainly allow the press to flourish.”

Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who played a crucial role in Rowhani’s election by backing him, urged the president-elect to keep “hope” alive.

“It is the duty of the government to continue and consolidate the hope that has spread among the people,” Rafsanjani said on his website.

The announcement of Rowhani’s victory on June 15 sparked street parties nationwide, joyful demonstrations that were repeated four days later when the national football team qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Taxi driver Hossein, 55, said that he has notice a difference in attitudes since Rowhani’s election.

“I see more relaxed and smiling passengers in my cab,” he said.

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