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As we await Iran’s openness

The loss of two hardliners in recent elections means nothing because there are many hardliners in government

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Some sense change in Iran, noting the defeat of some extremist leaders during recent legislative elections, and thinking this is due to the nuclear deal. In reality, however, extremists’ grip has been strengthened. We have not yet seen a trace of the nuclear deal’s awaited political, economic and social effects.

The fact that two hardliners lost their seats during the recent elections means nothing because there are many hardliners in government, and even when some lose their posts, Iran’s behavior and policies do not change.

This is what experts on Iranian affairs confirmed in Abu Dhabi during a workshop organized by the Emirates Policy Center this week to discuss shifts in Iran’s political landscape following the nuclear deal and legislative elections.

There is a popular desire to be open to the world and to work with it, but the extremist regime fears that openness will mark its end, so it will fight it. The regime controls all decision-making, funds and market activity.

One of the experts at the Abu Dhabi workshop said the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) controls 68 ports and maritime centers, which it uses to export and import without paying taxes or fees to the state.

The IRGC also controls many economic institutions such as petroleum refineries and major governmental companies, so economic openness will not be with real private or public sectors, but with state institutions.

The long view

Even the luckiest past experiences of openness took a long time to yield economic or political results. China, which adopted an open-door policy after it signed a historic deal with the United States in the 1970s, remained closed for around 20 more years until the world sensed real domestic economic change.

It is too early to sense change in Iran, where there are apprehensions about reconciling with the West and opening up to the world

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Moscow, which accepted opening up to the world in the mid-1980s, did not change until 1991, and then the Soviet Union split into 15 republics.

It is too early to sense change in Iran, where there are apprehensions about reconciling with the West and opening up to the world. Many high-ranking figures have voiced their intention to oppose any domestic changes. As is typical with totalitarian regimes, economic benefits are expected to only enrich the ruling class, which will then be better able to resist change.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Mar. 09, 2016.
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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.