Time is running out, with or without Rowhani

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

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In less than a week, on August 4, Iran’s president-elect Hassan Rowhani will be inaugurated, replacing outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The event is neither historical nor unusual.

What makes Rowhani’s election different from previous elections, is noting that he will inherit a paralyzed economy and ruined relations with the international community.

But he is taking steps to change that. To begin with, he has invited many foreigners to the inauguration ceremony—a new and exotic gesture for the Islamic Republic.

Among the short-listed guests is Jack Straw, former British foreign minister and current MP.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is not a reclusive cleric, sipping tea and praying all day. He is well aware of political developments behind the scenes.

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

Straw, once nicknamed Jack Tehrani, visited Tehran many times during Mohammad Khatami’s presidency. Straw, who claims to be good friends with Rowhani, was among the first and few Western officials to show interest in Rowhani after his election.

With the presence of foreigners at the inauguration, Rowhani is signaling to the international community a desire to open a new chapter with the international community.

But, soon after the ceremony, Rowhani will face tough decisions, making his presidency markedly different and more difficult than his predecessors’.

Rowhani is aware of these challenges and knows that the reason he was vetted in the first place was that the Supreme Leader needed him to save the system.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is not a reclusive cleric, sipping tea and praying all day. He is well aware of political developments behind the scenes.

He recognizes the public’s anger and frustration, he knows that the cost of living has increased on a daily basis and he understands that the international sanctions have been effective.

His solution was to step back and fix the problem through a popular man.

It may take years to understand how Khamenei engineered the recent election in Iran.

During the election period, he asked the people to make history. He warned them that country is in danger and that even if they don’t support the system, for the sake of the nation, they have to vote.

No one believed that after the 2008 elections, which led to a brutal confrontation between the riot police and demonstrators, Iranians would support another candidate four years later. How did that happen?

Saeed Jalili, chief nuclear negotiator and also presidential candidate, appeared demonic during the campaign as he attempted to draw the country into an unwanted war. In response, voters rushed to the polling booths to save the country from his potential presidency.

Was Ayatollah Khamenei the mastermind behind this? If he hadn’t wanted Rowhani to become president he would not have allowed the Guardian Council to vet his application. Now, Rowhani is the president and expectations are high.

It is not an easy task, since the world, or more precisely the United States, has given Iran enough time to address the nuclear file. Now time is running out for Iran with or without Rowhani.

Rowhani will inherit a very difficult and sensitive set of issues. Time is against him and there is no evidence, good or bad, about his ability and how well he can work with the Supreme Leader.

Within a week, Rowhani will be in office and his cabinet and team will give Iranians and the world a clear signal about the shape of Iran’s foreign policy.

The role of P5+1

Of course, the head of the negotiation team with the P5+1 has to secure the trust of Ayatollah Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards, as Iran’s nuclear program is considered highly sensitive and classified.

Rowhani has promised to choose experienced team members, who, from the first day can put themselves fully in charge of matters.

The head of the negotiation team with P5+1 will also serve as Iran’s Chief in the National Security Council, making it one of the most important posts in the country—and one that the world is keen to know whom it might be.

Should Rowhani choose a reputable person, as rumors suggest rival presidential candidate Ali Akbar Velayati, a clear message will be given of Iran’s willingness to change.

During the presidential debates Velayati made clear that he is against all policies adopted by Jalili and his team.

No doubt, Rowhani will face tremendous pressure in the first few months of his presidency. People expect relief from their daily burden and immediate economic improvements. The world wants to see how this man will solve the nuclear file as soon as possible.

It is a very short way for Rowhani to reach the presidential office on 4 August, but he has a long way to go in a very short time to meet all of the demands. Can he make it and will Ayatollah Khamenei support his aims to achieve these goals?

Perhaps the new president will warm up during his upcoming trip to New York City for the opening of the General Assembly at the United Nations in mid-September.

This is a perfect time for the world, and particularly Americans, to meet this newly elected president and hear his speech. At the same time it will be a great opportunity for Rowhani to meet world leaders and show a more positive and constructive image of Iran.

But first, some world leaders will be going to Tehran on Saturday to meet the president first before meeting him again in the near future. What is next for Iran and the rest of the world?


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

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