What’s Next for Iran, Now That They’ve Elected a Moderate President?

Iranians danced in the streets after Hassan Rowhani, a moderate cleric and a former chief nuclear negotiator, was elected President after elections on Friday, June 14th. Reports of women removing their headscarves and a group cheering “Ahmadi Bye Bye” were in vivid contrast to the mass demonstrations, and the violence, that followed the 2009 re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that brought in four more years of conservative rule.

Rowhani’s “landslide victory” was a surprise. His candidacy had been overshadowed by the disqualification of his political ally, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The reformists only put their support behind Rowhani two days before the election; a lesser-known reformist candidate, Mohammad Reza Aref, withdrew from the race so as not to split the reformist vote.

On Saturday night, Iran’s interior minister, Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar, appeared on state television and annouced that 72 percent of 50 million eligible Iranians had voted. By winning just over 50 percent of the vote and more than twice of the runner-up, Rowhani was given a solid victory.

In campaigning, Rowhani had spoken of “moderation, technocracy and rapprochement with the West” and of easing Iran’s isolation. Speaking on Monday for the first time since the election, Rowhani described the non-existent relationship between the U.S. and Iran as “an old wound, which must be healed” and called for a reduction of tensions. He spoke of increased openness in order to lift economic sanctions against the country that have been detrimental to its economy and emphasized that “people are in instant need of basic staples.” Without giving details, Rowhani said that his government would address food prices and rising unemployment.

The U.S. issued a cautious statement that congratulated Iranians and noted that it seeks to “engage the Iranian government directly” about Iran’s nuclear program. In an interview with Charlie Rose on Sunday, President Barack Obama also spoke of a “hunger within Iran to engage with the international community in a more positive way.”

Noting that hardliners remain in control of many key aspects of Iran’s political system, Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council said that “centrists and reformists have proven that even when the cards are stacked against them they can still prevail due to their support among the population.” Indeed, turnout was so high that polling stations stayed open an extra five hours. Rowhani’s conservative opponents, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Revolutionary Guard have all expressed support for him.

While Rowhani, known as a pragmatist, might ease Iran’s repressive society, he has not proposed any changes in the country’s foreign policy; in his speech on Monday, he said that the conflict in Syria should be decided by its own people. In keeping with his predecessors and in contrast to what he had said as a nuclear negotiator, Rowhani said that he would not suspend uranium enrichment.  Rowhani as President means “no change of course in the substance of the Islamic Republic’s regime” as he is “very much an establishment figure,” the Economist underscores. Indeed, he could be “no less dangerous” than his predecessor, says Forbes.

Scenes of celebrations in the streets of Tehran were certainly in contrast to those of riot police aiming water canons at protesters in Turkey.  Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been “skillfully pushing a narrative of Turkey as a modern meld of Islam and democracy” but now has been hastening to do “damage control” and to cordon off Gezi Park, which protesters had occupied for three weeks until they were forced out. Erdogan, who plans to run for President in 2014, is “no longer assured a victory from an increasingly energized electorate,” Foreign Policy observes.

Democracy does work: now for the next step for Rowhani when he takes over in August — carrying out campaign promises.


Photo via Wikimedia Commons


Jim Ven
Jim Ven5 months ago

thanks for the article.

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani3 years ago

To Ashley: - Israel a democracy? Yes, but you forgot to add “for Jews only”. Before you consider to lecture me on democracy let me tell you that I’m Swiss, grew up there and have a bit of an idea about the system.

Israel is a democracy for the Israeli Jews although already the Russian Jews and the Ethiopian Jews would tell you a different story when it comes to discrimination and profiling.

Also the foreign work force will tell you a total different story – start reading Haaretz and Jereusalem Post and you’ll soon get the picture.

The democracy gets compromised though if you know that there are 33 bus lines with gender segregated busses for Jews; Jewish men in the front, women in the back. It gets equally a question mark when you see the gender segregated side walks where the orthodox have majority or when you have an encounter with the so-called “Modesty Patrol” in Jerusalem who hunts down Jewish women and beats them up because they’re not modestly enough dressed according to them. Democracy anyone?

It a total different story again if you look at the situation of the Israeli Arabs. They’re 3rd class citizens, don’t have access to the same education, don’t get the same infrastructures in their villages and districts as the Jewish villages and districts get, have by far not the same job opportunities, etc. Check out B’tselem.


Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani3 years ago

Worse yet: how do you reconcile democracy with Apartheid? With the fact that some 5 Mio people under Israeli jurisdiction are robbed off their basic human rights? Don’t have freedom of movement? Families – even man and wife!! – are forced to live in different places and have no chance of being reunited just because one lives in Israel and the other one in the territories occupied by Israel. 5 Mio people under their jurisdiction and mercy. With road blocks into the village and out of it. With fenced off agriculture land to which they have access through one gate only if the IL Admin. allows them. If not, all the crop and foodstuff can rott. How do you reconcile all this?

How does democracy go hand in hand with roads which are marked “For Jews only”?

How do you reconcile with democracy that something as ugly and repulsive as the “Prawer-Begin Plan” is to be set in motion, kicking some 40’000 people off their home land they’ve inhabited for centuries and the whole world looks the other way?

I’m terribly sorry but that doesn’t sound very much like democracy to me …

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani3 years ago

To Ashley: - it’s nice that you try to lighten the discussion with some humorous statements but I think it’s a bit too serious for joking.

Iran is a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; it was among the early signatories as opposed to Israel which up until today refuses adamantly to sign the Treaty. The “whimsical” little detail which bothers me is the fact that Iran has NO nukes whereas Israel sits on a minimum of 400 nuclear war heads and plenty of B+C weapons. The argument Israel makes for not signing the Treaty is that it is a “responsible power” that would NEVER misuse nuclear weapons technologies if it acquired them. Hhmm – there’s just one little problem here: this is the same state which had no problems offering for sale to Apartheid South Africa nuclear-armed Jericho missiles as early as in 1975. “Responsible” anyone???

You may want to check out what Israel is producing in Be’er Yaakov, Dimona, Eilabun, Haifa (RAFAEL), Haifa-Kishon Port, Mishor Torem, Nes Ziyyona, Nevatim, Palmachim, Sedot Mikha, Soreg, Tel Aviv, Tel Nof ...

The Arab nations surrounding Israel are militarily (and leadership-wise – although Egypt is undergoing serious changes it can’t be counted as a real counter-weight) a joke and we all know that.

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani3 years ago

Just as an example: Saudi Arabia orders in the Trillions of $ all kind of high-tech weapons on almost yearly basis … except that the last 15% of software stays with the Americans … hence they can't use them. Great, isn’t it? Now where’s the threat did you say?

Yet on the other side we know of the "Samson Option" which Israel reserves for itself – just as a constant threat hanging out of the window for everyone to see and not to forget.

Then there’s Israel's Tehran oil connection. Nobody talks about it but back in 2008 when Switzerland concluded a gas delivery deal with Iran both the US and Israel were up in arms about it and cried foul. I quote from The Guardian article: (http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/richard_silverstein/2008/04/israels_tehran_connection.html)

“Israel complained too, describing the Swiss minister's visit to Tehran as an "act unfriendly to Israel". Various Jewish groups also joined in the protests, including the World Jewish Congress. … that Israel, supposedly observing an ironclad boycott of all things Iranian, has been buying Iranian oil for years. … Israel imports Iranian oil on a large scale even though contacts with Iran and purchasing of its products are officially boycotted by Israel. Israel gets around the boycott by having the oil delivered via Europe.”

Robin Rae S.
Robin Rae S3 years ago

Israel a "victim"??? LOL!!
First of all, Israel is NOT even a "country" it is an OCCUPATION!! It has been occupying Palestine for over 65 YEARS!! Israel has subjected the Palestinians to a holocaust since 1948... which has grown increasingly horrific in recent years! Israel has been receiving BILLIONS of dollars from the U.S. taxpayers, along with huge arsenals of weapons, including nuclear warheads (they have about 300-400 currently)!! And you talk about Israel like THEY are being "bullied" by those terrible Arab countries??? What kind of faiyrland are you living in, Ashley??? Obviously NOT REALITY!!!
Israel has been threatening Iran for MANY years with a first-strike attack (meaning nuclear attack), which will of course be backed by their butt-buddy U.S.A., yet they adamantly warn Iran and other Arab countries from developing their own nuclear weapons!
Iran has clearly stated time and time again that they ARE NOT developing nuclear weapons and DO NOT ever plan to...it is against their Islamic religion! Iran has not attacked another nations for hundreds of years! How many years has it been since the U.S. has attacked another country (or should I say "hours", or minutes)? How about Israel? Israel just recently attacked Syria, and Lebanon (again) just weeks before that, and they attack Palestine on almost a DAILY basis!!

Ashley D.
Ashley D.3 years ago

And Israel had democracy LONG before Iran did.

Ashley D.
Ashley D.3 years ago

Robin Rae S,
while I would not wish to see a nuclear war or nuclear proliferation, we must live in the real worlds: have you never noticed that Israel is surrounded by Arab nations? To use a playground analogy, one victim surrounded by six bullies. Is it not surprising that Israel needs a deterrent?

Robin Rae S.
Robin Rae S3 years ago

Sarah H.: Iran's president Rohani was not picked by the Ayatollah... he was ELECTED by the Iranian people, with an 80% voter turnout!! Much more democratic than our U.S. (s)elections!

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

He was picked by the "Supreme Leader" the Ayatollah, that fact alone makes me doubt that he's conservative in anything. I'm sure he is as radical as his predecessor.