Ashgabat, 16 June 2013 (nCa) — A case, albeit weak, can be built around the circumstantial evidence that Hassan Rouhani was the candidate of choice of the Iranian clerical establishment.
In all likelihood, the dancing crowds on the streets of Tehran could possibly be in synch with the dancing hearts of the clerical establishment.
Rouhani (also spelled Rowhani, Rohani, Ruhani, Roohani) is not an outsider. He is a founding member of the Iranian Revolution.
Our case for treating his as the prime candidate of the clerical establishment is built on the following:
- He is firmly embedded at the top, and for long: Member of the Assembly of Experts since 1999; Member of the Expediency Council since 1991; Member of the Supreme National Security Council since 1989; Head of the Centre for Strategic Research since 1992; five terms as member of the parliament (twice as deputy speaker of the parliament)
- Of the eight presidential candidates, two of which withdrew from the race, he was the only one on the campaign trail in a religious dress.
- Of the running candidates, he was the only one with a high degree in religious studies from Qom – Mujtahid (master in Shia jurisprudence, a step short of full Ayatollah).
- He is the first one to use the title ‘Imam’ for Khomeini in a speech in the Ark Mosque of Tehran in 1977, a title that was immediately embraced by the clerical circles and the rank and file Iranians.
- Had the establishment really wanted to prevent Rouhani from winning the elections, they would have cleared just one strong candidate from the supposedly ‘conservative’ camp to avoid fragmentation of votes. Instead, they allowed Ghalibaf, Jalili, Rezaee and Velayeti to enter the race, fully aware that the voters with conservative leaning would not be able to agree on any one of them.
It is necessary to note here that the real tussle was not between the religious establishment and the people. It was a fight between hardliners and moderates and in the proper context, the supreme leader Khamenei is not a hardliner; Ahmedinezhad is.
The dramatic appearance of Rafsanjani to register as a candidate at the last moment and his inevitable disqualification on the dubious grounds of frail health seems also a part of the plan to spur the young voters to come and vote, for anyone who may look like a substitute of Rafsanjani. This supposition is backed by the fact that after being rejected, Rafsanjani did not show any resentment. He merely stressed the need for unity and later endorsed Rouhani.
With the choice available to them, the voters were quite likely, as they did, to go for Rouhani.
The withdrawal of Asef, who was the most light weight candidate in any case, helped keep the moderate vote intact for Rouhani. The endorsements by Rafsanjani and Khatami sealed the deal.
The more one looks at it, the more is one convinced that Rouhani was the candidate of choice for those sitting at the top.
Why would the religious establishment want Rouhani to be the president, one may ask?
The answer is rather complex but stands to logic. Here are some of the points in support of this hypothesis:
- Contrary to the popular belief, Khamenei is not a blind hardliner. He is the supreme religious leader and looks at everything from the prism of faith but he is also a realist. We should not forget that it was Khamenei he persuaded Imam Khomeini NOT to counter attack Iraq after the end of the Iran-Iraq war that was started and lost by Iraq. Khamenei has also prohibited the condemnation (Tabarra) of the first three Caliphs of Islam, a primary bone of contention between the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam.
- Khamnei and his inner circles would like to keep the presidency in the clerical loop. Since the start of the presidential system, only Ahmedinezhad was the one completely outside the religious establishment and the consequences were disastrous. Khatami, the predecessor of Ahmedinezhad, though not technically a member of the religious establishment, was the husband of the granddaughter of Imam Khomeini, hence an insider.
- The religious establishment is not a mono-block dynamo of power. There are clashing points of view and there are several camps, with overlapping demands of loyalty. The Pasdaran, the armed units under the direct command of Khamenei, have grown beyond all proportions to the sphere initially envisaged for them. Quite possibly Khamenei may like to experiment with curtailing their powers a bit through a popularly elected leader.
- The rhetoric of Ahmedinezhad, more than the official nuclear policy or any other issue, is the main reason why Iran stands where it stands today. There may be the desire to bring in someone who can talk to the rest of the world, most notably the west and the Arabian world. Who better than Rouhani, a man fluent in English, German, French, Russian and Arabic? He can speak to any of the world leaders without the need of an interpreter.
- Rouhani is the author of ‘National Security and Nuclear Diplomacy.’ An abridged version of this hefty compendium was published under the title ‘Narration of Foresight and Hope’ as recently as March 2013. The author of this book seems the best face Iran can put on its nuclear policies to the rest of the world.
- Rouhani brings with him enormous institutional memory, an essential ingredient for the office he is going to occupy.
- By voting for Rouhani, the younger segments of the Iranian population found a way to vent their frustration. He has been elected in the first round of elections, something rare in the previous several elections. With a popularly elected and undisputed president in the office, the government would be able to concentrate fully on the real challenges facing the country rather than getting bogged down in the internal squabbles. This would also give the clerical side to redefine its role and responsibilities.
- The religious establishment in Iran is quite capable of reinventing itself, shedding the parts that seem counterproductive and growing new parts that seem necessary. Pragmatism without compromise on basic tenets is at the core of the Shia branch of Islam.
- The multiple layers of sanctions on Iran, most of them immoral and illegal, are rooted in the nuclear stance of Iran. Rouhani may act as the reset button, providing a dignified exit for all sides from the diplomatic cul de sac. While Iran is currently in a tight fix, the top echelons also understand that the ongoing sanctions are not tenable for long; if one EU member goes under, the sanctions would collapse.
Looking at where the things stand today, Rouhani is the best hope for Iran and also for the rest of the world that wants to engage in productive partnership with Iran.