Supreme leader Ali Khamenei casting the first vote

Still an imperialist target

Yassamine Mather analyses the significance of Hassan Rouhani’s re-election

By all accounts it has been a bizarre week in the Middle East. The Iranian people - nervous about the possibility of war and further sanctions - went to the polls in their millions to re-elect a man they think of as a ‘moderate’ reformist: Hassan Rouhani. Last week it was clear that, with the last-minute withdrawal of both Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf and Es’haq Jahangiri, the presidential election would be decided in the first round.

Most Iranians are not exactly keen on their current president, who has failed to improve the economic situation, despite the lifting of some sanctions. They are well aware of the corruption of his government and his failure to deliver political reform. However, they are grateful for small mercies - the lifting of some sanctions means that at least they can buy medicine at reasonable prices, hospitals can import life-saving equipment and the threat of an imminent US or Israeli attack has receded. They are also glad they do not live in other Middle Eastern countries - Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc - where US-style regime change has cost the lives of so many, and led to the destruction of the economy and whole areas of society. And most Iranians did not believe the promises of Rouhani’s main challenger - rightwing conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi - who claimed to be a defender of the underprivileged and a man who would bring back “dignity” to Iran’s Islamic Republic.

Meanwhile, just a day after the May 19 election Donald Trump arrived in Riyadh to consolidate an anti-Iranian alliance that will include Saudi Arabia, the Emirates of the Persian Gulf, Egypt and Israel! Even though a military confrontation is unlikely in the short term, Trump’s continued anti-Iran statements and actions are the only consistent part of his foreign policy, but, contrary to what he and his ‘regime change from above’ Iranian allies believe, this will only have one effect - consolidating the rule of the clerics. Nevertheless, this week in Riyadh and Tel Aviv, the theme was familiar: as far as terrorism is concerned, Iran is the main culprit!

I have spent most of my life opposing Iran’s Islamic Republic, but a lie is a lie and should be exposed: the Iranian government has been very careful not to get involved in acts of terrorism against western civilians. No-one can deny that it has repeatedly terrorised its own citizens, but this is not what Trump is referring to. Even more ironic is the fact that Trump’s statements were made in the capital of Saudi Arabia, a country with a clear connection to Salafi/jihadi terror; and Tel Aviv, where the state is accused of many atrocities against Palestinians. In fact the declared aim (some say raison d’être) of Islamic State is to destroy Shia Iran. Those who doubt the IS-Saudi connection should read this from Alastair Crooke:

It appears - even now - that Saudi Arabia’s ruling elite is divided. Some applaud that Isis is fighting Iranian Shiite ‘fire’ with Sunni ‘fire’; that a new Sunni state is taking shape at the very heart of what they regard as a historical Sunni patrimony; and they are drawn by Da’esh’s strict Salafist ideology …

One dominant strand to the Saudi identity pertains directly to Muhammad ibn ’Abd al-Wahhab (the founder of Wahhabism), and the use to which his radical, exclusionist puritanism was put by Ibn Saud. (The latter was then no more than a minor leader - amongst many - of continually sparring and raiding Bedouin tribes in the baking and desperately poor deserts of the Nejd.)

The second strand to this perplexing duality relates precisely to King Abd-al Aziz’s subsequent shift towards statehood in the 1920s: his curbing of Ikhwani violence (in order to have diplomatic standing as a nation-state with Britain and America); his institutionalisation of the original Wahhabist impulse - and the subsequent seizing of the opportunely surging petrodollar spigot in the 1970s, to channel the volatile Ikhwani current away from home towards export - by diffusing a cultural revolution, rather than violent revolution, throughout the Muslim world.1

The threat of the new US-led Saudi-Israeli alliance against Iran is not limited to a war of words. The United States and Saudi Arabia have just concluded a $110 billion arms deal ($350 billion over the coming decade), as well as the announcement of $40 billion of Saudi investments in US infrastructure projects.2

Going back to the Iranian election, the scale of Rouhani’s victory - with 57 % of the vote, as opposed to 38% for Raisi (the remainder going to the two minor candidates still on the ballot) - came as a blow to conservative hard-liners. It was thought that with the backing of senior commanders of the Revolutionary Guards, the judiciary and the conservative clergy, not to mention Raisi’s promise to fight corruption, treble subsidies, etc, he would do better.

No doubt the media frenzy about the possibility of a Raisi win encouraged Iranians inside and outside the country to vote in large numbers - the turnout was 73%. Many polling stations had to stay open until 10 or 11pm. In this respect the main victor is no doubt supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who had emphasised throughout the campaign that the main issue as far as he was concerned was the participation of Iranians in the election.

Clearly no-one takes Khamenei’s rhetoric on the ‘resistance economy’ seriously - Iran is entirely merged with global capital. This is also true of those sections owned by the Revolutionary Guards, their commanders and their relatives. During the campaign, it became clear that the ‘isolationist’ leaders of the Revolutionary Guards had even managed to co-invest with Trump’s own enterprises in the Republic of Azerbaijan. In 2012, the Trump Organization and local developers signed a contract to convert an existing building to a luxury hotel.

According to The New Yorker, the Trump Organization signed off on the deal with the powerful Mammadov family who, aside from regularly getting called out for exploiting political power to increase their personal wealth, has reported ties with a dealer who was said to be a go-between with the Revolutionary Guards: “Ziya Mammadov had in the past been accused of conspiring with an agent of the Revolutionary Guards to make overpriced deals that would enrich them both, while allowing them to flout prohibitions against money laundering.”3

The supporters of further sanctions against Iran include a plethora of left and right opposition groups, ranging from royalists to those on the left whose survival in exile depends on funds associated with regime change from above. These die-hard advocates of western ‘humanitarian intervention’ have already seen a reduction in funds coming from North American and European governments for their women’s organisations, satellite TV channels and even ‘workers’ solidarity fronts’. However, in both words and action they are with Trump and the Saudi-Israeli alliance.

While I myself would certainly not have voted, their reaction to the election was to insult those who did so - ie, a large majority of Iranians - with little or no understanding of the reasons behind this. Clearly those living in Iran have few illusions in the current regime, and the majority of those who voted for Rouhani do not believe his promises about improving the economic situation, dealing with corruption, etc. But, faced with a choice between bad and worse - at a time when the threat of war against Iran has not been removed and when the Trump administration has put Iran back in the “axis of evil” category - they chose the lesser of many evils.

Of course, for all of Trump’s flowery statements on the Iran nuclear deal, at this stage he is unlikely to walk away from it. No doubt the re-election of the ‘moderate’ Rouhani means outside Riyadh and Tel Aviv he will find little support for military operations against Iran. Several European leaders congratulated Rouhani on his re-election, with UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson amongst the first to contact Tehran.

During the election campaign Rouhani claimed that only he would be able to ensure that the remaining sanctions - those imposed by the US over 35 years ago and not related to the nuclear deal - would be lifted. Clearly, it is unlikely that this will happen, at least under the current administration in Washington. However, the narrative about this is another example of false truth being conveyed as fact.

The US and western media keep talking of Iran’s support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, as if this is simply part of the Islamic Republic’s expansionist ‘terrorist’ policies. But the truth is more complicated. Iranian support for Hezbollah and Syria started more than three decades ago as part of the policy to expand the influence of Shia Islam in the region, and some in the ranks of the Revolutionary Guards might still harbour such ambitions. But recently it has been Iran which needs Hezbollah, not the other way round. Had it not been for the group’s military capability, Israel and the US might have been tempted to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.

In conclusion, the vote shows:



1. www.huffingtonpost.com/alastair-crooke/isis-wahhabism-saudi-arabia_b_5717157.html.

2. See www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/05/trump-russia-middle-east-saudi-arabia-visit-israel-iran.html#ixzz4hqECl8du.

3. www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/03/13/donald-trumps-worst-deal.