Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Politics within the opaque complexity of Iran

Susan Ikenberry, who teaches in Washington, DC, suggested that this analysis from The Pulitzer Center offers some good insights into Iranian politics. I agree. And I think it's a good compliment to an article from The Guardian that I linked to back in July ( "Soft Power Within Iran")

US Congress is Warming to the Nuclear Agreement — But What About Iran's Politicians?
Mohammad Reza Akbari… [is a] 29-year-old barista [who] chats with customers about all kinds of topics, but these days the nuclear agreement comes up often. Most of the patrons in this north Tehran coffee shop, he says, support the July accord signed in Vienna that will lift economic sanctions in return for strict inspections of Iran's nuclear power program…

Many residents of north Tehran are affluent, and tend to favor liberalization of government dress codes, expansion of internet access, and freedom of expression. So it's no surprise that Akbari's customers hope implementation of the accords will strengthen the moderate elements within Iran's leadership and lead to further reforms…

Hassan Rouhani
The Vienna agreement signaled a victory for reformist forces aligned with President Hassan Rouhani, experts say. But reformists face strong resistance from entrenched hardliners. The ultimate winner in this battle will help determine if Iran actually implements the nuclear accord and ultimately pursues more friendly relations with the West.

So far the reformists are winning, according to Javad Etaat, an associate professor of political science at Tehran's Beheshti University… "The extremists think there should be no cooperation with the US."

Those "extremists" are known here as principalists. Both principalists and reformists have held presidential power in Iran since the 1990s. They all support the country's Islamic constitution, which gives ultimate religious and political authority to the Supreme Leader…

Iranians vote for president and parliament, but choices are severely limited by a body of clerics that must approve candidates. All important political and economic decisions are made by [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei.

Within those boundaries, reformists and conservatives wage fierce battles…

[N]egotiations with the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany were tough. Iranian negotiators agreed to stringent inspection of the entire nuclear chain — from uranium mining and processing through enrichment and disposal. Iran agreed to allow international inspection of military and research facilities, even those that Iran says have no nuclear connection.

Those provisions angered principalists who came out strongly against the agreement.

So far Supreme Leader Khamenei has not taken an official position, likely waiting to see if the US Congress votes acceptance, which is looking more and more likely. If both sides agree to implement the accords, it will certainly impact Iran's domestic politics…

Sanctions may be lifted by early next year, around the time of the February parliamentary elections. With even partial sanctions relief, Rouhani and his reformist supporters could score victories in the elections. If the deal falls through, however, the principalists will benefit.

Under Iran's constitution, a group of clerics can disqualify candidates deemed "un-Islamic," a tactic used in the past to bar reformists from running. In addition, the conservatives will keep their power base in the judiciary, military and police, which can be used to undercut reformist support…

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