Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Back to the future in Iran

Many people long for the days of President Ahmadinejad

Polling gives a dark forecast for Iranian president Hassan Rouhani
President Rouhani
The latest poll from IranPoll, the Canadian outfit linked to Maryland University, is bad news for president Hassan Rouhani. Just under three quarters – 74% - of Iranians surveyed on 17-27 June say there has been no improvement in the economy as a result of last year’s nuclear agreement with world powers. With a presidential election looming next year, probably in June, Rouhani’s lead over possible challenger Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former ‘principle-ist’ (or fundamentalist) president, has narrowed to eight percentage points from 27 points in May 2015.

Economic growth in the Iranian year ending in March was far smaller than expected….

But how widely will any benefits of growth be distributed? Back in March the state’s statistical centre reported poverty and inequality had increased in the previous 12 months.

And poorer Iranians are the target group for Rouhani’s principle-ist opponents. The recent ‘pay cheque scandal’ played into their hands…

Principle-ists have been showing nostalgia not just for the egalitarianism of the 1979 Revolution and the noble sacrifices of the 1980-88 war with Iraq but for the landslide election victory won by Ahmadinejad in 2005 on the slogan of ‘putting the oil money on the sofreh’ (the dining mat used by poorer Iranians)…

The populism of the Iranian principle-ists shows striking similarities with populism elsewhere. It is critical of bankers, often anti-intellectual, and pushes a notion of national control against an international, or even global, elite. Its idea of nation is not just nostalgic but hostile to diversity, and extols the values of supposed ‘simplicity’ against the wicked ways of the big city – praising the morality police acting against ‘bad hijab’ is a topical example…

In the 2005 presidential election, Ahmadinejad not only promised to put oil revenue on the sofreh, he scorned the middle classes and intellectuals…

Whereas his reformist predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, spoke in universities and international bodies of a “dialogue among civilisations”, Ahmadinejad made repeated provincial trips around Iran addressing huge crowds of people who felt neglected by central government. Those feelings of neglect are just as strong today – and president Rouhani has little time to address them.

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