Monday, June 17, 2013

17-Jun-13: In Iran, who is moderate, why, and what does it mean?

Naharnet: Moderate not once, but twice. At least.
There are some mighty optimistic messages going out this weekend about political changes in Iran. See Reuters for instance: "Analysis: Iran moderate's poll triumph is mandate for change", and "Hasan Rowhani, moderate cleric, pulls off Iranian election win" from CBS News.

From a considerably more sober place, the Wall Street Journal carried an op ed yesterday called "Behind Iran's 'Moderate' New Leader | Hassan Rohani unleashed attacks on pro-democracy student protesters in 1999", written by Sohrab Ahmari, an Iranian-American who is the paper's assistant books editor. Key excerpt:
So this is what democracy looks like in a theocratic dictatorship. Iran's presidential campaign season kicked off last month when an unelected body of 12 Islamic jurists disqualified more than 600 candidates. Women were automatically out; so were Iranian Christians, Jews and even Sunni Muslims. The rest were purged for possessing insufficient revolutionary zeal. Regime loyalist Hassan Rowhani, 64, a former nuclear negotiator and security apparatchik, served for 16 years as secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. During his tenure, Rowhani led the crackdown on a 1999 student uprising and helped the regime evade Western scrutiny of its nuclear-weapons program. During the campaign, he boasted of how during his tenure as negotiator Iran didn't suspend enrichment - on the contrary, "we completed the program." 
Some moderate. Some reformer.

As to how much power we ought to credit to the new man, it's worth bearing in mind how the mainstream media worked hard these past few years telling us that the previous president (that would be Ahmadinejad) really had very little substantive power, and that control was actually with "supreme leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. See for instance "Ahmadinejad is noisy, but look behind him to find real power in Iran" from the NY Times in 2007. Note to editors: Khamenei continues to wield today no less power than he and his predecessors had then.

And here's a conundrum. A month ago, the only news outlet calling Rowhani moderate was Iran's own notorious state-controlled PressTV (here, for instance). What did they know that no one else does? And why is everyone now lined up behind their view? Stay tuned.

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