Will any one of the eight finalists in line to replace controversial Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad get the requisite number of votes to become the country’s new leader? Will the election, one of the most unpredictable in Iran’s history, go into a second round? And most importantly, what stance will Iran’s new leader take vis-à-vis the rest of the world, particularly the United States?
No one has the answer yet to any of those questions, but clearly, Iran’s presidential election is of paramount importance, not just for the country and for the Middle East, but also for the rest of the world.
Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, reader in comparative politics and international relations at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and the Chair of the Centre for Iranian Studies, is one of the foremost thought leaders on the Middle East today. He is the author of the forthcoming book “On the Arab Revolts and the Iranian Revolution: Power and Resistance Today,” and he shared his views on Iran, the election and beyond with Global Investing Insights.
Q: We’ve read that the Obama administration’s decision to change course and allow the sale of communication devices by American companies in Iran is driven by the hope that their use will result in a more transparent election, even enabling the sort of crowd participation/protests we saw in 2009 after Ahmadinejad’s disputed victory. What are your thoughts on this and what can we expect for the election process on June 14?
A: The decision is a step in the right direction if the aim is to thaw ties with Iran, but their effect on the ground will be negligible. The political dynamics in Iran are driven by the political elites in the country. Iranians themselves have been blogging, connecting, networking throughout the sanctions period. There will not be another 2009 in this election; most Iranians are not interested in yet another confrontation and neither are the presidential candidates who have repeatedly stressed stability.
Q: There are some who believe the election won’t change the US/Iran relationship, and others who feel a new Iranian leader (the hardliner Saeed Jalili is said to be the frontrunner) could actually prove even worse. What are your thoughts?
A: I don’t share that pessimism at all. It is largely unfounded on analytical grounds. There will not be another [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad type politician at the helm of the Iranian government and that must be considered a positive development. None of the presidential candidates is likely to use the kind of undiplomatic and staunchly antagonistic language that the Ahmadinejad administration espoused, not even those on the right. There is an understanding among the political elite in Iran that the outgoing president seriously endangered Iran’s national interests, that his tenure deteriorated the country’s relations with the world, in particular with Europe. The fact is that Iran is a regional power that has to be engaged in order to solve regional crisis, whether in Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan or Bahrain. The new president of the country is likely to tread rather more carefully and that should be taken as an opportunity for diplomacy.
I also think the Obama administration has changed the discourse slightly and that it can envisage engaging Iran. There seems to be an understanding that the idea of the Islamic Republic, contested as it appears in Iran itself, is here to stay.