Hassan Rohani: Iran's "rational" president-elect

Hassan Rohani is indeed rational: He will continue to play for time, he will continue to strengthen Iran's economy, and he will continue to advance Iran’s nuclear programme

Rational, from whose perspective?
Wahied Wahdat-Hagh
On 24 June 2013 08:20

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani is celebrated as "rational and moderate," as a “pragmatic diplomat" who is willing to compromise with the West. The only question is what kind of rationality he pursues.

It turns out that Rohani is a ‘good’ mix of all three previous presidents. But he has some characteristics of his own too, of a real Machiavellian quality – not least in his efforts to bring forward the Iranian nuclear programme.

It is claimed that Rohani wants to found a women's ministry – but few believe that he, as a former comrade of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, will really be prepared to abolish forced veiling and discriminatory laws against Iranian women. Iran is stuck in a gender apartheid system and it would be optimistic to say the least to expect Rohani to remove Iran’s misogynist morality police.

At his first press conference he declared that he wants to give Iranians “freedoms” under the existing constitution and penal code, i.e. the laws which have cemented Iran’s totalitarian rule.

He promised to help the youth, echoing one of his predecessors, President Khatami, but what he really means is the freedom of the student Basij and Revolutionary Guard organisations, which systematically crush human and women’s rights in Iranian society.

Rohani also promised freedom to political prisoners in his press conference. But what is a pro-terrorist demagogue like Rohani realistically going to do to release innocent dissidents from Iranian prisons? It remains to be seen whether he will ever ensure that Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi are released – two dissidents whose freedom was publicly requested by a vocal activist during Rohani’s press conference.

In reality, the outlook for Iran’s prisoners looks bleaker than ever. With new penal legislation in place, which Rohani defends as a framework for “freedom”, the execution of those who are considered to be "endangering state security" is legal.

When it comes to Israel and the United States, Rohani is directly reminiscent of Ahmadinejad. He refers to Israel as the "great Zionist Satan", which fits with the anti-Semitic demonisation inherent in Iranian state doctrine and the thought patterns of Ayatollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei.

And his approach towards nuclear weapons also puts Rohani firmly in the camp of – and in many ways ‘above’ – his predecessors. Rohani has described international sanctions as "cruel and unjust"; he has said that he is not ready to stop the uranium enrichment programme; he has also claimed that Germany and France agreed in 2005 that Iran's uranium enrichment should be continued and that the British government only caved after pressure from Washington.

Rohani calls now for the continuation of nuclear talks and demands an end to sanctions which he considers "a reactionary instrument that no longer fit the times". In fact, Rohani is of the belief that sanctions "harm the West and if they ever have a benefit at all, it is only for Israel".

But we should not be fooled into thinking that Rohani is an opportunity for compromise. The president-elect has been at the forefront of Iran’s secret nuclear programme. So “rational” is Rohani that he has forged cunning plans to bypass international pressure, using negotiations as an instrument to buy more time for the programme. He has previously boasted, for example, that he made sure during negotiations with the Europeans that the construction of the nuclear facility in Isfahan was advanced. We shouldn’t doubt, therefore, that he is a master of diplomacy.

Rohani is a nuclear strategist who will attempt to implement a nuclear policy that will make it possible for Iran to simultaneously solve its immense economic problems. In this respect he wants to imitate Rafsanjani’s investment policy, enabling foreign companies to invest in the Iranian market. He also wants to stabilise the economy of the totalitarian dictatorship, calming the middle classes, and to improve relations with the Arab countries and the Gulf littoral states, especially Saudi Arabia.

His attitude towards Syria makes it clear that he never will pursue a pro-Western foreign policy. The West must keep out of Syria, Rohani says – an attitude which is consistent with what Khatami previously said about the "Islamic Middle East" in which the West has no place.

Indeed, Rohani called on the U.S. government not to interfere in the domestic affairs of Iran, demanding total capitulation towards the totalitarian dictatorship: the U.S. government should not denounce human rights violations in Iran, nor terrorism. Only when the West completely bows down to Rohani will he be willing to engage in dialogue with President Obama.

In the final, and most damning, analysis, Iran’s revolutionary leader, Ali Khamenei, will be satisfied with Rohani, for he will continue to play for time; he will continue to strengthen, with the help of foreign companies, the Iranian economy; and he will continue to advance Iran’s nuclear programme.

Dr. Wahied Wahdat-Hagh is a Senior Fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy

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