Iran has yet again elected a “moderate leader,” so news reports are telling us. How many times have we heard this before?
The election to the presidency by Muslim cleric Hassan Rowhani, a candidate who in the days before the vote was given almost no chance to win, has caused an eruption of street parties and celebrations in Iran.
However, the celebrations certainly have to be seen in context. New York Times Tehran bureau chief Thomas Erdbrink, one of the few Western journalists who were able to cover and tweet on the event inside Iran, noted that Rowhani is more of an insider than a moderate. “The greater comfort level by the theocracy and Revolutionary Guard sets a different tone this time,” CBS News reported somewhat breathlessly. And yes, there is a reason for that comfort level. Anyone outside the regime’s comfort zone was eliminated before the vote even took place.
Though Rowhani in his first news conference today promised a new approach to Iran’s nuclear program and relations with the international community, he rejected the suspension of uranium enrichment and conditioned any new approach on a guarantee from the U.S. government that it keep out of Iran’s internal affairs. The U.S. “should stop interfering in domestic issues of Iran, respect rights and stop bullying,” Rowhani stated, according to Erdbrink.
It also has to be recalled that the Iranian regime, still controlled by Ayatollah Ali Khamani, took great pains to imprison or exile anyone likely to dissent from the approved official line before the election even took place Friday. The Iranian opposition, its Green Movement, has simply been too beaten down and too persecuted to man any measurable protests this time around. After the presidential election in 2009, nothing was really left up to chance.
As noted, few foreigners were able to cover the event, as visa applications were ignored or turned down. And Iranian dissidents, netizens, and reporters were subject to a vigorous crackdown over the past several months in preparation for the election. The Iranian regime is getting more adept at political control, but that does not mean it is getting more democratic or less dangerous.