When Iran’s Guardian Council last month released a list of “approved” candidates for the Iranian presidential election, it wasn’t a surprise that the eight candidates included a number of hard-liners loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Yet it crushed any hope that Iran’s next president would bring about new policies that would end the nuclear standoff with the West, economic sanctions and domestic repression.
Still, many in the West are closely watching the Iranian elections, slated for June 14, and what their aftermath will be. The last election in 2009 launched major protests, known as the “Green Revolution,” after reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi lost to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Many in Iran accused the Guardian Council, a council of Islamic jurists with wide-ranging powers over the country, of rigging the election in favor of Ahmadinejad. But despite weeks of protests, the government brutally quashed the revolution.
With many of Iran’s 2009 opposition movement members in jail or under house arrest, the current line-up appears to signal that Iran will continue its move away from the West.
Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi, a professor at Rutgers University and founder of the American-Iranian Council who tested a run for the presidency on a reformist platform but ultimately withdrew, is now launching a new initiative called “A Campaign for a Better Iran.” He spoke about his recent experience in Iran, the presidential election and Iran’s future.
What happened during your recent visit to Iran?
I withdrew my name from candidacy; I did not want to give the Guardian Council the honor of disqualifying me. I felt the situation was dangerous over there; it was very security oriented, a lot of confusion. There was a lot of pressure on me [by friends and family] to withdraw and leave the country. Government officials also advised that I stay away from this campaign and work for the future instead.
Conservative fundamentalists don’t want any moderates or reformists to return to power.
Was there any support for your candidacy?
To my surprise, I learned that my campaign was very popular, especially with younger Iranians. For many people, it was the only real campaign.
What will the election be like, and who do you think will win? Will there be another ‘Green Revolution’?
The election will not be a popular election; there will not be any enthusiasm for the candidates. I believe the country is set for further radicalism. The next candidate will be more right-wing than [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad.
Of the eight selected, there are no candidates for change. I believe [top nuclear negotiator Saeed] Jalili is slated for the presidency. I believe he is the system’s [Iran’s religious establishment] favorite, unless something happens, of course. Iran is always full of surprises.
What type of leader will Jalili be?
He is an ultraconservative; he doesn’t have the kind of mentality or heart to make changes. Ultimately, his views don’t matter. He is very close to the Supreme Leader and his views will reflect that of the Supreme Leaders. He is going to be tough on U.S.-Iran relations and especially nuclear negotiations. He also has no idea how the economy runs, which is something Iran needs.
Does the result of the Iranian election make a difference for the United States and Israel?
There is no difference between all of [the candidates] on Israel. They are all on the same page. Israel and the United States are the only two unifying factors among the religious fundamentalists. The moment this animosity disappears, they are going to destroy each other. The only common ground conservatives have is hatred toward Israel and the United States.
Where do you see Iran headed in the future?
There will be less democracy, less social freedom, lots of pressure on women.
I also think the negotiations between Iran and the United States will continue to be stalled. The Iranian government will be more belligerent and will make no concessions on its nuclear program. The economic policy will be further closed off and isolationist. All of this is not good news for Iran.
But the good news is that the Iranian people want change. There is no way the regime can continue down this path. They will have to give in to the people’s demands. There is no more capacity left in the society to tolerate this oppression.