Prior to the “election” to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there were expressions of hope that a victory by Hasan Rowhani could lead to a diplomatic breakthrough between Iran and the West. Well the” moderate” has won, but the reality is that his election will have little bearing on the manner in which the regime conducts itself at home or abroad.
While it must be acknowledged that Rowhani’s victory represents a genuine yearning on the part of the Iranian people for meaningful change change, things will be, at best, only marginally better for Iran’s citizenry under its president-elect. While Rowhani has spoken of freeing political prisoners based on some sort of consensus within the regime, what that might look like is unclear. What shouldn’t be forgotten is that Mr. Rowhani led one of the most violent crackdowns against dissent in recent memory when he helped supress the 1999 student uprising at Tehran University.
Things look little better on the international front, where Mr. Rowhani’s principal experience is as the lead nuclear negotiator under the previous “reformist” President, Mohammed Khatami. It was in this capacity where Mr. Rowhani openly spoke about the utility of diplomatic engagement as a kind of smokescreen that would help in advancing Iran’s illicit nuclear program. Does the blueprint sound familiar?
Mr. Rowhani cuts a different profile than the departing Mr. Ahmadinejad, and the manner in which his election has been received demonstrates that the world is eager to believe in the promise of his presidency. As much as we hope for a different relationship with Iran and its people, we shouldn’t be naive about the meaning of this event.
Mr. Rowhani has neither the power, nor might it seem the inclination, to make meaningful concessions on Iran’s nuclear program. On the human right front, we have traded one regime insider and human rights abuser for another. The former greeted the world with a sneer, the latter with a smile. Before we declare a new era in relations with Iran, let’s see what truly lies behind the “diplomat Sheik’s” cultivated public persona.