DUBAI / CAIRO / ISTANBUL – Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi appears determined to focus on maintaining the country’s Islamic regime, in a marked move away from incumbent President Hassan Rouhani’s emphasis on reform and a more forgiving stance on the outside world .
The conservative hardliner who currently heads the judiciary will take the helm of the country amid simmering national and international problems, with dissatisfaction growing among citizens, especially among young people seeking greater freedoms and a chaotic prospect for negotiations between urged Iran and Iran to rebuild the 2015 nuclear deal.
At the end of April there was an event in a mountain region of central Iran – unimaginable in a professing Islamic country: young men and women drank and danced to loud club music. You weren’t at the campsite to enjoy the great outdoors. “I don’t like bugs, but there is no other place where I can be with my boyfriend,” said 25-year-old Shiva shyly when she spent time with him in a tent.
There were no religious police to enforce Iran’s strict Islamic laws. The number of “campers” has increased tenfold in recent years as young people seek more personal freedom, said a camp guide.
Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, the country has been ruled by religious leaders of Shiite Islam. They passed many strict religious laws, including the wearing of headscarves for women and the prohibition of alcohol. Buses have separate entrances for men and women who are not allowed to stay in the same room without a marriage certificate.
But the revolutionary zeal of the Iranians has waned in the four decades since the clergy came to power. Headscarves have withdrawn and have become colorful. Women take them off when they board international flights from Tehran.
Raisi will face the changing attitudes of Iranian citizens as he seeks a more traditional path for his country.
Young people in Iran have a hard time. With an unemployment rate of 25 to 24 for people under the age of 24, many cannot get married because they cannot afford to buy a house or even pay for a wedding. Iran’s currency, the rial, has fallen four-fifths against the dollar over the past three years. The consumer price index rose about 50% year over year between February 20 and March 20. Consumers complain that food prices have more than doubled.
In mid-May there were widespread power outages that lasted about two hours a day. The unexpected power outages prior to peak summer demand have been attributed to power hungry cryptocurrency mining.
The mining of virtual currencies is uneconomical for many companies in their home countries, given the enormous electricity bills associated with it. However, with Iran’s electricity tariffs being low, many Chinese cryptocurrency miners have set up the country’s industrial complexes.
According to blockchain specialist Elliptic, the cryptocurrencies mined in Iran from January to April accounted for 4.5% of the world’s total volume. The power outages caused by this online activity took a toll on ordinary citizens.
The Iranian leadership boasts of a “resistance economy” and a “strategic alliance” with China. But the move didn’t pay off. The domestic industry has stalled. While Iran is effectively cut off from the international financial system by US sanctions, foreign companies are withdrawing in droves. The schools for German and other foreign children in Tehran are having trouble keeping their doors open as the number of students is falling.
Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia and other neighbors are trying to reduce their dependence on oil. As they work to make better use of their young people and women, they woo foreign companies with deregulation. Turkey, whose population is similar to that of Iran, has seen rapid economic growth over the past four decades despite a lack of Iran’s natural resources.
A 52-year-old carpenter named Mikael, who fought in the Iran-Iraq war in 1980-1988, complained: “I can’t afford to buy an apartment after more than 30 years of work. I fought for the regime that way can not realize something. ” a dream and a hope. “
Raisi won the presidential election last Friday after other major moderates and reform-minded rivals were excluded from the pre-election screening. In the end, there were five conservative hardliners, a moderate and a reformist to choose from.
If the hardline leaders gain control of all three branches of government, the policy of dialogue with the international community led by Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will likely be put on hold.
Talks with the US and other major powers to save the nuclear deal before the Iranian presidential election were unsuccessful. If distrust of Tehran grows in the US, even indirect communication with Joe Biden’s government will be blocked.
Iranian Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian visited Russia in early June and reached an agreement under which Moscow will lend Iran 1.2 billion euros ($ 1.42 billion) to build a power plant in the southern city of Sirik. Foreign investment in Iran is likely to come mainly from Chinese and Russian companies for now. US, European and Japanese companies have lost interest in Iran, which temporarily skyrocketed following the 2015 nuclear deal.
On the foreign policy front, Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran in 2016 as the two countries battled for regional supremacy. The chances of an improvement in bilateral relations are increasing as the feedback channel talks that began in Riyadh and Tehran in April have stalled.
The civil war in Yemen was the central theme of the negotiations. The conflict is a proxy war between Iran, which supports the Houthis, an armed Shiite rebel group, and Saudi Arabia, which supports the Sunni-dominated Yemeni transitional government.
Hardline leaders in Iran are trying to increase the country’s hold in the Middle East through proxy forces, as demonstrated by Hamas’ support for its military clash with Israel in May. Hamas, a militant Islamist organization, rules the Palestinian territory of Gaza.
Esmail Qaani, commander of the elite quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, reportedly praised Hamas’ rocket attacks on Israel in a telephone conversation with the group leader as a “unique and successful response” to Israel. Iran is believed to be helping Hamas build the missiles it regularly fires at Israel from Gaza.
Israel has refrained from fighting directly with its enemy Iran, which would certainly do great harm to both sides. But a “gray zone war” by neighboring countries, which could lead to a direct conflict, is already a reality.
While the Biden government is scaling back US engagement in the Middle East, traditionally pro-US countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia and Israel are keeping their distance from Washington. Under these circumstances, no country can step in should the confrontation between the two great powers in the region become serious.
At a press conference the Monday after his election victory, Raisi said Iran would return to the nuclear deal in exchange for lifting all US sanctions. The US was “obliged” to lift all sanctions, said Raisi, stressing that Iran would not accept a mere easing. He declined direct negotiations with Washington, making it clear that his stance would be tougher than Rouhani’s.
Should Iran try to arm itself with nuclear weapons after a failed agreement, Saudi Arabia could follow suit. The nightmare scenario of a nuclear arms race in the unstable Middle East continues to emerge.
Additional reporting from Tala Taslimi in Tehran