A rise of right-wing populism is expected in Iran, German expert says
In early October, the Minister of Economy of Germany, Sigmar Gabriel, will pay an official visit to Iran, where he will meet with the political and economic elite of the country. Relations with Iran are one of the priorities of Germany's Middle East policy. This is not surprising, as the Germans, being one of the leading export nations of the world, are eager not to miss an opportunity to gain a firm foothold in the opening Iranian market. But one of the conditions necessary for sustainable economic cooperation with and investment in Iran is a stable domestic and foreign political situation in the country. An expert on Iran of the German Council on Foreign Relations, Ali-Nejad Fatollah, analyzed the political situation in Iran on Bavarian radio.
According to the analyst, the Western sanctions against Iran were initially the wrong step. "The sanctions that the West introduced against Iran were presented as a targeting of measures capable of decapitating ‘evil’. The ‘evil’ was the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Iranian regime, but in the end we saw that these forces became stronger after the sanctions hit the whole of society. Due to the transition of legal trade into an illegal regime, many import transactions were carried out through the IRGC, which resulted in an authoritarian position of the authorities becoming even more intensified regarding civic society. That is, the result of the sanctions was the direct opposite of expectations." The expert recalled that many well-known representatives of Iranian civic society originally anticipated such a scenario, and for this reason protested against the imposition of the sanctions, but Western politicians ignored their voices. As a result, Iranian civic society, which had already been in dire straits, was weakened institutionally.
The expert believes that the election in Iran have always been "a choice between plague or cholera." "During the last presidential elections the hopes were associated with a candidate, who represented a ‘lesser evil’, that was Rouhani. With a very limited political choice this attitude is understandable. On the other hand there is a tendency that in such a scenario, people are starting to build a lot of illusions and expectations around the ‘lesser evil’ and fantasize a picture, which is much more beautiful than it actually is. After the selection of the ‘lesser evil’ there was a sobering phase among the population, when they understood that their choice, nevertheless, did not affect the number of the problems, the solutions of which are absolutely necessary - the social issues and civil rights,’’ Fatollah-Nejad said.
According to the analyst, the big problem is that many people believe that Rouhani is not allowed to take many steps. "They say he's trying, but the hardliners and ultra-conservative forces do not allow him. I believe that such a statement should be viewed critically. Of course, the fact is that there is tough competition between the various political factions within the Islamist political elite in Iranian politics on a daily basis. And there are different blocs. In one case, there is an authoritarian monopoly-capitalist bloc, which includes the IRGC. In the second case there is the unit of the former President of Iran, Hashemi Rafsanjani, and the current President Rouhani, which is called the neo-liberal wing, although this unit is also not ‘anti-authoritarian’, just on some issues it is more liberal than the rival bloc. But in spite of the competition and differences in the economic and political interests, all the factions have a great common interest, consisting of ensuring the security of the regime and its survival. And one of the illusions about Rouhani, in which people believed, was that he would become one of the ‘pioneers’ in relation to human rights issues. Of course, he has other views on these issues, rather than the fundamentalists in Iran, but we cannot say that human rights are the political goal of the current government,’’ the expert of the German Council on Foreign Relations said.
Ali Fatollah-Nejad recalls that Rouhani presented himself as a moderate politician, or even a reformer, or, at least, as a person who wants to carry out these reforms: ‘’He conducted his campaign under the slogan of expanding civil rights, which was one of the main requirements of the very young Iranian civil society that he was able to buy off with these slogans. But on the first day of his presidency it became clear that the expansion of civil rights is not a priority issue for his government. This is not surprising, if we look at the biography of Rouhani we can see that he always held the central governmental security posts, and all his economic and foreign policy today is subject to the primacy of national security.’’ According to the expert, Rouhani's position boils down to the following formula: "We do not want the start of internal political unrest due to economic collapse in Iran, where 40% of the population lives below the poverty line, therefore the economic issue should be resolved. The sanctions should be lifted for this reason.’’
‘’There is frustration in Iranian society, because two years after Rouhani’s team came to power the economic situation of the population has not improved, and there is no progress on the issue of civil rights. That is, Rouhani has not fulfilled his campaign promises by now and it is unlikely the situation will improve before the next elections. Most likely, during the next presidential election we will observe dynamics like those that were in Iran at the end of the presidency of Rafsanjani, whose government could not or did not wish to solve the social issues. The conservatives are actively starting to use social issues in their rhetoric, a rise of right-wing populism will be observed in the country,’’ the analyst concluded.