SAYYID Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s new president, is taking over at a time of great geopolitical flux, while the Islamic Republic’s economy is in dire straits mostly due to Western-led sanctions. Therefore, he will have to carefully steer Iran through the choppy waters of foreign policy, as well as work to revive the battered economy. Questions have been raised about the democratic process in Iran. However, it must be said that while clerical control over the selection of candidates filters out many hopefuls, Iran still has a more functional democracy compared to many of its neighbours, including Arab absolute monarchies and presidents-for-life. Turnout in the presidential elections was reportedly low and Mr Raisi, the country’s former chief justice, cruised to an easy victory. Though Western media has used a number of adjectives to describe the new Iranian president, the fact is that he is a conservative with close links to the ruling establishment, which means there will largely be a consonance of policy between the presidency and the supreme leader.

Mr Raisi’s victory and the defeat of Iran’s former central bank governor — who was seen as representing Hassan Rouhani’s ‘pragmatist’ camp — in the presidential race signalled that the Iranian people were unhappy with the economic situation. A central plank of the Rouhani government was that the economy would surge as benefits of the 2015 nuclear deal started to materialise. Of course, this failed to happen when Donald Trump torpedoed the deal in 2018. Now, if the West wants to prevent Iran from further hardening its stance, it must ensure all parties implement the JCPOA and that Tehran starts to benefit economically from it. Mr Raisi has also said he is ready for peace with Saudi Arabia, which is welcome. Meanwhile, spoilers must be kept at bay. For example, the new Israeli prime minister recently used highly objectionable language, terming the Iranian government “mass murderers”. Israel, which knows a thing or two about butchering civilians, should be the last to point fingers at others.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2021

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