The clear victory on May 19 of incumbent Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over his key rival, Ebrahim Raisi — the candidate supported by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – indicated that voters were concerned above all with the economy. Raisi, an extremist and isolationist like Khamenei, was the candidate who represented hardline power politics and Middle East hegemony.
It was during Rouhani’s first term in office that the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed between Iran and six world powers. This not only led to the lifting of crippling international sanctions from the regime in Tehran, but seemed to signal an effort to renew diplomatic and commercial ties the West.
Iran initially benefited greatly from the JCPOA. From the document’s signing in July 2015 and up until early 2017, dozens of delegations from Western countries visited Iran, and hundreds of economic memoranda of understanding were reached.
Excitement could be felt within and beyond Iran’s borders. Despite his decades as a prominent member of the mullah-led regime’s security apparatus, President Rouhani was and largely still is viewed in the West as a moderate. In addition, the appetite of Iran’s 80 million-strong consumer market for Western goods was high, as was the need for Western investment and technology to rebuild Iran’s outdated infrastructure. Meanwhile, Western companies were eager to enter the potentially lucrative market, imagining post-JCPOA Iran to be like the mythical Spanish city of gold, El Dorado.
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