The presidential elections in Iran, scheduled for May 19, have observers wondering whether the “white turban” incumbent, Hassan Rouhani, will retain his position, or be defeated by his likely contender, the “black turban” mullah, Ebrahim Raisi, known for his key role in the 1988 massacre of more than 30,000 political prisoners.
More importantly, the question on Western minds is how and in what way the Islamic Republic will be affected by either outcome.
The two periods in Iran’s recent history that need to be examined in order to answer this question are that of the tenure of former firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005 to 2013), who also announced he is running again, and the one that has followed under Rouhani.
At the outset of the Ahmadinejad era, Iran’s GDP (using purchasing power parity) soared beyond $1 trillion, and two of the country’s greatest threats — Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Afghanistan under the Taliban — were eliminated. Both enabled Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to solidify his stronghold.
Midway through this period, however, Iran’s economy fell sharply. Iran became the country with the fifth highest inflation rate in the world. Iran fell into a serious recession, and millions of Iranians found themselves unemployed. All this was going on even before the international community imposed sanctions on the regime in Tehran.
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Some compulsive, and some repulsive comedy this week. First there was the Syrian denial it had used poison gas on April 4, 2017 that killed many civilians. Then then was the statement, for which on April 11 he apologized profusely, by Sean Spicer, U.S. presidential spokesperson, that Hitler did not use chemical weapons during World War II.
Then there was the announcement by French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen on April 9 that France was not responsible for deporting Jews living in France from the country to their deaths in concentration camps during the War.
Then followed the announcement that Mahmoud Ahmedinejad had registered to be a candidate in the Iranian presidential election to be held on May 19, 2017. This was bewildering, not only in itself but also because the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayotollah Ali Khamenei, had “advised” him not to run.
Ahmedinejad not only defied the leader but also challenged the odds for two reasons. So far, 126 Iranians have filed to register to run in the election, including six women and seven clerics, and the incumbent President Hassan Rouhani is expected to run again.
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Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote a 3,500 word letter to President Donald Trump in which he slams the new administration’s restrictions on immigration and US “dominance” of the United Nations.
The letter was transferred to the US via the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which serves as the point of contact between the United States and Iran.
In the document, Ahmadinejad congratulated President Trump’s November win and praised his 2016 campaign, which the former Iranian leader said “truthfully described the US political system and electoral structure as corrupt.”
But Ahmadinejad, who during his tenure as president threatened to “wipe Israel off the map” and publicly suggested the Holocaust was a hoax, chided Trump over his recent executive order temporarily restricting immigration from seven high-risk countries, saying the US must “value respect toward the diversity of nations and races.”
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Iran’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying he wants to “redefine revolutionary ideals” set up by the leader of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, appears to be launching a campaign to run in the upcoming Iranian presidential elections, in February, 2017.
Ahmadinejad was well-known for his incendiary and provocative speeches, which included denying the Holocaust. At the end of his presidential term, from 2005 to 2013, his approval rating was extremely low, and he managed to drive away most constituents across political spectrum, including the topmost hardline leaders. He also became the first Iranian president since 1979 to be summoned by the parliament (Majlis) to answer questions regarding his activities and policies.
After all of this, the common conception among politicians, scholars and policy analysts was that Ahmadinejad would never return to politics. It seemed that his retirement plan focused on founding a university and teaching, but his plan to open a university failed.
Despite his low popularity among people, however, the “principalists” (ultra-conservatives) were still on his side, due to his fierce anti-US, anti-Western and anti-Israel policies and rhetoric, as well as the fact that he remains a major figure in the coalition of several conservative groups, the Alliance of Builders of Islamic Iran.
The number of hardliners in Iran is on the rise, according to the latest poll. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, appears to be preparing the social base so that a hardline president would replace President Hassan Rouhani after the sanctions are lifted by foreign powers. Khamenei seems to be achieving this by using Iranian media to slander the West and improve the image of hardline politicians. Iran’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appears to be getting ready to take Rouhani’s place, and is reportedly preparing his hardline platform to run in Iran’s 2017 presidential elections.
Rouhani’s popularity and standing are evidently not what they used to be. This seems to have come about largely because of changes in the economy. The overwhelming majority of Iranians believed in Rouhani’s economic promises when they elected him; after the nuclear deal was settled, 63% of Iranians believed that they would witness improvements in the economy and living standards within a year. However, a new report shows that 74% of Iranians said that there have been no economic improvements in the last year.
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Following the emergence of the reformist Green Movement during the previous contest in 2009, when former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi came close to defeating President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, hard-line supporters of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s Supreme Leader, have waged a relentless campaign of oppression to crush the protest movement.
Leading reformers such as Mr Mousavi have been placed under house arrest, while thousands of activists have been jailed and tortured.
During the run-up to the latest contest the Revolutionary Guards were reported to have set up a network of secret prisons around the country to detain anti-regime activists and prevent them from participating in the campaign.