11/13/2015, 00.00
IRAN – ITALY
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As Rouhani opens up to Europe, his enemies work against him at home

by Bernardo Cervellera
The Iranian president begins a visit to Italy and France. Pro-Israel and human rights groups criticise the trip. Iran wants to resume its place in the international community and revive its economy, but the Revolutionary Guards and conservative ayatollahs are holding back. Journalists are arrested for "infiltration" and "spying". Yet, young people are moving away from Islam.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani starts a European tour tomorrow. First stop, a two-day visit to Italy. Then, France. For the Iranian leader, the main goal is to prepare channels of friendship and trade with the West ahead of the end of the sanctions against his country once the nuclear deal is implemented. During his stay in Rome, he will meet with Pope Francis in the Vatican.

Human rights groups and groups tied to the state of Israel are very critical of the visit, slamming Tehran’s anti-Israeli stance and Iran’s dismal human rights record (hundreds of executions this year). However, Rouhani’s main enemies are at home, among the ayatollahs and the Revolutionary Guards.

From the day of his election, Hassan Rouhani has been Iran’s friendly face to the world. As president, he has chatted on the phone with his US counterpart, Barack Obama; has sent greetings to the Jewish community on Jewish New Year; has expressed his willingness to take part in talks on Syria and Yemen; has extended an olive branch to Saudi Arabia; and has especially signed on to the nuclear deal worked out by his Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The deal allows Iran back into the concert of nations. It has also led to Tehran’s participation in the talks on Syria’s future and opened doors to a series of meeting with European business groups for future trade.

For Rouhani, opening up would revive the ailing Iranian economy after decades of economic sanctions, made worse by the recent drop in oil prices. For outsiders, with its 78 million people, 70 per cent under the age of 30, a highly educated workforce, Iran represents a very lucrative market.

Because of the embargo, the country lacks pharmaceuticals, surgical equipment, modern industrial plants, and upgraded refining facilities. Yet, for the Revolutionary Guards, Rouhani’s reforms are a threat, part of a plot to enslave the country.

Reaction to Rouhani’s rule has been building in intensity over the past few months, and appears to have picked with the targeting of journalists favourable to Rouhani who have been recently accused of "spying" and "infiltration" on behalf of the United States.

The journalists arrested by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Organisation include Isa Saharkhiz, Ehsan Mazandarani, Afarin Chitsaz, and Saman Safarzaei, with a probable fifth one whose identity is unconfirmed. And their not alone. Scores of activists, dual Iranian-American nationals, and other cultural figures, 43 in all, have been detained over the last several months.

Members of Iran’s parliament (Majlis), and Mohammad Ali Jaafari, the Commander of the Revolutionary Guards, have warned of a “new sedition which is being led by the US government to infiltrate the country.”

Although Rouhani has tried to counter the creeping wilful paranoia, he has failed to prevent the arrests.

It is increasingly clear that the Revolutionary Guards and conservative ayatollahs are the main opponents to the deal. The former fear losing their economic privileges (infrastructure, drugs, smuggling); the latter are concerned that the legitimacy of the 36-year-old Islamic regime might come into question.

Moreover, under the ayatollahs, starting with Khomeini, disaffection with Islam has grown and most young people have stopped going to mosques and listening to religious leaders.

Therefore, out of its own self-interest, the West should not leave this great country out in the cold.

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