Strong powers, even the United States, against Rouhani
by Bernardo Cervellera

The outgoing president has relaxed relations with the international community, improving the economy, but unemployment is still high. His main challenger Ebrahim Raisi, a religious conservative, is backed by Khamenei and the pasdaran. Young people in the cities are for Rouhani. Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, a support from outside to conservatives.

Rome (AsiaNews) – In tomorrow ‘s presidential elections in Iran, outgoing President Hassan Rouhani will go up against Ebrahim Raisi. The first, pragmatic and moderate, led to the signing of the Iranian nuclear agreement, which allowed for an improvement in international relations and even in the economy, albeit not to the extent hoped for. He brought a halt to inflation, reopened many commercial channels, but unemployment is still high at 12%. The second, conservative, wants a greater presence of religion in society and a more controversial relationship with the West. As in the past under populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he has promised that if he wins he will give a check to all the unemployed.

As Iranian friends tell us, Rohuani still represents hope for your people and the cosmopolitan urban population, albeit a haunted one. They acknowledge that the current president has gone to great pains for Iran to be accepted within the concert of nations. They also appreciate the greater freedoms enjoyed in cities: boys and girls together; debate and discussion without censorship; international cultural commitments; more liberal attitudes; greater support for female figures. On the back of these liberal openings, Rouhani has received support from two great personalities: former President Mohammed Kathami and opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. Both are under forced house arrest, because of their support for the democratic Green Wave movement suppressed in 2009-2010, after the election (staged) that led Ahmadinejad to victory. Their support for Rouhani was expressed through social media.

But Raisi has the support of the country's strong powers. First of all, the unofficial one of the great ayatollah Alì Khamenei, who criticized Rouhani on several occasions. Khamenei and the ayatollahs fear the growth of liberal sensibility, especially among young people, who view them as "parasites", as Shiite clergy and seminaries are paid in full with state taxes. At the same time, young people refuse the Islamic rules suffocating interference in their private life.

Raisi can count on the support of the pasdaran, the ancient Guardians of the Revolution, who have now penetrated the army and hold the reins of the national economy in their hands. According to many Iranians, the pasdaran has earned more thanks to the decades of embargo, having created a flourishing black market. In addition, given their alliance with the most conservative ayatollahs, they can - in the name of "religion" - demand land, "offerings", handle contracts, claim monopolies.

There is bitterness shared by Iranians over this strong candidacy. "Everyone remembers that when Raisi was an Islamic judge of the Revolution, he condemned so many people to death," says one man who has made the revolution with Khomeini. According to recently released data, Raisi, who in the 1980s was a member of the Death Committee, decreed the execution of more than 4,000 political prisoners.

But Raisi has another unpredicted / unforeseen ally: the United States. Donald Trump's decision to hold a rally of Arab countries in a few days to "fight terrorism" and to face common ground against Iran appears to be a confirmation from outside of the conservative vision of Raisi and Khamenei, ready for "resistance ".

According to semi-official revelations, the real purpose of Trump's trip to Riyadh is the signing of a Saudi-based arms deal for a value between 98 and 128 billion dollars, which in 10 years could reach 350 billion. This aspect, too, does not help Rouhani's politics of tolerance and dialogue.

And it does not even help the Christians, for whom President Trump has so often declared himself their savoir from persecution. Moreover, Christian and Jewish communities in Iran are able to live quietly, with churches, rites, and even schools. "Proselytism" is forbidden, but this is nothing compared to the ban on worship, even in private, which is in place in Saudi Arabia.

It is true that yesterday the White House reconfirmed the lightening of sanctions related to the nuclear agreement. During his electoral campaign, he - on very similar positions to Israel - had flagged the deal as "the worst ever signed", although the international community has repeatedly confirmed that Tehran is respecting the agreements.

The problem is that the US has for decades imposed a unilateral sanction, which is the ban on using dollars in financial transactions with Iran. This limit is the reason why nuclear agreements have not brought all the benefits that one would expect. Hundreds of international contracts remain suspended for the fear that the US will impose fines and punishments on those who sign contracts using dollars. As some Iranian friends comment, "the Khamenei and conservative’s best ally is the United States."