Monday, June 27, 2005

Don't Satanize the President Elect, He is a Street Sweeper

Iran Press Service:
In his first press conference, the Iranian “street sweeper” President-elect presented a friendly face to Iranians and the world, stating that while abroad he would look to “friendship with all nations, at home, he would use “all possibilities and potentials, without any exception, to make Iran a strong and advanced Muslim nation”. READ MORE

"In foreign policy, justice, peace, co-existence and expansion of fair mutual ties have priority", Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad, a 49 years-old austere engineer teaching at Tehran University who is also the Mayor of the Iranian capital of 12 millions since two years ago told reporters, adding however that for the time being, Iran has "no significant need for resuming relations with America", an obvious answer to Washington’s description of Iranian elections as “undemocratic and de-phased compared to the democratisation process in Iraq and Afghanistan”.

Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad, the third non turbaned president after Mr. Abolhasan Banisadr, the first post-revolutionary president and his successor, Mohammad Raja’i, assassinated one month after his election, was swept to power on Friday 24 June in the second round of presidential elections, beating, against all odds, his millionaire cleric rival, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, by a 61 to 39 per cent of the registered votes.

It was the second humiliating defeat for the 71 years old Hashemi Rafsanjani who, since the victory of the Islamic Revolution of 1979, has always been the number two man of the theocratic regime, as, in the Legislative elections of February 2005, the Tehran inhabitants slapped him in the face by refusing him enough vote to enter the Majles, or the Iranian Parliament.

For some analysts, this second defeat for the powerful and maverick cleric could be the end of the road, regardless of warm words Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i had for the Chairman of the Expediency Council, his “old friend and comrade”.

Even if elected, Rafsanjani would face aggressive lawmakers most of them leader’s yes men, giving give him a tough time by opposing his programs in case he would try to act as a real, powerful president, bypassing red lines drawn by the office of the leader, Iran’s real government.

Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani might have forgotten that sharing power is not the logic of dictators. He probably exacerbated Khameneh’i by repeating that he decides with the blessing of the leader who, under the Constitution, represents the God and as such, is above all laws”, said one insider.

He was referring to some charges leveled against the former president by the new president during his electoral campaign, accusing Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani and his family, without naming them, of having monopolized the lucrative oil industry.

It is interesting to note that immediately after these accusations, the conservatives-controlled Majles that has expressed “full support” for the new President called on the people to help investigating officials at the Oil Ministry and all other oil and gas related firms.

According to Norwegian press of September 2003, Statoil, Norway's state-owned oil company, paid 15.5 millions to Horton Investments, a small company registered in Turks and Calicos Islands of the Caribbean and owned by a young Anglo-Iranian businessman hired Mr. Mehdi Hashemi, a Director of the National Iranian Oil Company for the purpose.

Norway's leading business daily newspaper, "Dagens Naeringsliv", on 17 September 2003 quoted Mr. Olav Fjell, the chief executive of Statoil, as saying he knew some of the money might go to younger Hashemi, whom Fjell said he knew "vaguely".

Actually, in a letter to the nation, the Expediency Council Chairman openly hinted at the “millions” spent by some “to unjustly damage him and his family’s name in an organized manner using the possibilities of the State, referring to the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij militia and the leader-controlled Council of the Guardians suspected of having secured the victory of Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad.

That may be correct, but does not explain the defeat of Mr. Rafsanjani by such a big margin. The better explanation is that the candidates eliminated in the first round who urged their constituencies to vote for the former president were not heard and abstained to go to the polls while the conservatives mobilized all their forces behind the Mayor of Tehran, a former Revolutionary Guard specializing in building quick lines of communications as well as infiltration enemy’s lines during the devastating Iran-Iraq War.

“Under the simple campaign slogan on “We Can”, he spoke the language of the simple minded people, addressed their pressing demands, promising healthy government, food and job, housing and some social securities. He also was taken more seriously when promising fighting corruption than other candidates, most of them using expensive, American-style electoral campaign, wearing chic haute-couture clothes, bent more towards pleasing the western media than ordinary Iranian who live well bellow the poverty line”, explained one political analyst.

Though the intelligentsia community, the reformist camp, the independent and pro-reform press and dissidents of all walks had warned against voting Ahmadi Nezhad as representing “military and religious fascism”, the middle class and even large segments of women and youngsters are not that much afraid of his campaign rhetoric, warning that if he tries to curb the already limited social and cultural freedom they enjoy, he would face chaos, if not violent civil disobedience paralyzing his action, something the majority of Iranians would like to avoid, as seen by the trend of votes in the first and second rounds of elections.

What worries more Iranians is that the election of a fundamentalist Muslim in this nation of 70 million people rich in oil and natural gas as well as great human resource potentials would pave the grounds for an American military intervention.

The election of Ahmadi Nezhad ends 16 years of feud and bickering between the leader and the presidents. Now that the conservatives have the control of all three powers, they can no more blame the president for all the nation’s ills. It’s like before the revolution when the Shah would decide and the prime minister carry his orders. They would take the credits, but also the blames.

“The election of Ahmadi Nezhad, described a faithful son and follower of Ayatollah Khameneh’i, known for his staunch anti-Americanism would no doubt pleases hawks in both the United States and Israel, where, already, Shimon Peres, the veteran leader of the Labour Party, has warned about the dangers for the region from extremism mixed with a nuclear threat”, according to a Washington-based European analyst.

"Moderation will be the main policy of the government of 70 million people. There will be no place for extremism" he told reporters packed into Tehran's town hall, adding, "This government will be a government of friendship and compassion. This government will be a government of justice and fairness, in the service of the people, the entire nation, regardless of their views".

On the controversial nuclear issue as well as the foreign polices, the president-elect let the 250 Iranian and foreign journalists, photographers and cameramen guessing, saying no more than what is the official line: Those are not matters for the president, but the leadership, meaning Mr. Khameneh’i, who decides on all important subjects, having the last word on all major issues, domestic or international.

To sum up, not only one must not expect major changes under the presidency of Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad but also remember that the name of president of the republic is an euphemism for a manager and his position a street sweeper for the leader.