x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Iran's new president Rowhani will be weighed down by the heavy legacy of Ahmadinejad

The Arabic press weighs the implications of Hassan Rowhani's election, for the region, for the Arab Gulf states and for the conflict in Syria

The Iranian presidential elections ended on Saturday with the unanticipated announcement of the reform candidate, Hassan Rowhani, as the new president of the Islamic Republic.

In comment, the columnist Habib Al Sayegh wrote in the Sharjah-based daily Al Khaleej: "Has a new era truly begun in Iran where the Ahmadinejad leaf would be turned once and for all with the election of Hassan Rowhani as the new president of the Iranian republic?"

The world, and especially the Gulf region, can finally catch its breath, albeit momentarily. The past eight years have certainly been long, mainly for Iranians that had to brace for a series of conflicts and skirmishes that left their negative mark on the lives of citizens and on the network of Iran's regional relationships.

"The Ahmadinejad chapter isn't going to be easily closed or forgotten. His dual term laid the foundations for a new, unusual reality charged with tensions, confusion and hostility," remarked the writer.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the outgoing president of Iran, not only diverted from the political and economic norms, but he scandalously stepped over the lines of established, standard political principles and ethics, the writer opined.

President-elect Rowhani and his team are sure to find the legacy handed down to them from the last eight years rather weighty. And the question that arises here is: how much of a reformist is Rowhani and to what extent would he be allowed to introduce reforms in the midst of an uncompromising regime?

From the UAE perspective, the outcome of the Iranian elections doesn't change much in terms of bilateral relations. The Emirates will continue to contest Iran's occupation of the three islands despite Tehran's provocations in the last few years.

Iran's persistent interference in the internal affairs of the Gulf Cooperation Council states, namely in Bahrain, will have to be reviewed with the new administration in Tehran in addition to a plethora of thorny issues.

Equally urgent as well is the matter of Iran's religious responsibility as the largest Shiite country in the world. "If the new administration is willing to forge a new reality, it has no other alternative but to give its Sunni citizens their full rights under the precepts of justice and equality.

Iran is required to address the Islamic world with a new kind of rhetoric. Religious and sectarian tensions are dangerously festering throughout the Arab World, putting it at the brink of complete fragmentation and collapse. What is required from Iran is a serious and responsible reform effort.


Region shouldn't be fooled by Iran

Hassan Rowhani, who has been elected president of Iran on Saturday to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was hailed by the media as "the moderate candidate". This indicates that the region will enter a phase of "leniency" towards Iran, said the columnist Tariq Al Homayed in the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat.

Prudence vis-à-vis Iran is just as essential today with Mr Rowhani as it was in the past with Mr Ahmadinejad, the writer observed.

"It is important to emphasise that the president doesn't have ultimate power in Iran. Iran has become a military state run by the ayatollah and there isn't much that a president can do against the Revolutionary Guard and the Supreme Leader, no matter how moderate he may be," Al Homayed said.

Slogans of reform and moderation are inconsequential when it comes to Iran's expansionist policies. Hizbollah, Iran's armed militia in Lebanon, was established under Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, long touted as the moderate face of Iranian politics. And Iranian power was entrenched in the Gulf under former president Mohammed Khatami, who is famous for tolerance.

Surely there will be voices calling for a less severe stance on Iran and for the need to give the new leader a chance. "Then we would have fallen into a trap. This region has shown sufficient goodwill towards Iran, but the outcome remained unchanged," noted the writer.


Future blurry despite developments in Syria

The situation in Syria is quickly changing, especially with the recent US and European decisions to back the opposition with advanced weapons as well as substantial intelligence and logistical support, observed the columnist Ali Hamadeh in the Lebanese daily Annahar.

The US has also approved a Jordanian request to keep its naval anti-missile Patriot batteries and F-16 aircraft in Jordan where they had participated in joint manoeuvres recently.

An Arab-European-US front seems to be taking shape to confront the threat of having entire battalions fall under Iranian control as Tehran has thrown the full weight of its military arm Hizbollah in the battle in Syria.

On the other hand, Russia, the Assad regime's ally, notified the Arab and western states involved in the Syrian issue of its modified reports preceding the second Geneva conference, in which Moscow bases its findings on the latest developments on the battlefield, where the regime and its Iranian ally have been making significant headway.

In the meantime, sectarian tensions in the Arab region have been running high.

"The election of the reformist candidate in Iran adds a mysterious twist to the situation, but it is too early to judge his role in the matter," the writer said.

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem