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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

Iran's hardliners control narrative in the name of democracy

What the Arabic press says about last week's election
Supporters of Hassan Rouhani celebrate his election victory in Tehran. Ebrahim Noroozi / AP Photo
Supporters of Hassan Rouhani celebrate his election victory in Tehran. Ebrahim Noroozi / AP Photo

Writing in the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al Arab, Tunisian columnist Mukhtar Al Debbabi pointed out that Iranian clerics are increasingly feeling that their hold over the country is waning. They are also realising that drowning people in fatwas no longer works.

Al Debbabi said that such a sentiment underlined the clerics’ effort to make the people believe that the presidential election was driven by democracy and fair competition.

This so-called democracy allows presidential candidates to criticise marginal issues, while complying with the fundamentals.

"As long as Islamists continue to literally apply Sharia or the concept of absolute guardianship of the jurist, also known as Wilayat Al Faqih, democracy will serve as a cover for their control, or as a mere manipulation to cement their position on the political scene, where they would subsequently impose religion as the divine solution.

“Otherwise, they would become a civil liberty movement that would no longer be able to present their arguments in the name of the divine or religion,” he wrote.

Al Debbabi noted that, following the revolution, Iran brought a kind of democracy into politics that is laden with prohibitions.

By presenting presidential candidates who have different political beliefs, Iran wanted to show that it was all about diversity.

But in reality, the presidential elections are nothing more than a fight between the candidates.

“As long as elections remain more about individuals than issues, ideas and solutions will be replaced by corruption and scandals, thus enabling the regime to save its skin,” he concluded.

Arabic-language commentator Karim Abdian bani Saeed believes that none of Iran’s elections – parliamentary, presidential and municipal – reflect democracy.

“It is no secret that the Iranian regime is based on the concept of absolute guardianship of the jurist that enjoys constitutional prerogatives and places the supreme leader over the law,” bani Saeed wrote in the London-based pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat.

That said, the country still needs a president to manage the executive powers and represent the supreme leader both inside and outside Iran.

The writer added that Iran faced risks both internally and externally.

“But unlike the internal risk, the external one cannot be contained.

“Every four years, the regime’s decision-making institutions conduct a thorough assessment of these risks and the presidential election is arranged according to the analy-sis of the international community’s expectations on the one hand and of the Iranian people’s demands on the other.

“Iran’s president is chosen from political figures who are most qualified to ensure the regime’s continuity and overcome the previously defined dangers it faces,” bani Saeed wrote.

The Iranian regime that claims divine legitimacy, he said, does not consider the sentiment of the country's internal public as an absolute priority.

“The continuity of the regime does not require the approval of the Iranian people, who do not fund the regime’s projects.”

On the other hand, he noted, the regime relies on the international community for the sale of oil and gas and for the import of goods, weapons and services that guarantee its continuity. As such, the writer did not expect the election to bring about any change in Iran as no president will ever have any real power.

“Khamenei will remain the regime’s supreme leader that controls its military and foreign affairs, as well as sovereign ministerial bodies," he concluded.

* Jennifer Attieh

translation@thenational.ae