x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Rafsanjani's ban from presidential race signals Iran's decision to escalate regional matters

Arab press discuss the Iranian presidential race, US president's recent speech and Tunisia's power struggle.

Rafsanjani's ban from presidential race signals Iran's decision to escalate regional matters

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was banned from the Iranian presidential race last week due to old age. The position he was vying for requires physical endurance, it was said, although the job is merely to execute the decisions of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, observed Abdullah Iskandar, the managing editor of the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat.

"And thus one of democracy's miracles in Iran reveals itself. The maker of big decisions isn't chosen by the people and holds his position for life. The executor of decisions, on the other hand, is subject to an age requirement that changes depending on circumstances, the contender's character and his political preferences," said the writer.

When Mr Rafsanjani, Iran's former president, announced at the last-minute his decision to stand for election again, he alluded that he had the supreme leader's blessing, which gave the impression that he would pass the "political filtering" process before the Guardian Council, "Iran's other democratic miracle", which decides which candidates are allowed to run.

The military-theocratic ruling elite may have deemed that such "tacit" approval doesn't fit in its political agenda. Mr Rafsanjani represents a more moderate system of rule in terms of internal economy management style and foreign relations.

From the perspective of the hardliner ruling elite, Mr Rafsanjani is a project of "sedition", in reference to his support of politics of reforms and openness. They couldn't afford to tolerate any opposition in the flank of the all-powerful and power-grabbing military and clerical institutions.

Now that they cleared the coast of any influential figures from the reformist movement, the rulers gear up to realise its internal and external agendas which, in their view, are too important to risk disruption resulting from dissent.

Meanwhile, international sanctions on Iran continue to weigh down Iran's economy and living standards. On the eastern front with Afghanistan, challenges escalate as the deadline for the US military withdrawal nears expiration. Tehran is seeking to mobilise the Shiite minority in Afghanistan to fill the void. On the western front, the Arabian Gulf countries are increasingly weary of Iran's direct interference tactics and of its nuclear projects that represent serious military and environmental risks to the entire region.

Tehran's biggest challenge, however, is the war in Syria and its repercussions in Lebanon, where Iran has invested extraordinary efforts and funds to entrench its power based on sectarian divisions.

"Rafsanjani's victory would have meant a message of appeasement at all these fronts. With his seclusion from the race, it is safe to project that Iran is heading towards more escalation and confrontation," he said.

Obama can learn from Nixon - and apologise

President Barack Obama has been beleaguered by three major "scandals" this month: email leaks exposing information regarding the murder case of the US ambassador in Benghazi in 2012; the Internal Revenue Service's unfair targeting of Tea Party non-profit organisations; and the US Justice Department's intrusion into the Associated Press's newsgathering, by collecting reporters' phone records.

Likening the latter "scandal" to Watergate, columnist Amrou Abdel Samii, of the Cairo-based newspaper Al Ahram, wrote yesterday that Mr Obama must be "ashamed" of the pretexts he put forward to try and mitigate what is an assault on free speech.

Mr Obama cited "national security" when asked about AP phone seizures, arguing that the safety of "men and women in uniform" can be jeopardised when classified information is leaked.

"Could President Richard Nixon, who in the 1970s committed the sin of wiretapping the Democratic Party's offices in Watergate … have gotten away with arguments like 'public interest', 'national security' or protecting lives?" the columnist asked.

"Surely not. It was a dirty act that breached ethical codes … and dented the whole image of the United States."

This scandal ought to bring President Obama's downfall, the columnist stressed. But, instead of apologising, as Mr Nixon did, Mr Obama has embraced his false arguments.

Tunisia is lost amid an Islamist struggle

Nearly two and a half years since the Tunisian revolution erupted, the urbane, peaceful character of the Tunisian people is already starting to "crack and fall apart" as the ruling party, Ennahda, shows its true face, according to Shamlan Yussef Al Essa, a contributor to the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper, Al Ittihad.

"The essence of Tunisia's ailment today - which is also true of all the other Arabic Spring countries - is the intrinsic culture of despotism that dominates both society and the political parties that represent it."

Consider the fallout between Ennahda, an ostensibly moderate Islamist party, and the more hard-line Salafists of Ansar Al Sharia. How did these brothers in arms turn into enemies?

"The answer is that political-Islam parties do not believe in democracy in the first place. They just chant the right slogans and peddle democracy around to seize power," he said.

Indeed, these clashes are not about religion, they are strictly about power. When prime minister Ali Laarayedh, of Ennahda, talks about the supremacy of "pluralism", "civilian rule" and "public liberties", the Salafists remind him with a bit of a loud voice that, as an Islamist party, Ennahda must adopt Sharia. And as they quibble, they expose one another, the writer said.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk