To understand the election of Rouhani as president of Iran, several points must be clarified:
The first is the Shi'ite practice of taqiyya. Ever since the birth of Shi'a in the middle of the seventh century CE, its adherents have been so persecuted by the Sunni majority that their lives were in constant danger and when they were caught, in many cases, they were brutally murdered. Over the years, in order to survive, Shi'ites developed the practice of taqiyya or "the need to survive", which enabled them to endure in a hostile environment despite their faith and their political leanings. A basic component of taqiyya is khoda'a, which means deception, or pretense. During the 1350 years of the conflict with the Sunnis, the Shi'ites have developed the practice of taqiyya and khoda'a into an art. They have become so adept at it, that polygraph tests cannot detect the physiological phenomena that usually occur when a person lies, (involving changes in perspiration, production of saliva, heart rate, blood pressure, etc.) when the subject being investigated is a Shi'ite. And Western police departments are aware of this.
The second point is that the office of president in Iran is not like that in the United States, France or Brazil. In these states the president is the head of an executive pyramid, and his policy is the dominant factor in conducting the state's business, because there is usually no authority above the president. In Iran, however, the presidency is the fourth level from the top, and there are three levels of religious authority above him: there is the supreme leader (today Ayatollah Khamene'i), under him is the Assembly of Experts and under that is the Council to Ensure the Interests of the Regime. All three of these agencies are staffed by religious authorities, and all of them are above the president, above the government and above the parliament. As a result, any Iranian "democratic" process has a very low level of authority, and the influence of the elected bodies on internal and foreign policy is quite limited.
Responsibilities of "the president" are also limited, and from our perspective, the salient point is that they do not include the nuclear project and the activity of the Revolutionary Guard. These two matters are managed directly by the supreme leader. The elected bodies cannot dislodge the supreme leader from his position. All of the candidates for president must pass a meticulous "kashrut" test, and only a candidate who is thought to be an integral part of the ayatollahs' regime can be a candidate in elections. Therefore, because of the limitations imposed by the structure of authorities as well as the candidate's personality, there is no chance that the elected "president" will bring about a fundamental change to the character of the regime or in the way that the state functions.
The third point is that Iranian society is fairly secular, and it is estimated that about ninety percent of the citizens do not lead a religious way of life at all. The reason that the public appears to be religious, especially in the way the women dress, is because the government requires it. Most of the citizens were born after the Islamic Revolution, which occurred in the beginning of 1979, and it is precisely because of religious coercion that the youth leave the faith. But these youths know the rules of the game, and are reluctant to sacrifice their lives in order to replace a religious dictator with another sort of dictator; nationalist, for example, such as Shah Pahlavi in his time. The youth took part in the elections for president not because they like any specific candidate or the way that the religious system controls their lives, but in order to achieve the best result from the elections within the context of existing conditions, and the best result, for them, is to elect a candidate who is not a devout traditionalist, but slightly more modern, moderate and attuned to the hardships of the people. There is no other game in the field, so they participated.
The fourth point is what happened in the elections of 2009. In those elections, the Iranian public felt that the result had been fabricated by agents of Hamene'i, and the reformist candidate who won - Mir Hossein Mousavi - was thrown aside so that Mahmud Ahmadinejad - who was then Hamenei's preferred candidate - could continue as president. As a result, the masses burst into the streets of the cities and the resulting violent demonstrations cost the lives of hundreds of people. In those days the heads of the Iranian regime feared that the demonstrations might bring about a revolution, so three jets were prepared in Teheran airport in order to rescue the heads of the regime in case rebels took over the country.
Hamene'i is afraid that a similar scenario might occur, especially because of the wave of revolutions in the Arab world that began at the end of 2010, and therefore, this time he decided to "throw a bone" to the people, by allowing the elected candidate to be president and not manipulate the result of the elections. The evident joy that the youth in the streets showed in the beginning of the week was evoked by the fact that this time they managed to force their preference for president on the supreme leader.
The fifth point is the negotiations with Western countries about the nuclear project. These negotiations have been ongoing for almost 20 years and the Western countries have not been able to stop the project. Only the invasion of Iraq in 2003 caused a delay, because the Iranians feared that they would be next in line. Because they have since understood that the American tiger is just a paper tiger, they have renewed the operation of centrifuges, to the point that today they are on the verge of creating a nuclear bomb. Undoubtedly, the tactic of the Iranian negotiations, based on the practice of taqiyya and khoda'a - pretense and deceit - has succeeded beyond all expectations, and has brought them to the gates of the nuclear club without having to pay an intolerable price.
The talk in Israel, the United States and Europe about attacking the Iranian nuclear project has convinced Hamene'i to present a pleasant, moderate, modern and multi-lingual image to the world, to fool the bleeding hearts in the West into thinking that Iran has become a normal, peace-loving state. It will take a month and a half for the new president to assume his new role, and until he begins to function it will take another few months, more time will pass until the appointed time for the renewal of negotiations and then the world will find that nothing has changed, another whole year of futile negotiations will have passed, and meanwhile the centrifuges are spinning, the uranium is becoming enriched in military amounts and Iran will have managed to fool everyone again.
The sixth point is the Syrian matter. It is no secret that Iran is deeply involved in the cruel civil war in Syria, which has deteriorated recently into a regional Sunni-Shi'ite war. The West has known for some time that Iran is part of the problem, and refuses to see it as part of the solution, because from the Iranian point of view, Asad must continue in his role. Hamene'i assumes that a"pleasant" president will be more accepted in the West as someone with whom to discuss the events in Syria. This way, Iran will become part of the solution and will be able to impose its solution on the West - which has no desire to become actively involved.
The seventh point is the economic sanctions, which have caused significant harm to the economic stability and therefore also the political stability of Iran. Hamene'i assumes that the president's pleasant demeanor will make it easier for the people in the West to claim that the sanctions do not lead to the desired results, the suffering gets transferred onto the simple people and the nuclear project continues undisturbed anyway. Rouhani's pronouncements after the elections were exactly this. The Iranians know very well that there are many financiers and managers of Western companies - especially in Europe - who are burning to renew economic ties with Iran in order to share the profits from the oil, gas, petrochemical industry and infrastructures of this country. A president of Iran who does not arouse opposition will help these greedy people to pressure their governments to renew the economic connections with Iran, both over the table and under it.
The result of all that is written above is that from the point of view of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamene'i, the new president of Iran should open a new page in the relations of Iran with the world as a sort of taqiyya and khoda'a, so that Iran will continue to be what it is - a dark and radical state, controlled by a group of narrow-minded ayatollahs who are stirring up the Sunni-Shi'i conflict and who threaten world peace with doomsday weapons that are meant to impel humanity into uncontrolled chaos, thus bringing about the return of the Mahdi - the hidden imam - to impose the Shi'ite religion on the Sunni Islamic world in the first phase, and on all other parts of the world in the last phase. This is their world view, and it is their declared goal.
The Sunni Arab World is Quaking with Fear
All of the above is revealed and known to the rulers of the Arab world, especially in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The numerous Shi'ite communities that are distributed throughout all of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula threaten stability from within, especially in Bahrain, where there is still a Persian Shi'ite majority and an Arab Sunni minority that the British brought in to rule over the majority. Shi'ite Iran threatens all of the countries of the Gulf that are located within the range of its short range missiles, and it threatens to block the movement of oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, the bottleneck of oil exports from the Gulf.
These days, the Gulf countries are experiencing increasing anxiety, mainly because the Sunni residents of the Gulf are afraid that America will fall into the Iranian trap. With Obama's rise to power, especially since the Cairo speech in June of 2009, they have become concerned that he "will throw them under the bus" in his attempt to present a pleasant demeanor to the radical Islamists and especially to the Iranian Shi'ites.
They have seen the American weakness in negotiations with the Iranians and they have seen how, using deceit and deception the Iranians continue to gain more time to develop their regional hegemony by buying people off, frightening leaders and eliminating the opposition. The Iranian takeover of Iraq is proof for them that Iran is galloping ahead towards control of the Gulf while exploiting the American reluctance to the use of force because of the tragedies in Afghanistan and Iraq. In both of these countries, Iran played a significant role in foiling the attempts of the West to create orderly governmental systems.
The American Passivity Toward the Iranians,
In the Gulf, they are afraid that the Americans will be even more passive in dealing with the Iranians during the era of Rouhani. As a result, the countries of the Gulf - headed by Saudi Arabia - are now acting according to the saying "Ma bithak Dhahrak illa dhifrak" - "none can scratch your back except your own fingernail" - the Arabic version of "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?". The countries of the Gulf are acting against Iran with whatever means they can, mainly with money. They purchase arms and ammunition and smuggle these implements of war into Syria to support the rebels against Asad, the darling of the Iranians and the backbone of their Arab project. Lately it has come to light that Saudi Arabia has purchased shoulder launched anti-aircraft missiles in Europe for the rebels in Syria.
At the same time, the countries of the Gulf have been supporting the Sunnis of Iraq, who also have been raising their heads recently, attempting to destabilize the Shi'ite rule over the Land of the Two Rivers and harm another Iranian satellite. Sunni money from the Gulf comes to Lebanon too, to strengthen, arm and train the opposition to Hizb'Allah, and even Hamastan in the Gaza Strip has lately received half a billion petrodollars from Qatar so that it will not need to depend on Iran's good will. The talk about renewing relations between ayatollahs' Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood's and Mursi's Egypt has had its effect, and Saudi Arabia has hurried to inject monetary support into the diminishing Egyptian treasury so that Mursi will be able to stay in power without having to ask for charity from the Ayatollahs.
For the sake of formality, Saudi Arabia sent a congratulatory message to the newly elected president Hassan Rouhani, expressing the hope for cooperation between the two countries, while everyone knows that the Saudis see the Shi'ites as infidels, "'Ajami"* Persians who don't even know how to speak Arabic, and they see the Iranians as the chief threat to the stability of the Saudi kingdom, which rules Mecca and Medina. The Saudis know very well how the Ayatollahs fantasize about the dissolution of the Saudi kingdom so that they can seize control of Mecca and Medina, the two holy places to Islam, rolling back the wheel of history to restore the Islamic Caliphate to the family of the prophet Muhammad, since it was stolen from him by the other families of the Quraysh tribe - the house of Umayya and the house of Abbas.
The West is not acquainted with Shi'ite culture and is not aware of the deep motives that drive Iran. The West keeps making the same mistakes over and over and does not learn how to deal with Iran. The only way to stop the Iranian nuclear project effectively is to surround Iran with all of the naval, air and ground forces of NATO and Australia, and to send the Iranians an unambiguous message saying: Iranian friends, your time is up and our patience has run out. You have exactly one week to dismantle your whole nuclear project, load it onto a ship and send it to us. In exactly one more week we begin to flatten you with continuous bombing, and we've already started warming up the engines. Don't call us and we won't call you. "Read our lips" because this time we are totally serious. Don't ask for an extension because you won't get it. You have a week, not one minute more."
The sharper, clearer and more credible this threat is, the less likely that it will be carried out. The more serious the countries of the West are, the more seriously Iran will take this threat. Until now Iran has not taken the threats of the West seriously, because they were not credible. This is the only way to stop the Iranian nuclear project, and if the West does not do this, the world will have to accept a nuclear Iran, which will allow Iran to threaten the whole region, the Middle East and the whole world with doomsday weapons in the hands of Ayatollahs, who deem themselves to be the earthly representatives of the Almighty, Who has made them infallible. Nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran will cause the collapse of the international system that was formed after the Second World War to prevent global disasters like that war itself, and the result might be disastrous to the whole world.
They will use Hassan Rouhani to anesthetize the civilized world so that it will be unaware that it is being led to its end, the end that the Ayatollahs have designed.
*'Ajami in Arabic refers to a non-Arabic speaker, or illiterate person.
Dr. Kedar is available for lectures
Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.
Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with permission from the author.
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