IRAN: DOMESTIC POLITICAL AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENTS
Deputy Director of “Noravank Foundation”, Head of the Center for Political Studies
The atmosphere in which the domestic political developments proceeded in Iran during the summer months was not as tense as compared with the first half of the 2011 though some rearrangements can be observed in the domestic political life of the country. At the same time Iran has been more involved in the regional processes thus taking into consideration accumulation of the Kurdish threat and processes in Syria.
Domestic political processes
In August and September the spiritual leader of Iran A. Khamenei began speaking more openly about the failures of M. Ahmadinejad’s government. In particular, Khamenei stated for several times that the government did not fulfill the obligations it had undertaken and could not keep the promises about improving the life of the people.
Though at the beginning of September Ali Khamanei pardoned about 100 arrested advocates of M. Ahmadinejad and they were let off, such a decision by the spiritual leader cannot be conditioned by the possible improvement of the relations with the president as all those who were set free had turned to the authorities of the country with penitential letters thus accepting that they had committed illegal actions.
Finally, the political claims (i.e. participation in the 2013 presidential elections) of the mayor of Tehran M. Ghalibaf have taken a final form and this can be considered an important event in the domestic policy, and it is broadly covered by the Iranian press. The mayor of Tehran who is directly supported by the spiritual authorities has rather high ratings among the reformists either, as he is considered to be progressive and modern figure who has taken important measures to improve system of management of Tehran, to develop transport, social and cultural fields.
Though Ghalibaf has won the support of the spiritual and conservative authorities of the country he is an eager supporter of the improvement of the relations with the West. Back in 2008 during his official visit to Tokyo he responded very positively to the statement of B. Obaman, who was then a senator, about the readiness to improve the relations with Iran. Ghalibaf mentioned that Iranian and American societies can not live in the atmosphere of strained relations. Let us also mention that according to different sources Ghalibaf who was voted one of top 5 mayors in the world, has perfect personal relations with the mayors of the western megalopolises which can be a great resource for the rapprochement between Iran and the West.
Ghalibaf’s claims to the post of the president are also obvious for Akhmadinejad’s team which realizes that the incumbent president can hardly influence the course of the coming presidential elections, taking into consideration growing political and information resources of their competitors. And Ghalibaf is not short of information resources. Thus, according to the sister of president Ahmadinejad, P. Akhmadinejad (the member of the town council of Tehran) the mayor has 82 mass media. It should also be mentioned that the mayor’s personal web-site (http://www.ghalibaf.ir) has also demonstrated activity recently.
However, making forecasts on Iran’s future is rather thankless occupation (winning on the elections of presidents M. Khatami and M. Ahmadinejad seemed rather unbelievable on the eve of the elections) but even today it can be mentioned that M. Ghalibaf has rather big chances to win the elections in 2013. And in case of possible early reassignment of M. Ahmadinejad, Ghalibaf would be the only figure with elaborated strategy and serious electoral resources to win early elections. Let us also mention that M. Ghalibaf is closely connected with the Armenian community in Tehran and he has spoken many times about an important role of the Armenians in the Iranian history and Iranian-Iraqi war.
Developments in Syria and Iranian-Turkish relations
Mainly three regional processes can be considered important for Iran: antigovernment movement in Syria, deterioration of the Iranian-Turkish relations, which is partially conditioned by the previous factor, and stirring up of the Kurdish factor.
Today it can be mentioned that though “Arab spring” have not reached Iran and have not caused stirring up of antigovernment movement, its direct impact on Iran was obvious. If the revolutionary wave in Syria overthrow B. Assad’s regime, Iran will lose its main partner and ally in the Middle East. Besides, the stance of Iran’s ally “Hezbollah” will also weaken as the strength and possibilities of that organization are directly connected with its collaboration and partnership with Syria. That is why for Iran developments in Syria are related to the issue of their own national security, and retaining power of M. Assad is their key task.
It is remarkable that this is the point of view of the authorities of the country and not of the president; back in August M. Ahmadinejad called B. Assad “to listen to the voice of his people” and carry out necessary reforms in the country and in response A. Khamenei sounded opposite viewpoint: “Those who want to deliver strike on Syria in reality deliver strike on Iran. Turkey should realize Iran will use all its strength to oppose those who want to hit Syria.”
A. Khamenei’s statement can be considered anti-Turkish and evaluated as a direct threatening to Ankara and it differs from M. Ahmadinejad’s policy directed to setting good relations and retaining cooperation with Ankara. It was the Syrian issue, which is crucial for both Iran and Turkey that has become the main reason for deterioration of the relations between those two countries. Let us mention that from clrealy economic point of view both Iran and Turkey have equal influence on Syria; Turkey is the main economic partner of Syria with more than $25 billion investments in Syrian economy. The amount of the financial support and investments by Iran are about $20 billion but unlike Turks, Iranians are represented in Syria either: in the center of Damascus a special agency of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolutions is situated with the staff consisting of more than 400 officers, Iranian navy can freely use Syrian ports and Iran also has 14 cultural centers in different parts of the country, which, besides the issues regarding culture, also deal with issues concerning politics, religion and security. It is obvious for Iran that after overthrowing the authority of Assad, all their positions in Syria may simply disappear and for Turkey such changes will have no aftermaths – Ankara will remain the main economic partner of the new authorities, besides new Syrian regime which will mainly be of Sunnite religious and political orientation may become new and important partner of Ankara, taking into consideration Islamic eloquence of the Turks, which has been shifted to the real political field in their relations with Israel. Let us also mention that in Israel they began to describe Turkey as “second Iran”; a well-known Israeli analyst M. Amir mentioned in this regard that Erdogan “has put on Iranian clothes” and moved away from temporal society, thus indulging in the mire of religious radicalism. But according to Amir “Erdogan does not know what consequences this all will have for him”.
No matter how strange it may sound but Amir is right in his evaluations. Ankara’s new regional ideology and policy are close to the Iranian, though, unlike Shiite Iran which does not have objective possibilities to undertake the role of a leader in mainly Sunnite region, Ankara posses it.
Due to that reason today Tehran grasps its only ally B. Assad and does everything to retain his authority, meanwhile Ankara freely supports opposition, thus realizing that it will loose nothing after overthrowing Assad and accession to power of Islamists. Such a deterioration of the Iranian-Turkish relations, which is accompanied by numerous anti-Turkish publications in Iranian press and anti-Iranian publications in Turkish press, is taking place against the background of sticking to almost similar political ideology by both of those states.
But there is still one item which keeps both Turkey and Iran in the same camp – Kurdish issue.
Despite the fertile ground for the escalation of the Kurdish issue in Iran, stirring up of the anti-Iranian activity by the branch of the Kurdish Worker’s Party in Iraq (PJAK) is considered to be unexpected. While speaking about the Kurdish factor it should be mentioned that discriminative policy carried out in regard to the Sunnite population of the country during M. Ahmadinejad’s presidency caused serious problems for Iran in Belujistan and Iranian Kurdistan. People, who can make anti-Sunnite statements and support the idea of Shiitization of the territories populated by Sunnites, were appointed as the heads of the provinces. This process is characterized by the construction of Shiite mosques and prohibitions on restoration and expansion of the Sunnite ones.
Though, the fact that the PJAK (which, according to some analysts, is directly connected with the United States) has initiated a new wave of anti-Iranian activity at this moment may speak about the activization of the actions directed against Iran by the Americans. However, it is difficult to say definitely what the purpose of such an activization is. But it is obvious that the military actions against Kurds and bombing of Northern Iraq restrict the flexibility of Tehran in the direction of preserving Assad’s authority. At the same Iranian strikes on Northern Iraq may affect rather warm relations formed between Tehran and Iraqi Kurdistan.
It is not excluded that the struggle against Kurdish factor will force Ankara and Tehran to cooperate as this issue is topical for both countries. But it is still not clear how Iran will react on the desire of Turkey to establish a military base in the Qandil Mountains in Northern Iraq under the pretext of fighting against Kurds. Iran always opposed the presence of foreign military bases in the proximity to its borders and possible consent of the Iranian authorities to grand a territory to Turks for building a base may cause aggravation of Iranian-Iraqi and Iranian-Turkish relations.
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