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Iran’s new president, Hassan Rowhani, has declared his election is a victory for moderation over extremism. But it’s unclear as to how much influence he’ll have within Iran, and what his victory will mean for the region as a whole.
- Fatemeh Aman President, Global Media Trail; Journalist, South Asia-Analyst
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIran has a new president. On Saturday, the politically moderate cleric Hassan Rowhani was declared the winner of a six-way race, finishing far in front of a group of hard line conservatives supported by the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Rowhani called his election a victory of wisdom, moderation, progress, awareness, commitment, and religiosity over extremism and unethical behavior.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut there are open questions about how much influence he's likely to have inside Iran, and whether it can change the trajectory of critical issues like the future of the country's nuclear program. Joining us to talk about this is a Fatemeh Aman. Fatemeh Aman is a journalist and South Asia analyst. She's the president of Global Media Trail. She joins us by phone. Fatemeh Aman, thank you for joining us.
MS. FATEMEH AMANHi Kojo. Thank you very much for having me.
NNAMDIRowhani himself said that his election is a victory for moderation. What in your view does this mean, and what can we learn about what it means to him by considering his background?
AMANLet me just briefly go to his background. He was the former nuclear chief negotiator during the president Mohammad Khatami, and he's a member of assembly of expert. This is a body that, you know, formerly supervised supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini, and he was -- he is not a reformist himself. He was never, you know, was described as a reformist. However, he has shown that he in fact could be described as a moderate.
AMANIn fact, he called his administration -- his future -- his campaign slogan was Prudence and Moderation and Hope -- I'm sorry. Prudence and Hope. He promised an administration of moderation. So he has a long way to go to meet the demands of people. I mean, it's a wide range of demands from (unintelligible) which, you now, from solving internal problems such as high prices in Iran, inflation, widespread addiction. It is a dramatic social challenge to today's Iran.
AMANHe even is, you know, has to answer the issue of mandatory hijab, which was imposed on women after Islamic revolution in 1979.
AMANAnd also, foreign policy, obviously. That -- he is going to be faced with all these demands, and I personally believe it is too early to see that he can keep all these promises and all these -- to meet the demands, and a lot depends on his relationship and how he can work basically with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini.
NNAMDIBut Fatemeh Aman, allow me to back up for a second. What did make of the fact that the hard line conservative most closely aligned with Iran's supreme leader finished at the back of the pack so to speak?
AMANI'm sorry. I didn't get your last sentence, Kojo.
NNAMDIWhat do you make of the fact that the hard line conservatives who ran against him did so badly?
AMANThat's a very good question. I feel that everybody is busy with that. You know, on one side was Saeed Jalili. As you know, he is the current nuclear negotiator, and he was presumed to be supported by the supreme leader. Many people have doubts. I mean, many people thought -- and he also stated himself, supreme leader, just a couple days ago that he doesn't have a favorite candidate, that no one will ever know whom he voted for.
AMANThat was -- Jalili was on one side of this spectrum of candidates. On the other side was the only -- was their (unintelligible) a reformist -- a little known reformist before he ran, and Hassan Rowhani. He is, in fact, the most moderate of all these candidates. So with the coalition that they managed between (word?) and Rowhani, Rowhani was the selected candidate from the reformer camps as well.
AMANBut, you know, there are also arguments that supreme leader may in fact prefer somebody -- a moderate person like Rowhani to -- because he understands...
NNAMDIYes. I have seen those arguments, but allow me to go to the phones and Mary in Potomac, Md., who is wonder about how others may respond. Mary, it's your turn. Go ahead, please.
MARYHi, Mrs. Aman. This is Mary from Potomac, Md. I really follow your website and I really like that you had on your Facebook that, you know, it's predictably unpredictable. So my question is what do you think that the hardliners' reaction would be this time compared to (word?) presidency? Thank you so much.
AMANYou know, I believe it depends a lot how -- whether or not Rowhani is able to reach out to all factions, to all groups, including hardliners. He has received messages from all the other candidates. They congratulated him. They wished him luck, and this morning, in fact, a couple hours ago in his first press conference, he emphasized one more time on the importance of moderation, o not alienating anybody, not excluding anybody from his future government.
AMANHe promised he would bring -- he would let everybody participate in the -- in his cabinet, in his government, and that really is going to be a major -- a decided factor on how he can reach out. He promised the conciliation, a government of peace and so we didn't see -- and that is going to be the key to his survival I believe. I mean, if he doesn't -- if he's trying to avoid the challenges that President Mohammad Khatami faced which was, you know, as a reformist president, he was really -- he was not treated well, I would say, by the hardline camps -- by the conservative camp. Rowhani is...
NNAMDIBut I guess...
AMAN..he has learned a lesson. Yes, sir.
NNAMDII guess it's no coincidence that he has been known as the diplomatic sheik in the past, and that many people associated him with the era in which Iran froze its nuclear program. How does the shaping expectation for the path that he may take as president, in your view, affect the nuclear issue?
AMANHe, you know, he had -- first of all, he had a wonderful performance in the pre-presidential, televised presidential debate. He came out very well, criticized harshly the -- Saeed Jalili, the current chief nuclear negotiator. He called, you know, he blamed him for -- he accused him of going, you know, just being so -- not trying to reach out to the world, not trying to find a tone of friendship with other countries.
AMANHe criticized the nuclear policy, defended his record since he was accused by the Ahmadinejad government in giving into western demands, and suspending the nuclear activities during his term. So he defended himself. He said we never gave up the nuclear right. We did this and, you know, he just basically bragged about his record, what he considered his success in keeping the nuclear program alive, and progresses in a way that he claimed was very bright and very positive.
AMANWhat -- we should not expect him to overturn, you know, the -- what's going on overnight. That's really my -- I think it would take some time. He would have to have the support of the supreme leader. And Kojo, let me just mention this, that a lot of people who blamed Rowhani and also didn't want to participate in the election, accused him of being a candidate from the supreme leader.
AMANSo if in fact that is the case, even if that is the case, you know, there is some hope that he could avoid the resistance from the core conservatives and core hardliners camp, and he could count on their cooperation, especially in the nuclear negotiator -- negotiations.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call, Mary. We move on now to Mohammad in Bethesda, Md. Mohammad in Bethesda, Md. Mohammad, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MOHAMMADHi, Mrs. Aman. The question I had is that what do you think the approach of the new president-elect would be regarding the green movement of four years ago, and it's...
NNAMDIWhat is the green movement?
AMANDo you want -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.
MOHAMMADAnd, I think, Mrs. Aman, can elaborate on that. And the leaders who are currently under house arrest.
AMANYes. The green movement, that is the last presidential election that was held in 2009, which in that, the hardliners and the conservative government was accused of fraud and irregularities in the election. They demanded a recount of the votes which was rejected by the supreme leader. The supreme leader put his support behind Ahmadinejad. There was a post-election unrest and clashes on the streets of Tehran and many innocent, young, Iranians, were killed, both by the security forces, and in the prisons in temporary jails.
AMANThere was reports of -- there were reports of rapes, of torture, and the -- two leaders of the green movement, Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have been in house arrest since they -- since 2009, four years. And one of the demands of those who voted for Rowhani is they face -- first of all, they hope to basically moderate the atmosphere, which is really -- which was very harsh after the election, and for the -- especially in the last four years.
AMANThey are hoping that the political climate would be more -- would open up basically. I'm sorry, I...
NNAMDIFatemeh Aman, I interrupt only because we're running out of time, because -- Mohammad, thank you very much for your call. I'd like to get in the call from Zohala (sp?) in Reston, Va. in the little time we have left. Zohala, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ZOHALAHello, how you doing?
ZOHALAFirst -- hello, can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes. But we don't have much time left, so please make your question or comment brief.
ZOHALAWell, first of all, thank you, Kojo Nnamdi. I enjoy your show. But the question is that, don't you think these -- the government of Iran usually tries to manipulate the Iran population by giving them every so often throw them a bone, and this was, to me, manipulating people again. The reformist to be elected, I just think that they were afraid of having people again going through streets and questioning...
NNAMDIAllow me to Fatemeh respond, because what Zohala is saying is that this is really another way to pacify people by those really in charge. Fatemeh, you've got about 30 seconds.
AMANWell, I mean, that also comes from the -- those who really are very skeptical of the recent events in Iran. Let's hope that is not the case. Let's hope that it would really open up Iran and would bring some results to the nuclear negotiations, and would also have impact, obviously on Iran's foreign policy also in regard to Arab states -- its neighboring Arab states and the United States. I mean, you can -- if you really believe in conspiracies, you should just not follow what's going on in Iran. You can just brand it as something that was pacifying the population.
AMANI -- as an analyst, I -- it doesn't look to me like it is something that, you know, just given to people to calm them down.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's going to have to be the last word. Fatemeh Aman is a journalist and South Asia analyst. She's the president of Global Media Trail. Fatemeh, thank you so much for joining us.
AMANThank you very much, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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