'Iran's disinherited may clash with bourgeoisie'

'Iran's disinherited may clash with bourgeoisie'
By Euronews
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Said Kamali, euronews: “On the eve of the presidential election in Iran, with municipal polls planned at the same time, on 14 June, we’re speaking with Bernard Hourcade. We will talk about the aftermath of the highly controversial elections in 2009, which saw clashes in the streets between protesters and government forces… as well as today’s tough questions surrounding Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, and unprecedented international economic sanctions against Iran.

“You’re the head of France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, specialising in Iran, and you’re also a professor of Geography at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations, in Paris. What does a presidential election in Iran mean for you?”

Bernard Hourcade: “It’s often said that elections serve no useful purpose, and that they’re rigged, and it’s often true. But something special about Iran is that we never know the result they’ll bring – even though the institutional framework is fairly restricted. The political stakes and debate are important, and I think it’s an important event for the future of the country, though it’s not exactly comparable to elections in France, Belgium or Spain.”

euronews: “As you’re aware, 686 people of all sorts registered to run for the presidential office; that was open to the public. The rules say it’s enough simply to show your birth certificate, copy of your ID, 12 ID-type photos, and be age 18 or over. Does that make sense to you? Why hold the door open to the public like that?”

Hourcade: “Part of it’s propaganda. The government and the constitution allow all citizens to be candidates, and that’s a very good thing. But also: the people really want to take part. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranians have participated in political life. There are crackdowns sometimes, but they take part. There’s undeniably a political dynamic. Iran has political debate, and so this time there are 636 candidates; in 2001 there were 1,075 I think. Often there are three, four or five hundred. The main problem is that then the Constitutional Guardians Council goes in and chooses the candidates, ruling out 99 percent of those who registered, and keeping just, say, ten of them, maximum. The criteria are obviously quite variable.”

euronews: “After what happened in 2009, what marks this election apart? Obviously, there were the 2009 riots, then four years of heavy economic sanctions against the country, and the constant nuclear question. So, how is this election different, compared with others?”

Hourcade: “They’re about maturity. For the past 34 years, every day we’ve said ‘the Islamic Republic is about to collapse!’ Well, it’s still there. It’s the most stable government system in the Middle East. We see that especially after the Arab Spring. It’s a country that can move forward. We always talk about the Supreme Leader getting his own way; it’s more complicated than that. There are checks on power in Iran. The current reformer who is talked about… the symbolic Green Movement in 2009 wasn’t a movement; it was a very strong dynamic in society, but it wasn’t organised; there is no Green political party or institution. And so Iranians who demonstrated against Ahmadinejad in 2009 found themselves all alone, getting beaten, or imprisoned or shot.”

euronews: “Among the key issues for the country – the regime, actually – is, evidently, the nuclear question. Said Jalili, the chief nuclear negotiator, is himself a candidate for the presidency. He said recently that whoever the future president is, Iran’s policy won’t change, and its enrichment of uranium will not be broken off. What are your expectations for the regime’s nuclear policy?”

Hourcade: “When it comes to relations with the United States over the nuclear programme, it will be the same policy. Everyone in Iran agrees, left and right, that Iran has the right to enrich uranium. Even Israel’s [Benjamin] Netayahu agrees, saying ‘not more than 20 percent’ – meaning he’s okay with the 3.5 percent enrichment that Iran is asking for. France’s [Laurent] Fabius said it would be all right if Iran agrees to enrich under international oversight. Those who don’t agree are western countries who want the Iranian regime to fall, and so are unwilling to negotiate. For the first time, the Iranians are ready to talk seriously, and we know that in the US, notably – not so much France, but the US is essential – they want to find a solution to the Iranian nuclear question which is polluting the Middle East at a time when the war in Syria and the Arab Spring are raising fundamental questions. I am very optimistic that, however the Iranian elections turn out, the Americans and the Iranians agree they have to find a way out of this crisis, which is poisonous for everybody.”

euronews: “Are you optimistic about the sanctions? Because they’re really a problem now.”

Hourcade: “Exactly. It’s now up to western countries that have imposed bilateral sanctions, United Nations sanctions, to lay out how to lift them gradually. This is obviously indispensable if both sides are to reach an agreement. It can’t just be up to Iran to accept without receiving anything in return. Therefore, removal of sanctions and a normalisation between Iran and the US are the keys: if Iran and the US decide, everything else will flow from that. This is currently on the table. Both sides are saying they’re talking about the conditions of talks; in other words, they agree in principle.”

euronews: “They tried with the reformist Khatami, and it didn’t work.”

Hourcade: “In 2003, when the Europeans and Iran signed an agreement, the Americans were against it. They wanted the regime to fall, and so nothing got done, because the west couldn’t agree about a solution among themselves. There was a second problem in Iran: Khatami and Khamenei didn’t agree. We know very well that Ahmadinejad reached a deal on the nuclear question with the US three times, but Khamenei wouldn’t go along. Now, if the president and the Supreme Guide in Iran are in the same camp, have the same policy, their power will be united. That doesn’t mean it’ll be paradise, but at least there won’t be internal division, and the western side – the United States – can now impose its will on Iran, because the economic crisis imposes a certain consensus.”

euronews: “Let’s turn to political life within Iran, with everything that’s happened between the Supreme Guide and outgoing President Ahmadinejad. How do you see Ahmadinejad’s political future after all the problems he’s had with the Guide?”

Hourcade: “We’ve been mistaken about Ahmadinejad, a lot. He’s not at all the ultra-conservative madman; he’s not a conservative – quite the contrary, he’s dynamic, perhaps reactionary… But he’s a hyper-active person. He enacted economic reforms in Iran which were very hard but which won the praise of the International Monetary Fund. Several times he went after a nuclear deal with the US. And what I see today in Iran, is that there’s going to be opposition from the people in the provinces, small cities, the countryside, from people who feel they’ve been somewhat ignored and the aristocracy of the revolution – whether that’s the reformers, conservatives or former Guardians of the Revolution who have been the establishment in the Islamic Republic. We might have a second phase coming today, of a social separation and a revolution, or a change which is going to concern an opposition from Iran’s disinherited and a sort of aristocracy or bourgeoisie that has got a lot richer over the years.”

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