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Political Spectrum in Iran’s New Parliament

Garrett Nada
 
Iran’s new Majles, which holds its first session on May 28, has wider political diversity than any parliament in a dozen years. Some 60 percent of lawmakers are newcomers. Allies and supporters of President Hassan Rouhani form the largest faction, but not a majority. Hardliners held on to more than a quarter of Parliament’s 290 seats. The balance of power, however, is yet to be determined because independents won more than a quarter of the seats; many of their affiliations are unclear or could shift.
 
The social and professional make-up of parliament is also changing. Women won a record number of seats in the February election and April runoff. For the first time, females will outnumber clerics.
 
 
Iran’s system does not have formal parties, but it does have factions and coalitions that run together. The largest bloc in the parliament is the Faction of Hope, most of whom are aligned with Rouhani. The group claims support of up to 168 members. Hardliners claim to have at least 150 members. Some candidates ran as independents or even on multiple lists, so their affiliations are not clearly defined. Politicians also changed their positions closer to the election. Iranians jokingly referred to them as “Hezb-e Bad,” or “Party of the Wind.”
 
Iranian politics are also notoriously fluid. Even within factions, candidates do not necessarily have the same positions on all issues. Two lawmakers who may agree on foreign policy may differ on economic or social issues. But the variety of views is limited by the Guardian Council’s heavy vetting. It disqualified some 60 percent of the 12,000 people who registered to run. The last three parliaments were dominated by conservatives.
 
The new Majles’ priority is likely to be improving the economy. In March 2016, a majority of Iranians said they want lawmakers to focus on reducing unemployment, according to a poll by the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM), working in conjunction with the Program for Public Consultation and IranPoll.com. The second priority for Iranians was attending to the problems of the poor.
 
 
Sanctions relief has yet to have a significant impact. Businesses began to move into the Iranian market after sanctions were lifted in January. Many banks and businesses, however, still have reservations about doing business with Iran due to lack of clarity on sanctions and also due to Iran’s need for banking and economic reform. Although Rouhani succeeded in cutting inflation from 14 percent in 2015 to 8 percent as of May 2016, Iran still can do more to create jobs and ensure sustainable growth, according to the International Monetary Fund.
 
Another issue that Parliament could debate early on is Rouhani’s Citizens’ Bill of Rights. In April 2016, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told The New Yorker it could be the first initiative Rouhani tries to put before the Majles. The draft, published in late 2013, was viewed as a major step towards fulfilling his promises to improve the human rights situation. But rights groups pointed out deficiencies, and Rouhani has yet to make headway on the issue. The Citizens’ Bill of Rights does not require parliamentary approval, according to Zarif. But Rouhani “may want to put in place certain procedures and guarantees and mechanisms, so that may require parliamentary approval,” he said.
 

The following are profiles of key lawmakers who illustrate the diversity of Iran’s incoming Majles and have differing views on these issues. 

Mohammad Reza Aref
 
Mohammad Reza Aref, a reformist, garnered 1.6 million votes for a parliamentary seat from Tehran, more than any other candidate. Aref headed the “List of Hope,” a coalition that included reformists and centrists who support Rouhani. Their slogan was “Hope, peace, and economic prosperity.” The group associated itself with the success of the nuclear deal, the lifting of international sanctions, and normalizing political and economic relations with the outside world. Candidates on the slate advocated greater personal and political freedoms. After the election, the coalition renamed itself the “Faction of Hope.” Aref is its leader.
 
Born in 1951, Aref studied electrical engineering and did graduate work at Stanford University in the late 1970s. He was a professor at Isfahan University of Technology from 1981 to 1994. He then served as president of Tehran University from 1994 until 1997, when he was appointed telecommunications minister under former President Mohammad Khatami. In 2001, President Khatami appointed him to be one of his vice presidents. In 2002, Aref became a member of the powerful Expediency Council, the body charged with resolving disputes between Parliament and the Guardian Council. In 2013, Aref ran for president but eventually dropped out of the race to support Rouhani, a centrist candidate.
On May 19, Aref announced that he would run for Speaker of Parliament. Former Presidents Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani indicated support for Aref. His agenda on legislative priorities differ significantly from Ali Larijani, who was speaker for the previous eight years. 
 
 
Ali Larijani
 
Ali Larijani, a conservative who ran as an independent, won his seat from the holy city of Qom. He served as Speaker of Parliament between 2008 and 2016. Many of his allies did not win reelection. As election results were announced in February, Larijani praised the rotation of political power from one group to another as an auspicious development. Larijani is considered a principlist, but more pragmatic than other hardliners. He opted not to join the main list of hardliners for the election. In Tehran, the Grand Coalition of Principlists failed to win any seats while the “List of Hope” won all 30. “I feel our friends in the [conservative coalition] have not provided the necessary mechanisms for the creation of unity,” he said. “Therefore we seek to act independently.” Yet he won the backing of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Qods Force, who cited Larijani’s long support of “revolutionary movements.”
 
Born in 1957, Larijani is the son of Ayatollah Mirza Hashem Amoli and son-in-law of Ayatollah Morteza Motahari. His father was a prominent religious authority.  Larijani studied mathematics and computer science at Sharif University of Technology. He earned advanced degrees in philosophy from Tehran University. After serving as a commander in the Revolutionary Guards, he held a variety of positions in the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, and the Ministry of Telecommunications. From 1991 to 1993, he served as Minister of Guidance and Islamic Culture. From 1994 to 2004, he was President of IRIB.
 
In 2004, Larijani became an advisor to Khamenei. In 2005, he made an unsuccessful run for president. Later that year, Khamenei appointed him Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, replacing Rouhani. In that capacity, Larijani acted as lead negotiator on Iran’s nuclear program. But he resigned in 2007, reportedly over tactical disagreements with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over the nuclear talks. In 2008, Larijani ran for Parliament and won a seat representing Qom. He went on to become Speaker of Parliament and held the position for two sessions. Larijani is also a member of the Expediency Council.
 
Larijani is the presumed conservative candidate for the speakership in the next Parliament, although he was attacked by hardliners for cooperating with Rouhani’s government. He supported the nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers, referring to it as a “national achievement” even though Iran did not get everything it wanted. In May 2016, he lauded the Rouhani administration for acting more lawfully and more cooperatively with Parliament than the Ahmadinejad administration. Larijani favors consensus in politics and could act as a broker between hardliners and the other factions.
 
Ali Motahari
 
Ali Motahari is a moderate conservative who fielded his own independent list called “Voice of the Nation.” His name was also included on the “List of Hope.” He could become a kingmaker in the next Parliament because he straddles reformists and hardliners. In an interview before the elections, he said that hardliners do not place enough emphasis on freedoms while reformists do not pay enough attention to cultural issues. He has criticized the government for putting the two Green Movement leaders and former presidential candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, under house arrest in 2011. Although he has taken a conservative stance on cultural issues, like the dress code for women, Motahari has largely been supportive of President Rouhani. In March 2015, he was physically attacked by alleged hardliner critics. 
 
 
Born in 1958, Motahari is the son of the late Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, a leading theologian and political activist who was close to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He is also the brother-in-law of Ali Larijani. Motahari studied mathematics and mechanical engineering at the University of Tabriz. He worked at IRIB and studied philosophy at the graduate level before going on to publish books and academic articles and eventually teach at various universities. In 2008, he ran for Parliament and won a seat representing Tehran. Motahari was a fierce critic of Ahmadinejad.
 
Motahari is known for being outspoken. After the post-election disqualification of Minoo Khaleghi, a female reformist candidate from Isfahan, he called for her reinstatement. The Guardian Council did not give an official reason for her disqualification, although some have speculated that a photo of her shaking hands with a man and not wearing a hijab might have triggered the decision. Critics of the disqualification argued that the Guardian Council does not have the power to disqualify someone after an election. Motahari said that the Interior Ministry must allow Khaleghi to take her seat or else Parliament will impeach the interior minister. He wrote an open letter to the Guardian Council head, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, insisting on her reinstatement.
 
Alaeddin Boroujerdi
 
Alaedddin Boroujerdi is a conservative lawmaker from Boroujerd in the western province of Lorestan. Like Larijani, he chose to run as independent rather than join the hardliner Grand Coalition of Principlists list. Boroujerdi kept his seat after winning in the April runoff.
 
Born in 1950, Boroujerdi majored in laboratory sciences at the University of Tabriz and did graduate work in international relations at Tehran University. Throughout the 1970s, he worked at the Red Crescent in Dubai and was later apprehended and interrogated by the shah’s SAVAK secret police upon returning to Iran for organizing against the monarchy. After the revolution, he began climbing the diplomatic ranks in 1981. Boroujerdi served as deputy foreign minister for Asia-Pacific affairs in the 1990s, deputy international affairs advisor to the supreme leader and deputy minister of foreign affairs.
 
In 2000, the veteran diplomat won a seat in Parliament. In 2007, he was named Chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee. In 2011, he was reportedly detained for 24 hours on allegations of financial fraud. But Boroujerdi denied the charges and accused the “deviant current”—supporters of Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei—of targeting individuals loyal to the supreme leader.
 
In the previous Parliament, Boroujerdi chaired the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee. He was on the 15-member panel of lawmakers that reviewed the nuclear deal. Boroujerdi had reservations, but ended up supporting the deal even while emphasizing his misgivings about Washington. “We are still distrustful of the United States because of the country’s arrogant nature and its support for the Zionist regime [Israel] in the massacre of the oppressed people of Palestine and its move to back Saudi Arabia’s killing of the Yemeni people. In this climate of mistrust, there are concerns and if they renege [on the nuclear agreement], we will do the same,” he said in August 2015.
 
In early May 2016, Boroujerdi announced his support for Larijani. “As far as I know him, he is the best speakership option for the tenth Parliament,” he said. Boroujerdi also extoled Larijani’s views on foreign policy.
 
Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
 
 
Photo credits: Mohammad Reza Aref by Foad Ashtari [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Tasnim News Agency and Wikimedia Commons; Ali Larijani and Alaeddin Boroujerdi via ICANA and Parliran.ir
 
 

Report: Iranian Economy at Crossroads

Iran’s political elite is divided on what direction to take Iran’s economy. One camp, consisting of President Hassan Rouhani and his centrist and reformist supporters, prioritize economic growth through greater cooperation with the outside world. “The second force, as represented the hardliners, the ruling clergy and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), would prefer to retain the current economic structure, as these forces maintain a significant stake in the economy,” according to Zubair Iqbal, a scholar at the Middle East Institute. The following are excerpts from his new paper.
 
Iran’s Economy Post-Sanctions
 
The Iranian economy is at a crossroads. Hard choices will have to be made in the wake of changing international conditions and the global oil outlook. The lifting of sanctions following the nuclear agreement has the potential to reinvigorate growth. Steps taken over the past few years have helped contain inflation, reduce some subsidies, and achieve a degree of exchange rate stability with some growth. However, the economy remains weak.
 
Unemployment, especially among the younger generation, remains high. Prospects for the current year look better in light of the easing of financial constraints following the release of large official foreign exchange reserves, higher oil production, and improved market confidence leading to higher investment. Iran’s fiscal position will likely be consolidated further if planned revenue measures, including an increase in VAT and elimination of tax exemptions and a reduction in subsidies,  are implemented, which, combined with higher domestic production and imports, could further reduce inflation.
 
However, the Iranian economy is confronted with a dramatic fall in oil prices. It is compounded by the requirements of time-consuming and expensive investments in reviving output toward its pre-sanctions level of about 4 million barrels per day and rising domestic demand. While an increase in oil output and related investment would help increase GDP, lower export prices will likely further weaken the external position and the budget. With limited prospects, at present, of any meaningful supply restraint agreement among the major oil producers, oil revenues for the next 3-4 years could be up to 30 percent lower than those projected on the assumption of a strong recovery in 2016. Similarly, there would be little accumulation of foreign exchange reserves that have served as a cushion against future uncertainties. In this event, there would be little room for expansionary policies to reinvigorate growth. Thus, downside risks to growth have increased.
 
At the same time, the Iranian economy is saddled with significant structural distortions that continue to constrain its growth outlook. Critical prices, including exchange rate and interest rates, are still out of line; the financial sector is burdened with large nonperforming loans; the private sector faces weak demand and inadequate availability of credit; and government arrears have accumulated while subsidies remain large. Public sector entities control a significant share of the economy and access to bank credit. Governance of the private sector and the business environment is inadequate and nontransparent, undermining private investment. Increased regional instability as well as uncertainty with respect to the implementation of the nuclear agreement further compound downward risks.
 
Domestic Vs. Regional Priorities
 
Broadly, Iran aims to accelerate economic growth under the existing political structure while simultaneously strengthening its regional strategic position. Within the Iranian political elite, however, lies two competing strands. One, as represented by the reformists and the technocratic government of President Hassan Rouhani, prioritize economic growth. As such, they are more inclined to seek a regional strategic balance and greater cooperation with outside powers in order to serve their economic agenda. If the authorities choose to liberalize the economy through widespread economic reforms, and reduce the role of the inefficient public sector, domestic political power would likely shift in their favor.
The second force, as represented the hardliners, the ruling clergy and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.), would prefer to retain the current economic structure, as these forces maintain a significant stake in the economy. …

Iran’s Policy Options
 
Iranian authorities could pursue three broad strategies in the current circumstances: (a) maintain the status quo, (b) implement widespread and coordinated reforms, or (c) implement mild politically-neutral reforms. The third option would ease some constraints on private sector investment and fiscal consolidation in response to lower oil earnings, but leave the economic and political structure broadly unchanged. …

Click here for the full text.  

 

Tags: Reports

Iran’s Runoff Election for Parliament

Garrett Nada 

Allies and supporters of President Hassan Rouhani made gains in the Parliamentary runoff election on April 29. They will form the largest faction in Parliament, but not a majority.  In 55 constituencies, 136 candidates competed for 68  seats that were undecided in the first round, on February 26, where a candidate did not meet the threshold of 25 percent. Rouhani’s supporters— a loose group of reformists, centrists and moderate conservatives— now hold roughly 41 percent of the 290 seats.
 
Rouhani welcomed the election results in a speech marking May Day. “People chose the best people in the election, and we are happy that the next Majles (Parliament) will be more coordinated with the government,” he said. Some 59 percent of eligible voters went to the polls.
 
The new Parliament will have fewer clerics than at any time since the founding of the Islamic Republic. Since the first Parliament in 1980, the proportion of clerics in the legislative body has steadily decreased, from more than half of lawmakers in 1980, to nine percent in 2012. Some 27 clerics held seats in the outgoing Parliament, compared with just 16 who were elected this round, according to Agence France-Presse. Three are considered reformists and the rest are more conservative. For the first time, women will outnumber clerics.
 
 
Women won a record number of seats. The new Parliament will have 17 women, eight more than in the outgoing Parliament and three more than the previous high in 1996, during the era of President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. They are all reformists or independents, another departure from past parliaments. In the previous parliament, the female Members were virtually all conservative.
 
Rouhani highlighted the increase in female representation in his May Day speech. “This is a record and we are happy that our dear women are taking part in all stages, especially in politics,” Rouhani said.
 
Media and monitoring groups, however, differed over the distribution of seats, in part, due to the fluid nature of Iranian politics. Iran’s system does not have formal parties. Candidates run either as independents or on lists with others. In this election, some candidates ran on multiple lists, so their affiliations are not clearly defined. And some newcomers’ leanings are unknown. The chart above is from the Islamic Student News Agency:
 
Independents may play a decisive role in the new Parliament because neither the president’s supporters nor the hardliners have enough seats to push legislation through on their own. Hardliners won 29 percent of the seats. And independents won 28 percent of seats. The new balance of power may help Rouhani push forward long-stalled promises of reform opposed by hardliners, who have dominated the last three parliaments, since 2004.
 
Gains by Rouhani’s supporters have raised the possibility that Mohammad Reza Aref, a leading reformer, may challenge the current Speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani. Larijani is a conservative who ran from the holy city of Qom. He is considered a principlist but chose not to join the main list of hardliners for the election. “I feel our friends in the [conservative coalition] have not provided the necessary mechanisms for the creation of unity… Therefore we seek to act independently,” he said. He won the backing of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Qods Force, who cited Larijani’s long support of “revolutionary movements.” Larijani was largely supportive of the nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers.
 
Aref could be a formidable contender for the speakership. A former presidential candidate and a vice president under former President Mohammad Khatami, he garnered 1.6 million votes for a parliamentary seat from Tehran, more than any other candidate. He headed the “List of Hope,” which included reformists and centrists who support Rouhani. The list associated itself with the success of the nuclear deal, the lifting of international sanctions, and normalizing political and economic relations with the outside world. The slate also supported greater personal and political freedoms. If Aref were to dislodge Larijani, he could potentially shift the direction and priorities of the legislature. The new Parliament is scheduled to convene on May 27. 
 
Two seats are still undecided. One is for Isfahan, which was initially won by a female reformist candidate, Minoo Khaleghi. She was disqualified by the Guardian Council one month after the election. The Council did not give an official reason for her disqualification, although some have speculated that a photo of her shaking hands with a man and not wearing a hijab might have triggered the decision. It has not yet been announced how her seat will be filled.
 
The other unfilled seat is for the rural town of Mamasani in southern Fars province. During voting, shooting broke out between supporters of different candidates, and four people were wounded.
  
Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer. Katayoun Kishi, a research assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace, also contributed to this article.
 

Photo credit: Photo credit: Harald Dettenborn [CC BY 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons 

Iran Targets Political Elites

Garrett Nada
 
Over the past four decades, Iran’s revolutionaries have often been targets of their own revolution. Dozens have been pushed aside, discredited, banned from running for office, or isolated. Many have ended up in jail or faced prolonged house arrest. A few have been executed. The rivalries and reprisals among disparate revolutionary factions has been the backdrop of most major political developments, in both domestic and foreign policy, in the Islamic Republic.
 
Among the early victims was Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, a close aide to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini during his exile. He was executed in 1982 after being charged with trying to overthrow the Islamic Republic. Abolhassan Bani Sadr, the first president after the 1979 revolution, was impeached in 1981. He went underground and fled to Paris. In 1987, Mehdi Hashemi, who had headed the Revolutionary Guards liaison with foreign Islamic movements, was executed for sedition. In 1989, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the designated successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was forced to resign after he criticized the execution of political prisoners and fell out of favor with Khomeini. 
 
Since the 2009 presidential election, top officials have been punished or imprisoned for ties to the Green Movement protests. Among those taken to court in mass Stalin-esque trials were former Vice President Mohammad Abtahi and Mohsen Mirdamadi, former chairman of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee and leader of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, a reformist party. Former Deputy Speaker of Parliament Behzad Nabavi and former government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh were also tried and convicted. All four were sentenced to jail terms.
 
The most famous current case involves two men who ran for president in 2009: former Speaker of Parliament Mehdi Karroubi and former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi. Both challenged the election results, which gave President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term, despite hundreds of formal complaints of voter fraud. Both were leaders of the subsequent Green Movement protests, which raged sporadically until early 2010. Both men were put under house arrest—banished from public view or mention in the press—in 2011.
 
Over the past five years, hardliners have repeatedly charged both men with “sedition.” During the 2013 presidential campaign, Hassan Rouhani pledged to end the politically fraught saga. But he failed to make headway.
 
In a bold challenge to the Islamic regime, Karroubi issued an open letter to President Rouhani in April 2016 pleading to be formally charged and tried. “I want you to ask the despotic regime to grant me a public trial based on Article 168 of the constitution,” he wrote. “It will show which side continues in the path of the revolution and is honorable.”
 
Many other revolutionaries with prestigious pedigrees have been targeted by Iran’s judiciary or security apparatus. So have their families. Three of Khomeini’s grandsons and one granddaughter have been disqualified from running in elections since 2004. The following is sampling of Iran’s political elite —reformers, centrists and hardliners — who have faced restrictions in recent years.
 
Khomeini Family
 
Ayatollah Khomeini’s name still carries great symbolic weight four decades after he led the 1979 revolution. He was the ultimate authority for a decade, until his death. Yet several of late leader’s grandchildren have been banned from running for office. At least seven of his 15 grandchildren have been active politically since the mid-1990s. They have openly criticized laws, electoral practices or the leadership.
 
Hassan Khomeini, is a mid-ranking cleric and widely considered the late revolutionary leader’s heir apparent. In February 2016, the Guardian Council barred Khomeini from running for a seat in the Assembly of Experts, an 88-man clerical body charged with appointing, supervising and dismissing the supreme leader.
 
In an Instagram post, Khomeini’s 19-year-old son, Ahmad, charged that the Guardian Council ignored testimonies from top clerics that endorsed his father’s qualifications. The reason for the disqualification was “clear for all,” he said, implying that the council’s ruling was political. Khomeini had the backing of both reformist and centrist political elites. He appealed the rejection, but was again rejected, reportedly for not having requisite Islamic knowledge.
 
The Guardian Council barred another Khomeini grandson, Morteza Eshraghi, from running for parliament in February 2016. He is also a mid-ranking cleric.
 
In 2008, the Guardian Council initially barred Khomeini grandson Ali Eshraghi from running for parliament. The council eventually reversed its decision and reinstated Eshraghi, who was part of a reformist coalition, and some 280 other candidates. But he eventually withdrew at the request of the Khomeini family after a smear campaign was waged against him.
 
In 2004, Khomeini granddaughter Zahra Eshraghi and about 2,000 other reformists were barred from running in parliamentary elections. Eshraghi is an outspoken women’s rights activist who is married to prominent reformist Reza Khatami, the younger brother of former President Mohammad Khatami.
 
 
 
Hossein Khomeini has been a rebel since the early days of the Islamic Republic. He was put under virtual house arrest in 1981 after he charged that “the new dictatorship established in religious form is worse than that of the Shah and the Mongols.” In a 2003 BBC interview, he claimed that his grandfather would have opposed Iran’s leaders if he were still alive. Khomeini even supported the idea of U.S. or foreign intervention to force regime change. He was reportedly under surveillance and banned from giving interviews to Iranian media.
 
Rafsanjani Family
 
Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former Speaker of Parliament and two-term President (1989-1997), helped rebuild Iran after its devastating war with Iraq. He still chairs the Expediency Council. Hardliners opposed Rafsanjani’s pragmatic approach to domestic and foreign affairs, while critics alleged that his family used political connections to amass significant wealth. He was dislodged from the Assembly of Experts chairmanship in 2011. In 2013, the Guardian Council barred him from running for president again.
 
Rafsanjani’s children have also been marginalized politically. Two were charged with acting against the government after the 2009 presidential election. His daughter Faezeh Hashemi, a former Member of Parliament and vice president of Iran’s Olympic committee, was charged with “spreading propaganda.” She spent six months in prison; she was released in March 2013.
 
Rafsanjani’s son, Mehdi Hashemi, left Iran after the disputed 2009 elections for Britain. He was arrested on his return and jailed for three months for corruption and inciting unrest against the regime. He was released in December 2012. In 2015, he was convicted of new charges of embezzlement, bribery and security offenses. He began serving a 10-year jail term in August 2015.
 
In 2016, the Guardian Council disqualified two of Rafsanjani’s children from running for parliament. Fatemeh Hashemi had been outspoken in her criticism of President Ahmadinejad’s economic mismanagement. Mohsen Hashemi, who had served on Tehran’s city council,was also barred from running. Both had reformist views.  
 
The Guardian Council did allow Rafsanjani to run for the Assembly of Experts, however. In February 2016, he led a slate of centrists and moderate conservatives in the Assembly of Experts election. He placed first in the race for 16 available seats in Tehran. Rafsanjani is widely believed to covet the job of supreme leader.

Khatami Family
 
Former President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) pledged political and social reforms while in office, but was largely thwarted by hardliners. Since the 2009 presidential election, he has been sidelined by hardliner critics for supporting opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Since 2010, he has been banned from leaving the country and barred from public events or quotes in the media.
 
For the February 2016 elections, Khatami skirted the ban by using social media. He released a video encouraging Iranians to vote for the “List of Hope” for parliament and the “People’s Experts” for the Assembly of Experts—both slates of reformers and centrists. The “List of Hope” took all 30 seats in parliament for Tehran.
 
The Guardian Council has tried to isolate Khatami’s younger brother, Mohammad Reza Khatami, who was deputy speaker of parliament from 2000 to 2004. He was barred from running for parliament in 2004. Khatami is married to Zahra Eshraghi, granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini. Both supported reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in the 2009 presidential election. Police reportedly detained the couple in 2010 amid protests by the Green Movement. He is also banned from leaving the country.
 
Mousavi Family
 
Mir Hossein Mousavi served as prime minister (1981-1989) during the Iran-Iraq war. From 1989 to 2009, he served as an advisor to Presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami. In 2009, he ran for president and contested incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory. His protest of the official results sparked the Green Movement protests. Mousavi and his wife, women’s rights activist Zahra Rahnavard, were placed under house arrest in February 2011 for their role in the opposition.
 
In February 2013, the couple’s daughters Zahra and Narges Mousavi were detained for questioning after publishing a letter demanding release of their parents. Mousavi and his wife not allowed to attend the wedding of their daughter in March 2016.
 
 
Karroubi Family
 
Mehdi Karroubi, former parliamentary speaker (1989-1992, 2000-2004), ran for president in 2009. He too contested the official results and, with Mousavi, led the opposition Green Movement. Karroubi was particularly outspoken about harsh treatment of protestors by security forces. In February 2011, he was placed under house arrest, at the same time as Mousavi and Rhanavard. Neither has been formally charged with any crimes.
 
In 2009, Karroubi’s son, Mohammad Hossein Karroubi, was sentenced to six months in jail for speaking to foreign media about alleged abuses of prisoners. The sentence was suspended on the condition that he not commit a crime for five years. He was reportedly detained on Feb. 11, 2013, the same day as the Mousavi daughters.
 
Ahmadinejad and His Circle
 

Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013) began to see his status deteriorate even before leaving office. In May 2011, some two dozen individuals close to Ahmadinejad, including his chief of staff and protégé Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, were arrested and charged with being “magicians.” Ahmadinejad and his cohort were labeled “the deviationist current.”
 
In 2013, the Guardian Council barred Mashaei from running for president. Ahmadinejad said the decision was an act of “oppression.” He appealed to the supreme leader to intervene, but to no avail.
 
In February 2015, a former vice president and top aid to Ahmadinejad, Mohammad Reza Rahimi, began serving a five-year prison term for “acquiring wealth through illicit methods.” He was also ordered to pay compensation.
 

Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer at the U.S. Institute of Peace. 

 

Photo credits: Abolhassan Bani Sadr by Christoph Braun (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons; Mir Hossein Mousavi by Mardetanha with special thanks to Mr.Salar Nayerhoda for kind helps (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; Mehdi Karroubi by Mardetanha [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani via HashemiRafsanjani.ir; Mohammad Khatami by World Economic Forum (www.weforum.org), swiss-image.ch/Photo by Remy Steinegger (World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2007) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009 by Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 

US General on Iran in the Region

On March 8, General Lloyd J. Austin III, warned the Senate Armed Services Committee that “Iran maintains hegemonic ambitions and will continue to pose a threat to the region” through its use of proxies. The commander of U.S. Central Command also highlighted expanding Russia-Iran cooperation and Iran’s increasing cyber capabilities. The following are excerpts from his prepared statement.
 
We have an important role to play in providing for the security of the Central Region. That said, we also recognize that we cannot solve every challenge through direct U.S. military action alone. While supporting and enabling the efforts of partner nations, we must help them build additional needed military capacity. The goal is to empower them to provide for the security of their sovereign spaces and confront regional security challenges such as those posed by Iran. We must also encourage our partners to actively counter radical ideologies and address the “underlying currents” that contribute in large part to the instability in the region. American efforts, including the U.S. military, can buy time and we may encourage others to do what is necessary. However, we cannot do it for them. Only the people of the region can bring about the needed changes.
 
 
Finally, we keep a close eye on Iran. We are hopeful that the controls put in place as a result of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement will discourage Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon. Regardless, Iran maintains hegemonic ambitions and will continue to pose a threat to the region through the employment of various antiaccess and area denial (A2/AD) capabilities, theater ballistic missile and cyber capabilities, aggressive maritime activities, and the destabilizing activities of the Iranian Threat Network (ITN) and its Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Forces (IRGC-QF), and other proxies operating in the region.
 
USCENTCOM Priorities. At U.S. Central Command, our aim is to see a positive transformation of the region over time, achieved “by, with, and through” our regional partners. Looking ahead, USCENTCOM will remain ready, engaged and vigilant. Our priority efforts include:
 
· Counter the Iranian Threat Network’s malign activities in the region, to include the impacts of surrogates and proxies.
· Maintain a credible deterrent posture against Iran’s evolving conventional and strategic military capabilities.
..
 
The situation in Iraq and Syria is made even more complex by the involvement of external actors, specifically Russia and Iran. It is apparent through Russia’s actions that their primary objective in Syria is to bolster the Assad Regime, principally by targeting those Syrian moderate opposition forces that pose a threat to the Regime. Through its actions, Russia is effectively prolonging the civil war in Syria, which over the past five years has caused the deaths of well over 250,000 innocent men, women, and children. Assad would almost certainly not be in power today were it not for the robust support provided to the Regime by Iran and Russia.
 
 
Of note, Russia’s cooperation with Iran appears to be expanding beyond near-term coordination for operations in Syria and is moving towards an emerging strategic partnership. The potential for a more traditional security cooperation arrangement between Russia, a state actor and member of the UN Security Council, and Iran is cause for significant concern given Iran’s existing relationship with the Syrian Regime and Lebanese Hezbollah. We already see indications of high-end weapon sales and economic cooperation between the two countries.
 
 
Iran has provided support to the Huthis, likely to gain leverage against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). This could potentially enable the Iranians to complicate maritime LOCs, including the Bab 20 al Mandeb Strait, from the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and beyond. Iran has a long history of seeking to protect the Shia populace in the Gulf and using this rationale to justify a broad array of actions. Conversely, KSA desires a stable Yemen with a pro-Saudi government that effectively protects its border, prevents an Iranian proxy from gaining undue influence over strategic terrain that includes the Bab al Mandeb, and protects against safe havens for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and other VEOs.

Iran
 
Iran continues to pose a significant threat to the region despite the restrictions placed on its nuclear program as a result of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement. In this post-JCPOA period, the Iranian Threat Network’s (ITN) Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Forces (IRGC-QF), proxies (e.g., Lebanese Hezbollah), and Iranian-backed Shia militant groups remain very active. Iran also maintains a large and diverse theater ballistic missile arsenal, along with significant cyber and maritime capabilities. Despite the fact that President Rouhani’s administration has indicated an interest in normalizing relations with the international community, there are hardline elements in the country intent on undermining the efforts of the moderates. They maintain substantial influence over Iran’s foreign policy and military activities.
 
Iran continues to pursue policies that enflame sectarian tensions and threaten U.S. strategic interests in the Central Region. Their primary focus is countering the ISIL threat in Iraq and preserving the Assad Regime in Syria. They also continue to support some Shia surrogate groups in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, Huthis in Yemen, and Lebanese Hezbollah, with a combination of money, arms, and training. Iran’s emerging relationship with Russia further complicates the security environment as they look to expand their cooperation in areas that include the sale of high-end weapons. We must consider that when ISIL is defeated and Syria stabilizes, we and our partners will face an enhanced ITN bolstered by warfighting experience, a multi-ethnic supply of radicalized Shia fighters, expanded partnerships, and an intense sectarian climate. There are additional developments within the ITN that we will have to closely monitor to fully appreciate the nature of this evolving threat. For example, Iranian-backed Shia militia groups are becoming entrenched within Iraq’s formal security institutions through the Popular Mobilization Forces, a development that could provide these groups with increased resources and legitimacy and greatly complicate our relationship with Iraq’s security forces going forward. Additionally, it is possible that Iran will have challenges commanding and controlling an expanded ITN, something we are already seeing play out in several places across the region. Iran exerts a considerable degree of influence over the multiple external proxies and surrogates that comprise the ITN. However, the larger the ITN becomes through the proliferation of Shia militant groups, the more difficult it may be for Iran to control their activities, especially when their interests diverge.
 
Our relationship with Iran remains a challenging one. We will continue to pay close attention to their actions, while supporting our regional partners and helping them to improve their capacity to counter Iran and mitigate the effects of Iran’s malign activity in the region.
 
Kingdom of Bahrain
The Kingdom faces a persistent threat from Iran via malign proxy activity within its borders. USCENTCOM actively supports the Bahrainis in their efforts to counter this threat.
Our security assurance and assistance, and the steps we are taking with our GCC partners to strengthen their capacity to deal with asymmetric threats, are designed to put them in a far stronger position so that they can engage Iran politically – clear-eyed, without illusions, and from a position of strength. We look forward to seeing the initiatives translate into credible, enduring capabilities that contribute to improved regional security and stability.
 
Information Operations
 
Information Operations (IO) remains a top priority for USCENTCOM and an important element of the broader ‘whole of government’ effort to counter our adversaries and protect our core national interests. Our adversaries, including ISIL, use the information battlespace to great effect. We must actively counter this asymmetric threat, recognizing that IO will endure well beyond today’s major combat and counter-insurgency operations. Of note, Iran and proxy actors actively threaten our interests and the interests of our regional partners and they are enabled by robust IO efforts. Our IO capabilities, both offensive and defensive, are designed to disrupt and counter these and other threats. They also may be used to promote the messages of moderates in order to counter the radical ideologies that fuel much of the conflict and instability that plague the Central Region. To date, investments in IO have produced a cost-effective, non-lethal tool for disrupting VEO activity across the region. We will need to build upon the existing capability and improve our effectiveness and that of our partners operating in the information battlespace.

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