United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Report: Iran’s Economy Shrank in 2012

            Iran’s economy has shrunk for the first time in more than twenty years. It shrank by 1.9 percent in 2012 and could contract by 1.3 percent in 2013, according to a new report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Unemployment is also expected to rise to 13.4 percent in 2013, up from 12.5 percent in 2012.

            Iran is facing its most serious economic challenge since the 1994 debt crisis or the 1980-1988 war with Iraq. Western sanctions slashed oil exports by about 50 percent in 2012. They previously provided up to 80 percent of Iran’s foreign revenue.
 
            But the IMF projects Iran’s economy to grow 1.1 percent in 2014. And consumer prices could also come down, according to the annual “World Economic Outlook.” The following tables are excerpts from the report, with a link to the full text at the end.
 
 
 
 
Click here for the full text.
 

Report: Sunni-Shiite Divide Deepens

            The Arab uprisings have deepened ethnic and religious tensions between Sunnis and Shiites in the Middle East, according to a new report by The Brookings Institution. The rise of sectarianism is being drive by three main factors:

      •Sunni Islamist ascendancy in Tunisia and Egypt
      •The civil war in Syria, renewed conflict in Lebanon, and unrest in Bahrain
      •Popular perceptions of outside intervention have created a “virtual proxy war” with Iran,
       Syria and Hezbollah on one side and the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey on the
       other

            The report argues that Iran may be overestimating its influence in the region, especially in Bahrain and Lebanon.  Despite Iran’s efforts to convince the world of a coming pan-Islamic awakening, “many Sunni states are seeking to further distance themselves from Tehran.” Domestic politics now drives foreign policy in countries that have undergone transitions, such as Egypt and Tunisia. The following are excerpts from Geneive Abdo’s report, with a link to the full text at the end.
 
            The rise of sectarianism is being driven today primarily by three factors. First, a Sunni Islamist ascendancy in Tunisia and, particularly, in Egypt has reignited the sectarian flame that has historically hovered over the Middle East. The Islamist nature of these two governments is a source of empowerment for Sunnis and a thorn in the side of the Shi‘a. Some Shi‘a see the new Sunni Islamist governments in both of these countries as a beginning to what could become a Sunni-dominated region if Asad falls to a Sunni-led government in Syria and Hizballah in turn loses power in Lebanon. And with uprisings and widespread opposition to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki’s government in Iraq, the Shi‘a could be in trouble there as well. As the Sunnis feel increasingly empowered by the recent challenges to authoritarian Arab regimes, the Shi‘a feel all the more threatened.
 
            Second, the civil war in Syria has sparked renewed conflict over Arab and Islamic identity in neighboring countries—especially in Lebanon—and even in those states untouched directly by the war, such as Bahrain and Kuwait. Not only is Asad’s likely fall a blow to a potential Shi‘a ascendance which began in Iraq with Shi‘a leader Nuri Al Maliki becoming prime minister, but the atrocities being committed against the Sunni in Syria are a glaring blight on all Shi‘a in the region.
 
            And third, popular perceptions of outside intervention and interference have created a virtual proxy war with Iran, Syria, and Hizballah on one side and Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Turkey on the other...
 
            In the eyes of many Sunni, the Arab uprisings have provided an opportunity to undercut the Iran-Hizballah-Syria axis. Yet, they still see Iran’s skilled and often mendacious hands behind every twist and turn, in particular in Tehran’s deep involvement in helping Asad cling to power. To listen to many Sunni in Arab states, particularly in the Persian Gulf, is to perceive all Shi‘a as iron-clad Iranian loyalists. This association serves many purposes.
 
            First, it is an instrument with which to demonize the Shi‘a and to portray them as being in cahoots with the regional culprit, Iran, which is at odds with many Sunni  governments. No matter how much Khamenei has tried to convince the world of a coming pan-Islamic awakening, many Sunni states are seeking to further distance themselves from Tehran. Meanwhile, the Muslim street remains conflicted. In religious terms, the assertion of an Iranian connection is also an effective Sunni tactic for casting doubt on the Muslim credentials of the Shi‘a.
 
Click here for the full text.
 
 

U.S.: Iran Aiding Assad in Aleppo

            Iran’s role in the Syrian conflict is “especially pernicious as it helps the Assad regime build sectarian militias,” U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Iran and its proxy Hezbollah “have increased their presence” particularly in Aleppo, according to Ford. But President Bashar Assad has “not been able to stop the slow progress of the armed opposition.” The following are excerpted remarks from Ford’s April 11 testimony to the Senate.

            I think, more broadly, Mr. Chairman, there is a real competition under way now between extremists and moderates in Syria. And we need to weigh in on behalf of those who promote freedom and tolerance. Iran's role in the conflict is especially pernicious as it helps the Assad regime build sectarian militias and attracts Hezbollah and Iraqi militants into Syria.
 
            I met on Tuesday with the commander of the opposition armed forces in Aleppo. He highlighted to me that he senses that, up in Aleppo the Syrian regime is slowly running out of soldiers. He said, instead, there are more regime militia fighters where there used to be soldiers. And he, too, highlighted that Iranians and Hezbollah have increased their presence on the ground with the remaining Syrian forces up in Aleppo.
 
            Yesterday, Wednesday, Syrian political leaders meeting with Secretary Kerry also highlighted this Iranian presence. And they, too, highlighted the role of Hezbollah fighters in different cities now in Syria. They also talked about Iraqi Shia fighters from the Abu Abbas brigade. And we know that brigade from our time in Iraq back in 2004.
 
            Let me underline here that, while the Iranians and their friend are helping the Syrian regime, they have not been able to stop the slow progress of the armed opposition. They have slowed it in some places, as in up in Aleppo but they haven't stopped in. But their presence does aggravate the sectarian nature of the conflict now…
 
Click here for a further excerpt of Ford’s testimony on Syria.
 

Latest on the Race: Rival Conservative Coalitions

Garrett Nada

            In Iran, conservative candidates come in many shades. The presidential race has already produced two new coalitions among the Islamic Republic’s many hardline factions. The goal is to consolidate the political clout of individual candidates two months before the June election.
 
            The first coalition brings together three prominent principlists (fundamentalists). They intend to hold a public opinion poll to determine which of the three to formally nominate. Formed in January, it is called the “2+1” coalition. It includes:
            •Ali Akbar Velayati, the supreme leader’s chief foreign policy adviser
            •Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, a member of parliament
            •Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran
 
            The second coalition brings together five principlist candidates, none of whom are political heavyweights. They plan to pick one of their leaders to contest the election to avoid splitting the vote. Formed in April, the coalition is called the Followers of the Imam’s Line and Leadership Front. [Imam Ruhollah Khomeini led the 1979 revolution.] It includes:
            •Manouchehr Mottaki, a former foreign minister
            •Mohammad Reza Bahonar, a deputy speaker of parliament
            •Yahya Al-e Eshaq, chairman of Tehran Chamber of Commerce
            •Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard, a deputy speaker of parliament
            •Mostafa Pourmohammadi, the head of the General Inspection Organization.
 
The Followers Coalition
            Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard, born in the early 1950s, is a cleric and the vice-speaker of Iran’s parliament. He claims to have support of people from the Combatant Clergy Association and the Qom Seminary, according to parliament’s news agency.
 
            Yahya Al-e Eshaq, is the current chairman of Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture. Al-e Eshaq, a commerce minister during Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s presidency in the 1990s, has a background in industrial management.
 
            Mohammad Reza Bahonar, born in 1952, is the deputy speaker of parliament and brother of former Prime Minister Mohammad Javad Bahonar, who was assassinated in 1981. Bahonar is an experienced politician and has served in seven different parliaments. He is currently serving as deputy speaker for the third time.
 
            Bahonar is also the secretary general and a founding member of the Islamic Society of Engineers. He is an outspoken critic of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and an ally of Ali Larijani.
 
            Manouchehr Mottaki, born in 1953,served as foreign minister for five years until President Ahmadinejad dismissed him in December 2010. He is an ally of Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larjiani —Ahmadinejad’s rival and another potential presidential candidate. 
 
            Mottaki was elected to Iran’s first parliament after the 1979 revolution. But he spent the majority of his career in the foreign ministry as an ambassador or minister. Mottaki speaks English, Turkish, Urdu and Farsi.
 
            Mostafa Pourmohammadi, born in 1960, is a mid-ranking cleric and was interior minister during Ahmadinejad’s first term. He currently heads the General Inspection Organization, which supervises use of government funds. Pourmohammadi has criticized Ahmadinejad’s economic reform plan, especially subsidy removal.
 
            Pourmohammadi was also the deputy minister of intelligence for international affairs under Ali Fallahian in the 1990s. Fallahian declared his candidacy for president in February as an independent.
 
The “2+1” Coalition
            Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, born to a business family in 1945, is a member of parliament from Tehran. He served as parliament’s speaker from 2005 to 2008. Haddad-Adel is reportedly a close confidant of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His daughter is married to the Khamenei’s son.
 
            Haddad-Adel has advanced degrees in physics and philosophy. He wrote many of Iran’s middle and high school textbooks on religion and social studies while.
 
            Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, born in 1961, has been the mayor of Tehran since 2005. Son of a dried-fruit seller, he served in the Revolutionary Guards and rose to high ranks during and after the 1980-1988 war with Iraq. He became the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ air force and was chief of the Law Enforcement Force from 2000 to 2005. Qalibaf received less than 14 percent of the vote in the 2005 presidential election against Ahmadinejad.
 
            Ali Akbar Velayati, born in 1945, is the supreme leader’s principal foreign policy adviser. He served as foreign minister under Khamenei and Rafsanjani from 1981 to 1997. Velayati serves on the Expediency Discernment Council, which resolves disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council. In 2005, he ran for president but later withdrew and supported Rafsanjani instead.
 
            In early April, Velayati said that the coalition would not consider an alliance with any other principlist group. He claimed that the “2+1” coalition would form the most powerful government in decades, according to Press TV.  
 
            Other conservative candidates have yet to join coalitions. More than twenty principlists, reformists and independent politicians have declared their candidacy or expressed interest in running. They include:
            •Ali Fallahian, a conservative member of the Assembly of Experts and a former intelligence
              minister
            •Mohsen Rezaie, a conservative and former chief of the Revolutionary Guards
            •Hassan Rouhani, a conservative and a senior Expediency Council member, also a former
              head of the Supreme National Security Council and the former lead nuclear negotiator
            •Mostafa Kavakebian, the reformist secretary general of the Democracy Party and former
              member of parliament
            •Mohammad Shariatmadari, a former minister of commerce and a member of the Strategic
              Council for Foreign Relations
 
Garrett Nada is a Program Assistant at USIP in the Center for Conflict Management.
 
Past election updates:
 
 

Appeals to Khatami to Run

 
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Latest on the Race: Ex-Nuke Negotiator to Run

Garrett Nada

            Hassan Rouhani, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council for 16 years from 1989 to 2005, declared his candidacy for president on April 11. Born in 1948, he also served as the lead nuclear negotiator in earlier rounds of diplomacy with European powers.
 
      The conservative cleric told supporters at a campaign rally that he would seek “constructive interaction with the world,” but did not offer specifics.
 
      Rouhani “favors solving the nuclear issue through talks,” Mahmoud Vaezi, a former deputy foreign minister, told the Associated Press. Rouhani presided over negotiations with Britain, France and Germany that led to Iran’s suspension of uranium enrichment from 2003 to 2005.
 
      But hardliners earlier charged that Rouhani was too accommodating in the negotiations. He resigned after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office in 2005. Rouhani is widely considered to be more pragmatic compared to the principlists (fundamentalists) who dominate the growing field of presidential candidates.
 
 
            Rouhani has extensive security credentials, like many of the candidates contesting the June presidential election. He was appointed to high-ranking positions during the 1980-1988 war with Iraq. Rouhani then served as head of the Supreme National Security Council under former presidents Ali Akbar Rafsanjani (1989-1997) and Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005).
 
            The cleric is a senior member of the Expediency Council, a powerful government body that resolves disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council.
 
            The following are remarks by Rouhani on the June election.
 
            “My goals will be restoring the economy, promoting morality and relations with the world…I will build [a] government of prudence and hope… Iran is in the middle of sensitive days, hard days…because of regional and international situations as well as sanctions…” I will seek “constructive interaction with the world…and prepare a “civil rights charter…”
            “We need new management for the country but not based on quarrelling, inconsistency and eroding domestic capacity, but through unity, consensus and attracting honest and efficient people…”April 11, at a campaign rally according to the Associated Press and Iranian news agencies
 
            “[Those] making important decisions will encounter serious problems if parties are not empowered and do not find their [rightful] place… Parties can play a valuable role in the society...” March 10, according to Iranian news media
 
            “The new government will have many challenges and the new president’s job will be very tough… At least in the area of economy, the new government will face great problems…
            Anybody who wants to stand as a candidate in the upcoming presidential election should work out a solution and present practical plans for these problems… In many elections, especially presidential elections, the campaign climate have been bipolar but this time it will definitely be multi-polar...” January 22, in an interview with Mehr News Agency

 

Garrett Nada is a Program Assistant at USIP in the Center for Conflict Management.

Photo Credit: By Mojtaba Salimi (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0  (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0 )], via Wikimedia Commons

Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org
 

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