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14 August 2019  

Syria's security reshuffle highlights Russia's consolidation of power

on Syria

July began with a major shake-up in the Syrian military and intelligence apparatus. In an attempt to consolidate power after regaining territorial control over most of the country...

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30 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts perpetuated by post-colonial vest...

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30 July 2019  

The December 2018 revolution and Sudanese professionals in the diaspora

on Sudan

WE LEFT SUDAN In drovesIn the late 80’s and 90’sIndeed, my generation of educated Sudanese professionals are scattered around the globe(Out of 200 medical graduates from Khartoum ...

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29 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

By Zeenat Adam 17 July 2019 Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts per...

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08 July 2019  

A new cold war in Africa

on General Topics

By Mehari Taddele Maru Last month, the twelfth US-Africa Business Summit, a high-level event attended by eleven African heads of state and government and some 1 000 busi...

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23 June 2019  

Strategic implications of the 'deal of the century' and the…

on Palestine-Israel

Aisling Byrne interviews Abdel Bari Atwan Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ (DoC) - whether in its actual or conceptual form - is ushering in a new strategic era, providing cov...

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14 August 2019  

Syria's security reshuffle highlights Russia's consolidation of power

on Syria

July began with a major shake-up in the Syrian military and intelligence apparatus. In an attempt to consolidate power after regaining territorial control over most of the country...

Read more

30 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts perpetuated by post-colonial vest...

Read more

30 July 2019  

The December 2018 revolution and Sudanese professionals in the diaspora

on Sudan

WE LEFT SUDAN In drovesIn the late 80’s and 90’sIndeed, my generation of educated Sudanese professionals are scattered around the globe(Out of 200 medical graduates from Khartoum ...

Read more

29 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

By Zeenat Adam 17 July 2019 Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts per...

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23 June 2019  

Strategic implications of the 'deal of the century' and the…

on Palestine-Israel

Aisling Byrne interviews Abdel Bari Atwan Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ (DoC) - whether in its actual or conceptual form - is ushering in a new strategic era, providing cov...

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14 June 2019  

Postponed: Unveiling of Trump's 'deal of the century' frozen as…

on Palestine-Israel

Touted by its architects as the ‘deal of the century’, US president Donald Trump’s plan for Palestine and Israel has had to again be kept hidden as Israel heads back to elections a...

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14 August 2019  

Syria's security reshuffle highlights Russia's consolidation of power

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23 June 2019  

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14 June 2019  

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10 June 2019  

Teaching Palestine in South Africa

on Palestine

By Diana Block Reaffirming Internationalism in the Twenty-first Century In March 2019 I traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa to attend a conference – Teaching Palestine: P...

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08 April 2019  

Turkish local election outcome signals disillusionment with Erdogan

on Turkey

Turkey’s local election concluded with the country’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) incurring heavy losses in major cities, and the opposition Republican People’s ...

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10 February 2019  

As Abbas Ages, Fatah Moves to Consolidate Power

on Palestine

By Ramzy Baroud Five years after spearheading what is inaptly referred to as a ‘government of national reconciliation’, Palestinian Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, has finally&nbs...

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23 October 2018  

Jamal Khashoggi, small spark for a large fire

on Saudi Arabia

By Hassan Aourid Until last Saturday, I was hopeful that the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at his country’s consulate in Istanbul was not more than a case of c...

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19 October 2018  

Khashoggi murder: Killing dissent even from within

on Saudi Arabia

The gruesome murder of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul was designed to be a clear and firm message for Saudi dissidents, and reflected th...

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08 July 2018  

As Hudaida falls to Saudi-Emirati coalition, peace for Yemen seems…

on Yemen

The recent and ongoing Saudi-Emirati offensive on the Yemeni port city of Hudaida will render UN special envoy Martin Griffiths’s ‘new’ solution to the five-year-long Yemeni crisis...

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18 May 2018  

Beyond Tradition and Modernity: Dilemmas of Transformation in Saudi Arabia

on Saudi Arabia

By Madawi Al-Rasheed Introduction The dominant narrative through which many observers understand Saudi Arabia depicts a progressive and modernist leadership struggling to gra...

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27 April 2018  

Chaotic Yemen: The deconstruction of a failed state and regional…

on Yemen

by Helen Lackner Yemen remains in the grip of its most severe crisis ever: the civil war between forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government of President Abd Rabbuh ...

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12 December 2017  

How the Saudis Escalated Yemen Struggle Beyond All Control

on Yemen

By Justin Podur Yemen is a small, poor country in a region empires have plundered for centuries. This civil war is a local struggle that has been escalated out of control by the a...

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30 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts perpetuated by post-colonial vest...

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30 July 2019  

The December 2018 revolution and Sudanese professionals in the diaspora

on Sudan

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29 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

By Zeenat Adam 17 July 2019 Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts per...

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17 April 2019  

Bashir falls but the security apparatus maintains control

on Sudan

Since the military ouster of Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir, early on Thursday, 11 April, after three months of protests, different military factions have been jos...

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16 April 2019  

Haftar's march on Tripoli

on Libya

Khalifa Haftar’s 4 April announcement declaring his march on Tripoli, and the subsequent attack on the Libyan capital by his forces, threaten to gravely impact the a...

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16 February 2019  

Uncertainty follows Moroccan-Saudi spat

on Morocco

By Hassan Aourid Moroccan-Saudi relations have never been as cool and strained as they have become in the past week, following a report on the Western Sahara disputebroa...

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12 October 2018  

Ethiopia, Eritrea: An unlikely peace deal in a fractious region

on Ethiopia

The recent peace deal between Ethiopia and Eritrea, signed 16 September 2018, is set to have lasting consequences for both countries and for the Horn of Africa ...

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06 April 2017  

Ensuring Somalia remains in conflict: Trump’s expanded ‘war on terror’

on Somalia

By Afro-Middle East Centre The 29 March decision by the administration of US president Donald Trump declaring Somalia an ‘area of active hostility’ will likely ensure an escalatio...

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10 October 2016  

South Sudan: Beyond the logjam of UNSC Resolution 2304

on South Sudan

By Majak D’Agoôt and Remember Miamingi No country is entirely self-contained or lacking in interdependencies. These interlocking interests form the critical part of any country’s ...

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28 April 2015  

Nigeria’s elections and future challenges

on Sub-Saharan Africa

By Afro-Middle East Centre The election of General Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s president will see a renewed focus by the government on domestic challenges posed by endemic...

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26 September 2013  

Kenyan hostage crisis: The desperation of al-Shabab

on Sub-Saharan Africa

By Afro-Middle East Centre The hostage drama at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi over the past week has raised a number of questions about the Somali organisation al-Shabab. After the...

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23 January 2013  

French military intervention will add to Mali’s problems

on Sub-Saharan Africa

By Afro-Middle east Centre   The north of Africa was plunged into yet another international conflict with France’s invasion of Mali on Friday, 11 January. Without im...

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23 April 2019  

India in Kashmir: Risking peace as an antidote to war

on South Asia

By Ranjan Solomon On 14 February 2019, a convoy of vehicles carrying security personnel on the Jammu Srinagar National Highway was attacked by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber ...

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28 August 2015  

Does Pakistan’s refusal to join Saudi Arabia in Yemen indicate…

on Pakistan

By Afro-Middle East Centre Allegedly, the current Saudi-led onslaught on Yemen has already caused destruction that resembles the destruction wrought in Syria over the la...

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31 March 2012  

The feasibility of a continued United States presence in Afghanistan

on South Asia

By Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn Recent events in Afghanistan have fuelled speculation over the ability of international forces to continue their presence in the coun...

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28 February 2012  

Dangerous uncertainty in Pakistan

on South Asia

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30 May 2011  

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on South Asia

By Junaid S. Ahmad The assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by US Special Forces was supposed to have been a landmark triumph that would bring peace and stability to the r...

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13 December 2010  

Kashmir and Obama's Indian appeasement

on South Asia

By Mohammad Abdullah Gul Obama's recent jive with school children in Delhi symbolises the nature of the new relationship that is emerging between India and the United States of Am...

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26 April 2017  

IS reorganising to face new challenges

on Political Islam

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07 March 2017  

IS in Africa: Containment and fragmentation

on Political Islam

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14 May 2016  

The Paradox of Survival and Expansion: How the Islamic State…

on Political Islam

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19 December 2015  

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on Political Islam

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20 July 2015  

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on Political Islam

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31 January 2012  

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on Political Islam

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18 February 2018  

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21 November 2015  

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on 'War on terror'

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28 May 2010  

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16 February 2010  

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on 'War on terror'

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07 February 2010  

Mission Absolute: American hegemony in space

on 'War on terror'

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Iran’s presidential election: Restoration or deterioration of regime legitimacy?

 

Currently, the country’s economy is in the worst state it has been since the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq war, which resulted in damages of over $1 trillion. Three rounds of UN sanctions and US and EU unilateral actions have contributed to a reduction in oil exports from around 2.5 million barrels a day in 2011 to under a million barrels per day from January 2013. There has also been an increase in inflation, which already stood at over twenty-seven per cent in 2012 and an increase in unemployment to over twenty per cent, with unofficial figures putting it at over thirty-five per cent. Further, government revenues, chiefly accrued from oil exports, halved in 2012, with the value of the Riaal depreciating by over sixty-six per cent, from 20 000 to the dollar in January 2012 to over 36 000 to the dollar in January 2013. This has been compounded by the government’s inefficient and mismanaged removal of energy and food subsidies, which have led to the closure of many industries and an increase in corruption. Citizens have thus become extremely fatigued and disillusioned.

A 2012 Gallup survey reported that over eighty-two per cent of the population viewed sanctions as negatively impacting on them directly, while seventy-five per cent of respondents agreed that the job market was growing increasingly tough. Therefore, it is economic issues, rather than the much-touted nuclear programme, which will likely have the largest impact on the impending election. Significantly, whoever is elected president will have much sway in the economic arena.

 

Iran’s political systemiran flow786x292

In order to understand the impact of presidential elections on Iran and on its domestic and foreign policies, an understanding of the structure of the Iranian political system is necessary. Governed by the 1979 constitution, Iran maintains judicial, legislative and executive branches. Elections are held quadrennially for both the legislature and presidency. In an effort to protect the country’s Islamic nature, and because the 1980–1988 Iraq-Iran war suspended the process of ‘formal’ state institutional development, parallel and constitutionally recognised institutions were developed, which are weightier and often more influential than their state counterparts.

The twelve-member Guardian Council acts as a quasi- judiciary, the eighty-three member Assembly of Experts as a pseudo-legislature and the twenty-six member Expediency Council performs tasks similar to that of a cabinet. At the head of the political system as a whole is the supreme leader/jurist (Vali-e-Faqih), currently Ayatullah Ali Khamenei. While much of the republic’s powers are vested in his hands, this power is exercised through these bodies. When the Iranian regime is referred to, the reference, then, is to these institutions as well as the elected government.

As a result of this, regime legitimacy is sometimes gauged by voting patterns and voter turnout, rather than an alternation of power. This is especially important in light of the consequences of the last presidential election, in 2009, which witnessed an unprecedented number of protests and allegations of vote rigging. Mass arrests were carried out; lives were lost; and protest leaders were labelled ‘seditionists’ and are currently under house arrest.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s actions during his second term in office resulted in the emergence of a new strand of thought in Iranian politics. Termed ‘nejadiya’ or ‘nejadiyism’, it emphasises Iranian nationalism, at the expense of the Islamic character of the nation. In addition, many subscribing to this strand seek to curb some powers of the Vali-e-Faqih, having complained of the power of the clergy in Iranian politics. In 2011, Ahmadinejad attempted and failed to replace his intelligence minister (Haider Mozlehi) and to appoint his own political envoys, moves which resulted in him being severely rebuked.

 

Authorised candidates and strands of thought

This complex nature of Iran’s political system has led to the prevalence and conceptualisation of overlapping and sometimes incongruous strands of thought. Iran Election Watch (an election website) argues that five strands of thought exist in the runup to the 2013 election: neoprinciplists, traditional principlists, the Ahmadinejad/Mashaei strand, centrists, and reformists. Others argue that seven key alliances are present. For the sake of coherency and to prevent overlap, only three will be elaborated on here.

Presidential candidates in Iran are vetted by the Guardian Council before being approved to contest the election. The list of candidates approved by the Council for this month’s election was released on 21 May 2013. Of the 680 hopefuls who initially applied, only eight have been authorised to stand. These are former Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) commander Mohsin Rezeai; current chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili; former Majlis speaker, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel; former Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Velayati; current Tehran mayor, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf; former telecommunications minister, Mohammad Gharazi; former national security chief, Hassan Rouhani; and former first vice president in the Khatami administration (2001 to 2005), Mohammad Reza Aref.

Principlists

The first six of these candidates represent the so-called ‘principlist’ strand. Principlists strictly stand by the tenets of the 1979 Islamic revolution, specifically the concept of the Velayat-e-Faqih, and it is believed that Khamenei would endorse a principlist win. They are more conservative in matters concerning civil and political rights; many therefore supported the 2009 crackdown, labelling protesters as ‘seditionists’. Economically, principlists support Iran’s redistributive ‘resistance’ economy, but have criticised the Ahmadinejad administration’s mismanagement of it. Ghalibaf and Velayati are favourites within this strand; Jalili is the dark horse who could surge to a win.

During the nomination stage, three principlist alliances were formed: the ‘Followers of Imam’s Line and Leadership Front’, the ‘Persevering Front of the Islamic Revolution’ and the ‘2+1 coalition’. Unlike the other two, the 2+1 coalition’s candidates are significant as all three – Ghalibaf, Velayati and Haddad-Adel – were authorised by the Guardian Council, and the coalition is regarded by many as having the supreme leader’s endorsement.

However, only one out of the three will ultimately stand, as per the 2+1 coalition agreement. The other two will withdraw before the election. It is still uncertain who will be the 2+1’s favoured candidate. Because of the large number of candidates originally nominated – 680, and because of the various nuances within the principlist camp, alliances are often formed to increase the chosen candidate’s chances of being authorised by the Guardian Council.

Ghalibaf, currently Tehran’s mayor, previously had stints as head of Iran’s air force and police services. He is popular with the citizenry and the military, and is the most likely candidate to be victorious. Velayati is Khamenei’s chief advisor on foreign affairs. Currently on the Expediency Council, his main appeal lies in his loyalty to the supreme leader. Jalili – a principlist who does not belong to any of the coalitions, like Velayati, has a good rapport with the supreme leader and is seen as a humble personality. However, his inability to converse in English and his inexperience have led many to question his competency for the position.

Reformists

Shunned after the 2009 election and labelled seditionists, reformists have an opportunity in this election to re-enter political life. This is, in part, as result of influence by the clerical establishment, especially Khamenei’s objective to ensure the preservation of the system and increase its legitimacy. The clergy has thus sought to court the reformists and convince them to return to political contestation. The reformist platform is based on three key principles: upholding of civil and political freedoms, liberalising of the economy, and reducing Iran’s confrontational stance on the global stage. Reformists argue that Iran’s stance towards the international community is a key reason for its overall drastic situation, and advocate that the country act on the international stage as a ‘normal’ state with normal state aspirations rather than a ‘revolutionary regime’. Significantly, a key objective of the reformists is safeguarding the political system, that is, reformists are not opposed to the system of Velayat-e-Faqih and want to ensure its survival.

With the two leaders who led the reformist campaign in 2009 – Mir-Hossein Mosavi and Mehdi Karroubi – still under house arrest, and with Hashemi Rafsanjani not getting the green light from the Guardian Council, Rouhani and Aref will represent this strand. A Shi’a scholar and former head of Iran’s national security, Rouhani, who currently represents Khamenei on the Supreme National Security Council, is the favoured candidate from this strand. Most famous for his role in nuclear negotiations with Europe, which led to the subsequent freezing of the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme, Rouhani has promised ‘constructive interaction with the world’ and direct negotiations with the USA should he be elected. In contrast, Aref is not very influential and is unlikely to proceed past the first round of elections unless Rouhani drops out or he secures Rafsanjani’s endorsement. However, Rafsanjani could still be a candidate since candidates dropped by the Guardian Council can be reinstated through an edict by Khamenei. This is especially significant as Rafsanjani – a former president and former confidante of Khamenei – was excluded from the Guardian Council’s final list even though he reportedly sought Khamenei’s approval before nominating himself.

Nejadiya

Nejadiyism is a newly emerging strand in Iranian political thought. This strand promotes economic redistribution and a strong role for the state in economic policy formulation. Politically, the Nejadiya have differences with the political system. Nejadiya seek to expand the president’s authority – at the expense of the power of the supreme leader – and they emphasise Iran’s Persian and nationalist culture, rather than its Islamic traits. Thus far, they have tried to ensure that confrontation with the clerical establishment has been low-key and indirectly, and Nejadi demands have been minor, such as Ahmedinejad’s attempt to obtain the power to appoint political envoys. Labelled as ‘deviants’ by the clerical establishment and the principlists, no candidate subscribing to this strand has been authorised to stand in the election. However, with support from many in the establishment and the increasing disconnect between citizens – many of whom perceive the political aspects of Shiism as an anathema – and the regime, this strand is unlikely to disappear or be easily curbed.

 

Consequences of the election

This month’s election may be one of the most critical in the regime’s thirty-five year history. Successful organisation of the election will result in a restoration of the regime’s legitimacy. Furthermore, were a reformist candidate to win, civil freedoms would increase and attempts made to ‘marketise’ the economy. However, the exclusion of Nejadi candidates and Rafsanjani may result in voter turnout being on the lower end and an increase in the threat of postelection confrontation. However, judging by the 2012 municipal election, the threat of confrontation is minimal, with voters preferring to rather abstain from voting.

In conclusion, it can be noted that irrespective of who wins the election, not much will be altered in the foreign policy arena. The regime will continue to support the Asad government in Syria, fund and arm Hizbullah and lean eastward. Iran’s nuclear energy programme will continue apace, and the standoff with the West on this issue will not ease. (Of course, the development of the nuclear programme does not necessarily imply development of a nuclear weapons’ programme; even the Central Intelligence Agency of the USA has found no evidence that Iran is seeking the creation of a nuclear weapon). Foreign policy falls under the ambit of the supreme leader, and is supported by the majority of citizens. The confrontational rhetoric of the Ahmadinejad government will likely change. Should a reformist such as Rouhani win, interaction and engagement with western states, the USA in particular, will be promoted and the regime’s revolutionary aspirations and pronouncements toned down. It is noteworthy that two of the eight candidates (Rouhani and Jalili) have a nuclear negotiations background, indicating the regime’s concerns around nuclear issues.

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