Two Views: Iranian Domestic Trends

Article excerpt

A JUNE 19 panel on "The Impact of Electoral Trends on Iran's Security Policies" was co-sponsored by the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Institute for National Strategic Studies of the National Defense University. Ali Ansari, author, professor and director at the Institute for Iranian Studies of the University of St. Andrews, and Suzanne Maloney, senior fellow on foreign policy at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy, discussed the implications of domestic trends in Iran. The conversation was moderated by Judith S. Yaphe, a senior research fellow and Middle East Project director at the Institute for National Strategic Studies.

In the last five years, Ansari pointed out, Iranians have witnessed drastic changes in the post-Reformist era, with a "democratizing trend reversing...and a return of charismatic authority" similar to ancient Iranian dynasties with imperialistic attitudes. Ansari described current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as "among the most explicit in his exploitation of nationalist motives and ideology...which reflects very much the direction that society is going." Along with a return to charismatic political leadership in Iran, Ansari noted, there is a "de-politicization of the public." This is ironic, he pointed out, because Ahmadinejad painted himself as the "populist" candidate-which would necessitate public participation in politics; but participation must be kept low in order to guarantee conservative wins in Iran.

The fact that Iranian conservatives, or principalists, have not won a fair election since 2004, and that, according to Ansari, "the 2008 Majlis elections were among the most fraudulent...by Iranian standards," has caused them to "pander to nationalism" as a unifying social trend. Meanwhile, Ansari elaborated, "soft-power is something that Iran excels at," and the U.S.-led War on Terror has allowed the country to further cultivate its influence abroad. Thus, Ansari emphasized, domestic nationalism and Iran's foreign policy situation are linked.

For example, Iran's increasingly strategic position in the international community parallels its heightening domestic nationalistic determination for nuclear enrichment. The growing opinion of the country and its leaders that "the U.S. is a declining power" opens the doors for foreign involvement and strengthening Iranian nationalism. We have reached a point, Ansari concluded, where "you cannot ignore Iran," and the country will remain important for decades to come. …