Amid strong speculation that Iran is nearing a renewed deal with world powers over its nuclear program, the country chose its new president, Ebrahim Raisi. The new head of government will have the opportunity to revive the Iranian economy, improve diplomatic relations and strengthen geopolitical diffusion in the Middle East and beyond.
The government is giving priority and the decisions with which the new president is presented could not be stronger or more consistent in this critical situation.
The way this hardline conservative chooses his priorities and manages the potential benefits of the nuclear deal will go a long way in shaping the future of his country and the Middle East.
This is especially important because the presidential election lacked basic democratic legitimacy in the eyes of most Iranians, who did not go to the polls after the regime manipulated the process in favor of Raisi.
In fact, Raisi, 60, is expected to succeed the allied but ill and aged octogenarian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who by definition rules in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The new Iranian president can choose to govern in one of three ways.
First, Raisi can prioritize economic investment and reform, sending a clear message that his government will use the economic benefits of a renewed nuclear deal and the new international openings it offers, to improve the livelihoods of ordinary Iranians. which have suffered greatly for decades in duration. sanctions and isolation.
But to ensure economic transformation, the government will also have to undertake political reforms to improve the sad credibility of the Islamic regime in the eyes of most of its own citizens. This month’s rigged elections have undermined legitimacy and exacerbated tensions between the Islamic and Republican / Democratic components of the Islamic Republic.
By extension, this approach would also mean a shift in foreign policy, which would control Iran’s costly regional adventures in favor of healthier trade and cooperation with neighbors.
But no economic, political, or strategic reform is possible without tackling the structural corruption and systematic mismanagement that exists in the country, and without taking on the influential clerical elites and revolutionary guards.
Would Raisi take the time to chart a different path to Iran? Judging by his long and deep loyalty to the clerical regime, the answer is unequivocally no.
Still, I’m giving this scenario a 0-5 percent chance of it happening.
Second, Raisi could also choose to maintain the status quo relying on revenues from higher oil prices and higher foreign investment, following the renewal of the nuclear deal. He could move slowly to reach out to Iran’s neighbors and European powers on the basis of “mutual respect and mutual interest,” Tehran’s favorite diplomatic phrase.
Iran has more leverage in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, due to its inflated and destabilizing role. It could reverse course by helping to restore security, peace and stability to these troubled countries, gaining much goodwill and prestige in the process.
It could even become a guarantor of regional security as the United States reduces its military commitments to the region. The same goes for stabilizing and improving relations with its Gulf neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia, which could be earned for people on both sides. Of course, the Raisi government will not change Iran’s stance on Israel, nor will it boycott those who do.
An attempt to play a role in Afghanistan alongside Pakistan and Turkey will be a revealing test of the new president’s intentions and goals as NATO withdraws its troops from the country.
Relations with the United States will take longer to normalize after four decades of mutual official hostility. U.S. sanctions on Raisi, imposed just two years ago for his alleged role in human rights violations, will not help improve relations in the short term.
I give this more realistic scenario a 35% chance of deployment.
Third, the new Iranian president could decide to double his conservative views and use the gains from higher oil prices and new investments to fund the jaded clerical establishment and further strengthen the revolutionary guards, tasked with extending influence. Shiite-Iranian throughout the region.
It could move to take advantage of the instability and precariousness that Arab neighbors continue to suffer to expand Iranian influence, just as it did in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
This means further strengthening armed sectarian militias, which would lead to more covert operations and assassinations, deepening regional sectarianism, violence and instability. The absence of strategic Arab deterrence to deter Tehran from pursuing its interest at the expense of its neighbors will no doubt cause Iran’s new leadership to go on the offensive.
Similarly, the recently announced short-sighted alliance between a couple of small Gulf countries and Israel could encourage Tehran to act more aggressively against those who wish badly.
The U.S. military detachment, though limited, and the reduction of its strategic commitments to the “traditional allies,” could further encourage the new president to step up the Iranian power game to fill the void.
Despite being the same, I see that this rather pessimistic scenario has a 65% chance of taking place.
That said, it is important to remember that Iran’s politics, like the politics of the region, are not static. Neither do West-East relations. There are likely to be new disruptions in most countries in the region that could cause a heavy weight in Iran.
Similarly, a recalibration of interests and rebuilding alliances could change Iran’s calculation under Raisi’s leadership, pressuring it to adopt the second scenario, for the sake of its interest, national interest, and, yes, regional interest.
It could also miraculously adopt the first most prudent and constructive scenario, setting an example for the region. No harm in dreaming.