North Africa, West Asia: Opinion

Raisi’s first 100 days: a bad omen for what lies ahead for Iran

Hopes for a better future for Iran, amid resumption of talks on the nuclear deal, seem slim while the regime remains mired in its tired old theocratic ways

Mehrdad Khonsari
22 November 2021, 12.01am
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during a parliament session in Tehran, Iran on 16 November 2021
ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo. All rights reserved

After an uninspiring first 100 days in office, the future for Ebrahim Raisi, the handpicked choice of Ayatollah Khamenei to occupy the Islamic presidency in Iran, promises to be no less disappointing.

Indeed, at a time when his administration is in dire need of experts and technocrats to deal with the most basic of issues, such as the supply of fresh water and electricity to millions of deprived citizens, Raisi has instead surrounded himself with an inner circle of diehard ideologues whose only priority is the survival of the ‘deep state’ in Iran.

It has therefore surprised no one that in his first 100 days, apart from exaggerated sloganeering that has been accompanied by a mixture of threats and false promises, the Raisi administration has failed to come up with any kind of new and concrete policy – domestic or foreign – aimed at providing a measure of relief and improving the lot of the country’s long-suffering people.

Having been elected in a process that was boycotted by more than half of all eligible voters and tainted by accusations of complicity in the murder of some 5,000 political prisoners in 1989 that have seriously damaged his credentials with the West, Raisi also struggles with the reality that he and his cohorts are the inheritors of a series of hollow revolutionary slogans, such as ‘Death to America and Israel’, which they can neither pursue in a tangible way nor, more appropriately, consign forever to the dustbin of history.

In the sphere of foreign policy, Raisi’s most immediate challenge will be the outcome of the planned indirect talks with the US aimed at trying to revive the JCPOA, known as the Iran nuclear deal, which many believe to be defunct and mostly irrelevant at this time.

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From his perspective, without some kind of guaranteed and irrevocable agreement with the US, any hope of lasting sanctions relief and, more importantly, the flow of the much-needed foreign direct investment and technology transfers on which the revival of the Iranian economy must depend, will be a non-starter.

Deal or no deal?

After a five-month lapse in the talks in Vienna, Raisi’s nuclear team, led by the deputy foreign minister, Ali Bagheri Kani – himself an ardent critic of the 2015 JCPOA agreement – has finally agreed on 29 November as a date to meet. Trying to sound more self-confident and less flexible than the previous Rouhani government, Bagheri, who has been in discussion with his French, German and British counterparts, has been quite adamant that “nothing concrete can be achieved in the absence of the removal of all ‘illegal sanctions’” in what must be an “agreement that is guaranteed to last’’.

As Iran refuses to include in the discussions any reference to its missile programme and regional policies – an important prerequisite for the removal of all key sanctions by the US (with behind-the-scenes goading from Arab and Israeli quarters) – it is hard to envision any kind of meaningful progress in the upcoming talks.

The Iranian economy will continue to be hostage to these endless talks that will only address piecemeal issues

The Raisi government’s only leverage at this time, in the absence of wanting to discuss non-nuclear related issues, is its offer to roll back actions that can be construed as going beyond the peaceful use of nuclear energy – such as the stockpiling of unacceptably high-grade enriched uranium – while removing all impediments to the monitoring of its activities by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors.

However, no one genuinely believes that, in the absence of wider discussions, there is any likelihood of a scenario where all sanctions will be removed. So the Iranian economy will continue to be hostage to these endless talks that will only address piecemeal issues such as ‘which sanctions, which nuclear activities, and in what order’ for the time being.

At home, while Raisi and the ‘deep state’ remain unchallenged by any kind of cohesive political alternative, the reality is that they are incapable of offering any kind of hopeful vision for the future of Iran that is palatable for the overwhelming majority of the alienated and hurting general population.

In this respect, it is ironic that the timing of Raisi’s first 100 days in office should have coincided with the passing of FW de Klerk, South Africa’s last head of state from the era of white-minority rule.

Just as de Klerk negotiated with Mandela to fully dismantle apartheid and establish a transition to universal suffrage, Raisi, who is tipped by many to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as Iran’s next supreme leader, could take a leaf from de Klerk’s book by giving serious consideration to finding ways of embracing calls for national reconciliation and exploiting peaceful channels for transitioning away from the current theocratic dictatorship towards an all-inclusive system acceptable to the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people.

It is worth mentioning that a pre-recorded video message from de Klerk, apologising to the people of South Africa for the atrocities committed by the apartheid regime, was released on 11 November following his death.

Raisi can either emulate de Klerk by working towards a peaceful transition through constitutional reform, or he could face the ultimate prospect of making his apology to the Iranian nation in front of a judicial tribunal.

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