By Mimi Kirk
MEI hosted a breaking news dialogue on “Iran After the Elections” last week that looked at issues of GCC-Iran relations, political restructuring among Iran’s conservatives, and the effect of oil sanctions in the Islamic Republic. Participants included MEI Director Professor Michael Hudson, MEI Research Fellow Dr. Navid Fozi-Abivard, and Head of the Energy Security Division at NUS’ Energy Studies Institute Dr. Hooman Peimani. Dr. Trita Parsi, Founder and President of the National Iranian American Council in Washington, D.C., had been scheduled to join the group via videoconferencing but was unfortunately unable to do so.
Professor Hudson, who had recently returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, began the discussion with a look at how the GCC countries are currently viewing Iran. He noted that Saudi analysts see the GCC as having lost ground to Iran in the past decade, due to, for instance, the weakening of the Iraqi state, which has caused a lack of counterbalance that in turn has strengthened Iran. And, with Iran unchecked, it could become more influential with the development of a nuclear establishment. As such, the GCC countries support sanctions against Iran, but do not go so far as to approve of Israel’s threats of military action. “They are worried about their oil pipelines,” he explained, noting that Iran’s sleeper cells could wreak havoc if provoked. But, with Obama appearing not to support the Israeli threats, and with Netanyahu perhaps seeing that he might have to work with Obama for four more years, the feeling that an Israeli/U.S. strike will happen is now receding. “This is moderately good news,” said Professor Hudson, “but we’re still in a difficult situation.”
Dr. Fozi-Abivard took on the topic of Iran’s recent parliamentary elections, relating that the opposition withdrew from the elections when its calls for freedom of the press and freedom of political prisoners were not respected by the regime. In the absence of reformist participation in the elections, a political restructuring took place that led to both radicalization and desacralization. Two political groups formed, but within the conservative element, comprised of traditional conservatives (led by Ayatollah Mahdavi Kavi) who view the Supreme Leader as fallible and those conservatives (led by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi) who are elevating the discourse of the Velayat-e Faqih to that of infallibility. “In this discourse—which is the radicalization element—the mass populace is seen as incompetent religiously and in political matters,” said Dr. Fozi-Abivard. As for the desacralization element, it has manifested itself through Ahmadinejad and his challenges to Khamenei, in particular his opposition to (and boycott of government meetings for a month in response to) Khamenei’s April 2011 order to reinstate the intelligence minister, who Ahmadinejad had dismissed. In conclusion, Dr. Fozi-Abivard went through the voting statistics and discourse supplied by the Iranian regime after the elections, showing the ways in which the regime manipulates the facts to its benefit.
Dr. Peimani looked at the topic of the oil sanctions against Iran and how they might affect the country’s economy. He argued that because Iran reoriented its trading relationships in the 2000s from the West to other regions such as Asia and Africa, it is a mistake to still think that the West has a huge impact on Iran’s economy. He mentioned that China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are the largest importers of Iranian oil and are unlikely to “take sides” in the political issues at play. “Even if some of these countries say they will phase out Iranian oil,” Dr. Peimani said, “they will likely need to come back to Iran in the future, so they will be careful.” He also noted that the EU policy of sanctioning Iran is not fully supported by all the Union’s countries, as it is driven by the powerhouses of Germany, France, and Britain. “The smaller countries are having a hard time meeting energy requirements,” he noted, “so they need cheap oil.” In sum, Dr. Peimani asserted that in the foreseeable future, sanctions will not affect Iran very much, at least economically. While the psychological impact of sanctions—which can mean loss of investment and economic activity in the country due to concerns about stability—should not be ignored, it will not mean a collapse of the economy.