In the third week of September, teachers in dozens of towns and cities across Iran took to the streets, calling on the new president, Ebrahim Raisi, to fully implement existing labour laws. The authorities responded quickly and positively, promising to work on an implementation plan. But the teachers are not ready to back down. In an interview conducted for this article, a leader of the main teachers’ union said his organization will continue to use a “carrot and stick” approach to ensure that the Raisi administration makes good on its promises. The latest nationwide demonstrations by teachers are part of a bigger protest wave that has gripped Iran over the past year. In the first few months of the year, pensioners mobilised in Tehran and other major cities. In July, residents of the southern province of Khuzestan protested water shortages. Between June and August, contract workers across Iran’s oil sector staged intermittent strikes and demonstrations. These protests are unlikely to let up. A wide range of social groups have been mobilising—organising locally, regionally, and nationally—to express socioeconomic grievances.
On September 17, a package of several dozen documents was signed in Dushanbe at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The highlight of the meeting was the decision taken by the Heads of State Council of the SCO on launching the procedure of granting SCO membership to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Technically, this decision does not turn Tehran into a full-fledged SCO member, launching the accession process only. Granting full membership involves a number of agreements signed, which usually takes about two years. However, a proactive decision has de facto been made, and the Islamic Republic of Iran can already be considered a member of the Organization.
With Iran’s arrival, the SCO member-states now number nine, and they’re focused on fixing Afghanistan and consolidating Eurasia. As a rudderless West watched on, the 20th anniversary meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was laser-focused on two key deliverables: shaping up Afghanistan and kicking off a full-spectrum Eurasian integration. The two defining moments of the historic 20th anniversary Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan had to come from the keynote speeches of – who else – the leaders of the Russia-China strategic partnership. Xi Jinping: “Today we will launch procedures to admit Iran as a full member of the SCO.” Vladimir Putin: “I would like to highlight the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed today between the SCO Secretariat and the Eurasian Economic Commission. It is clearly designed to further Russia’s idea of establishing a Greater Eurasia Partnership covering the SCO, the EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union), ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI).”
In mid-August, while the world was focused on understanding the orientation of the newly-inaugurated government of Ayatollah Seyed Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s top security official, Ali Shamkhani, dropped a bombshell that continues to reverberate across the West Asia region. After a phone call with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council announced that Iran will soon become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), ending a 16-year-period of being on the sidelines of the China-led, economy-oriented regional institution.
Raisi’s new cabinet is largely composed of men he has deemed “expert, efficient and revolutionary.” The emphasis on “revolutionary” reflects a politicisation of economic policymaking that emerged during Hassan Rouhani’s presidency (2013-2021). As Iran faced multilateral and unilateral sanctions, advocates for diplomacy and the 2015 nuclear deal sought the lifting of sanctions to boost economic prospects. But many hardliners, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, prefer to look inward to solve Iran’s economic problems. They promote the “resistance economy” model in which Iran would seek to neutralize the impact of sanctions. These lawmakers and officials favor reducing dependence on imports by raising domestic production and replacing foreign technologies with those made at home. Should imports be necessary, they support increased trade with Russia and China as opposed to Western countries, which they consider unreliable. With Raisi in office, the proponents of the resistance economy are in control of both the legislative and executive branches. The question is to what extent they can implement the resistance economy model given its inherent limitations. As a pragmatic move, Raisi’s team may also push for the lifting of U.S. sanctions and reintegration into the global economy, which were priorities of the Rouhani administration. The following are profiles of Raisi’s cabinet ministers responsible for managing the economy.
On Aug. 11, 2021, President Ebrahim Raisi submitted a list of 19 proposed cabinet members to Parliament, the Majles, which must approve all nominations. Two weeks later, Parliament approved all of his picks with the exception of his proposed education minister. Raisi’s new cabinet includes five ministers who are designated under U.S. sanctions. Raisi, his chief of staff Gholamhossein Esmaili, and his first vice president Mohammad Mokhber have also been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury. Four members of the cabinet were members of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), with three holding the rank of brigadier general. […]
With the electoral victory of Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, Iran is potentially undergoing a dramatic shift in its political landscape. After eight years and two presidential terms in control of the executive branch of government, the centrist ‘Moderates’ (e’tedaaliyoun) have suffered a heavy political defeat against the conservative ‘Principlist’ (osulgeraa) camp. In the midst of this, the ‘Reformist’ (eslaahtalab) faction, which once mobilized masses to elevate the Moderate Hassan Rouhani into the presidency in 2013 and to his reelection in 2017, has lost its political capital and appeal. It will take years for Reformists to recover and reemerge as a political force. A comeback would require nothing short of a generational transition within the camp and their reformulation of what reformism actually means in the Islamic Republic of today.
Professor Mohammad Marandi of the University of Tehran summed up for me the road map ahead: “Iran’s foreign policy decisions are pretty clear. Iran will be putting less emphasis on Western nations, especially European, and more emphasis on the Global South, the East, neighboring countries, and of course that will include China and Russia. That doesn’t mean the Iranians are going to ignore Europe altogether, if they decide to return to the JCPOA. The Iranians would accept if they abide by their obligations. So far, we have seen no sign of that whatsoever.” Marandi could not help referring to Khamenei’s speech: “It’s pretty clear; he’s saying, ‘we don’t trust the West, these last 8 years showed that’, he’s saying the next administration should learn from the experience of these 8 years.” Yet the main challenge for Raisi will not be foreign policy, but the domestic framework, with sanctions still biting hard: “With regard to economic policy, it will be tilting more towards social justice and turning away from neoliberalism, expanding the safety net for the disenfranchised and the vulnerable.”
2021-08-02Reflections on the State of Democracy in Iran after the 2021 Elections: An Elegy for the Voting Non-Voter
As expected, Ebrahim Raisi became president-elect on 18 June 2021, winning with eighteen million votes, more than half a million votes less than Rouhani received in his first run, eight million fewer than the second. Second place went to four million spoiled ballots […] Thirty million Iranians chose not to vote in 2021, resulting in a participation rate of forty-eight percent, reduced to a dreary forty-two percent if voided ballots are included. Either figure counts as the lowest ever recorded in the forty-two-year history of the Islamic Republic, a regime that has long prided itself on its ability to mobilize the population at election time.
The student, Bijan Bazargan, was among an estimated 5,000 prisoners belonging to armed opposition and leftist groups in Iran, who Amnesty International and other rights groups say were executed in the summer of 1988. Now, a Swedish court will prosecute a former Iranian judiciary official for war crimes and murder in connection with Mr. Bazargan’s death. The case carries some notably public and damaging implications for Iran’s president-elect, Ebrahim Raisi, who helped decide which prisoners lived or died during those mass executions.