The exclusions were the latest consequence of a political process that had been underway for some time in Iran, which began with the decision taken in 2018 by then US President Donald Trump to withdraw the United States from the agreement that committed Iran to the ‘exclusively civilian use of nuclear energy, effectively burying it.
Already then many experts and observers had warned about the risk that that decision could weaken those in Iran who had strongly wanted the agreement – the moderates of Rouhani, the most open to dialogue with the West – and strengthen those who had always instead criticized, that is, the ultraconservatives. Rouhani had staked a lot on the agreement, getting re-elected in 2017 with the promise that the removal of the sanctions would bring enormous benefits to Iran’s economy. After the withdrawal in 2018, however, Trump had not limited himself only to restoring the sanctions removed by his predecessor Barack Obama, but had introduced new ones, giving new arguments to the ultraconservatives to accuse the moderates of having been deceived by an enemy country.
Trump had adopted the “maximum pressure” strategy, which aimed to weaken the Iranian regime so much that it forced it to renegotiate a new nuclear deal much more favorable to the United States than the one concluded by Obama, or to cause its final collapse: it is a strategy which, however, does not seem to have worked, and which indeed seems to have caused the weakening of the moderate and reformist political factions that would like to change Iran from within.
The favorite Raisi, if elected president, will hardly keep the overtures made by Rouhani (whose administration in the meantime is trying to renegotiate the nuclear deal) Raisi is very conservative and is the preferred candidate of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the leader absolute of Iran and representative of the most radical faction of the regime, of which he is also credited as a potential successor. Raisi also has a rather controversial past: in 1988, at the end of the war Iran was fighting against Iraq, he was part of one of the so-called “death commissions” which ordered mass executions of thousands of political prisoners and enemy combatants. .
More recently, as head of the judicial system, “he worked to restrict the online spaces that enjoyed a certain freedom,” he told BBC News Mahsa Alimardani, researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute. Alimardani added that in particular the judicial system led by Raisi “arrested the administrators of Telegram groups or individual Instagram users who posted content in favor of the rights of minorities, homosexuals, or against the obligation to wear thehijab for women”.
An important indicator for judging the stability of the regime will be the turnout data: some Iranians could be so frustrated by the economic crisis fueled by sanctions, the poor management of the coronavirus pandemic and the repression of protests organized in various cities starting from 2019 who could stay home without voting for any candidates.
This morning, state television, controlled by the regime, spoke of long queues outside polling stations in several cities, but the information is difficult to verify (very few Western journalists are allowed in Iran). The polling stations will close at 7.30pm local time, 5pm Italian time. The results should be released by Saturday.