Eye on Iran: Conservative Drops Out Of Iran Election To Back Hard-Liner

TOP STORIES

Conservative Drops Out Of Iran Election To Back Hard-Liner | Associated Press

A conservative candidate dropped out of Iran's presidential election on Monday to back a hard-liner, state television reported, narrowing the field of those hoping to unseat moderate President Hassan Rouhani. The report said Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf made the decision to boost the chances of hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, believed to be close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "I ask all my supporters to contribute their full capacity and support for the success of my brother, Ebrahim Raisi," Qalibaf said in a statement announcing his withdrawal, according to the state TV.

Iran’s Delayed Gold Rush Disillusions Voters | AFP

The investment gold rush that was supposed to follow Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers and revitalize the economy has not materialized, leaving many voters disillusioned ahead of Friday’s election. The figures say it all – President Hassan Rouhani wanted $50 billion a year in foreign investment to reach his target of 8 percent growth. But since the nuclear deal came into force in January 2016, lifting some sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran’s atomic program, only $1-2 billion worth of deals have actually been finalized, his deputy Eshaq Jahangiri admitted to AFP this week.

Iranians See Little Hope Elections Will Alleviate Economic Strain | The New York Times

As a college student studying mechanics, Hamidreza Faraji had expected after graduation to land a steady job with a fixed salary, a pension plan and the occasional bonus. He envisioned coming home at 6 p.m. to his family and vacationing at a resort on the Caspian Sea. But Mr. Faraji, 34, has long since given up on all that. These days, he said, the only people who lead such predictable lives are government employees. Their jobs are well paid and offer security, but are hard to get in part because older employees stay on well past retirement age, limiting opportunities for the next generation. So millions of Iranians, particularly younger ones, find themselves caught like Mr. Faraji in a vicious cycle of hidden poverty, an exhausting hustle to stay afloat, working multiple jobs and running moneymaking schemes just to keep up. The youth unemployment rate is 30 percent.

NUCLEAR & BALLISTIC MISSILE PROGRAM

Iran 'Is Still Developing Ballistic Missiles That Could Carry Nuclear Warheads In Violation Of UN Resolution' | Daily Mail

Iran is continuing to work on ballistic missiles that would be capable of carrying nuclear weapons over thousands of miles, according to US Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats. Coats described the growing threat of Iran's missile program in a written testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday. 'Iran's ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering WMD [weapons of mass destruction], and Tehran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East,' he wrote. 'We judge that Tehran would choose ballistic missiles as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons, if it builds them.' The missiles could also be used by the Islamic Republic to launch a nuclear weapon. As Coats noted: 'Iran continues to be the foremost state sponsor of terrorism.'

Intel Report: Iran Refining Nuke Delivery System in Flagrant Violation of Ban | Washington Free Beacon

Iran continues to make critical technological strides in its efforts to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons over great distances, efforts that violate international prohibitions, according to the director of national intelligence, who informed Congress this week that the Islamic Republic "would choose ballistic missiles as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons." The disclosure comes just days after Iranian leaders announced the upcoming launch of two new domestically produced satellites. Iran has long used its space program as cover for illicit missile work, as the know-how needed to launch such equipment can be applied to long-range ballistic missile technology. Daniel Coats, America's top spymaster, informed Congress this week in an intelligence briefing that Iran's ballistic missile work continues unimpeded and could be used by the Islamic Republic to launch a nuclear weapon, according to unclassified testimony.

BUSINESS RISK

Iran's Mining Projects on Hold as Investors Fear New Sanctions | Bloomberg

Iran has put on hold “almost all” of its mining agreements with foreign investors as companies from Europe to Asia fear additional sanctions on the Persian Gulf nation’s economy, according to the deputy minister of Iran’s Ministry of Industries, Mines and Trade. Less than $100 million of projects is moving forward, out of the $50 billion in potential investment the government is seeking from overseas mining companies by 2022, Mehdi Karbasian said Monday in an interview in Tehran.  “Fearing they might get placed on a blacklist in the wake of the return of sanctions, the companies with whom we have made these deals have suspended almost all of the agreements and maintained a wait-and-see attitude,” he said.

SANCTIONS RELIEF

Iran's Rouhani Vows To End Remaining Sanctions In Final Debate | AFP

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani vowed Friday to continue rebuilding ties with the world and get rid of remaining sanctions during a fiery final debate a week ahead of the election. Rouhani, who is seeking a second four-year term next Friday, said Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers had ended many sanctions and brought a windfall from renewed oil sales over the past year that could now be invested. "We want to allocate $15 billion for investments... and $3-5 billion for supporting the poor and needy," said Rouhani. But he went further in his closing statement, vowing for the first time to target the remaining US sanctions that are still hampering trade deals and preventing foreign money from entering Iran. "I will engage myself in lifting all the non-nuclear sanctions during the coming four years and bring back the grandeur of Iran and the Iranian people," he said.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Israel Unhappy Over Iran’s Presence In ‘De-Escalation Zones’: Source | Tehran Times

Speaking with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not object to “de-escalation zones” arrangement in Syria but voiced opposition against Iran’s presence in those areas. According to Haaretz, a senior Israeli official who wanted to remain anonymous said that Netanyahu had warned Putin against Iran’s presence in the de-escalation zones, while stressing that they cannot serve to allow Iran or Hezbollah to set up near the border with Israel. It came a week after Iran, Russia and Turkey signed an agreement, urging setting up of four de-escalation zones in the war-torn Syria in the latest attempt to reduce violence in the country. The agreement was signed during the fourth round of the Syria peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana, and two days after Moscow put forward the proposal.

SAUDI-IRAN TENSIONS

In Senegal, Iran And Saudi Arabia Vie For Religious Influence | Reuters

In an upmarket suburb of Senegal's seaside capital, a branch of Iran's Al-Mustafa University teaches Senegalese students Shi'ite Muslim theology, among other subjects. The branch director is Iranian and a portrait of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hangs on his office wall. The teaching includes Iranian culture and history, Islamic science and Iran's mother tongue, Farsi; students receive free food and financial help. The university is a Shi'ite outpost in a country where Sufism, a more relaxed, mystical and apolitical form of Sunni Islam, is the norm. Two miles away, the Islamic Preaching Association for Youth (APIJ) teaches the strand of Islam that predominates in Iran's great religious, political and military rival, Saudi Arabia. The APIJ funnels cash from donors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Dubai and Kuwait to mosques run by Salafists - conservative Sunni Muslims who are sworn enemies of Iran. The APIJ's shelves are stacked with Salafist theology texts adorned with gold-leaf Arabic inscriptions - texts its imams use to preach in some 200 mosques across Senegal.  

HUMAN RIGHTS

29 Members Of EU Parliament Urge Iran To Release Detained Journalists And Activists Ahead Of 2017 Elections | Center For Human Rights In Iran

Ahead of Iran’s elections on May 19 for president and local councils, 29 members of the European Parliament have written a letter to Federica Mogherini, the representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy and vice-president of the European Commission, urging the EU to call on the Iranian government to stop the pre-election intimidation campaign against journalists and activists and ensure a free and fair vote.

Iran Punishes Adulterer By Making Her ‘Wash Dead Bodies’ | Al Arabiya

A court in Tehran court has sentenced a 35-year-old married woman to 74 to lashes and two years of washing dead bodies in a morgue. The 35-year-old woman initially denied the cheating charges but admitted her guilt after the prosecutors provided proof of her adultery, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA). The penal code in Iran views adultery among the highest of crimes, which may even carry capital punishment in case of multiple offenses. Under Iran’s interpretation of Islamic Sharia law in force since its 1979 revolution, adultery is punished by the stoning of convicted adulterers. In 2013, Iran amended its internationally condemned law on stoning convicted adulterers to death and now allow judges to impose different punishments as they see fit.

DOMESTIC POLITICS

Polls Put Rouhani In Lead With One Week To Go | Al-Monitor

Incumbent Hassan Rouhani maintains his lead in the run-up to Iran's May 19 presidential election. Two new election surveys show him ahead, going into the third and final nationally televised debate and with less than a week to go before the vote. Two new polls show incumbent Hassan Rouhani ahead of his five opponents with less than a week to go until first-round voting in Iran's presidential elections.  A telephone survey conducted May 7-8 by the Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA) had Rouhani at 42% of the vote, cleric Ebrahim Raisi at 27%, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf at 25%, First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri at 3%, former Culture Minister Mostafa Mirsalim at 3%, and former Mines and Industries Minister Mostafa Hashemi-Taba at 2%. No undecided vote was reported, nor was a sample size or margin of error. ISPA is a longtime public opinion research agency in Tehran.

Turnout Is Key For Iran’s Election, A Challenge For Rouhani | Associated Press

Iran’s presidential election may turn on turnout. Historically, the more Iranians who cast ballots, the greater the chance a reformist or a moderate like incumbent President Hassan Rouhani will be elected. However, Rouhani’s bid for another four-year term comes amid apathy and grumbling from an electorate that largely hasn’t seen the benefits of his signature nuclear deal with world powers. As his opponents promise populist cash handouts to the poor, Rouhani needs all the voters he can to cast ballots on May 19. But even some of his supporters say they may stay home.

Iran's Rouhani Lashes Out At Hardliners In Blistering Final Debate Before Vote | Reuters

President Hassan Rouhani cast his hardline clerical opponents as power-hungry pawns of Iran's security forces on Friday, going far beyond the traditional bounds of Iranian political discourse in a blistering final TV debate a week before an election. Rouhani, first elected in a landslide four years ago on a promise to reduce Iran's international isolation, is trying to hold on to office by firing up reformist voters disillusioned by a stalled economy and the slow pace of social reform. Although he has long cast himself as an insider and pragmatist rather than a gung-ho reformer, he seems to have shed that moderate image in recent days, seeking to energize voters who want less confrontation abroad and more freedom at home.

Iran’s Rouhani Says Upcoming Election ‘Historical Decision’ | Associated Press

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has said that Friday’s presidential election will place the country at a critical juncture, and its people must choose between peace or tension. Speaking Saturday to tens of thousands of his supporters at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, his biggest campaign rally thus far, Rouhani said, “We are at the edge of a great historical decision. Our nation will announce if it continues on the path of peacefulness or if it wants to choose tension.” “We should not let Iran become isolated again,” added Rouhani, “We want constructive communication with the world.” The election is seen largely as a referendum on Rouhani’s outreach to the rest of the world following the country’s landmark 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.

Iran's Khatami Urges Voters To Re-Elect Rouhani As President | Reuters

Former president Mohammad Khatami, considered the spiritual leader of Iran's reformists, urged voters on Sunday to re-elect President Hassan Rouhani and support his policy of seeking to end Iran's isolation from the rest of the world. Iran's hardline security and judicial powers, which operate separately to the presidency and are close to Iran's ultimate authority - Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - have banned media from publishing Khatami's image or mentioning his name. But Khatami has played a prominent role in elections by using social media to urge voters to back pro-reform candidates. "We have started on a path with Rouhani and we have come half way. We have resolved some problems and bigger problems remain for us to resolve on this difficult path with him," Khatami said in a video message released on social media. "It is now your turn to renew your vote for our dear Rouhani in order to strengthen hope for a better future," he said.

Iranian Opposition Figure Karroubi To Vote For Rouhani In Election | Reuters

Iranian opposition figure Mehdi Karroubi, under house arrest since 2011, will back President Hassan Rouhani's bid for a second term in Friday's election, his family told Reuters. Rouhani, a pragmatist who has eased Iran's international isolation and now faces mostly hardline conservative challengers for the presidency, told supporters he needed a stronger mandate to liberalize Iranian society and get opposition leaders freed. Karroubi, 80, and fellow reformist Mirhossein Mousavi ran for election in June 2009 and became figureheads for Iranians who staged mass protests after the vote they believed was rigged to bring back hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "My father believes in reform through the ballot box," Karroubi's son, Mohammad Taghi Karroubi, said in a telephone interview. "He believes people should take part in elections to fight against those who want to turn the Islamic Republic into an Islamic state."

Iran's Missing Reformists Are The Real Heroes At Rouhani Rally | AFP

The 20,000 chanting fans might have come to support Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday but it was clear their real heroes were the ones still locked away by the regime. "Mousavi! Karroubi! Khatami!" they chanted at deafening volume, over and over, at the election rally in a stadium in western Tehran. Those first two names, drawing such passion from the crowd, belong to reformist leaders who have not been seen in public for six years now. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi -- both candidates in the controversial election of 2009 that triggered months of protests after allegations of rigging -- were placed under house arrest in 2011, allowed out only for medical treatment. The third is Mohammad Khatami -- president from 1997 to 2005 and spiritual head of the reformist movement -- who is banned from travelling abroad or appearing in any form in the media.

Iran Hardliners Turn To Reformist-Dominated Social Media | AFP

After a series of bruising electoral defeats, Iranian conservatives campaigning in this week's presidential poll have belatedly embraced social media -- a space long dominated by their reformist rivals. Across Iran's political spectrum, posting on social media has increasingly replaced street campaigning as the crucial way to rally supporters and attack opponents -- even if some of the most popular sites such as Twitter remain officially banned. Hardline Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf has used Twitter and messaging app Telegram, which has 25 million users in Iran, to release documents accusing his rivals of corruption. When moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who is seeking re-election, visited the site of a mining disaster last week, conservatives posted a video of his car being attacked by protesters which quickly went viral.

Iran’s Sunni Leader Endorses Rouhani For Re-Election | Al Arabiya

A leading figure of Iran’s minority Sunnis endorsed moderate President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday ahead of this week’s election, despite the government’s “shortcomings”. Sunnis make up around five to 10 percent of Iran’s 80 million population, which is overwhelmingly from the Shiite sect of Islam. Religious leader Molavi Abdol Hamid said “the atmosphere for Sunnis has been a little more relaxed” since Rouhani took power in 2013, and that most would support him in Friday’s election. Abdol Hamid repeated calls for greater Sunni representation in local and national government, and more action on discrimination. “The Sunni community believes that this government, despite its problems and weaknesses, has had more strong points, and we hope if the current government takes office again, it will do more to resolve those problems and shortcomings,” he said in comments carried by his website.

In The Race To Unseat Iran’s President, Two Conservatives Emerge As Contenders | The Washington Post

Iran’s presidential elections are typically tumultuous affairs. Campaigns last just a few weeks, and a candidate’s star can rise or fall in a matter of days. Ruling clerics approve only a handful of contenders for the race, which takes place every four years. But the results are almost always a surprise, and dark-horse candidates have been known to sweep to power at the last minute. This year, there are five challengers to President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatic moderate seeking a second term in the May 19 vote. Although polling is unreliable in Iran, two candidates recently have narrowed Rouhani’s still-wide lead: Ebrahim Raisi, a powerful conservative cleric, and Tehran’s hard-line mayor, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. Both have used populist messaging to hit Rouhani on the economy, which they say suffers despite sanctions relief, and have committed to upholding the nuclear deal Iran struck with world powers.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

The Election Won’t Halt Iran’s Terror Ambitions | UANI Advisory Board Member Giulio Terzi for Newsweek

Major changes appear to be underway in Western policy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran. For those who had been concerned about the conciliatory nature of President Barack Obama’s approach, there were immediate signs of hope to be seen when the new administration took over. Barely a week after the new administration came in, Iran undertook another in a series of test launches of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, thus violating a United Nations Security Council resolution calling upon the country to avoid such provocative gestures in the wake of the 2015 nuclear agreement. Whereas the previous administration had essentially swept these illicit moves under the rug, the Trump White House responded by putting Tehran “on notice.” The relevant statement also took aim at a number of other issues related to the Islamic theocracy’s role in the broader Middle East, including its use of terrorist proxies as a means of imperialist intervention.

How Will May 19 Election Shape Iran's Foreign Policy? | Marwan Bishara For Al Jazeera

Voters in Iran will be heading to the polls on Friday to elect a new president, in a crucial election seen by many as a potential battleground between Reformists and Principlists. The Reformist front-runner is incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, who signed 2015's historic nuclear deal with world powers. The Principlist favourite, on the other hand, is Judge Ebrahim Raisi, who is the protegee of Ali Khamenei, Iran's powerful supreme leader. The result of the May 19 election will undoubtedly shape Iran's domestic politics for the coming years - but will it also effect the country's foreign policy? Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, offers his view on the impact the election might have on Iran's regional policies and ambitions.

Iran's Presidential Election: The Clergy's Political Irrelevance | Mehdi Khalaji for The Washington Institute

The clergy's decreasing role in Iranian politics is becoming more visible than ever in the current presidential campaign. Two major clerical institutions issued their candidate endorsements much later than expected this year, and the relevance of their advocacy is questionable. The Association of Qom Seminary Teachers, a political organization based in the center of Shiite learning, endorsed hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, as did the Association of Militant Clerics in Tehran, which is supervised by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's Paydari Front and closely linked with powerful conservative ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi. Since 1997, however, all of the presidential candidates endorsed by these associations have lost, including to current incumbent Hassan Rouhani in 2013. Furthermore, they appear to have only limited influence over the regime's most committed hardliners, while other key religious authorities tend to refrain from public endorsements altogether.