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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may appear to some in the West to be a revolutionary keen on transforming Iran into a proto-Western ally. That is far from the truth, however. What he would prefer is a slow and steady development towards a normal balanced nation-state. He is by no means a Liberal-Democrat. In other words, he is keen to avoid violent sudden change likely to cause disruption similar to that caused by the so-called ‘Arab Spring’
As a result, of this gradual approach one should not see the nuclear framework agreement between Iran and the P5+1 as a first step in revolutionary U-turn in Iranian domestic politics. The agreement offer a real opportunity to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons but will not herald a new democratic dawn in which Iran respects all Human Rights as the International Community desires.
The agreement does not mean that the powerful forces within the Iranian leadership – Ayatollah Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards – that is strongly opposed to reform and closer ties to the West have suddenly melted away; on the contrary. For this reason President Rouhani must tread carefully when seeking to engage more positively with the western world. He may speak of changes but he cannot force them.
Nevertheless, there is one key factor on his side. The conservative leadership in Iran is aging and the population has a large youthful and dynamic base, which may no direct influence on the nuclear negotiations but which clearly will have a major say in Iran’s future.
The West had high opens that the younger generations could affect rapid change. It was excited by the Green Uprising in 2009 that saw thousands of Iranians publicly demonstrating against what was seen as a corrupt election process, only for that protest movement to be put down forcefully. Nevertheless, it was a clear indication of the strength of feeling within the country and the willingness to embrace political change.
While on the one hand the nuclear negotiations might wrongly encourage over- optimism that change will come soon, they should not on the hand dampen spirits if it becomes clear that an altered nuclear policy does not spell rapid domestic change.
Young Iranians have learned from their experiences in 2009. They still embrace the idea of change but are aware that they will have to adopt new strategies. Just as President Rouhani apparently does, they appear to accept that slow and incremental change in a country held in check by a suppressive regime is going to be more effective in the long run than attempted violent change or dramatic protest. Moreover, although the economy is severely weakened and their own economic prospects remain uncertain, at least Iran continues to enjoy relative security on the streets. A factor that has gained importance as other countries where violent revolution did occur have fallen into chaos. This is what gave Rouhani the leverage to become president.
The conclusion therefore must surely be that Rouhani will continue to gain support from many Iranians who accept that he may help them towards an easier and more comfortable life without having to ‘shake the boat’ so hard that the Regime will come on them with its more usual massive oppression. In this way, young people can fulfill their dream of a better more open life, while having to compromise on the speed at which that change will happen. Patience will then be the key both within the country and among those outside Iran who are all too eager to push the agenda of change.
Dr. Fariborz Saremi is a strategic analyst based in Hamburg/Germany.He is a regular contributor to World Tribune.com,Freepressers.com, Defense& Foreign Affairs and Counter Punch. Dr.Saremi is a member of the International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA) based in Washington,DC, USA.