Following the Iranian Majlis elections, whose outcome indicates gains for Iran's pragmatic camp, which advocates greater openness towards the West and the Sunni world, the Gulf press published differing analyses and assessments, ranging from skepticism that democratization can really occur in Iran to hope that the rise of the pragmatic camp heralds a change in Iran's foreign policy.
The skeptics claimed that these elections were illusory and intended to convince the West that Iran is democratic, when in reality 19 million Sunni Iranian citizens are denied the right to vote and the conservatives still command a majority that will prevent any change. They argued further that in Iran there is no real difference between the so-called conservatives and moderates, since both are subordinate to Supreme Leader Khamenei and are serving his objectives.
The election results, and the apparent rise of the moderates, also reignited the discussion in the Gulf about the option of Arab-Iranian dialogue, with some urging the Arab countries to give the Iranian moderates a chance and others expressing firm opposition to this idea.
Cartoons in the Saudi daily Al-Jazirah reflected skepticism and mistrust of the elections, pointing to the fact that only regime-approved candidates are allowed to run and indicating that voters had been subjected to intimidation tactics.
Below are translated excerpts from articles on the topic.
Saudi Daily: We Have Never Heard Of An Iranian Candidate Who Is Not A Twelver Shi'ite
In an editorial, the Saudi daily Al-Sharq called the Iranian elections a farce aimed at convincing the West that Iran is a democracy, while in reality all those who are not part of the central Iranian Twelver Shia stream are excluded from the country's politics: "The Iranian constitution 'tailors [political candidates'] suits' [so that only certain people] can be candidates in the elections. We have never heard [of a case where] a candidate who opposes the Twelver Shi'ite stream on which Iran is based has run in elections... This is because the Iranian constitution defines Iran as a religious state linked to a particular religious stream, as set out by Article 12: 'The official religion of Iran is Islam and the Twelver Ja'fari school.' With this, the path [to positions in the main regime institutions] is blocked to, [among others,] some 19 million Iranian Sunnis...
"Today, Iran purports to be the most democratic [state of all, run] by means of... [regime] councils including the Assembly of Experts, the Guardian Council, the Majlis and the local councils. However, those who are not part of the state's main religious school of thought [i.e. Twelver Shi'a] cannot serve on the two main councils - the Assembly of Experts and the Guardian Council. This means that representation of the recognized political parties [in these councils] is distorted, and that [elections in Iran] are a farce aimed at convincing the West that there is true democracy in Iran."
Only those propped up by the ayatollahs can vote in the "Iranian Elections" (Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, February 29, 2016)
Writer In UAE Daily: No Difference Between Conservatives And Moderates In Iran; There Will Be No Change
'Aisha Al-Marri, who writes in the UAE daily Al-Ittihad, claims that the distinction between moderates and hardliners in Iran is artificial because both are subordinate to Khamenei and work to actualize his supreme objectives. She wrote: "What is the line separating the moderate stream from the hardline stream in Iran? How do they decide who is moderate and who is a hardliner? Is the grandson of Khomeini, the founder of the theocratic regime in Iran, considered a moderate? How can the current Iranian president [Hassan Rohani] be viewed as a moderate?... The Iranian media manages to draw a picture of [ostensibly distinct] Iranian political streams and market this model domestically and abroad... [while] the political reality in Iran is that... no visible line separates the conservative stream from the reformists. Each stream complements the other, because the existence of the conservatives depends on the existence of the reformists or moderates, and vice versa, [and] therefore the struggle between these two streams is artificial. It should also be recognized that members of the moderate or conservative stream have [their own] personal interests, and that both streams belong to the Iranian regime and operate under the same jurisprudent, Khamenei, and actualize the interests and supreme objectives of the Iranian regime. Therefore, anyone who hopes that the reformists gaining more seats in the Majlis or the conservative's waning control in the Assembly of Experts is enough toÔÇª change Iranian policy is merely deluding himself. As long as the regime of the Rule of the Jurisprudent remains in power, it and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will continue to dominate the game."
Khamenei tyrannizes Iran's "conservatives" and "reformists" in equal measure (Source: Maqar.com)
Bahraini Writer: The Argument That Iran Will Now Become More Rational And Moderate Is Groundless
Al-Sayyed Zahra, a Bahraini writer and journalist of Egyptian origin who is deputy editor-in-chief of the Bahraini daily Akhbar Al-Khaleej, wrote that, in contrast to optimistic assessments following the rise of the moderate camp in Iran, there is likely to be no change either in civil liberties in the country or in Iranian foreign policy, particularly with regard to the Arab countries. Zahra also expressed his unwavering opposition to any future calls in the Arab world to begin a dialogue with Iran. He wrote:
"Even before the announcement of the final outcome in the [recent Iranian] elections, there was a large-scale campaign to whitewash the Iranian regime. [This campaign] included claims that these results would make Iran more rational and moderate in its foreign policy and in its relations with the countries of the world, including the Arab countries. This claim is groundless... The [only] thing that is certain is that these results, and the considerable presence of the so-called 'reformists' [in the Iranian regime], will have no measurable effect in two crucial areas.
"[First,] in the field of civil] liberties... because the entire issue of freedoms and of human and minority rights is controlled by the [country's] intelligence and security apparatuses, the Revolutionary Guard, and the Basij. It is they who are oppressing and harassing the citizens and committing horrendous violations, and no one can control these apparatuses and forces; not even the Iranian president himself.
"[Second,] in the area of Iran's foreign policy, particularly with regard to its criminal interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries and its terrorist crimes in the Arab region... While these so-called 'reformists' in Iran may disagree with the conservatives or the extremists to some extent, especially in matters of domestic policy, there is no disagreement between [these two Iranian camps] when it concerns Iran's aggressive policy in the Arab region and the terrorism it uses [there]... They all share the same racist Persian view of the Arabs and Arab countries... They all support Iran's imperialist sectarian plan in the Arab region, and they all dream of the day when Iran will control the region's resources...
"Why am I saying this now? Because we will soon hear Arab voices announcing a new era of moderation in Iran, demanding dialogue with Iran, and so on. I wish to express right now my absolute opposition to this."
"Revolutionary Guard" tank threatens "Iranian voter" (Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, March 3, 2016)
Al-Hayat Columnist: Arab Countries Should Reassess Their Political Discourse Vis-├á-vis Iran
Raghida Dergham, a Lebanese columnist for the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat, called on the Arab countries to reassess their political discourse vis-├á-vis Iran. She argued that they should give Iran's rising moderate camp a chance, and that they should work with it, whether directly or via Russian or American channels, "in order to actualize Iran's commitment not to toy with Saudi stability":
"The traditional view of many residents of the Gulf is that all the main power elements in Iran, moderate and extremist, are the same, and that Iran's aim was and remains to export its revolution to the Arab countries and to take over the region. Even if this view is accurate, it must be reassessed in light of the facts on the ground in the Iranian arena, including the election results, which could prove to be a window into a different kind of thinking in Arab capitals in the Gulf... [This is] because most Iranians voted for moderation...
"[Iranian President] Rohani's associates have stressed time and again that [the president] and his supporters have a plan that differs from that of the fundamentalists vis-├á-vis sending their octopus tentacles into Arab capitals in order to take [them] over, or regarding waging proxy wars against Saudi Arabia. According to a knowledgeable source, during his recent visit [to Italy and France in late January 2016], President Rohani said... that ongoing stability in Saudi Arabia is vital for Iran, and that harm to [Saudi Arabia] would threaten Iran, because ISIS, Al-Qaeda, or similar organizations could fill the vacuum that would result...
"The desired tactic is therefore to act seriously in order to actualize Iran's commitment not to toy with Saudi stability. This is possible, whether via direct channels, particularly vis-├á-vis the moderate camp... or via Russian and American channels, especially since Russia seeks to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran...
"The waning of the extremists [in Iran] can open the door to a different political discourse in the Gulf states, that will be geared towards giving a chance to the [Iranian] moderates. While this does not prevent us from insisting on our regular positions, it would be even better to benefit from the opportunity handed to us by the [Iranian] elections, and to respond with a measured strategy. An aggressive strategy might be somewhat helpful in some places, but not necessarily elsewhere."