The middle class felt relief yet the ‘Nezam’ won
The latest election results are a win-win situation for Iran. Moderates with the support of reformists have seemingly won a landslide victory, but this is not a defeat for the hardline side of the regime.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his ally and former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, won the most votes in the race for membership of the Assembly of Experts. Leading hardline names were excluded from parliament and the Assembly of Experts, including Ayatollah Mohammed Yazdi and Ayatollah Mohammed-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi. Mesbah-Yazdi was one of the closest clerics to former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Results indicate Iran will continue to comply with the nuclear agreement, and the Iranian economy will, bit by bit, be open up to foreign investment. Probably we’ll see reforms to tackle corruption. The results indicate the establishment is here to stay, but will include the emerging middle class this time. In other words, the regime is trying to make peace with North Tehran, where the wealthy, intellectual middle class resides.
The Iranian Revolution was a people’s revolution of the religious, socialist, feminist, villagers, Tehrani, et cetera. However, probably the socialist side of the revolution give way to shanty-towners and crowds from villages and smaller cities. Upper-middle-class Iranians used to – and still to some extent today – call this crowd “dahati,” meaning peasants. They never deemed them eligible to rule, but this new ruling class proved to be here to stay.
When you go to the presidential campus in Tehran, you see state officials wearing old, cheap suits and undyed loafers that have been worn for years. You cannot see anybody wearing an expensive watch in government offices. Being a “dahati” sells in Iran and was particularly prominent during the Ahmadinejad period. Ahmadinejad was such a symbol of the regime in that sense; he was from a working-class family that made his way up to one of the best universities in Iran. He studied and became a civil engineer. From a shanty town to the presidency, he is a revolutionary Iranian dream.
However, every system gives birth to its own middle class, which emerges with new demands. The right to express themselves more freely, to be able to earn more money in a free-market economy and to be able to travel abroad are all simple things people want all over the world but cannot do under a brutal regime.
“An Iran for all Iranians” is what former – and probably the only reformist president of Iran – Mohammed Khatami used to use as a slogan. This meant a lot, because when shanty-town dwellers ruled Iran for decades, Iran lost a lot. With the brain drain, Iran lost a significant number of young entrepreneurs, scientists and artists who were not able to continue living under the Islamic dictatorship, forcing them to flee to either European countries or the United States. Part of the population did not feel like it belonged to this system in any way. Third Worldism in foreign policy left Iran with no choices but Russia and China as untrusted partners. Iran was not able to make money when oil prices were ascending like no other time because of the embargos. Only China was buying cheap energy from Iran.
The 2009 elections showed that it was high time for Iran’s “Nezam,” meaning the system, to stretch to avoid being broken. It seems we’ll now see the stretch, but it remains to be seen to what extent. Remember there is a significant number of conservative politicians who entered parliament on the moderates’ list.
Khatami himself is barred from politics; Khatami’s closest allies are either jailed or silenced. The moderates of today may not be like the reformists of the Khatami period. We’ll wait and see.