World View: Egypt's Morsi Endorses Syria Rebels

This morning's key headlines from
  • Iran's elections won by 'moderate' Hassan Rouhani
  • Iran's nuclear development policy unlikely to change
  • Egypt cuts all diplomatic relations with Syria

Iran's elections won by 'moderate' Hassan Rouhani

Iran's Interior Ministry has announced that Friday's election was won by the Hassan Rouhani, with 52.49% of the votes. Rouhani will replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran in early August. There were several major surprises: 

  • Rouhani was far behind in the polls just a few days ago. His victory resulted from a last minute surge. The surge is attributed to the fact that he is the only "moderate" among the six candidates who were running, with the other five considered to be hardliners. Some analysts believe that many people were voting AGAINST the hardliners, rather than FOR Rouhani.
  • No second round will be necessary. There were six candidates in the race, and it was expected that no candidate would get a majority, requiring a runoff election next week between the top two. That Rouhani got a majority in the first round is a big surprise.
  • The election of the "moderate" Rouhani appears to be a slap in the face to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is known to have favored the hardline candidates, particularly Saeed Jalili. But Khamenei is anxious to avoid discrediting the Islamic Republic again, as happened in 2009, so he has congratulated Rouhani on his victory, and called it a victory for the Republic.
  • There have been no reports of electoral fraud or rigging. The 2009 election was internationally humiliating for Iran because of widespread charges of rigging by Khamenei.
  • There have been no reports of large scale anti-government demonstrations and subsequence violence by Iranian police, such as occurred after the 2009 elections. To the contrary, there have been open celebrations in Tehran of Rouhani's victory.

On the other hand, the election can hardly be called open and fair. The regime still has several moderate politicians under arrest since 2009, and in recent days the regime has been openly threatening violence against the families of BBC reporters who are simply reporting on the election. Reformist newspapers have been shut down, and journalists have been arrested. It's quite likely that there would be widespread protests if a hardliner had won. Fars (Tehran) and Bloomberg

Iran's nuclear development policy unlikely to change

Hassan Rouhani, 64, lived through the Great Islamic Revolution of 1979, and is a confidant of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, so it's not clear how "moderate" he's going to be. It's quite likely that national and international expectations of him will exceed what he's able to deliver. 

Rouhani's campaign bears some similarity to Barack Obama's 2008 campaign as the "hope and change" candidate, blaming everything on the previous administration. Even though the policies of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were very conservative, and not far from the policies of the Supreme Leader, Rouhani was able to walk a tight line by directing all his criticism at Ahmadinejad rather than Khamenei. 

Rouhani's campaign promises were: 

  • Uphold justice and civil rights. Many Iranians are furious the peaceful protesters have been tortured, mutilated, jailed and killed. Rouhani has cast himself as a successor to the 2009 Green movement.
  • Continue the nuclear program, by reaching "national consensus and rapprochement and understanding on an international level. This can only happen through dialogue." This is the mirror image of Obama's 2008 promise to resolve issues with North Korea and Iran through dialog and understanding. Rouhani's promise was extremely popular because, although Iran's population is overwhelmingly in favor of continuing nuclear development, they hate being compared to North Korea, and want to find a way to continue without being international pariahs. Whether Rouhani can succeed at fulfilling this promise any better than Obama could remains to be seen.
  • End international sanctions targeting Iran, once again through dialog. Many Iranians blame Ahmadinejad for causing the international furor that led to sanctions against Iran that have badly damaged the economy.
  • Create economic prosperity. Every politician promises this.
  • Act as mediator to resolve the conflict in Syria. This is definitely not going to happen. The Mideast is getting closer to a major sectarian Sunni versus Shia conflict, and Iran will be a belligerent, not a mediator.

Iran is in a generational Awakening era, like America in the 1960s-70s, when there was a "generation gap," resulting in enormous political turmoil and some violence. 

Rouhani won a landslide victory, and now has mandate for change. But the real power in Iran lies with the Supreme Leader and the hardline Guardian Council. So the most likely result of Friday's election is that when the euphoria wears off, the bitter political conflicts will return. BBC and Reuters

Egypt cuts all diplomatic relations with Syria

Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi announced on Saturday the end of all diplomatic ties with the Syrian regime led by Bashar Al-Asaad, and that "the Egyptian people and army are supporting the Syrian uprising."

We have decided to close down the Syrian embassy in Cairo. The Egyptian envoy in Damascus will also be withdrawn. 

The people of Egypt and its army will not leave Syrians until their rights are granted and a new elected leadership is chosen... 

Hezbollah must leave Syria; there is no place for Hezbollah in Syria. The Egyptian people have stood by the Lebanese people and Hezbollah against the [Israeli] attack in 2006, and today we stand against Hezbollah for Syria.

Morsi also urged the West to implement a no-fly zone over Syria, something that the Obama administration has already rejected. 

This is a dramatic about-face for Egypt, since Morsi had hoped to serve as a mediator to end the Syrian conflict, as he had done in last year's Gaza conflict between Israel and Hamas. However, the invasion of Syria by Hezbollah appears to have been the trigger that forced him to choose sides against the al-Assad regime. 

Hezbollah's invasion of Syria on the side of the al-Assad regime is a major turning point in the Mideast. As we've been reporting, the attitudes of Sunnis and Shias towards each other is becoming increasingly vitriolic throughout the region. It would take very little at this point to start a local fight that could spiral out of control and spread throughout the region. Al Ahram (Cairo)

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