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What's Really Going on in Iran

Walter Russell Mead

Iran elections results are back in, and the situation is… unclear. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Full results from Friday’s elections for the 290-member parliament and the Assembly of Experts, an 88-member clerical body that will choose a successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, underlined broad gains among moderates and their allied candidates. But the results also highlighted the durability of Iran’s conservative camp and pointed to a political situation that is likely to be more contested and volatile than at any time in recent years.

In the Assembly of Experts, 20 candidates promoted by reformists won seats, compared with 24 candidates for the conservatives, according to a list published by the semiofficial Iranian Students’ News Agency on Monday. An additional 33 members were supported by both factions.

Still, dozens of parliament seats remain to be decided in a runoff, and it wasn’t clear whether either side would emerge with a majority in the body. Moderates and their allies took at least 81 seats in the parliament, besting the conservative camp, according to the ISNA list. Conservatives took 74 seats.

A preponderance of western commentary seems to be hailing a win for “reformers” in Iran. But the situation is murky, in part because thousands of pro-reform candidates were banned from the ballot. As a result, “reform” slates had to include many conservative figures. Additionally, “independents” were also subject to vetting, and hardliners worked hard to ensure that only reliable candidates would have the chance to run.

Traditionally in the Islamic Republic, elections are about allowing the public to vent some steam while keeping control firmly in the hands of the Supreme Leader and his closest allies. Additionally, the elections are used to soften Iran’s image in the West, allowing Iranophiles to hope that the regime is finally beginning the oft-predicted but somehow never quite seen process of democratization and moderation.

At this point we can be reasonably confident that this is pretty much what has happened once again. The real struggle in Iran will be over control of the new resources and opportunities that will arise as the lifting of sanctions pumps new money into the economy. Nothing in the election returns gives any hope that the Revolutionary Guards and the theocratic-industrial complex behind the regime will loosen their grip on the commanding heights of the Iranian economy.

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