Lessons Learned (and Ignored): Iran’s 2017 Election in Context
On May 23, 1997, Mohammad Khatami, who had spent most of the 1990s as head of the National Library, defeated Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri, the speaker of Parliament, to become president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The election was a turning point in post-revolutionary history—the underdog beat the preferred candidate of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, successor to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as Leader of the Islamic Revolution (rahbar), with roughly 20 million votes or 70 percent of the total. Twenty years later, the incumbent president Hassan Rouhani drew parallels between that historic event and his own reelection bid, casting himself as the underdog this time and his main challenger, Ebrahim Raisi, as the man backed by the establishment. Raisi is a former prosecutor and judge, and two months before the election he was appointed custodian of the wealthy Imam Reza shrine endowment. He entered the May 19 balloting amid speculation that he is Khamenei’s pick to be the next Leader. What should have been a simple reelection turned into a nailbiter that ended with a turnout of over 40 million Iranians, with Rouhani receiving 23.5 million votes to defeat Raisi and remain president for a second term.For an analysis of some of the issues at stake in the 2017 election, see Seyedamir Hosein Mahdavi and Naghmeh Sohrabi, “What Does the 2017 Presidential Election in Iran Tell Us About the State of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University, Middle East Brief 109 (May 2017).
Since 2015, when Iran concluded the agreement with outside powers regarding its nuclear program, Rouhani has spent enormous political capital in an effort to sell the deal to both the political elite and the population. He argued that Iran’s economy would improve as international sanctions fell away in accordance with the deal (known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA). More than a year after the deal’s implementation began, the president faced a disgruntled population that wondered where the promised benefits were to be found. Unemployment hovered around 13 percent, and daily life seemed as difficult as ever and, in some cases, more so. Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, “Could the Iranian Economy Sink Rouhani?” Project Syndicate, May 15, 2017 Meanwhile, the security forces and judiciary were arresting and intimidating dissidents and independent activists in numbers only marginally fewer than in the heyday of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had held the presidency from 2005 to 2013.
At first the main obstacles to Rouhani’s reelection seemed to be his own broken promises. But over the course of a fascinating month of sophisticated campaigning, the president and his allies managed to reshape the narrative of the election from unmet expectations to fear of a return to reactionary times, as embodied by Raisi. Rouhani’s message gained traction in the last week before the polls, as he contended that not only was his agenda better for Iran, but that if Raisi were to win, Iran would go back “to the past” with international instability and economic turmoil as the result. For some Iranians, this phrase meant a reprise of the crisis-ridden “Ahmadinejad years”; for others, it evoked the violence and insecurity that engulfs Iran’s neighbors; and for still others, it suggested the dark days of the 1980s, when Raisi was directly involved in summary executions. Center for Human Rights in Iran, “An Interview with Scholar and Historian Ervand Abrahmian on the Islamic Republic’s ‘Greatest Crime,’” May 4, 2017. By the final days of the campaign, Rouhani and his supporters had polarized the country sufficiently to garner endorsements from athletes and artists, as well as the backing of Mir Hossein Mousavi, Zahra Rahnavard and Mehdi Karroubi, leaders of the Green Movement that emerged in the aftermath of the 2009 election, and who are currently under house arrest. And 20 years after their own electoral battle, Khatami and Nateq Nouri found themselves on the same side, publicly supporting Rouhani.
It is clear to any observer of the Islamic Republic that the system (or nizam, as it is known in Iran), In Iranian political discourse, nizam refers to the entirety of the system or order of the Islamic Republic, while rahbari refers to the office of the valiy-i faqih or Leader, currently occupied by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. For further discussion of the concept of nizam vs. rahbari in Iran, see Naghmeh Sohrabi, “The Power Struggle in Iran: A Centrist Comeback?” Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University, Middle East Brief 53 (July 2011), pp. 2-3. the political elite and the population learn lessons from each election and apply them to the next one—from the how and why of “election engineering” (various forms of fixing or tampering with the vote) to the building of coalitions among former enemies to impassioned arguments among citizens about whether to vote. These lessons are distinct each time. But somehow Western analysis of Iranian elections falls into the same familiar pattern: In the weeks leading up to the balloting, analysts alternately pronounce the results predictable and fixate on whomever is the perceived favorite of the Leader. Or, since 2009, Western commentators assume that the election is rigged. Or, when it becomes clear that none of these readings will suffice, headlines such as “Iranian Presidential Election Will Render a Weaker Regime” (Forbes) and “Iran’s Illusionary Presidential Election” (US News & World Report) begin to appear. The names of the players change, but the frameworks of analysis and the underlying assumptions remain the same. Here are four of the most commonly recurring assumptions.
Elections: The Limits of the Leader’s Total Power
One basic assumption of outside analysis of Iran is that Khamenei is omnipotent. As such, in every election cycle, the Western press poses the questions: Why is the Leader allowing the election to happen, and if all is proceeding according to his whim, then why is the election important? Everyone—first and foremost, the people who live in Iran—understands that Khamenei has immense power. But the electoral game, however imperfect, both exposes the limitations upon the ability of the rahbar and his allies to dictate to Iranians what is best for them and also, strangely, reinforces those constraints.
There is no doubt that Khamenei and his inner circle have become increasingly involved in engineering presidential elections over the past 20 years. Their interference takes place on two levels—the Guardian Council, the unelected body composed of six clerics and six lawyers empowered to approve or disapprove candidates for public office, and the polling and counting stations where tampering occurs. In the 1980s and 1990s, when presidential elections were ho-hum affairs, few noted that the Guardian Council was disqualifying candidates before citizens had a chance to vote on them. With Khatami’s surprise victory in 1997, both the regime and the population became aware that the electorate had some independent clout in what until then many believed was a tightly sealed authoritarian system. Looking at the number of disqualified candidates over the past four decades, one sees a jump from, for example, 50 candidates who registered to run for president in 1985 to 1,014 in 2005 and more than 1,600 in 2017. All election data in this article have been taken from Iran Data Portal available at: http://irandataportal.syr.
But it is not only the quantity of disqualifications that stands out. It is also the specificity of them. With the 2017 rejection of Ahmadinejad’s candidacy by the Guardian Council, every president since 1989 has now been disqualified for a return to office or, in the case of Khatami, forbidden to appear at public gatherings and on national TV. One way to understand this pattern is that a presidential election is an occasion for the leadership to neutralize the more radical ends of the political spectrum in Iran. In other words, it is the point in the process where the leadership can work to create the optimal array of players for the stability of the system without paying the high price it paid in 2009.
The 2009 presidential election stands out as a pivotal moment in the history of the Islamic Republic.Kaveh Ehsani, Arang Keshavarzian and Norma Claire Moruzzi, “Tehran, June 2009,” Middle East Report Online, June 28, 2009. While, in 2005, there were rumors of vote tampering here and there, in 2009 the perception among a substantial part of the population was that Mir Hossein Mousavi had won, and that Khamenei and his advisers had rigged the election in Ahmadinejad’s favor. Thus was born the Green Movement, with the slogan “Where Is My Vote?” at its center. Both the reformist politicians and the population at large suffered greatly—there were rampant purges, detentions and forced confessions, as well as severe police abuse and several deaths. The house arrest of Mousavi, his wife Rahnavard and his fellow presidential candidate Karroubi dates from this time. But the cost to the nizam was also high. The millions of people on the streets, and the revelations of torture in Kahrizak prison, among other places, shook the system to the core. Even more importantly, the move to empower Ahmadinejad backfired: Rather than make him the obedient servant Khamenei and his allies hoped he would be, the 2009 election filled the president with hubris. Ahmadinejad remains the most defiant and divisive politician in Iran today. He registered as a candidate in 2017 even though Khamenei explicitly told him not to; on election day, his former deputy and current sidekick Hamid Baqayi (who had also been disqualified to run in this presidential election) wrote Ahmadinejad’s name on the ballot and held it up proudly for all to see. The video is available here.
What all of this background means is that while Khamenei does indeed possess full control over the political system and its security apparatus, possession is not the sole sufficient condition for the exercise of power. Other factors, particularly those that optimize a balance of forces and thus the stability of the regime as a whole, determine the type and degree of the Leader’s intervention in elections. Khamenei did not know his limits when he first took Khomeini’s place; rather, his knowledge is built from extensive and even costly trial and error since 1989. In 2017, this self-awareness manifested itself in relative silence, with the rahbar never explicitly endorsing anyone even as his surrogates worked hard on behalf of Raisi. It was also seen in the engineering that went into the approved candidates, all of whom the Leader clearly could live with, even if he preferred some to others. Having known nothing as rahbar but presidents who in one way or another have proven troublesome (during and after their terms in office), Khamenei, along with his closest confidants, seems to have determined that the best-case scenario is one in which the outcome of the election does not threaten the foundation of the nizam, either in the form of demonstrating masses a la 2009 or in the person of highly popular or populist figures, such as Khatami and Ahmadinejad, respectively. In other words, the lesson learned in the past 20 years is that the greatest threat to the system arises when politics becomes a zero-sum game.
Turnout: The Name of the Game
One major indicator of the importance of elections to the Iranian population is the centrality of the decision, on each occasion, whether to participate or to boycott. Analysts outside Iran, and US policymakers in particular, are fond of saying that nothing really changes after the Islamic Republic’s elections. In sum, the elections are: “Maximum Drama, Minimum Change.” Karim Sadjadpour, “Maximum Drama, Minimum Change: Iran’s Presidential Elections,” The Atlantic, May 18, 2017. Such assessments implicitly assume that a decision to vote is based on either popular ignorance of the limitations of the political system or blindness to the fact that, for example, Rouhani is not a liberal who intends to bring about “real change,” whatever that may mean. But for both the electorate and the political elite across the spectrum, the debate around voting is one that evolves from election to election, building on past experience and harnessing that knowledge to shape both the campaigns and the final results. People living in Iran are acutely aware of the conditions under which they vote and, for the most part, take seriously the choice they have between granting and withholding their participation.
The 1997 election was the first post-revolutionary presidential contest to reveal the power of high turnout: 80 percent of the electorate, or close to 30 million people, voted. In the preceding 17 years, the Islamic Republic had faithfully adhered to its constitution and held regular elections for president, Parliament and Assembly of Experts. Elections for city and village councils were only held after 1999. Between 1980 and 1981, three presidential elections were held, due to the 1981 impeachment of Abol Hasan Bani Sadr and the assassination of Mohammad Ali Rajai, who served less than a month. But once Ali Khamenei was elected in October of that same year with roughly 75 percent turnout, elections settled into an unexciting routine with turnout averaging around 53 percent. Neither Khamenei’s two terms nor his successor Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s were ever in doubt. At the time, the most prominent debates concerned whether abstaining (and thus not having a “voted” stamp in one’s birth certificate) would have consequences for admission to university, employment by the state or application for a passport. Clearly, nearly half of the electorate felt it would not.
But in the past 20 years, Iran’s presidential elections have become genuinely competitive and thus unpredictable. In 2005, Ahmadinejad, then mayor of Tehran, defeated the all-powerful Rafsanjani, who had been deemed one of the country’s most corrupt politicians before becoming a symbol of the reform movement. Kaveh Ehsani, “The Populist Threat to Democracy,” Middle East Report 241 (Winter 2006). In 2009, the largest street protests in the history of the Islamic Republic broke out in response to what was seen as widespread rigging to defeat Mousavi in favor of the incumbent Ahmadinejad. In 2013, amid rumors of more tampering and a stream of articles in the Western press announcing the demise of meaningful elections in Iran, Rafsanjani and Khatami joined forces to back Hassan Rouhani, who ran on the promise of ending nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. Kevan Harris, “An ‘Electoral Uprising’ in Iran,” Middle East Report Online, July 19, 2013. And in 2017, what should have been a run-of-the-mill reelection campaign turned into one of the most heated races to date.
Beyond the surprising finishes, what each of these elections has in common is how important turnout was to the outcome. In 2005 a significant number of people who had voted for Khatami in 1997 decided to sit out the election, so that in the first round the participation rate dropped to around 63 percent and, in the second round, even lower. The choice to abstain was a combination of factors, namely disappointment with the Khatami presidency and a corollary belief that, in the end, it did not matter who was president. Rafsanjani, as well, was still seen as venal and untrustworthy. Even Ahmadinejad’s rise on the national scene was aided by low turnout: He was chosen as the capital’s mayor by a city council that had been elected by 12 percent of Tehran’s eligible voters.
The takeaway from the 2005 election was twofold: The higher the turnout, the better the prospects for moderate to reformist-leaning candidates, be it in parliamentary or presidential elections. As a result, turnout in presidential elections since 2005 has not dipped below 73 percent, reaching an all-time high of 85 percent in 2009. And the higher the turnout, the harder it would be for the authorities to render rigging invisible. Thus while rumors of shenanigans in 2005 remained just that, tampering with results when 85 percent of the electorate voted in 2009 caused massive upheavals. The most effective argument in getting these high turnouts has often been the irrefutable fact that, for many Iranians, life did feel different under Khatami than under Ahmadinejad, and then under Rouhani. No number of opinion pieces written in the United States can change that.
All of this history illustrates that Iranian elections pivot on the decision of segments of the electorate, known as “the gray vote,” to cast a ballot or to stay home, as much as the decision of the electorate as a whole for whom to vote. While analysts spend most of their time considering the relative strengths of the candidates and imagining the thought processes of the Leader,Suzanne Maloney, “State of Iran’s Race: Rouhani v. Raisi,” Brookings Markaz Blog, May 18, 2017. eligible voters in Iran spend much of their time contemplating the choice of voting or not and then urging their family and friends (and even strangers) to follow one path or another. Some of the most intense campaigning on the streets of Tehran in 2017 focused on convincing passersby to exercise the franchise with handwritten signs that read: “If you’re hesitant about participating in the election, ask me, ‘Why?’” Photograph posted on “mamlekate” telegram channel on May 14, 2017. This oft-forgotten facet is critical for interpreting the fluid tactics of campaigns and political factions in election season.
Beyond a Dual Society
The third assumption of outside analysis is that election results reflect a dual society composed of “modern” and “traditional” Iranians. The story goes as follows: Moderate and reformist candidates represent city dwellers, youth, women and the tech-savvy professionals or the modern and modernizing middle classes. Conversely, traditional sectors, such as the clergy and merchants, as well as the poor, and inhabitants of provincial towns and rural regions, find their spokespersons within the conservative faction. Media accounts in 2017 have been no different from the past in pointing to demography and the social psychology of modernization as the primary forces behind Rouhani’s victory. Borzou Daraghi, “Iranian Women and Young Give Moderate President a Second Term,” Buzzfeed, May 20, 2017.
In 2017, as in past elections, Bernard Hourcade, “In the Heart of Iran: The Electorate of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” Middle East Report 241 (Winter 2006). this neat binary breaks down upon cursory examination. In both absolute and relative terms, Rouhani’s performance is an improvement upon his showing four years ago. At the provincial level, Raisi did outperform the incumbent in eastern Iran, where the Imam Reza foundation is based, as well as in the seminary town of Qom, but Rouhani’s vote share was fairly consistent across Iran’s diverse socioeconomic landscape. Rouhani even won Khuzestan, a province that he lost in 2013 and that has experienced considerable economic and ecological hardship. The president also won over 60 percent of the vote in Golestan, site of a horrific mining accident that occurred during the campaign and where miners confronted Rouhani’s motorcade when he came to visit. New York Times, May 8, 2017.
It is too soon to analyze voting patterns in adequate detail, but Rouhani won both highly urbanized provinces, such as Tehran, Yazd and Fars, and more rural provinces, such as Sistan-Baluchestan, Ilam, and Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari. Similarly, he was victorious in provinces with some of the highest as well as lowest levels of literacy, unemployment and Internet penetration. See Iran Portal for these figures. Conversely, at the provincial level Raisi prevailed in a variety of regions ranging from the more affluent Razavi Khorasan and Semnan to Northern Khorasan, which suffers from higher than average unemployment and has literacy and Internet connectivity at rates lower than the national average. A series of polls conducted in the run-up to election day show little significant variation in respondents’ inclinations toward Rouhani based on gender, rural/urban residence or even education, with 78 percent of college-educated people saying they would vote for Rouhani versus 69 percent of those lacking such schooling.Graphs showing these polling results appeared on the International Perspectives for Public Opinion (IPPO group) telegram channel on May 19, 2017. The group’s overall polling regarding the election and the trends leading up to it can be found here.
In fact, what is striking about the 2017 election cycle is that despite Raisi and Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf’s blatant use of a populist platform to mobilize voters, they do not seem to have made particular headway in broadening the social base of conservative candidates from previous elections. Raisi and Qalibaf, the current mayor of Tehran, offered dueling promises to double or triple cash payments that were designed by Ahmadinejad’s administration as a replacement for drawing down subsidies on basic goods. These and other unrealistic pledges for addressing unemployment and inequality were combined with an anti-corruption agenda that saw both candidates allege on national TV that Rouhani’s ministers, as well as his family members, are involved in various forms of graft and fraud.
Qalibaf adopted the formula of “the 4 percent against the 96 percent” to drive home the message that he is a champion of the masses. While this theme was an essential part of Ahmadinejad’s campaigns in 2005 and 2009, and taps a rich vein in Iranian political culture, it clearly rang hollow with the electorate in 2017. There is no shortage of economic grievances and inequalities, but Qalibaf is a mayor associated with a city council steeped in corruption scandals. Moreover, both as mayor and as a presidential candidate in previous elections, he presented himself as a technocrat who would create a modern and internationally oriented capital city. His newfound claim to the mantle of the moral consciousness of “the people” smacked of politicking, rather than actual empathy.
Meanwhile, as a long-standing member of the highly politicized judiciary and someone tied to elite clerical families and institutions, Raisi was ill placed to demonstrate that he had the know-how or desire to fashion redistributive policies and manage a more just economy. His attempt to reach out to younger voters was similarly flat-footed. His campaign organized concerts with DJs, and filmed a conversation between Raisi and a pop star, Tataloo, in order to present the rather underwhelming cleric as in tune with youth culture. But the image of Raisi chatting with the tattooed singer, who endorsed Mousavi in 2009 and has twice been imprisoned (and as a result “recanted” A few days before the nuclear deal was signed in July 2015, Tataloo released a video titled “Nuclear Energy” or “Energi Hasteei” that has him singing about Iran’s right to nuclear power from, among other places, the deck of a warship. See Narges Bajoghli, “How Iran Is Trying to Win Back the Youth,” Guardian, July 20, 2015.), drew attention for all the wrong reasons. In one segment circulated in social media, Tataloo explained to the custodian of the Imam Reza shrine that he views the eighth Imam in Shi‘i Islam as a saintly figure who should be for all Iranians and “not just those who are religious.” Caught off guard, Raisi was speechless at a moment that exposed one of Iran’s unspoken social fault lines, that between the religious and non-religious. Given that Raisi is son-in-law of the Friday prayer leader of Mashhad, whose opposition to musical performances was highly publicized in 2016, he looked like a hypocrite who was desperately chasing votes. Rouhani, meanwhile, used these sorts of events to accuse his opponent of instrumentalizing religion and “playing games with the eighth Imam.”
Uneven Coalition Building
If the Iranian population is often treated as two amorphous voting blocs, observers similarly present political factions as mutually exclusive, yet internally unified factions. This image of reformists versus conservatives not only oversimplifies the variegated political spectrum, but also under-appreciates the politics necessary to maintain coalitions.
In the excitement of the election outcome, some commentators have highlighted the importance of the reformist politicians (e.g., Khatami, Mousavi and Karroubi) and various youth and media groups that trace their roots and strategies to the Green Movement. Mohammad Ali Kadivar, “Iranian President Rouhani Won Reelection: Here’s How Reformists Got Him There,” Washington Post, May 23, 2017; Vali Nasr, “How Hassan Rouhani Won in Iran,” The Atlantic, May 22, 2017. There is much truth to the claim that Rouhani consciously adopted the messaging, causes and tactics of the Greens; and the continued purchase of Green themes is an important indication that reformists continue to be relevant actors in Iranian politics. But this view silences the equally critical story of how since the post-2009 electoral crisis, and in large part thanks to Rafsanjani, an alliance has been forged between what Iranians call moderates (or centrists), reformists and even some conservatives such as Ali Larijani, the current speaker of Parliament and MP from the holy city of Qom. The formation of this coalition is no mean feat because prior to and especially during the Khatami presidency, political insiders, journalists and academics associated with the moderate and reformist camps were vehemently opposed to and publicly critical of each other, not to mention of the conservatives. For example, Larijani, as head of state media in the 1990s and early 2000s, was involved in the avalanche of television broadcasts that were highly critical of Khatami and his reformist government. It was only with the electoral triumphs of Ahmadinejad that these parties and groupings have been able to compromise to arrive at single lists of candidates for national and local elections and enlist a wide array of establishment figures as stakeholders in the “Purple-Green” project. While this project has in some places sidelined independent voices and grassroots efforts, and at times undercut struggles for deliberation and pluralism, it has been a formula that has reduced competition among candidates to ensure high turnout.
Similarly, what are too often in Western media described interchangeably as conservatives or hardliners are in fact an unwieldy assortment of clerics and religious organizations closely associated with the office of the Leader and traditionalist seminaries in Qom, leaders of the Revolutionary Guards and other security agencies, and some segments of the mercantile bourgeoisie, who have benefited from social relations and commercial monopolies. These groups have adopted the moniker of “principlists” (i.e., they adhere to the fundamental “principle” of allegiance to rahbari), and aligned behind Ahmadinejad during the campaigns in 2005 and 2009. Yet more often than not they have been unable to either forge a clear, consistent platform or agree on a single candidate. In 2013, despite Khamenei’s call for unity, four distinct principlists ran and were unable to prevent Rouhani from reaching the 50 percent threshold he needed to win in the first round.
In 2017, the principlists fashioned a primary process known as the Popular Front of Islamic Revolutionary Forces (or JAMNA in Persian) to forge consensus around a single candidate to challenge the incumbent. Even this attempt to identify a unifying figure was ineffectual, since at first Raisi refused to declare himself as the candidate of JAMNA, and then Qalibaf, Ahmadinejad, Mostafa Mir-Salim and other principlists registered candidacies, even though the front had agreed that Raisi would be its man. Only Raisi, Qalibaf and Mir-Salim made it through the Guardian Council’s vetting process, and Qalibaf ultimately stepped aside and called on his supporters to vote for Raisi.  In a rather peculiar exchange on social media a few days before the election, Mir-Salim said he would not suspend his campaign even though his party, the Islamic Coalition Front, had announced his withdrawal. It is impossible to figure out the strategy pursued at various points by either the Leader or the conglomerate of principlists; yet the end result was not only electoral defeat, but also failure to garner more votes than the four principlist candidates in 2013. Farideh Farhi is spot on when she identifies the principlist alliance as “the biggest losers” of the 2017 election. Farideh Farhi, “Iran’s Conservatives Lose a Presidential Election and More,” LobeLog, May 22, 2017. This outcome may or may not bode well for those hoping that Raisi will be the next Leader. In the week since the election, principlists have lost no time trying to reinterpret the loss as a victory and pass out blame. Ultimately, they may give up altogether on pursuit of popular legitimacy through playing the electoral game and become content with having the protection of the Leader.
A Time to Reevaluate
Supporters of Rouhani are right to cheer their victory, for it was not a foregone conclusion. The principlists’ post-election bitterness is a signal that they truly believed they could defeat Rouhani or at least reduce the scale of his victory. After a night of street celebrations, people have returned to their daily lives, some in the hopes of seeing improvements in the weeks and months to come, some reassured that at least they prevented things from getting worse. Others will expect and push for Rouhani to address the demands of professionals, workers, minorities, and the campaigns for empowerment of women and better environmental regulations. A hopeful sign close to home is that two past MERIP contributors, Morad Saghafi and Ramin Karimian, were released after spending over two months in prison for their research and writing.
Electoral politics and governance are never exactly the same, and strategies for winning votes do not necessarily translate into fruitful maneuvers to write and pass legislation or engage in international diplomacy, let alone change the structures of the state. In this respect, as in many others, Iran is no different from anywhere else. Even though the centrist-reformist bloc has learned how to improve its chances of winning in national and local elections, and the electorate has rediscovered its ability to express its views under stringent conditions it did not choose, there will not necessarily be a rupture in the system as the regime comes to the end of its fourth decade in power. In fact, the coalition nature of Rouhani’s electoral base may be as large an impediment to progress as the obstructionism of the principlists. The continued challenge facing those concerned with the lives of Iranians, and those of us who choose to write about it, is to find ways to acknowledge the dynamism of the political processes within the Islamic Republic of Iran. And, in doing so, to reevaluate the frameworks we deploy to make sense of its surprises and puzzles, as well as outcomes that meet our hopes and desires.
|↑1||For an analysis of some of the issues at stake in the 2017 election, see Seyedamir Hosein Mahdavi and Naghmeh Sohrabi, “What Does the 2017 Presidential Election in Iran Tell Us About the State of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University, Middle East Brief 109 (May 2017).|
|↑2||Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, “Could the Iranian Economy Sink Rouhani?” Project Syndicate, May 15, 2017|
|↑3||Center for Human Rights in Iran, “An Interview with Scholar and Historian Ervand Abrahmian on the Islamic Republic’s ‘Greatest Crime,’” May 4, 2017.|
|↑4||In Iranian political discourse, nizam refers to the entirety of the system or order of the Islamic Republic, while rahbari refers to the office of the valiy-i faqih or Leader, currently occupied by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. For further discussion of the concept of nizam vs. rahbari in Iran, see Naghmeh Sohrabi, “The Power Struggle in Iran: A Centrist Comeback?” Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University, Middle East Brief 53 (July 2011), pp. 2-3.|
|↑5||All election data in this article have been taken from Iran Data Portal available at: http://irandataportal.syr.|
|↑6||Kaveh Ehsani, Arang Keshavarzian and Norma Claire Moruzzi, “Tehran, June 2009,” Middle East Report Online, June 28, 2009.|
|↑7||The video is available here.|
|↑8||Karim Sadjadpour, “Maximum Drama, Minimum Change: Iran’s Presidential Elections,” The Atlantic, May 18, 2017.|
|↑9||Elections for city and village councils were only held after 1999.|
|↑10||Kaveh Ehsani, “The Populist Threat to Democracy,” Middle East Report 241 (Winter 2006).|
|↑11||Kevan Harris, “An ‘Electoral Uprising’ in Iran,” Middle East Report Online, July 19, 2013.|
|↑12||Suzanne Maloney, “State of Iran’s Race: Rouhani v. Raisi,” Brookings Markaz Blog, May 18, 2017.|
|↑13||Photograph posted on “mamlekate” telegram channel on May 14, 2017.|
|↑14||Borzou Daraghi, “Iranian Women and Young Give Moderate President a Second Term,” Buzzfeed, May 20, 2017.|
|↑15||Bernard Hourcade, “In the Heart of Iran: The Electorate of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” Middle East Report 241 (Winter 2006).|
|↑16||New York Times, May 8, 2017.|
|↑17||See Iran Portal for these figures.|
|↑18||Graphs showing these polling results appeared on the International Perspectives for Public Opinion (IPPO group) telegram channel on May 19, 2017. The group’s overall polling regarding the election and the trends leading up to it can be found here.|
|↑19||A few days before the nuclear deal was signed in July 2015, Tataloo released a video titled “Nuclear Energy” or “Energi Hasteei” that has him singing about Iran’s right to nuclear power from, among other places, the deck of a warship. See Narges Bajoghli, “How Iran Is Trying to Win Back the Youth,” Guardian, July 20, 2015.|
|↑20||Mohammad Ali Kadivar, “Iranian President Rouhani Won Reelection: Here’s How Reformists Got Him There,” Washington Post, May 23, 2017; Vali Nasr, “How Hassan Rouhani Won in Iran,” The Atlantic, May 22, 2017.|
|↑21||In a rather peculiar exchange on social media a few days before the election, Mir-Salim said he would not suspend his campaign even though his party, the Islamic Coalition Front, had announced his withdrawal.|
|↑22||Farideh Farhi, “Iran’s Conservatives Lose a Presidential Election and More,” LobeLog, May 22, 2017.|