By Mohammad Mazhari

Iran election showed most parties back Islamic Republic: Turkish academic

June 26, 2021 - 16:51

TEHRAN – Despite some calls to boycott the presidential election in Iran, reformists, centrists, and conservatives proved that they support the establishment, says Mustafa Caner, a Turkish academic.

“Even though some political actors called for a boycott, prominent figures of reformists, centrists, and conservatives announced to the world that they are all with the establishment,” Caner, the research assistant in the Middle East Institute at Sakarya University, tells the Tehran Times. 

“Although the participation rate declined due to various reasons, many people voted for the president-elect Mr. Raeisi and showed their support for the system,” Caner notes.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: What are the messages of Iran's election for the world and the region?

First of all, I’d like to congratulate Sayyed Ebrahim Raeisi on his electoral victory, and I hope the new era brings the best for Iran and the region. I think there are a couple of messages to take for the world and regional powers. 

First, Iran is one of the fewest countries in the region that holds elections. Although the participation rate declined due to various reasons, many people voted for the president-elect Mr. Raeisi and showed their support for the system. 

Even though some political actors called for a boycott, prominent figures of reformists, centrists, and conservatives announced to the world that they are all with the establishment. Therefore, the world powers should interpret this outcome carefully. 

Second, I think we are entering a new era. With the new president of Iran and the highest possible new nuclear deal, these two developments will shape the regional balances. Iran will move towards economic stability, and its regional activities will be more visible, especially after the pandemic. 

Q: How do you see Iran-Turkey relations during Raeisi's presidency? Do you think that change of administration change impacts bilateral ties?

A: Turkey-Iran relations are generally immune to presidency changes. I don’t expect a significant change in relations. President Erdogan was among the first world leaders who congratulate Mr. Raeisi right after the election results were announced. Erdogan mentioned Turkey's willingness to develop relations with Iran in many areas. There has been a 30-billion-dollar annual trade volume target for years. Unfortunately, these two neighbors could not reach the goal due to sanctions, bureaucratic reasons, etc. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a major blow to trade between countries too. Hopefully, we are about to eradicate the pandemic, and trade volume will increase in the near future. Other than trade, Turkey and Iran have been cooperating on several regional issues.

They are the main actors along with Russia in the Astana process, which aims to bring a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Also, there are many issues regarding South Caucasus, especially after Azerbaijan liberated Karabakh last year. Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Iran are pivotal actors in this regard, and trilateral cooperation is rather critical.

Q: Why do Western media prefer to portray Iranian leaders and political features as extremist or hardliner?

A: I think the ones who have been portrayed as extremists are mostly the ones who quest for an independent foreign policy. Of course, every case should be analyzed within its specific conditions. This is not the case for every leader, but mostly it is the case. Because some radical extremist figures like Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman can be portrayed as a “reformist” by Western media as long as he acts accordingly to their interests. This one example is enough for showing Western media’s bias.

Q: Do you think Iran and Persian Gulf Arab states would restore their ties in near future?

A: I think both sides have the political will to normalize relations, and they are very close to finalizing an agreement. It is imperative in terms of security, economy and development that neighbors have good relations. External forces' involvement has been the leading cause of problems between Iran and the other Persian Gulf states. Therefore, the more they resist external powers' temptations, the more they enjoy good relations with neighbors. External actors also fuel threat perceptions and armament race. Regional actors should build trust mechanisms and stop seeing each other as a source of threat. 

Of course, to some extent, it is normal for states to take precautions and do military spending to protect their borders. However, exaggerated threat perceptions do more harm than good. The normalization process is also critical because good diplomatic relations will provide the Muslim community with unproblematic Hajj travels. Normalization does not mean the competition between Iran and Persian Gulf Arab states will be over. The competition will continue on many issues ranging from oil selling to regional influence. However, the competition in the context of normal relations could prevent hot conflicts and significant crises.

Q: What is your assessment of U.S. policies in West Asia, especially when it comes to Iran?

Before 1979, Iran and the U.S. were very close. The U.S. could instrumentalize the Pahlavi monarchy in line with its interests in the Middle East (West Asia). However, Iran has adopted the “Neither East, Nor West” policy after the Islamic Revolution, and relations deteriorated immediately. 

Since 1979, U.S. policy towards Iran has not changed. It is best described as a “containment” policy. Sanctions are the main pillar of that policy, but there are other elements too. 

The reason behind this approach is that Washington sees the Islamic Republic of Iran as a “problem.” As long as the current system stays in Iran, the White House will not fundamentally change this view. Every U.S. government perceives Iran as a “problem.” The question has always been the same: “How should the U.S. deal with this problem?”

The difference lies in the answer. Some of them use sanctions broadly and intensely, while others appeal to diplomatic options, and some do not hesitate to use ground operations and support anti-Iran groups such as MEK. Remember the suspicious accidents, fires, and explosions in Iran during Trump’s presidency. U.S. Middle East (West Asian) policy, in general, is determined by Israel’s interests, oil money, and “fighting terrorism.” However, “fighting terrorism” is a much-contested concept, especially when the U.S. support for YPG/PYD terror groups is considered.

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