Ebrahim Raisi and the problem of Iran’s hardline leadership

In 1936 an American writer published a book that eventually became a global best-seller. His name was Dale Breckenridge Carnegie and the book he published was titled “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Essentially a self-help book, the publication was translated into several languages and has sold more than 30 million copies globally.

It is fair to surmise that most of today’s global leaders have read or do possess a copy in their library shelves. But having said that, I can also fairly surmise that the current Iranian leadership have no idea of its existence nor a copy on any of their bookshelves.

My hunch is based on how the Iranians act and react on the world stage and in almost every instance their belligerence is no sign of winning friends or influencing people. The religious dogma followed by Iranian clerics, who make up the leadership, has proven over time to be archaic and to the detriment of the country.

In the last presidential elections that concluded a few days ago, wise-thinking Iranians stayed out of it in droves by not casting their votes for a preselected panel of candidates sanctioned by Ayatollah Khamenei.

It was an election with an estimated 34% turnout, not even a simple majority with some 3.7 million eligible voters voiding their ballot in a sure sign of dissatisfaction. This number of non-voters had exceeded every previous election by a large margin. In the end, in a poorly staged election, a hardliner judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi who described himself as a “defender of human rights” was elected by the few who bothered to vote.

As the customary and diplomatic congratulations and messages of felicitations started pouring in, some even from those that have been on the receiving end of Iran’s belligerence, Raisi took up to the stage with statements that were sure to raise some eyebrows in various capitals of the world.

In his first news conference over a largely domestic press, Raisi said that he had no intention of meeting the US President Joe Biden or negotiating over Iran’s nuclear programme. When asked by a foreign reporter about Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support of regional militias, Raisi quickly replied that the issues were ‘non-negotiable’ chiming in that ‘the US is obliged to lift all oppressive sanctions against Iran.’

Responding to his blemished past (some 5000 people were sentenced to death under his judgement), Raisi responded, “I am proud of being a defender of human rights and of people’s security and comfort as a prosecutor wherever I was. All actions I carried out during my office were always in the direction of defending human rights.”

Herein lies the problem with Iran’s leadership. They have chosen a hard-headed stubborn leader who is obviously not well-versed in diplomacy otherwise he would have chosen his words better. To shut doors abruptly is a sign of an amateur playing a hero to his masses when in reality it is a disservice to Iranian people who have been subject to sanction after sanction and have seen their lives wane for the worst after the fall of the Shah.

Saudis, who have suffered Iran’s disruptive regional policies, were diplomatic in their response. The kingdom’s foreign minister said that his country would judge the newly-elected President Ebrahim Raisi’s government their actions adding that as per historic reality it was the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who had the final say on foreign policy.

“From our perspective, foreign policy in Iran is in any case run by the Supreme Leader and therefore we base our interactions and our approach to Iran on the reality on the ground and that is what we will judge the new government on, regardless of who is in charge.”

Today, the economic sanctions are indeed hurting Iran and its people. How long will Iranians continue to be swayed by religious figures ill-versed in international diplomacy and who have assumed custody of the Iranian political arena. The population of 70 million should not be held hostage to the doctrines of mullahs and clerics attempting to steer the nation away from the 21st century.

As a major player in the region, Iran must understand that its security signals the security for the region.

Stubbornness and ignorance have no place in these volatile times. While there remain some differences between Iran and some countries in the Gulf today, regional realities should encourage more cooperation between the two countries for a safer and more secure Middle East. It would be in everybody’s interest.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena

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