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Iran: Turmoil at Home, Assertiveness Abroad

Iran: Turmoil at Home, Assertiveness Abroad

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Published by: Baquia on Apr 04, 2012
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 WINTER 2011
Haleh Esfandiari,
Director, Middle East Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars 
In September 2011, the Middle EastProgram of the Woodrow Wilson Centerbrought together six leading Iran experts toconsider the current state of Iran’s domesticpolitics and the major foreign policy issuesit is facing. This was the first in a series of meetings the Middle East Program will hostas Iran heads for parliamentary elections inMarch 2012 and presidential elections thefollowing year.Shaul Bakhash opened the meeting withan overview of the domestic situation. Heargued that since the contested 2009 presi-dential elections and the suppression of theGreen Movement the regime has grownmore repressive and the composition of theruling elite has narrowed. The Revolutionary Guards and the security agencies haveemerged as major players in the economicand political decision-making process. At thesame time, he noted, serious divisions haveemerged within this ruling elite: between thesupporters of President Ahmadinejad and theconservative establishment, between the pres-ident and parliament, between Ahmadinejadand the Supreme Leader, and between com-peting camps among the conservatives.Bijan Khajehpour provided an overview of the economy. He analyzed the impact of international sanctions on the economy, thecosts and fallout of the removal of subsidieson fuel, electricity and other utilities, thesignificance of the recently uncovered $2.6billion banking scandal, oil revenues, andgeneral economic prospects. He predictedthat inflation will reach 25 percent by theend of March 2012, lower purchasing power
The Security State and itsFractured Elites
The Impacts of Internal andExternal Tensions on theIranian Economy
Education in Iran: NationalPride, Regime Prejudice
Iran and the Persian GulfStates: From Conflictto Détente toConflict Again?
Perspective from theArab World
That Other Track,That Other Partner: The EUand Iran
Stubborn Nuclear Program,Stubborn Foreign Policy:Iran’s Face-Off with theUnited States
Iran: Turmoil at Home, Assertiveness Abroad?
 WINTER 2011
The Middle East Program was launched in February 1998 in light ofincreased U.S. engagement in the region and the profound changessweeping across many Middle Eastern states. In addition to spotlightingday-to-day issues, the Program concentrates on long-term economic, social,and political developments, as well as relations with the United States.The Middle East Program draws on domestic and foreign regional expertsfor its meetings, conferences, and occasional papers. Conferences andmeetings assess the policy implications of all aspects of developmentswithin the region and individual states; the Middle East’s role in the interna-tional arena; American interests in the region; the threat of terrorism; armsproliferation; and strategic threats to and from the regional states.The Program pays special attention to the role of women, youth, civilsociety institutions, Islam, and democratic and autocratic tendencies. Inaddition, the Middle East Program hosts meetings on cultural issues, includ-ing contemporary art and literature in the region.
Current Affairs:
The Middle East Program emphasizes analysis of cur-rent issues and their implications for long-term developments in the region,including: the events surrounding the uprisings of 2011 in the MiddleEast and its effect on economic, political and social life in countries in theregion, the increased use of social media, the role of youth, Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy, Iran’s political and nuclear ambitions, the drawdownof American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and their effect on the region,human rights violations, globalization, economic and political partnerships,and U.S. foreign policy in the region.
Gender Issues:
The Middle East Program devotes considerable atten-tion to the role of women in advancing civil society and to the attitudesof governments and the clerical community toward women’s rights in thefamily and society at large. The Program examines employment patterns,education, legal rights, and political participation of women in the region.The Program also has a keen interest in exploring women’s increasing rolesin conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction activities.
Islam, Democracy and Civil Society:
The Middle East Program moni-tors the growing demand of people in the region for the transition to democ-ratization, political participation, accountable government, the rule of law,and adherence by their governments to international conventions, humanrights, and women’s rights. It continues to examine the role of Islamicmovements and the role of Islamic parties in shaping political and socialdevelopments and the variety of factors that favor or obstruct the expansionof civil society.
Dr. Haleh Esfandiari
Kendra HeidemanMona Youssef
Special thanks
Special thanks toKendra Heideman andMona Youssef forcoordinating and editing thispublication; Mona Moussavifor her transcription assistance;Tara Dewan-Czarnecki forher editing assistance; theDesign staff for designing theOccasional Paper Series; andDavid Hawxhurst fortaking the photographs.
The following papers are based on the authors’ presentations at the Woodrow WilsonInternational Center for Scholars on September 30, 2011. The opinions expressedherein are those of the authors and do not reflect those of the Woodrow Wilson Center.
for the people, a slow-down in the housing market,and continued budget deficits.Iran is currently undergoing a second culturalrevolution, according to Roberto Toscano. Henoted that four ideological pillars of the IslamicRepublic have greatly shaped education: the insepa-rability of religion and politics, Islamic revival, cul-tural revolution, and the creation of the new Islamicperson. The regime never resolved the contradictionbetween the desire of high-quality technologicaland scientific education and the individual as pas-sive consumer of official (authoritarian or totali-tarian) culture. The reformists under PresidentKhatami attempted to close the gap between thesetwo approaches to education but had only limitedsuccess. Under President Ahmadinejad, educationpolicy is attempting a return to the original projectof “advanced science and medieval religion,” butthis is an educational counter-reformation destinedto fail, according to Toscano. Afshin Molavi discussed Iran’s relations with thecountries of the Gulf Cooperation Council and par-ticularly with Saudi Arabia. Reviewing the ebb andflow of Iran-Saudi relations since the establishmentof the Islamic Republic, Molavi recalled the tenserelationship between the two countries in the early years of the revolution, the improvement witnessedunder presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami, andthe deterioration of relations under Ahmadinejad.Molavi examined the rivalry between the two coun-tries for regional influence and the impact of the Arab Spring on this rivalry. Iran, he said, has lost itsstanding with Arabs since the upheavals that haveswept the Arab world in the past year—a point on which the Lebanese analyst and journalist, RamiKhouri, who was in the audience, also commented.Khouri emphasized the significance of the ArabSpring. For the first time, Arabs see themselves asplayers and shapers of their own affairs. They aretaking matters into their own hands. He, too, notedthat, in contrast to the last few years, when Iran wasriding high in the Arab world, Iran’s pull today isdwindling, and the Iranians don’t have a role to play in the future of the Arab world.Rouzbeh Parsi dealt with another important play-er in Iran’s foreign policy—the European Union.Parsi noted that the EU’s relationship with Iranhas always depended on the Iran-U.S. relationship. At the same time, reaching a consensus on foreignpolicy between 27 members of the union, whetheron Iran or other issues, is not an easy task. Whilethere is a history of engagement by the EU countries with Iran, according to Parsi, in the current politi-cal and financial crisis faced by a number of EUcountries, there is not much interest in mendingrelations with Iran. The EU has, in general, joinedthe U.S. in pursuing a policy of increasing sanctionson Iran due to its nuclear program, but relations canimprove only through diplomatic means.Michael Adler discussed the role of theInternational Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ininspections of and reports on Iran’s nuclear pro-gram. (He was speaking before the Novemberrelease of the IAEA’s most recent report on Iran’snuclear activities). He noted that Iran’s claim itis cooperating with the IAEA notwithstanding—and despite the two rounds of talks between Iranand the P5+1 in Vienna in 2009 and in Genevain 2010—the level of Iran’s cooperation withthe IAEA has shrunk, and it is limiting access toits nuclear facilities to IAEA inspectors. At theirNovember meeting, the IAEA Board of Governorsmay take a hard line and say Iran is seeking nuclear weapons; it may absolve the Islamic Republic fromsuch an intention; or it may continue to cultivate anambiguous position.

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