Iran protests could hurt clerics but Rouhani has most to lose, say insiders

President Hassan Rouhani
Updated 03 January 2018
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Iran protests could hurt clerics but Rouhani has most to lose, say insiders

DUBAI: Iranian authorities are concerned that nationwide unrest will undermine the clerical establishment and want to stamp out the protests quickly, senior regime officials say. But the person with the most to lose is President Hassan Rouhani.
While several senior officials said there was concern that prolonged unrest would damage the legitimacy and influence of the country’s religious leaders, few insiders see the unrest as an existential threat to that leadership, which has ruled since the 1979 revolution and is now controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority in Iran’s system of dual clerical and republican rule.
The biggest loser, they say, is likely to be Rouhani, who is much more closely tied to the country’s economic policies.
“Of course, Rouhani and his government will have less power afterward, especially because his economic policy was criticized during the unrest,” said political analyst Hamid Farahvashian.
“He will be a lame-duck president and Khamenei will have more power.”
Much of the protesters’ anger has focused on what Rouhani and his government have failed to deliver: An economic boom promised as the payoff for the 2015 deal that curbed Iran’s disputed nuclear program in return for world powers lifting sanctions.
Protesters are angry that Iran’s youth unemployment rate is edging toward 30 percent, want higher wages and an end to alleged graft. They have chanted slogans against all of Iran’s leaders, including the clerical elite, and attacked police vehicles, banks and mosques as the unrest widened.
“The continuation of the protests will lead to a legitimacy crisis,” said one senior official close to Rouhani, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
“People have economic demands... of course these demands should be taken seriously... of course the establishment should listen to the people, but all these can be discussed in a calm atmosphere,” the official said.
Some conservatives have pushed for a hard-line approach, even though bloodshed could fuel more protests in the largest wave of demonstrations since nationwide unrest in 2009.
“So far, security forces have not tried to prevent the demonstrations... but this will change if (Khamenei) calls for an end to the street protests and demonstrators defy his call,” said one former Iranian official from the reformist camp.
Even if the unrest is quelled, the demands of tens of thousands of restless working-class youths who have taken to the streets are unlikely to dissipate.
Khamenei spoke publicly for the first time about the crisis on Tuesday, accusing Iran’s enemies of stirring unrest but saying no more. A statement on his website said he would address the nation about the events “when the time is right.”
The protesters have little chance of toppling the clerical leaders, who appear to be retaining control of the military, police, and security forces and have no compunction about using them, according to one US official following the developments.
Rouhani, who was elected in 2013, is more exposed. He is seen as a pragmatist at odds with Iran’s hard-liners and has said in response to the protests that Iranians have a right to criticize the authorities.
But he has a fight on his hands because of growing resentment over high prices and allegations of corruption.
“His power is limited in Iran’s ruling system. Public discontent is increasing ... people are losing their faith in the establishment system,” a third Iranian official said. “The leaders are well aware of this fact and its dangerous consequences.”
US officials fear the likeliest outcome of the protests is discrediting what one called Rouhani’s “moderate brand of moderation” and a harsher crackdown by the clerical authorities.
“It’s an open question whether Rouhani ever intended to keep any of his promises, but he hasn’t delivered, especially on the economic front, and that means he has no popular support and is expendable to Khamenei,” said a second US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
“He’s likely to be one of the casualties, though maybe not immediately.”
Rouhani has blamed his predecessor and the US, Iran’s long-time adversary, for the economy’s shortcomings.
But his government has also backtracked on planned fuel price rises and promised more jobs.
Rouhani may need to spend more money to create more employment if he is to ease discontent and could risk antagonizing powerful interests if he tries to address allegations of corruption.
His vulnerability and the deep divisions in Iran’s hierarchy have fueled suspicions among some of his sympathizers that conservative rivals may have played a hand in the crisis.
“It was a coup against Rouhani and his achievements ... The aim was to harm Rouhani,” said Saeed Leylaz, a political analyst close to the pro-reform movement.
But a fourth official in Tehran said the nationwide protests had united Iran’s leadership.
“At this point, it is not important whether a political faction initiated the unrest to harm the rival group,” the official said. “The unrest was hijacked by our enemies ... that is why all factions have united to protect the Islamic Republic.”


Egypt court upholds corruption conviction of Mubarak, sons

Updated 22 September 2018
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Egypt court upholds corruption conviction of Mubarak, sons

  • Saturday’s ruling by the Court of Cessation dashed any hope that Gamal Mubarak could run for public office.
  • Mubarak’s two sons are currently on trial for insider trading.

CAIRO: Egypt's highest appeals court on Saturday rejected a motion by former president Hosni Mubarak and his two sons to overturn their conviction on corruption charges.
The ruling by the Court of Cessation, Egypt's final recourse for appeals in criminal cases, dashed any hope that Gamal, Mubarak's younger son and one-time heir apparent, could run for public office. A senior newspaper editor and confidant of Egypt's current president had recently suggested that banker-turned-politician Gamal may have been contemplating the move.
The Mubarak trio was sentenced to three years each for embezzling funds meant for maintenance of presidential palaces but which they spent on upgrading or building private residences. The sons were released in 2015 for time served, while their father was freed last year. They repaid the funds, a total of 125 million pounds (about $7 million).
Mubarak's sons are currently on trial for insider trading. They are free on bail after a judge on Thursday overturned a surprise Sept. 15 ruling to detain them. The case's next hearing is on Oct. 20.
The rejection of their appeal Saturday and Gamal Mubarak's subsequent ineligibility to run for office came in the wake of recent comments by the chief editor of state-run Al-Akhbar publications, Yasser Rizq, who suggested that frequent public appearances by the younger Mubarak could be a prelude to a future presidential run.
Rizq first warned Gamal Mubarak against harboring presidential ambitions in an article published in May. He repeated the warning in a television interview aired earlier this week.
"His real crime is insulting the dignity of the Egyptian people," Rizq said, alluding to Gamal's one-time intention to succeed his father. It violated the constitution and amounted to the toppling of republican rule, he explained. He said it was not improbable that he would strike a political deal with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to secure the group's return to politics in exchange for its support in a presidential bid in 2022, when President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi's second term ends.
Preventing Gamal from succeeding his father was among the main drivers of a 2011 uprising that ended Mubarak's 29-year rule, as well as the military's support for it. The years that followed saw Mubarak regime heavyweights tried on corruption or abuse of power charges. Most have since walked free, while second-string regime loyalists found their way back to public life under El-Sissi.