Iranian moderates’ Faustian bargain with the hardliners

Iranian moderates’ Faustian bargain with the hardliners

The Islamic Republic’s so-called moderates, particularly the Moderation and Development Party, are under significant pressure  due to the nation’s economic crisis, high unemployment rate and inflation, as well as the collapsing value of Iran’s national currency, the rial. 

Hassan Rouhani twice ran for the presidency promising to improve the economy, people’s living standards, and to provide jobs and equal opportunities for the ordinary people; specifically the youth, who constitute the majority of the population. Many people twice voted for the Moderation and Development Party in the hope that Rouhani could fulfill his promises and address at least some of the government’s flaws, including the country’s political and economic issues. 

But the Iranian government has failed — conspicuously. At the end of the presidential term of Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s national currency was worth approximately 30,000 rials for one US dollar. But this year the currency has gone through a devaluation of roughly 300 percent, dropping to historic lows. 

The Iranian Parliament last week summoned Rouhani in order to ask him some questions about the nation’s failing economy. Later, the parliament voted to reject Rouhani’s explanations to four out of five questions. Intriguingly, some news outlets, policy analysts, and politicians have suggested that such criticism of the Iranian moderates comes as a surprise, and a rare occurrence. There are several misconceptions which need to be addressed regarding this. 

To begin with, any scholar who has studied Iran’s theocratic establishment since 1979 would be cognizant of the fact that, for almost four decades, it has been the modus operandi of the ruling mullahs to occasionally utilize some of their own loyalists or factions as a scapegoat. In addition, the regime often throws some of its own politicians under the bus in order to survive. 

Such situations historically occur when a part of the regime faces one or both of the following conditions: The political establishment can no longer sell to its population the argument that other countries, including the US or Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, are the reasons behind their economic or political problems; and when the regime’s survival or hold on power is in danger due to widespread outrage, nationwide protests and demonstrations. 

As a result, the regime needs a scapegoat to survive. That is where the moderates step in to save the system. The moderates have struck a Faustian bargain with the hardliners. In other words, the moderates have long accepted the status of being the hardliners’ scapegoat in exchange for some political power and economic benefits. 

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the hardliners desire ultimate rule and power, without being subjected to the principle of accountability. To achieve this objective, Khamenei and his gilded circles rely heavily on the moderates or the president, who do not have actual power but are willing to take the blame for the regime’s mistakes. 

In addition, from the perspective of the hardliners — particularly Supreme Leader Khamenei and the senior cadre of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — they have scored a political victory and vindicated themselves by successfully dodging responsibility and accountability by pointing the finger at the moderates. 

Iran's moderates have long accepted the status of being the hardliners’ scapegoat in exchange for some political power and economic benefits.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

It is also worth noting that, as domestic pressure against the regime has been rising significantly, the theocratic establishment is taking cosmetic steps such as summoning the president to the parliament, televising it, and sacking a few politicians in order to project a false picture to the Iranian people that the government is acting immediately and appropriately to address their grievances. 

Nevertheless, the reality is that the causes of Iran’s crisis are multifaceted and complicated. They include, but are not limited to, financial corruption at the top; misuse of taxpayers’ money, the nation’s wealth and public funds; the widespread banking crisis; and the hemorrhaging of billions of dollars on the IRGC, along with Shiite militia and terror groups across the region. 

In other words, the reasons the regime is facing such a huge crisis are embedded within its own theocratic system. That is why Iran’s economy and the value of its currency have plummeted almost non-stop for the last 39 years. This negative trend will most likely continue as long as the Iranian regime is in power and as long as it declines to change its behavior, promote equal opportunities for its citizens, advance economic justice and the rule of law, and prioritize its own people over sponsoring and funding foreign militias and terrorist groups.

Iran’s hardliners, under the leadership of Khamenei, are playing a classic and tactical game of dodging accountability and responsibility by pointing the finger at the other side. Criticizing the moderates, summoning the president to parliament or sacking and arresting a few politicians will not address the underlying problems of the regime. 

In sum, Iran’s so-called “moderate” political party has long struck a Faustian bargain with the hardliners in exchange for some political status and financial benefits. By occasionally accepting the blame and refraining from criticizing the supreme leader, the moderates help the theocratic system survive.

  •  Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
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