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LOOKING AHEAD
10.06.2009

May 30, 2009 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexander Sotnichenko

IRAN FACES THE SAME CHALLENGE AS THE LATE USSR

The pro-Western opposition intends to play upon the oil price factor in the political game

(see also IRAN: WHAT WILL BE THE OUTCOME OF THE IDEOLOGICAL BATTLE?)

THE ATHMOSPHERE IS GETTING TENSE

The election campaign in Iran started on May 22, being marked with unprecedented political tensions. It is true that on June 12, the voters will determine the country's future. During the last decade, Western values and cultural codes have gained popularity among Iranian youth, while negative reminiscences of the Shah's regime have faded in the memory of the elder generation. Due to gradual opening of the borders, a huge number of Iranians managed to visit foreign countries, getting Western education, and re-establishing relations with émigrés. The broad subculture of Western origin, including punks, rappers, metalheads, and even Satanists, flourishes in Iran despite control of the Revolutionary Guards. The community of "golden youth", children of successful businessmen of the 1990s, has emerged as well. These young men, unaware of the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war their parents had experienced, launch discotheques and relax in luxurious villas outside Tehran, using alcohol and drugs.

The Iranian youth massively use drugs that easily penetrate through the porous border of Afghanistan. Over a million of Afghan refugees are involved with drug distribution across the country. Drug traders make up almost one third of Iranian convicts. This problem was not overcome even with harsh punishment, up to death penalty.

Ahmadinejad's popularity was undisputed until the global financial crisis. The economic problems of the United States played an unexpected trick with Iran's leadership, as soon as global oil prices dived. The ensuing decline of budget revenues served as a convenient pretext for a campaign of criticism from numerous opponents. It is noteworthy that a similar problem had greatly contributed in the collapse of the USSR.

Besides, Ahmadinejad failed to solve the problem of social stratification that had emerged yet under Ali Akbar Hasemi Rafsanjani, who is today a billionaire, and whose heirs frequently surface in the economic crime chronicle. Due to economic problems, Iran abstained from active support of Hamas during the Christmas-time crackdown upon Gaza from Israel. This fact was interpreted by Israel as a sign of weakness, and during recent months, Israeli politicians repeatedly tried to achieve support from Washington for a nuclear attack on Iran.

 

THE OUTCOME IS UNCLEAR

According to recent polls conducted in 10 largest cities of Iran, the most popular contender for presidency is Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who surpasses Ahmadinejad by 4%. It is noteworthy that two other liberal candidates are expected to address their voters in Mousavi's favor in the second round of the elections.

One of the major questions of the elections is the personal political choice of Mohsen Rezaee. In fact, June 12 may mark not the end but the beginning of the real political clash.

In case of Ahmadinejad's victory, the backers of Mir-Hossein Mousavi may undertake an attempt of a "color revolution", making use of the skills of the youth supporters in modern communications – on the pattern of Kiev-2005. Analysts believe that Ahmadinejad would hardly commit himself for massive executions of demonstrators. The skill of avoiding bloodshed and staying in power is a real challenge that the later Soviet leadership failed to meet.

 

WHO BENEFITS FROM AHMADINEJAD'S VICTORY?

In case of Ahmadinejad's victory, followed with a successful crackdown on the opposition, Iran is going to be doomed for international sanctions and political isolation for many years. This means that Russia will not have rivals at the Iranian market of military and civil technologies. Besides, while Iran is in a conflict with the United States, the post-Soviet republics of Central Asia will prefer the Russian route of oil and gas transit to the Iranian route.

Beyond these considerations, Russia, as well as other nations contending for a higher role in a multipolar world, is interested in Iran as an ideological and political alternative to the global system governed by international financial institutions. Under Ahmadinejad's rule, Iran has chosen a strategy of development based on genuine culture and tradition, introducing socialist measures of distribution of wealth, which is likely to be implemented in many countries of the post-crisis world.


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