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The election of Hassan Rouhani constitutes an opportunity to change the nature of the relationship between Iran and the West, but it is one that must be approached realistically and with an eye on the domestic determinants and repercussions of engagement.
His victory represents a broad coalition of interests who share a dislike of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his policies. In effect, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has had to bow to the demands of a ‘baronial revolt’, aggravated by the political and economic crisis engulfing the country.
While there is general agreement that the economic crisis must be addressed, there is widespread disagreement as to how best to achieve this and even less consensus on the need for political change. Rouhani’s victory has therefore challenged the status quo but not overturned it: there is much that remains to be settled.
Western policy-makers should pay close attention to the opportunities and pitfalls witnessed under Ahmadinejad’s predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, and take care not to strengthen those who are opposed to engagement. This will require careful calibration and close attention to the political detail.
About the Author
Ali M Ansari is Professor of Iranian History and Director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at the University of St Andrews; Senior Associate Fellow, Royal United Services Institute; and Vice President of the British Institute for Persian Studies.