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The new hardline face of Tehran

Meghdad Madadi/ATP Images/Getty Images

Ultra-hardline Islamist Ebrahim Raisi may have “comfortably won” the Iranian presidential elections this week, says the FT in an editorial. But his apparent landslide is a “pyrrhic” one. Iranian voters stayed home in record numbers, with just 48.8% voting, the lowest proportion ever. When the outgoing president, moderate Hassan Rouhani, was re-elected in 2017, he won 24 million votes. Raisi won just 18 million. And 3.7 million Iranians spoilt their ballots, more than voted for any of his “feeble” rivals after theocrats banned viable candidates. Iran’s “disgruntled majority”, in other words, opposes Raisi.

As well they might, says Bret Stephens in The New York Times. Raisi was among the Iranian leaders responsible for executing as many as 30,000 political prisoners in the 1980s. And it’s not as if he has repented. In 2018 he called the massacres carried out under his orders “one of the proud achievements of the system”. Anyone, including millions of young Iranians, who hoped the trend in Iran was towards more democracy and less tyrannical theocracy will be sorely disappointed. The regime is doubling down on “religion, repression and revolution”.

Sure, he’s a hardliner, says Ian Bremmer in GZERO Media. But what really matters is the nuclear deal agreed with Obama – and torn up under Trump – in which Tehran promises not to develop weapons-grade nuclear materials, and the US and its allies let Iran trade freely with the rest of the world. Raisi’s regime reviving the deal is “one of the safest geopolitical bets in the world today”. The president-elect is in favour of going back to the deal as it was pre-Trump, as is the supreme leader, “who really runs the country”. The reason is simple: Iran makes more money that way. And talks in Vienna aimed at bringing America and Iran back together on the deal are already “making progress”, says The Economist. Iranian negotiators acting for Rouhani are hoping to wrap things up before Raisi takes office in early August. That may also suit the new president, who can reap the economic rewards of a renewed deal while blaming his predecessor for any flaws.

The nuclear deal might be what matters to US analysts, says Karim Sadjadpour in The Atlantic, but it’s only part of the picture. After 9/11, scholars and policymakers debated whether “the road to peace in the Middle East” passed through Jerusalem or Baghdad. What’s clear today is that as long as Tehran is ruled by a theocracy that uses its hefty oil revenue to “fund and train armed militias that espouse its intolerant revolutionary ideology”, a more stable, tolerant, prosperous Middle East will remain a “distant dream”.