After Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s electoral victory Saturday, what’s next for the Islamic Republic?
Here’s some things to watch for:
Those backing Ebrahim Raisi will accept the results. However, hard-liners within Iran’s judiciary and security services will continue to pressure Rouhani in different ways. Even before the vote, hard-line elements routinely detained dual nationals, likely seeking concessions from the West. Artists, journalists, models and others have been targeted in crackdowns on expression. Hard-liners probably will challenge Rouhani in the country’s parliament, especially over social issues or any measure that appears to be accepting or promoting Western culture. The paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which answers to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will continue to launch ballistic missiles and have close encounters with US Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf.
The nuclear deal with world powers allowed Iran to start selling its crude oil everywhere and the country quickly re-entered Europe and other key markets. However, their re-entry comes as global crude prices remain stuck around $50 a barrel, about half the price when major sanctions began to bite. Airbus and Boeing Co. have signed multi-billion-dollar deals with Iran since the accord as well. Iran was also reconnected to the international banking system. Even so, many other international firms remain hesitant to re-enter the Iranian market for fear of changing political winds that may usher in new sanctions, jeopardizing their profits and any nascent ventures.
Relations with the US
Donald Trump long threatened to renegotiate the nuclear deal while on the campaign trail. His administration said it put Iran “on notice” in February after issuing a series of sanctions following ballistic missile tests. But since then, Trump’s administration has taken a key step toward preserving the accord. Rouhani’s win may ease some of the tensions between the two nations, as a hard-line victory could have further imperiled the deal. It’s unlikely relations will ever be as warm as they were between former President Barack Obama and Rouhani, as the two even once shared a telephone call amid the nuclear negotiations, the highest-level direct communication since the 1979 U.S. Embassy hostage crisis in Tehran.
Relations with Saudi Arabia
Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia on Saturday is not going unnoticed by Iran. The Sunni kingdom and Shi’a power Iran haven’t had diplomatic relations since early 2016. That’s when Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shi’a cleric and protesters in Iran attacked two of the kingdom’s diplomatic posts. Saudi Arabia immediately cut diplomatic ties and other Sunni Arab countries in the Gulf have taken a harder line on Iran since. Many of those countries worry about Iran’s regional intentions. Iran backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supports Shi’a militias battling the Islamic State group in Iraq and has aided Shi’a rebels, known as Houthis, holding Yemen’s capital. Iran and Saudi Arabia have held talks on allowing Iranians to attend the annual hajj pilgrimage in the Sunni kingdom, required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their lives. However, tensions remain.
The Supreme Leader
Khamenei, 77, is only the second supreme leader in Iran’s history. There have been concerns about his health over the last few years. He underwent prostate surgery in 2014. Iran’s president is one of three members on a temporary council that takes over the supreme leader’s duties should his post become vacant until a successor is named by the panel known as the Assembly of Experts. Rouhani and Raisi both sit in that assembly.