On May 21, Iran's Guardian Council released a list of "approved" candidates for the upcoming June 14 presidential election. As expected, the list of eight candidates included a number of hardliners loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, crushing any hope that Iran's next president would bring about new policies that would end the nuclear standoff with the West, economic sanctions and domestic political repression.
Nevertheless, many in the West are interested in the upcoming election. The last election in 2009 launched major protests that became known as the "Green Revolution," after reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi lost to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Many in Iran accused the Guardian Council, which is a constitutionally mandated 12-member council of Islamic jurists with wide ranging powers over the country, of rigging the election in favor of the hardliner, Ahmadinejad. But despite weeks of protests, the government brutally quashed the revolution.
With many of Iran's 2009 opposition movement in jail or under house arrest, the current line-up appears to signal that Iran will continue its move away from the West.
Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi, who considered running on a reformist platform for Iran's presidency but decided not to submit his candidacy, is now launching a new initiative called "A Campaign for a Better Iran." He spoke exclusively with JNS.org about his recent experience in Iran, the presidential election, and Iran's future.
JNS.org: What happened during your recent visit to Iran to register as a presidential candidate?
Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi: "I withdrew my name from candidacy; I did not want to give the Guardian Council the honor of disqualifying me. I felt the situation was really dangerous over there; it was very security-oriented, a lot of confusion and frightened people. There was a lot of pressure on me [by colleagues, friends and family] to withdraw and leave the country as soon as possible. Government officials also advised that I stay away from this campaign and work for the future instead.
"Conservative fundamentalists have taken over the country. They don't want any moderates or reformists to return to power."
Was there any support for your candidacy?
"To my pleasant surprise, I saw and learned that my campaign was very popular, especially with younger Iranians, there from the entire social and satellite media attention my campaign got. For many people, it was the only real campaign, and the Iranian people were really happy about it.
"There are serious concerns in Iran about the direction of the country, but theenvironment was too hostile for me. [It was] too chaotic for me to have a good campaign, or any campaign for that matter."
What will the election be like, and who do you think will win? Will there be another 'Green Revolution' like we saw in 2009?
"The election will not be a popular election; there will not be any enthusiasm for the candidates. I believe the country is set for further radicalism. The next candidate will be more right-wing than [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad.
"Of the eight selected, there are no candidates for change. I believe [top nuclear negotiator Saeed] Jalili is slated for the presidency. I believe he is the system's (Iran's religious establishment) favorite, unless something happens of course. Iran is always full of surprises, like we saw four years ago."
What type of leader will Jalili be?
"He is an ultraconservative; he doesn't have the kind of mentality or heart to make changes. Ultimately though, his views don't matter, he is very close to the Supreme Leader, and his views will reflect that of the Supreme Leaders. He is going to be tough on U.S.-Iran relations and especially nuclear negotiations. He also personally has no idea how the economy runs, which is something Iran needs."
What do you think of the disqualification of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani?
"What surprised me was not that he was disqualified--I was surprised that he had registered at all. In fact, I was shocked he registered. How can he, living in the country and being a founder of the system, knowing everybody and everything about the current regime, how can he not figure out the negative environment? It is shocking."
Does the result of the Iranian election make a difference for the United States and Israel?
"There is no difference between all of [the candidates] on Israel. They are all on the same page when it comes to Israel. Israel and the United States are the only two unifying factors among the religious fundamentalists. The moment this animosity disappears, they are going to destroy each other. The only common ground conservatives have is hatred towards Israel and the United States.
Where do you see Iran headed in the future?
"There will be less democracy, less social freedom, lots of pressure on women, the youth and minorities.
"I also think the negotiations between Iran and the U.S. will continue to be stalled. The Iranian government will be more belligerent and will make no concessions on its nuclear program.
"The economic policy will be further closed off and isolationist. There will be more of this so-called 'resistance' economy, which I hear about in Iran. It promotes self-sufficiency and isolationism. All of this is not good news for Iran.
"But the good news is that the Iranian people want change. There is no way the regime can continue down this path. They will eventually have to give in to the people's demands. There is no more capacity left in the society to tolerate this oppression."
What is your next move to help bring about change in Iran?
"Based on my decision for not submitting my candidacy, we are launching the 'Campaign for a Better Iran.' We will work with the next government as well as civil society to promote change and advocate for more productive policies. We will hopefully grow into a political party. But for right now, we want to help people on the ground get organized and change things."