Iran's nuclear deal 2: A gift to Iran's moderates?

Iran's nuclear deal 2: A gift to Iran's moderates?
Analysis: This agreement might strengthen Iranian moderates and weaken the hardliners who have driven an aggressive Iranian foreign policy.
5 min read
18 April, 2015
Iran's nuclear negotiators were welcomed back as heroes [Fatemeh Bahrami]

This article is the second of a three-part series based on a lecture presented at the opening of a roundtable conference entitled "The Iranian Nuclear Agreement and Regional and International Implications" organised by the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies.

Reformists celebrate the Lausanne agreement

Iranian reformists and US liberals celebrated the agreement in Lausanne, despite its ambiguity. They wanted to prepare public opinion and push for a final agreement, after overcoming differences on the details that have not yet been agreed upon.

The top echelon of the Iranian establishment represented by the Supreme Leader is expressing reservation regarding the popular Iranian celebrations over the framework agreement (see Khamenei's statements from 9 April, 2015), because the leadership understands the reasons and motives behind this sentiment. For this reason, the leadership stresses the need to reach an agreement that would lift the sanctions, while preserving nuclear activity, or what the Supreme Leader likes to call the Iranian nuclear industry.

Those celebrating the deal in Iran are the same people who took to the streets in support of the Green Revolution.

The coming days should reveal to us what we do not know yet. However, we cannot ignore the confluence of interests between the reformists in Iran and the US administration, which has forced the traditional Iranian establishment to go on the defensive.

In effect, the reformists will not compete with the traditional discourse by offering concessions to the West or the Arabs, but by resorting to Iranian patriotism. They will stress the need to lift all sanctions, and emphasise the overlap between Iranian patriotism and Persian nationalism that has a sectarian nature, against Iran's pan-Islamic discourse that has recently become a sectarian discourse. It is in this context that we should see the remarks made by President Rohani's adviser regarding the return of the Persian Empire whose alleged capital is Baghdad.

What should draw our attention even before the details of the Lausanne agreement is that those celebrating the deal in Iran are the same people who took to the streets in support of the Green Revolution, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, and the reformist movement, against the coalition comprising the Supreme Leader and then-President Ahmadinejad (who was not just a hardliner, but a revolutionary of a special kind, allied to the hardliners).

Clearly, those reformists pushing in the direction of focusing on Iran's internal issues, and for broad political, social, and economic reforms beginning with personal freedoms and tackling the corruption of the clergy, are the ones who are most invested in a breakthrough with the West and the United States. These people come from social segments that aspire to lead a Westernised way of life, more than they aspire to the way of life that the religious establishment is working to impose in Iran.

However, the reformists are not less committed to Iran's geostrategic interests.

On the contrary, they see Iran's geostrategic interests as a regional power in the event an understanding is reached with the West over the distribution of their roles, though they are averse to Iranian intervention in Arab affairs, because of its requirements related to the discourse championing resistance and Palestine, and because it leads to having shared interests with the Arabs against Israel and the West.

For this reason, the reformists eager for the Lausanne agreement, and who gave the members of the negotiating team a hero's welcome, encourage the Iranian leadership to open up to the West. This, they believe, paves the way for Iran's political and economic development in the manner they desire.

Opening up to the West is not a conspiracy against the Arabs, just like Iran's support for Palestinian or Lebanese resistance was not a conspiracy alongside Israel. Rather, this process is the result of socio-political dynamics in Iran, expressed by the Green Revolution and then by the intricate bypass lanes that were opened for the reformists in the complex structure of the Iranian regime, culminating with the election of Hassan Rohani, in addition to the impact of the international and US sanctions that crippled the Iranian economy and became a major grievance of broad segments of the population.

How will the agreement change Iranian foreign policy?

Opening up to the West is not a conspiracy against the Arabs, like Iran's support for Palestinian and Lebanese resistance wasn't a conspiracy with Israel.

For this reason, the impact of an agreement, if it were to be signed on June 30, will not be felt only on Iran's foreign policy. Nor will it resemble a conspiracy hatched between two static actors that are not influenced by the deal, because it is a process of interaction that could produce similar results to the ones produced by the Soviet detente with the West that was accompanied by an arms race with the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Those events gradually weakened Communist orthodoxy, represented by the ruling Communist parties, and its discourse, as a result of the contradiction between it and the actual way of life and relations with the West. From this standpoint, the nuclear agreement and a detente with the West could represent a positive historical juncture, particularly in the eyes of the reformist forces.

In this context, I cannot avoid comparing the current Iranian regional expansion to the Soviet expansion in Afghanistan in the late 1970s. That expansion appeared as though it was a Soviet advance, when the real economic, social, and intellectual weakness eventually turned it into an adventure that drained the Soviet regime.

Iran appeared to be at the height of its power after the ouster of the Taliban regime in collaboration with the US occupation of Afghanistan, and then the ouster of the Saddam Hussein regime, also in collaboration with the US occupation.

Iran expanded noticeably in the Arab Orient, a move whose legitimacy was based on a general Islamic discourse revolving around the Palestinian issue and hostility to the US, as well as a more targeted sectarian discourse seeking to win over the loyalty of Shia Arabs. Gradually, contradiction between the two discourses began to appear, until the second nearly effaced the first.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

The first part of this series can be read here.