Ali Ansari: Just when Iran's moderates make some progress, Blair wades in

The poor are discovering the real cost of the rhetoric

Share

Last week Tony Blair called for an alliance of moderate Arab states to confront the strategic threat posed by Iran. This seemed to be yet another nail in the coffin of the Baker-Hamilton report. No sooner was the report published than the Bush administration and its supporters hastened to bury it. Blair's speech, qualified as it may have been, was likewise a reiteration of the Manichean world-view which has characterised the neoconservative approach to international politics. As many have pointed out before and since, the world is rarely so simple as to suit the required sound bite. Despite the Persian roots of Manicheanism, Iran's politics have proved frustratingly effective at defying such easy labels. Thus Blair's call to arms came days after the government of President Ahmadinejad, fresh from another exercise in provocation, received a significant setback at the polls, as the Iranian electorate proved less than impressed with its president's obsession with the Holocaust.

Ahmadinejad has thrived on a heady mixture of provocative rhetoric and cultivated crisis. Yet for all his self-belief, he too has fallen victim to the arrogance of power, and the unforgiving judgement of an Iranian electorate that is increasingly uninterested in religious dogma and more in the material advantages of life. The President and his hardline allies were in many ways trapped by an electoral inconsistency which they sought to deny. They had risen to power by mobilising their core constituency. But this core remained a fraction of the total electorate. They could win therefore by either ensuring a low turnout, or fraud.

Their march to power utilised these strategies to good effect, but popular legitimacy consequently eluded them. Ahmadinejad's populism was intended to square this elusive circle. But if his vulgar nationalism fooled some, his reckless squandering of the country's oil reserves has simply served to fuel inflation. While the rich can draw on hard-currency bank accounts, the poor are discovering that the cost of rhetoric in real terms amounts to a 40 per cent hike in the price of basic foods. Still, if worst comes to worst, one can rely on the trusted method of cheating along with the repression of dissenting voices.

That Ahmadinejad nonetheless came off worse, despite his access to the financial and coercive tools of the state, is testament to both the determination of his opponents and the continued dynamism of a bruised civil society. Cheating is less easy when your opponents are alert and, more importantly, united. For the first time since 1997, reformists and moderate conservatives, symbolised by former presidents Khatami and Rafsanjani, provided a united front in the elections. But more striking than the defeat of the hardliners in the election to the Assembly of Experts is that the municipal elections - with an unusually high turnout of 60 per cent - resulted in a sweep for the moderate conservatives and reformists who had all but been written off 18 months ago.

Ahmadinejad's domestic base has been significantly undermined. Now perhaps is the time to emphasise the "international crisis". Blair's clarion call was nothing if not opportune. One can always depend on other beleaguered leaders in times of need. If sanctions are to be applied, it should be with a scalpel, not a blunderbuss. Western policymakers must understand that Ahmadinejad's real weakness comes from within, not without.

Ali M Ansari is director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at St Andrews University, and author of 'Confronting Iran'

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own