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

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

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home