Presented by the clerical regime to Iranians and the world as a “prudent and moderate president”, Hassan Rouhani is tasked to whitewash the role of Ali Khamenei in taking Iran to the brink, comments Dr Behrooz Behbudi, founder of the Center for a Democratic Iran and, he argues, while international hopes may be high that Rouhani is the man to bring about peace, ultimately that decision lies with the supreme leader.

There has been much talk of the purported differences between the last two presidents of the Islamic Republic, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hassan Rouhani, since the latter was elected to office in June 2013.

Many people, including political pundits and analysts who prefer to ignore the real power structure of the regime, insist on closing their eyes to the documented backgrounds of Rouhani and Ahmadinejad, and basing their judgments of both men on the contents of their speeches. They quickly arrive at the conclusion there is an ocean of difference between the words and actions of the former president and the current holder of that office. This misconception has emerged because pundits and lay- men alike have compared only the contents of speeches delivered during the first few months of Ahmadinejad and Rouhani’s respective presidencies.

Those who seem to be infatuated with Rouhani and his election victory would rather not acknowledge some of the vocabulary and terms he employs in his oratory these days. In fact his words, spoken in Farsi, often resemble those of Ahmadinejad so closely as to cause a serious clash between the general, hypothetical perception of him and the reality.

However, the real question remains: is there any real difference between Rouhani and Ahmadinejad in so far as their approach to the aspirations of the Iranian people is concerned; and if so, will it have any impact on the nation’s future?
My answer to both these questions is an emphatic “no”. A glance at the background and deeds of Hassan Rouhani over the past 25 years clearly reveals that he has always been one of the closest followers of the regime’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. As such, he has never had any political preoccupation other than that of carrying out Khamenei’s orders.

This subordination to Khamenei was also the hall- mark of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for most of the eight years he served as the regime’s president. Some politicians and pundits in the Islamic republic would like to wish this fact away by blaming all the misdeeds of the regime on the actions of a single individual – that scapegoat being Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – in order to whitewash the direct responsibilities of Ali Khamenei in taking Iran to the brink during that time.

This approach, to divert attention from the role of Khamenei in visiting endless calamities on the Iranian people through his destructive domestic and foreign policies, gains ground when Rouhani is portrayed as being cut from a completely different cloth than that of Ahmadinejad and people are encouraged to regard him as such.

A deceitful PR action

The authors of this deceitful PR scenario want the Iranian people to believe the previous president was a hard- line fanatic whose insane policies, through his two terms in office, brought down all the miseries of sanctions, international isolation, poverty, corruption, repression and disintegration of the country’s social fabric, upon Iran. In contrast, the current president is presented as a God-given moderate and prudent character who will end all those miseries in an almost messianic fashion.

The propagators of this new conspiracy against the interests of the Iranian people intend on the one hand to provide a safety zone for the despot Khamenei and his corrupt cronies against any criticisms of their direct role in landing Iran and the Iranians in their current situation. On the other, they hope to deceive the international community into believing that at last it is dealing with a rational regime in Iran.

An opportunist group of reformists within the regime’s political structure has jumped on this bandwagon of washing the blood-stained hands of Khamenei, and now talk about the Ahmadinejad years as if, before his ascent to power – with the direct backing of Khamenei – Iran and its people were living in some sort of paradise.

By taking this opportunistic, hypocritical stance they intentionally throw dust into the eyes of the Iranian people, blinding them to the direct involvement and culpability of Hassan Rouhani in all the devastating, repressive policies introduced by the regime since its inception 35 years ago.

Those apologists portraying Rouhani as a “moderate and prudent” politician, who supposedly intends to mend Iran’s relations with the international community, need do nothing more than listen to his speech made during a recent visit to the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, to realise what manner of man Mr Rouhani actually is. The President declared: “Whatever western civilisation possesses today is what it has taken from the clerical establishments of Islam. Even when you look at the buildings of their universities you can see they have copied them from the architecture of our seminaries. Have a look at Oxford University, it is just a duplicate of our own Faiziyah religious school.”

The apologists and reformists of the regime preferred to keep their mouths shut rather than react to these distasteful and ill-informed comments from a man who holds the position of president in a country regarded by many as the cradle of civilisation. Yet if Ahmadinejad had uttered the same nonsense, they would have been at best ridiculing him or, at worst, calling for his head.

They have kept the same silence with regard to the continued climate of fear, intimidation and repression that still exists in Iran under Rouhani and this coupled with an unprecedented wave of executions of dissidents, adulterers and drug dealers.

And as for Rouhani’s “rapprochement with the inter- national community”, nowhere else is the baselessness of this claim by his government more starkly illustrated than in the continued military and financial support Khamenei and his stooges in the Revolutionary Guard are throwing behind the murderous regime of Bashar Assad in Syria, despite increasing international calls for his removal from power.

Two of the same kind

While Ahmadinejad’s devastating domestic and foreign policies were prosecuted with much rhetoric and political posturing at home and abroad, Rouhani’s similar policies are carried out with a sugar coating that he prefers to describe as “a government of prudence and hope”.

For many years Ahmadinejad claimed he had a list of names of hundreds of top Iranian officials who were involved in massive corruption cases, people he accused of stealing the wealth of the nation under the Rafsanjani and Khatami governments. Naturally, being a stooge of Khamenei, he never published that list – if it ever existed – simply because it would have revealed the vast dimen- sions of the corrupt commercial empire Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard commanders have created to sustain their grip on political power.

Now, Rouhani, fully aware of the existence of a corrupt and mafia-type empire, has attempted to calm the Iranian people’s anger by arresting Babak Zanjani, a disgraced billionaire middleman, who was involved in sanctions-busting business activities under Ahmadinejad. Meanwhile hundreds of similar crooks that operate under the protection of Khamenei’s household remain at large to continue with their parasitic lives.

In conclusion, the Islamic republic regime’s new strategy of deceiving the Iranian people and the international community with the aim of extending its detested and corrupt existence is focused on presenting Rouhani and his government as a “choice of the people” and one that the outside world “could do business with”.

It remains to be seen if this deceitful policy will ever be bought by either of the intended targets, but it is obvious that any compromise with this regime by the international community under the guise of “giving diplomacy a chance” will be directly against the interests of Iranians at home if the regime uses it to continue repressive policies at home and adventurism abroad.

The Iranian people, as the ultimate owners of their beloved and ancient land, hold the western world to its rightful demands and shall not forgive those who disregard them for shortsighted political or economic gains.