The Obama administration had hoped that the nuclear deal would help moderate the theocratic state, however it appears that the country’s hardliners are poised to solidify control.
With a crucial election approaching Feb. 26, supporters of Supreme Leader Khameini have stepped up persecution of opposition groups across the country. Iran’s newly opened markets have brought with them a stream of foreign businessmen, and with them more worldly ideals that are not necessarily in line with Khameini’s ultra-conservative brand of Islamic governance.
Last March, President Barack Obama said the Iran deal would “lead to a better path, the path of greater opportunities for the Iranian people. More trade and ties with the world. More foreign investment and jobs, including for young Iranians. More cultural exchanges and chances for Iranian students to travel abroad. More partnerships in areas like science and technology and innovation.”
Despite the regimes recent behavior “there is the opposite case to make,” says an Obama administration official to the Wall Street Journal, “that as sanctions relief comes into play it will dilute the hold on power of the old guard.”
Khameini made his feelings on the deal clear in August when he said “we won’t allow American political, economic or cultural influence in Iran.”
The crackdown on dissenters began shortly after the establishment of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuke deal. Victims of Khameini’s loyalists have included everyone from poets to businessmen.
One of the first victims was filmmaker Keywan Karimi, who was charged with “insulting sanctities” and sentenced to six years in prison and over 200 lashes in August. Shortly after, poets Fatemeh Ehktesari and Mehdi Mousavi both were sentenced to about 10 years in prison and 99 lashes for shaking hands with members of the opposite sex and also “insulting sanctities.”
The February election will determine the make-up of Iran’s next parliament as well as the Assembly of Experts, the group tasked with selecting the next Supreme Leader. In order to run for office in Iran, a candidate must be vetted by the clerics within the Guardian Council, which has already begun to bar the reformist allies of current Iranian President Rouhani.
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