Almost two weeks have passed since Hassan Rohani, the mild-mannered cleric often described as politically and socially moderate, was elected president of Iran by a landslide — surprising virtually every expert and foreign government as well as many Iranians. The postmortems have been fast and furious — mostly from the same experts who got the elections wrong in the first place, which makes one wonder whether the proverbial monkey with a typewriter can predict Iran better than those with iPads.
Iran watchers now appear to be falling over themselves trying to parse Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s intentions in “allowing” a free election that defied every expectation. For it is Khamenei who reigns supreme over the land. When he wants to, that is.
I have no idea if Khamenei planned a Rohani win all along, as some now suggest (Could he be more cunning than Machiavelli himself?); or if he was disappointed in the result; or if he didn’t care one way or another. The only thing that seems clear now is that he didn’t seek to rig the vote in favor of any one candidate. The danger in guessing what a man — who hardly anyone outside a close circle has even met — thinks, is that we misjudge Iran more often than not to our own detriment. Yet we keep guessing.
To be fair, some commentary on Rohani’s win was accurate: that the Iranian people spoke forcefully about a need for change (Who could have doubted that, after eight years of the comically incompetent, or even worse, vaingloriously delusional Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?); that the regime recognizes a need for change (no surprise to anyone who has watched regime stalwarts’ withering attacks on Ahmadinejad in the past two years); or that with the economy in tatters and international sanctions taking their toll on ordinary citizens, Iran was looking for a way out of its crises with the candidate most likely to right the ship of state.