UPDATED: It is now official: Hassan Rouhani has officially won Iran’s presidential elections. But make no mistake — he is not the moderate the media and Western politicians are portraying him as. He is a Radical Shia cleric who is loyal to the Ayatollah Khamenei. But he has been chosen because he will try to provide a new face of the regime, one that will appear to be more pragmatic and willing to cooperate with the West, in contrast to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
I’ve asked some Iranian Christian leaders their views of Rouhani, and how we can best pray for the people of Iran.
Here’s what one leader — Dr. Hormoz Shariat, “the Billy Graham of Iran” — sent back to me:
1) Dr. Rouhani is absolutely in the pro-regime camp. He is loyal to the Ayatollah Khamenei and is committed to obeying his wishes and orders. Through the election of Rouhani, the Islamic government of Iran is trying to extend its life another four years, and maybe eight years.
2) What makes Rouhani different is that he is just one step closer to the reformists than other candidates. The week before the election, Rouhani mentioned that he will work to normalize Iran’s international relations. He explicitly said that he will do that without compromising Iran’s nuclear plans. He also mentioned that he will work on lifting sanctions without giving in to the control of the West. He was the only candidate that made such statements. So suddenly people had/have a small ray of hope.
3) We must remember that Khamenei is the supreme power and will make all the important decisions. This includes relationship with the west and nuclear program. So Rouhani promised something that he has absolutely no authority to do. His decision making will be limited to some internal affairs and economy and even that with limited authority.
4) Khamenei and the clergy have set up a power structure so that there are layers of protection for them. They use the government as their puppet (a front) to implement their national and international wishes. But if something goes wrong, they have the government to blame for it. When that happens, he (Khamenei) steps in as the good guy to give orders to fix the problem. For example, they totally blame Ahmadinejad for the economy, the sanctions, and the fall of the currency (as if they had no part in it and it was all Ahmadinejad’s fault).
5) Khamenei and the clergy in power also have the Revolutionary Guards as another layer of protection. All the violence, arrests, killings, and oppression is done by the Revolutionary Guards. Again, for the most part, they are implementing the wishes of Khamenei and the clergy. However, if something happens (e.g. the killings and rapes that happened in Kahrizak prison), then Khamenei steps in as an innocent hero and corrects the situation (he condemned what happened in Kahrizak and ordered it to be closed).
6) Most people in Iran are aware of the strategy in 4 and 5. So they are not fooled. They directly blame Khamenei and clergy for all that is happening in Iran. They are looking for a candidate to stand up to the clergy. Their highest hope was Rafsanjani (No. 2 man in power in Iran). But he was not allowed to run. If he had run, people would have voted for him despite the proven fact that he was a corrupt man. Their only reason to vote for him would have been to have a little hope that he will stand up to the clergy.
7) I expect that Rouhani’s will immediately try to bring some hope to the people of Iran. But practically, he will not be able to do much. However, there is a possible scenario that may exist behind the scenes: it is possible the Khamenei will use Rouhani to buy more time for his nuclear programs. This is how it works: Rouhani will start negotiating with the West. He will seem to be a “good guy” and will look like that he is making some progress. After months of negotiation, when both sides seem to be coming to an agreement, Khamenei will step in and veto the decision. There is also a slight chance that Khamenei indeed wants to establish relationship with the West and will use Rouhani to do that (but this is very unlikely).
This what I pray:
1) That Rouhani, in order to show that things are different now, to give a good impression, and to buy the support and confidence of people, will set free the Christians and other prisoners of conscience who are in jail.
2) That persecution of Christians will stop.
3) That the government in order to reconnect with people will give more freedom of gathering, less internet and phone control, less jamming, and fewer websites to block.
4) My main prayer as always is against the spirit of Islam which is the spirit of fear and terror. I pray that through all these, millions of Iranian Muslims who are captives in the hand of our enemy, Satan, through the religion of Islam, will be set free.