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October 20, 2021 12:09 pm
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Iran Poll Contains Different Messages for Biden and Raisi

avatar by James M. Dorsey

Opinion

Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi kisses the Koran during his swearing-in ceremony at the parliament in Tehran, Iran, August 5, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/via REUTERS

“It’s the economy, stupid.”

That is the message of a just-published survey of Iranian public opinion.

However, the substance of the message differs for newly elected hard-line Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and the Biden administration.

Iranians surveyed last month by Iran Poll and the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies, were telling Raisi that they are looking to him to alleviate Iran’s economic and other problems, and have little hope that a revived nuclear agreement will make the difference.

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The Iranians polled seemed in majority to endorse some form of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s notion of a “resistance economy” as a way of blunting Iran’s economic woes, and also the impact of the US sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump after he walked away from the nuclear agreement in 2018.

Some 65 percent of respondents said they favored a self-sufficient economy; 54.2 percent expected the economy to at least improve somewhat in the next three years. A large number expressed confidence that Raisi would significantly lower inflation and unemployment, increase Iran’s trade with other countries, control the pandemic, and root out corruption.

Meanwhile, 63 percent suggested that Iran’s economic situation would be the same, if not better, if there were no return to the agreement and the Iranian government continued to pursue a civil nuclear program. The figure seemed at odds with the 80 percent who said Iran’s economic situation would improve if Iran and the United States returned to the agreement, and both parties fulfilled their obligations under the deal.

The divergence may be a function of the fact that the poll, unsurprisingly, indicated that Iranians (64.7 percent) had little trust in the United States living up to its commitments, even though they expected the Biden administration to return to the deal (57.9 percent). As a result, 73.1 percent of those surveyed said Iran should not make concessions given that world powers would not live up to commitments they make in return.

At the same time, 63 percent blamed the troubled state of the economy on domestic mismanagement rather than US sanctions. Only 34.4 percent believed that the sanctions were the main cause of their economic difficulty — even though 77.5 percent of those surveyed said that the sanctions had a negative or somewhat negative impact on the economy.

Of those polled, 66.7 percent expected Raisi to improve Iran’s international standing, 55.7 percent said he would be in a better position to negotiate with world powers, and 45.2 percent predicted that he would enhance Iran’s security.

Without referring to the poll, Vienna-based economist and strategic consultant Bijan Khajehpour argued this week, seemingly contrary to the poll, that “mismanagement and the Covid-19 pandemic have both contributed to Iran’s poor economic performance in recent years, but it remains that US sanctions … will be the key factor in determining Iran’s future prospects.”

Khajehpour went on to say that “high inflation, capital flight and the erosion of household purchasing power alongside mismanagement of resources and the deterioration of the country’s infrastructure have the potential to spark more protests and further undermine the already faltering legitimacy of the Islamic Republic in the eyes of the public.”

No doubt, the jury is out on how Iranians will respond if and when Raisi fails to live up to their expectations. Iranians have repeatedly taken to the streets at often substantial risk to liberty and life to make their discontent with government performance evident, as they did with the low turnout in this year’s election that brought Raisi to power.

The risk of renewed protests was reflected in the fact that responses to various questions regarding the electoral system, the limited number of presidential candidates (because many were barred from running), and the public health system showed that it was often a slim majority at best that expressed confidence in the ruling system.

Yet, at the same time, they were telling the United States that its efforts to generate pressure on Iranian leaders to moderate their nuclear and regional policies by imposing harsh sanctions, had — for now — backfired. Iranians were backing a tougher negotiating position by the Raisi government.

Ultimately, that could be a double-edged sword for Raisi. He has to prove that he can be tough on the United States, and simultaneously improve the lives of ordinary Iranians. Failure to do so could have, in Khajehpour’s words, “unpredictable consequences.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and scholar and a Senior Fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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