The Middle East Channel

Polls open for Iran’s presidential elections

Polls opened Friday morning for voting in Iran’s presidential elections to replace President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. About 50 million people are eligible to vote, and voting hours have already been extended, according to Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar because of a "rush of voters." Many people were expected to boycott, but with new dynamics in the ...

AFP/Getty Images/ATTA KENARE
AFP/Getty Images/ATTA KENARE

Polls opened Friday morning for voting in Iran's presidential elections to replace President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. About 50 million people are eligible to vote, and voting hours have already been extended, according to Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar because of a "rush of voters." Many people were expected to boycott, but with new dynamics in the race, many have been debating on whether or not to vote, which may have an impact on what had been expected to be a predictable outcome. Tides have shifted this week with the withdrawal of two candidates, leaving a field comprised of five conservatives and one moderate, Hassan Rowhani. The inability of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei's camp to unite behind a single candidate  has boosted Rowhani's chances of making it through the first round. Rowhani has discussed reforms such as reengaging with the West, freeing political prisoners, and reforming the media. In addition to selecting a new president, Iranians will also be voting on municipal councilors. Preliminary results are expected Saturday, and a runoff will be held on June 21.

Syria

U.S. President Barack Obama has approved sending arms to the Syrian opposition after determining the Assad regime has used chemical weapons "multiple times" in the past year. On Thursday, the White House reported that Syrian forces had used small quantities of chemical weapons, including sarin gas, in various attacks killing between 100 and 150 people. The United States has delivered non-lethal aid to the opposition fighters, but the provision of weapons is a major policy shift. Obama has been reluctant to get the United States directly involved in the war, but had set chemical weapons use as a "red line." According to Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor, "The president has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has." It is not yet clear what type of weapons will be sent, but will likely include small arms and ammunition, and not the anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles the rebels have demanded. The United States is also considering imposing a no-fly zone in Syria likely near the southern border with Jordan. The White House has maintained, however, that a "political settlement" is the best solution to the war. The United States has been working with Russia to plan a peace conference, which it aimed to hold in June. Obama is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week at a G8 summit. Russian officials have criticized the U.S. move to arm the rebels, and have said that the evidence of Syrian chemical weapons use that the United States provided to Russia "does not look convincing."

Polls opened Friday morning for voting in Iran’s presidential elections to replace President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. About 50 million people are eligible to vote, and voting hours have already been extended, according to Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar because of a "rush of voters." Many people were expected to boycott, but with new dynamics in the race, many have been debating on whether or not to vote, which may have an impact on what had been expected to be a predictable outcome. Tides have shifted this week with the withdrawal of two candidates, leaving a field comprised of five conservatives and one moderate, Hassan Rowhani. The inability of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s camp to unite behind a single candidate  has boosted Rowhani’s chances of making it through the first round. Rowhani has discussed reforms such as reengaging with the West, freeing political prisoners, and reforming the media. In addition to selecting a new president, Iranians will also be voting on municipal councilors. Preliminary results are expected Saturday, and a runoff will be held on June 21.

Syria

U.S. President Barack Obama has approved sending arms to the Syrian opposition after determining the Assad regime has used chemical weapons "multiple times" in the past year. On Thursday, the White House reported that Syrian forces had used small quantities of chemical weapons, including sarin gas, in various attacks killing between 100 and 150 people. The United States has delivered non-lethal aid to the opposition fighters, but the provision of weapons is a major policy shift. Obama has been reluctant to get the United States directly involved in the war, but had set chemical weapons use as a "red line." According to Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor, "The president has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has." It is not yet clear what type of weapons will be sent, but will likely include small arms and ammunition, and not the anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles the rebels have demanded. The United States is also considering imposing a no-fly zone in Syria likely near the southern border with Jordan. The White House has maintained, however, that a "political settlement" is the best solution to the war. The United States has been working with Russia to plan a peace conference, which it aimed to hold in June. Obama is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week at a G8 summit. Russian officials have criticized the U.S. move to arm the rebels, and have said that the evidence of Syrian chemical weapons use that the United States provided to Russia "does not look convincing."

Headlines

  • After an overnight meeting with a delegation of protesters, Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan said he will put the Gezi Park development plans on hold and yield to a court ruling in efforts to quell demonstrations.
  • Ethiopia’s Parliament has ratified a treaty to replace agreements securing the largest share of the Nile’s water for Egypt and Sudan amid heightened tensions over plans for an Ethiopian hydroelectric dam. 

Arguments and Analysis

Reading Marx in Tehran (Mansour Osanloo, The New York Times)

"Iran’s presidential election on June 14 will be neither free nor fair. The candidates on the ballot have been preselected in a politically motivated vetting process that has little purpose other than ensuring the election of a compliant president who will be loyal to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Regardless of the outcome of the vote, the most urgent challenge for both the next president and Ayatollah Khamenei will be to confront a rising tide of discontent resulting from a rapidly deteriorating economic situation.

The outside world is primarily focused on whether the election will signal a shift in the Iranian regime’s stand on the nuclear issue. But for the average Iranian the most important issue is the impact of this election on her pocketbook – especially for the hardworking masses, whose purchasing power has drastically decreased as they struggle to provide the most basic necessities for their families."

The Syria Strategy Vacuum (Marc Lynch, Foreign Policy)

"The endless arguments about Syria too often focus on the tactics — arming the rebels, diplomacy, no-fly zones. But as Micah Zenko recently noted in FP, these more limited options involve Washington more directly in the war without any realistic prospect of ending it. Cratering runways might work for a few hours, but then Bashar al-Assad will repair them. No-fly zones might limit the destruction of Assad’s air force, but the Syrian military has other resources at its disposal. Arming the rebels will slightly tilt the battlefield but will not likely break the strategic stalemate or give Washington significant influence within the Syrian opposition. The first step on the slippery slope is always easy, but it’s much harder to actually resolve a conflict or to find a way out of a quagmire.

These painfully familiar arguments about U.S. options miss the point, though. They conceal a prior question: What does it mean for U.S. policy to "work" in Syria? Should Syria be viewed as a front in a broad regional cold war against Iran and its allies or as a humanitarian catastrophe that must be resolved? That question crosses partisan lines and gets to fundamental questions about how to understand the rapidly changing Middle East.

The distinction matters directly and profoundly for the debate over specific policies. Steps that effectively bleed Iran and its allies might well prolong and intensify Syria’s bloodshed, while policies that alleviate human suffering and produce a more stable postwar Syria may well require dealing with Assad’s backers. Imagine that Secretary of State John Kerry brokered a diplomatic breakthrough that ended the fighting and secured a political transition but included an Iranian role — from the latter perspective this would be a stunning success, but from the former it would be an epic disaster. "

–By Jennifer T. Parker and Mary Casey

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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