Faeze Hashemi, daughter of Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is a political activist known for her biting criticisms of the government. Elected to the Iranian parliament in 1996, getting the second-most number of votes in Tehran, her loud voice has landed her in jail in recent years. Recently, her controversial statement on Donald Trump (she said his re-election would have been better for Iranians since it would put more pressure on the government) and her saying that she won’t vote in Iran’s presidential elections in June has led to much debate. Speaking to Camelia Entekhabifard, Independent Persian’s editor-in-chief, Faeze spoke of why she didn’t take part in the elections and of the dead-end in which reformists of the Iranian regime find themselves in. She also spoke on the controversial topic of succession of Ayatollah Khamenei.
— Ms Hashemi, you said you wouldn’t vote in the elections. Many Iranians will follow you and do the same. Do you think the Islamic Republic cares about this non-participation? Mr Kadkhodayi (spokesperson for the Guardian Council) has said that low turnout won’t create a legitimacy problem for the election. What do you think about this problem?
I think low turnout means people who would not vote for conservatives would stay at home and this suits the latter. If these people do come to the booth, the conservatives won’t win. Just like the last time when Mr Rouhani won and before that, where Mr Khatami won. Mr Kadkhodayi is right that the elections’ legitimacy won’t be undermined because it is up to people to decide whether to vote or not. If they don’t vote, the elections won’t have a legal problem. Even if the winning candidate has little support. But I think it would undermine the legitimacy of the regime because those who don’t vote are protesting and want to express something with their not voting. If the turnout is low it means that those who didn’t come to vote have problems that remain unsolved and that they don’t care much for the electoral booth as a way of solving them and giving victory to the majority. If the government cares for people’s opinion, somethings should change. People not voting means they are looking for change and want to show something by not voting. If those who run the government care, they should know that many things in the system will be undermined.
You have had many criticisms of the reformist movement in Iran. You believe that the reformists have abandoned their reformist slogans as part of the power struggle. We also know that, for the conservatives, connections to the main core of power means that they’ve long had a guaranteed place in politics. Since the reformists now face criticisms and lack public support, do you see a political blockage in Iranian politics, election and governance? For many years, Iranians have had no representative in power and have been repressed whenever they protest. What will this political blockage mean for the Iranian people?
Let me correct some of your assumptions and offer my own opinion. Reformists are not part of the power struggle. I wish they were. They are looking for survival, in weakest of conditions. They keep giving concessions and going along without ever getting any concessions. They are not looking for power. They are looking to keep up the status quo and have been totally enmeshed in it.
As for your claim that Iranian people for years have not had a representative in power, I don’t believe in this. Anytime there have been elections, people’s representatives have gone to the parliament, city councils, presidency and the Assembly of Experts. But in the last four years, since my father passed away (and I believe his death was consequential) the reformists have lost their path. In the last four years, people’s representative have either lost their connections to the people or have seen these connections reduce significantly. They don’t look at people’s demands and have sadly picked another path: away from people, closer to power.
So you don’t think there is political blockage right now?
Not as such. But I do see the reformist movement in a dead-end. I feel like anybody who tries to get some reform done — in governance, for people’s rights, for economic development, for management and many other matters — it gradually hits a dead-end but I am not sure political blockage is the best term for it. But the very fact that people might not vote means that those people see that the reform movement is at a dead-end and, no matter how much people try, what is needed to happen doesn’t occur, not even to a very limited degree.
Even if many don’t vote in these elections, many regard it as a very important event. Because there are questions about succession to Ayatollah Khamenei and many think any faction that wins these elections will be able to keep power after the Supreme Leader’s death. I want to ask you this: Is it possible that the Supreme Leader positions becomes hereditary? I mean that Ayatollah Khamenei’s son succeeds his father? Because right now we see the Supreme Leader controlling the politics from above so that no elected official can enforce the opinion of people. Can this go on? If the Islamic Republic survives Ayatollah Khamenei, how will the position of the Supreme Leader survive?
I don’t see these elections as different from others. I don’t think it will affect Ayatollah Khamenei’s succession. The routes to becoming Supreme Leader and president are separate and I don’t see them as connected. We can’t really predict whether Supreme Leader becomes a hereditary position or not. I have heard from somewhere that that a three-person committee is to decide on the next Supreme Leader. But this doesn’t mean that whoever becomes president now, Mr Rayisi for example, is going to be the next leader. This might or might not happen but I don’t think there is a link between becoming the president and the Supreme Leader. In the debates here on this issue, this question has not been highlighted.
Could you please tell us a little about this three-person committee?
Few years ago we heard that this committee was formed but not officially declared. It might also be that such a body doesn’t actually exist and this was not a real news. This committee is to decide on succession but I am also not sure if the composition of the committee is as we heard it or not. We heard this a few years ago. Maybe one of its members is Mr Rayisi and maybe Mr Larijani also but I am not sure. We don’t have more information.
After Ayatollah Khamenei, will the next Supreme Leader hold most of the power? As it is today? As someone who lives in Iran and has done political work all her life, how do you see the future of the Islamic Republic which is headed by a Supreme Leader?
The Supreme Leader is a position stipulated in our constitution and until we change the constitution it will continue to be there. After the amendments passed in 1989 (10 years after the revolution), changing of the constitution has become really hard. Everything is up to the Supreme Leader and has to be approved by him. He needs to decide on everything before a new constitution could be put to a referendum. Evidence doesn’t support the idea that the Supreme Leader position is going to be abolished. As for the other question, yes, the regime could go on as it is. Because money is pouring from everywhere in this country and until there is money, the regime will go on what it's doing.
You spoke of a lot of money being in the country but we know that the distribution of this money is very unjust. One reason for this is extensive corruption and role of the IRGC which has a presence in economic affairs but also political, cultural and security spheres. Tell us a little about the IRGC. How dangerous is it for the future of Iran for an armed force to have a presence in all organs of power?
Before I get to this, I have to say mismanagement is one of our most important problems. Because there is no meritocracy, no circulation of experts. Positions are filled based on politics, ideology and morals. This is a violation of the constitution. Experts are put aside and not used. We haven’t trained managers and this is one of Iran’s major problems at the moment.
The problem of money not being spent in the right places is mostly due to that mismanagement problem. Right now we hardly have good managers. It’s rare for us to have good and expert managers. You are right in what you say about the IRGC. Right now, unfortunately, everything ends with the IRGC. You can see their marks in economy, social affairs, political affairs, the judiciary and politics. This is another violation of the constitution. IRGC’s interference is also one reason for the problem of mismanagement.
Speaking of IRGC, let’s get to the region and the question of Iran-Saudi ties. IRGC’s role in regional affairs is a central reason for continued tensions between the two countries. We know that this relationship has had its ups and downs. Your late father did a lot to improve this relationship. But we know that his approach had many critics in the government. But do you think reestablishing Iran-Saudi ties could help the Iranian economy, open the path for Iranian Hajis and help peace and security in the region? Will Ayatollah Khamenei accept a change in the behavior of the IRGC to bring down the tensions with Saudis? We have heard him speak against “passive diplomacy” which seems to mean encouraging interference in regional affairs. What do you think about ties with Saudi Arabia?
Supreme Leader’s remarks were about the published voice file of Mr Zarif who said the ‘battlefield’ is always given priority over diplomacy in Iran. Unfortunately, our foreign policy has for years been an aggressive one and not a constructive and universal engagement with other countries based on principles of international law. I can’t blame it all on the IRGC. The Rouhani administration was also responsible for ruining of relations between Iran and Saudis because it didn’t do enough about this. Especially when my father was still alive, they didn’t work enough on this issue. They lost an opportunity. Thankfully, a dialogue is now going on. I don’t know where it will lead but I believe if conservatives win the presidency (which they will) they’ll probably solve this problem too. One of our problems is that whenever something needs to get done, people think of who is going to get the credit for it: the administration, reformists or the conservative section of the government. Many of the obstacles that they create is due to this issue.
One of the conservatives, I believe it was Mr Taraghi, had said that if negotiations are going to happen with the US, conservatives should do them. Now, they may also go toward reestablishing ties with Saudis. Because this is an important issue. Saudi Arabia is an important country, both in the Middle East and its relations with other Islamic and Arab countries which can help our relations with them too. Saudi Arabia is not just a country but one that represents many Arabic and Islamic countries and our relationship with Riyadh affects our relations with all these other countries.
Since this issue is important, is it possible that Ayatollah Khamenei would revise Islamic Republic’s regional behavior and policies which is directly linked to the question of ties with Saudis?
The experience shows that, when under pressure, we have done something to correct our behavior. We can predict that as part of the JCPOA and talks to bring US back to the deal, Iran's ties with Saudi Arabia will also be restored. I believe that we change our policies when international pressure increases and it shows its effect on Iran. But in normal conditions, I don’t have much hope for this change to happen. You should first accept that something is unsuitable and then decide to change it. When you see most officials talking, they speak as if everything is currently peachy. You'd think we are at the height of power, growth, development, progress, ethics, culture and everything else and the world is collapsing. You’d think that developed countries have countless problems and we are at our height. If you believe in this, why would you change your politics?
To expand on the question of regional policy: let’s talk about Israel. After the ceasefire last night, we see all Islamic countries supporting Palestine and ceasefire in unison. But the Islamic Republic, which claims to be supporting the Palestinian people, has, for 42 years, backed extremist groups and has really made things worse for the Palestinian people. What do you think about Iran’s policy on Israel and Palestine?
Let me first state the basics. Israel is an occupier, aggressor and criminal. I should speak of occupation of Palestine. When we look in history, much of Iran has also been alienated from it in treaties such as Turkmenchai (1828) and Golestan (1813.) Or Russia which has currently occupied the Crimean peninsula. Now, if we are so sensitive on this issue, how come we can have such great relations with Russia and not care about this but care so much about another place? They might say it’s because of Muslims. I want to ask a question: Following the Arab Spring, how many Syrians were killed for Bashar Assad to remain in power while we were there as military advisors and Guardians of the Shrine? How many?
In the last 10 years, many more Syrians have been killed than all Palestinians killed in the last 100 years due to violations, occupation and Israeli crimes. If killing Muslims is bad, how come we have stayed in a place where so many Syrian Muslims were killed? We have our own contradictions. I don’t like our approach to supporting the Palestinian people because if we want to oppose tyranny and crimes, we need to have a good behavior ourselves. Our own behavior is faulty and worse than Israel when you look at the allegations against us in going along with killings of Syrians or events in Yemen.
If we want to defend the rights of Palestinian Sunnis, why don’t we do anything for the rights of Sunnis inside our own Iran? In our own country, they don’t have equal rights. I think we are making things worse in Palestine. Yasser Arafat was no small figure in Palestine. He moved toward peace but we put him aside, became more Catholic than the Pope and strengthened Islamic Jihad and Hamas who drove politics in another way. I don’t think this makes any sense. I can’t really accept that our policies toward Palestine and Israel are honest and really aimed at countering tyranny, crimes or occupation. In the annals of history, we see many countries being divided or merging and we are not sensitive about them. In the current conditions, if we truly care for the Palestinian people, we should move toward a two-state solution. When we look at world policies, all Muslim countries, the UN and other countries, all insist that the ceasefire should be used as a basis of moving towards both states of Palestine and Israel coming to be and living together side by side. They’ve been fighting for more than 70 years. What happened? What did they reach? We can’t try something over and over again. This will only happen if the West also pressures Israel and takes Israel’s return to 1967 borders seriously so that we can get to the two-state solution.
Based on this explanation, what do you think the leaders of the Islamic Republic really want from Palestine?
I don’t think the Islamic Republic really wants anything from Palestine. Because all we do there is spending. Palestinian question doesn’t give us anything. But some issues have seemingly become part of the Islamic Republic’s identity. Mahmoud Abbas, just like Yasser Arafat before him, is mostly interested in getting to peace and solving this issue for Palestine. But for us this is an issue of identity and for domestic consumption so that we can forever remain in “the current sensitive conditions” that justify securitized policies. Otherwise, there is no reason for these policies. Our approach has so far brought us zero benefits and only increased our costs. Just like lack of relations with the US has become part of our identity and we are losing a lot by this wrong policy and have made the fate of our people a victim of it. We’ve victimized our trade and economy. It’s the same with the question of Palestine.