RLPB 408. Iran: People Want Change
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 408 | Wed 24 May 2017
IRAN: PEOPLE WANT CHANGE
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
Iranians went to the polls on 19 May to elect a president. In the end it was essentially a two-man race between the incumbent President Hassan Rouhani (68) and the quasi-socialist, ultra-conservative hard-liner, Ebrahim Raisi (56). It was a high turn-out election and Rouhani won comfortably, garnering 57 percent of the vote, while Raisi got 38.5 percent. What is most significant about this result is that Raisi lost despite being the preferred candidate of Ayatollah Khamenei, the clerical regime and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC). Increasingly convinced that election boycotts are counter-productive, Iran’s more educated and less devout urbanites — indeed all those yearning for greater freedoms and openness and an economy energised through improved relations with the West — came out en masse to vote for Rouhani.
WHAT THIS MEANS is that the era of boycotts is definitely over. If this were not obvious in the 2016 parliamentary elections — which saw numerous hard-liners lose their seats to genuine moderates and reformers — it is certainly clear now. The people are rising, gathering momentum, and making their will known. As is becoming clear, the will of the majority is for change.
WHAT THIS DOES NOT MEAN is that anything will change at this point in time. Presidential elections are engineered to ensure that the president will represent the Islamic revolutionary regime. Furthermore, ultimate power still resides in the hands of Iran’s unelected powers: Ayatollah Khamenei and the IRGC. Human rights will not improve. During Rouhani’s first term as president more than 3000 Iranians were put to death for ‘crimes’ such as ‘insulting Islam’, a marked increase on the previous regime of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Executions will surely continue, as will harassment and persecution of Christians. But at least the situation will not deteriorate. Or will it?
On 21 May, just two days after the Iranian election, US President Donald Trump delivered a key speech in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in which he labelled Iran the ‘world’s biggest sponsor of terrorism’, and called on ‘nations of conscience’ to ‘isolate’ Iran. Whilst Iran’s clerical regime is indeed a leading sponsor of international Islamic terror, the 9/11 terrorists were all Sunnis (specifically Wahhabis) and 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. Likewise, the terrorist groups singled out by President Trump — al-Qaeda and Islamic State — are Sunni groups whose members were radicalised in mostly Saudi-funded Sunni mosques and madrassas. Ignoring all this, on 20 May President Trump signed an extensive arms package worth almost $110 billion — potentially up to $350 billion over the next decade — with Saudi Arabia, the world’s other ‘biggest sponsor of terrorism’. The reality is various the Islamic jihadist organisations wreaking havoc across the world today are nothing but proxies, incapable of surviving without state sponsorship. While Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia are the leading sponsors of terrorism, Saudi Arabia is also the primary facilitator of global radicalisation. [A more detailed analysis of the evolving situation in the Middle East will be posted to Religious Liberty Monitoring in the coming weeks.]
By aligning America so completely with Saudi Arabia against Iran, Trump and US Secretary of State Tillerson will surely have set back any gains made by Iranian moderates at the ballot box. This will complicate the situation for reformists in general and Christians in particular, especially evangelicals. The Iranian regime will become very defensive. As all this was unfolding, the trial of two Christians, Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and Amin Afshar Naderi, was continuing in Tehran.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL
* be powerfully present and active inside Iran as he works all things together for good, for the benefit of the Church and the Iranian people, ‘according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth’. (Ephesians 1:9b-10 ESV)
* protect, preserve and sanctify the Persian Church, as it grows both in its diaspora and inside Iran. ‘And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.’ (Romans 8:28 ESV)
* move the heart of President Rouhani and others in the regime, that they will accept that the people are calling for change and will have the courage to pursue it.
‘Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, [king of Persia, 6th Century BC] . . . I name you, though you do not know me. … I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other.’ (From Isaiah 54:1-13 ESV)
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
IN IRAN, PEOPLE WANT CHANGE
There was a high turn-out to the Iranian elections on 19 May when the incumbent, President Hassan Rouhani, was comfortably re-elected. Most significantly, Rouhani won despite his opponent, hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, being the regime’s preferred candidate. Hard-liners only ever won when reform-minded Iranians boycotted elections. But those days are over; the people are making their will known. However, nothing can change while Iran’s unelected powers – the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his Revolutionary Guards — retain ultimate power. Human rights abuses, including persecution of Christians, will continue and may even be exacerbated by US President Trump’s overt support for, and enormous arms deal with, the Wahhabist, anti-Shi’ite, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. (Like Iran, Saudi Arabia is a leading sponsor of international terrorism.) May God intervene to the blessing of his Church.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).