Muhammad Sahimi is the NIOC Chair in petroleum engineering and professor of chemical engineering & materials science at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. In addition to his scientific research, which has resulted in over 270 published papers and five books, Muhammad has written extensively on Iran's political development and its nuclear program. In particular, Muhammad has concentrated on the legal and technical aspects of the dispute between Iran and the Western powers regarding Iran's nuclear energy program. He is a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an organization dedicated to making the public aware of the dangers of weapons of mass destruction, as well as polluting the environment.
transcriptSharmini Peries: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Iranians have been going to the polls today in one of the most hotly contested presidential elections in Iran for years the run-off has been a tight race between the incumbent, considered moderate in Iranian terms, cleric Hassan Rouhani and the hardline cleric, judge and former prosecutor Ebrahim Raisi. Joining us today to discuss the Iranian elections and the policies of the two candidates is Muhammad Sahimi. Muhammad is a professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and analyst of Iran's political developments and their relations within the rest of the Middle East. He's also a co-founder and editor of the new website Iran News & Middle East Reports. He has been writing regularly about the Iranian elections in Farsi, and his most recent article in English is titled "Irans Deep State Could Unseat Rouhani With a Khamenei-Backed Hard-Liner in the Upcoming Elections." Professor, thank you so much for joining us today. Muhammad S.: Thank you for having me back on your program. Sharmini Peries: Professor, give us a sense of what the polls are saying and what's going on in Iran as far as this election is concerned. I understand the deadline has been extended. Muhammad S.: Yes, the daily tracking poll that was being published every day for about two weeks and was published last night indicated that Hassan Rouhani, the current President, is ahead of his rival Ebrahim Raisi by a margin of two to one. Close to 80% of the people had said that they would vote. Normally, if a turnout is that high, then moderates and reformists win easily. But in this particular election, there has been a lot of concern that the hardliners backed by the IRGC, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and other hardline factions may try to commit fraud and steal the elections. So there has been a lot of concern among many Iranians, and although, as I said, the polls indicate that Rouhani should win easily, we will not know until probably Saturday morning Tehran time, which will be late tonight in the United States.Sharmini Peries: Right. Give us a sense of who's supporting the conservative candidate, Ebrahim Raisi, when it comes to Iranian political divisions within the country. Muhammad S.: Raisi's supported by the IRGC, the Basij militia that is controlled by IRGC, and hardline clerics, and what I call the "deep state." In Iran, the deep state consists of a lot of secret and semi-secret networks of intelligence, security, and military officers and agents and their backers in various factions. They normally don't speak publicly, but they control a lot of things behind the scenes. They also have a lot of influence in the economics sector. The IRGC engineering arm has received tens of billions of dollars worth of projects from the previous administration. Therefore, their economic might is also very powerful. They have been spending lavishly for Raisi's campaign in order to buy votes. They have even been sending people to small villages and towns giving them cash gifts and other things in order to buy their votes. So Raisi's supported by this powerful faction, but at the same time, because of his hardline positions and his background over the past 38 years since the Iranian Revolution when, as you pointed out, he was a judge and prosecutor and had a hand in many executions, particularly in the 1960s, sorry, in the 1980s right after the end of Iran-Iraq War when 4,000 political prisoners were executed, and he was a member of the committee that decided the fate of those 4,000 political prisoners, he's despised by a wide variety and array of political groups that aligned themselves with reformist and [inaudible 00:05:05] ...Sharmini Peries: All right. As people are headed to the polls today, what is on their mind? What are they most concerned about, and what will be a sort of a decisive factor for them in terms of who they vote for, Raisi or Rouhani? Muhammad S.: Three main issues have been discussed during the campaign, although Raisi has tried to only discuss and debate one issue, and that's the economic issue. The Iranian economy is not in good shape. When Rouhani came to power, some of the tightest sanctions had been imposed on Iran by the United States and its allies. The rampant corruption in the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad administration had basically emptied the national treasury. The inflation was running between 40 to 50%. There was a deep recession, and unemployment was high. Rouhani has been able to stabilize the economy. The inflation is now below 7% a year. The employment has improved somewhat but not as much as people have hoped for. So just like here when, after 2008, we had an economy recovery, but this economy recovery wasn't really even and wasn't touched by a lot of people, the same thing has happened in Iran. That's one issue. The other issue is basically social and personal freedom. Freedom of press, freedom of thought, freedom of gathering together, freedom of protesting against the wrong policies of the government and the hardliners. The third issue is where Iran stands in the Middle East and its relation with the rest of the Middle East. We know Middle East is on fire, that there's a lot of blood and destruction and killing in the rest of the Middle East. Therefore, people are worried that somehow this war of destruction and bloodshed will spread to Iran. These are the main three issues, and in all three issues, Rouhani has promised people a better future. Of course, Raisi has promised the same thing, but if you look at their policies that they have been proposing, we see that there is a vast difference between the two factions that, if you want, we can discuss it in more detail.Sharmini Peries: All right. Professor, the results of this election is going to be probably announced shortly. We will come back to you as soon as the results are made in order for us to continue our discussion and do some analysis of the winner. Thank you so much for joining us today. Muhammad S.: Thank you for having me on your program again.Sharmini Peries: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.