Mark Fitzpatrick on the Influence of Western Sanctions on the Iranian Election

As the news of the Iranian election’s results came in on Saturday, Mark Fitzpatrick of IISS sent out a Tweet saying:

My conclusion: Iranians are fed up with Sanctions and with the leaders who couldn’t stop them.

This was my first exposure to an argument that has since been making the rounds on the web, championed by nonproliferation types with close ties to Washington DC, like Fitzpatrick. The basic idea of this argument is that the election of Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, in Iran is confirmation of the effectiveness of Western economic sanctions in influencing Iran’s nuclear policy.

I find this argument particularly analytically odious for several reasons. First, it attempts to simplify what I think is a very complex and nuanced dynamic between the Western sanctions and both the Iranian public and Iranian officials’ reactions to them.  Second, I think at an essential level it is incorrect.  I would cite as evidence for this conclusion a Gallup poll that was conducted only four months ago in Iran.  This poll found that, while the Western-imposed sanctions have indeed had a very serious effect upon the living conditions and overall financial well being of ordinary Iranians, they overwhelmingly blame the U.S., and not their own leaders, for the sanctions.  Furthermore, according to the poll, the Iranian public still overall supports their country’s nuclear program and aspirations.  Here’s an excerpt from the summary of results:

Despite Effects of Sanctions, Many Iranians Support Nuclear Program

The majority of Iranians are so far seemingly willing to pay the high price of sanctions. Sixty-three percent say that Iran should continue to develop its nuclear program, even given the scale of sanctions imposed on their country because of it. In December, one in two Iranians supported their country developing its own nuclear power capabilities for nonmilitary uses.

Iranians say Iran should continue to develop nuclear power.gif

Iranians Hold U.S. Most Responsible for Sanctions

Iranians are most likely to hold the U.S. (47%) responsible for the sanctions against Iran. One in 10 Iranians says their own government is most to blame for sanctions.

U.S. to blame for sanctions against Iran.gif


Iranians report feeling the effect of sanctions, but still support their country’s efforts to increase its nuclear capabilities. This may indicate that sanctions alone are not having the intended effect of persuading Iranian residents and country leaders to change their stance on the level of international oversight of their nuclear program. Iran, as one of the most populous nations in a region undergoing monumental shifts, will remain a key country in the balance of power for the Middle East. Thus, the United States’, Russia’s, and Europe’s relationship with the Iranian people remains a matter of strategic interest. The effect of sanctions on Iranians’ livelihoods and the blame they place on the U.S. will continue to be a major challenge for the U.S. in Iran and in neighboring countries such as Iraq. Recent reports that Tehran and Washington might enter into direct talks were short-lived when Iran’s supreme leader made a statement strongly rejecting them. With Iran preparing for elections later this year, a turning point is needed to get leaders on both sides out of the current stalemate on the country’s nuclear program.

The results of this poll would seem to directly contradict Fitzpatrick’s conclusions regarding both the nature of the influence of Western sanctions on the Iranian election, and the locus of blame which ordinary Iranians perceive for their suffering under the sanctions.

I would instead recommend Seyed Hossain Mousavian’s analysis of the effect of Western sanctions on Iran and its nuclear policy here.

And with regard to the implications of the election, I would recommend Barbara Slavin’s analysis here, and Paul Pillar’s analysis and excellent policy recommendations here.


29 Comments on “Mark Fitzpatrick on the Influence of Western Sanctions on the Iranian Election”

  1. Cyrus says:

    Proponents of the current policy are naturally keen to find vindication for the policies that they espoused in the first place. I remember a few years ago one of these same sorts wrote that the 4th round of UN sanctions on Iran was a “victory” — I supposed doing something 4 times and still not getting the result you want can only be described as such, right?

  2. Cyrus says:

    Slavin writes: “It was only after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president that Iran aggressively accelerated uranium enrichment.”

    This is false and she knows it. There has been an attempt by some to blame the restart of enrichment (“aggressively” or otherwise) on Ahmadinejad and his election but in fact as I have made a point of repeatedly correcting this falsehood: Ahmadinejad did not restart enrichment. After the EU-3 negotiations died under US pressure, it was under Khatami, not Ahmadinejad, that the seals were removed from the centrifuges and the uranium stock, and the suspension was terminated. The IAEA merely asked for a few more days to reinstall their equipment before the actual restart of enrichment, which the Iranians granted, and so the actual resumption of enrichment thus accidentally coincided with Ahmadinejad taking office. However Rouhani himself who wrote to the EU-3 right after the election, telling them that the enrichment would continue as it had the support of both the president (Khatami) and president-elect (Ahmadinejad) and they should not try to use the occasion of Ahmadinejad’s election to make an offer to Iran that was intended to be refused — which is exactly what they did.

    • Nick says:


      You brought a good point about the seal removal, that it was done before Ahmadinejad took over; I did not know that. If I recall, Rohani mentioned in his book that Khamenei gave the go ahead to have UCF started before Khatami stepped down. The argument was that the change of nuclear status had nothing to do with the change of the government. If you have any information or specific pages in his book that discusses this issue, I would appreciate sharing it with us.

      • Cyrus says:

        Nick, I haven’t read Rouhani’s book but a quick google search can confirm that it was the Khatami administration that decided to restart enrichment. Ahmadinejad simply happened to be in power when it was actually restarted.

        Why is this significant?

        In their coverage of Rouhani’s career and specifically with regard to Iran’s temporary suspension of enrichment under Rouhani, the media in the West mention that the suspension was ended by Iran. Prior to this election, in general accounts of Iran’s nuclear program, the media typically claim that Iran restarted enrichment because Iran’s file was referred to the UNSC (actually, that happened afterwards) or other such nonsense (they even have the audacity to claim that it was the Iranians who ‘violated the Paris agreement’ even though independent analysts and characterized the EU offer to Iran as “an empty box in pretty wrapping”.)

        Their point is to gloss over a very specific set of events which explains WHY enrichment was restarted. So they attribute it to false things (typically, to Ahmadinejad’s election but in fact it was Khatami who restarted it) or they use vague language (Slavin’s use of “aggressively”) in order to avoid an issue: the fact is that Iran restarted enrichment after the EU-3 cheated in their negotiations with Iran by submitting to Iran a very much delayed offer that required Iran give up enrichment entirely. This was after they had repeatedly promised to the Iranians that they would *not* make such a demand and instead would recognize Iran’s NPT rights, all the while dragging on what was supposed to be a 6 month suspension into a a 2.5 year one. THAT is a point that some would like to ignore about this bit of history. David Osborne’s book provides the details but I doubt the media will give up this meme of falsely linking Ahmadinejad to Iran’s restart of enrichment.

        History will show that in effect during this time period, the EU-3 and the US were playing “good cop/bad cop” with Iran and that whilst the EU negotiators themselves may not have known it, the EU3 leaders had already agreed with the US to not recognize any right of enrichment in Iran, contrary to what they had been telling the Iranians. This is a bit of history that some people would prefer to have rewritten

  3. yousaf says:

    The NYTimes had weighed in who is responsible for getting in the way of a nuclear deal:

    I expect no change in Western intransigence, especially under a politicized IAEA:

    • Dan Joyner says:

      Yes, and as I know you’ve written before, Congress would have to approve meaningful removal of US sanctions on Iran which, given the current state of DC politics and the influence of the pro-Israel lobby, seems virtually impossible.

    • Nick says:

      To support your position, Alan Air who appeared in the VoA program of Ofogh today, repeated the same positions as before: two track policy, the onus is on Iran, IRI must satisfy the concerns of the world community and etc.. Let’s hope USG doesn’t continue with this rehtoric.

  4. Fiorangela says:

    Kudos for taking Fitzpatrick to the woodshed, Dr. Joyner, but it was surprising to see your endorsement of an analysis by Barbara Slavin, and after reading her first few paragraphs, even more surprised. Slavin falls firmly in the category that the Leveretts describe as “what we want to believe, not what really is, ” or that Chomsky would assess as an attempt to manufacture assent.

    At very least, Slavin reflects the narcissism that characterizes most of the DC foreign policy community: in their view, it’s always all about the face they see in their own pond.

    Hillary (aka “Bulldog” — the lady gives NO ground!) Mann Leverett succinctly and, imo, correctly analysed the election of Rouhani on CNN — the Iranians voted in their own interest, for their own reasons.

    • yousaf says:

      Yes Slavin’s essay’s title “Chances for Nuclear Deal Rise With Rouhani” makes it appear that the roadblock for progress was in Tehran, whereas the main problem is on Capitol Hill. (See link to my NYT editorial above)

    • Dan Joyner says:

      Thanks Fiorangela. I suppose I don’t see that Slavin’s analysis and that of the Leverett’s is contradictory. That is a great piece by them that you cite, BTW. I read it this morning. I guess I see both saying that the people spoke and chose (from among the options they had, of course) who they wanted, notwithstanding his not being the favorite candidate of the Supreme Leader. Slavin and others seem to be saying that there is considerable daylight in between Rouhani and the Supreme Leader, and this of course is what appears to show the relative democratic viability of the election. Rouhani does seem to stand for a different attitude and approach towards diplomatic engagement with the West as compared to Khamenei, if not for a significantly different substance to Iran’s ultimate policy positions. I see this as a positive step, and one that could facilitate a diplomatic accord with the West, if the rest of the stars both in Iran and in the West fall into alignment. But maybe I’m reading one or the other of their positions incorrectly.

    • Bibi Jon says:

      Here’s a good rejoinder to Slavin & Fitzpatrick:

      John Limbert advice:

      “So what, if anything, should the United States do and say about Iran’s election?

      First, we should shut up about everything but the basics and stick to the universal principles of good government.

      We should not help the Islamic Republic make the election about us.

      The ideologues in Tehran would love to paint a vote for this or that candidate as a slap in the face to “world arrogance” (the U.S.), or to portray a candidate who advocates rationality as an U.S. agent.”

  5. yousaf says:

    A 2006 Letter to TIME from Rouhani on nuclear issues:,8599,1192435,00.html

    and an interview:

    Click to access Rowhani_Interview.pdf

  6. yousaf says:

    And Steve Walt has a good take:

    “the bipartisan U.S. approach to Iran has been to demand its complete capitulation on the question of nuclear enrichment and to steadily ratchet up sanctions in the hopes that Tehran will eventually give Washington everything it demands. Obama briefly let Brazil and Turkey pursue a more flexible approach, but his administration quickly scuttled the resulting deal.

    Given the calcified layers of mistrust between these Iran and the United States — dating back for decades now — achieving a deal on the nuclear question and a broader improvement of relations will require both patience and political courage by both sides. Iran is not — repeat not — going to give up possession of the full nuclear fuel cycle, so the United States will have to accept Iran as a nuclear-capable power. Iran will have to accept strict limits on its program and will have to find ways to reassure its neighbors and the United States about its nuclear and regional ambitions.

    Back in Washington, any attempt at a serious rapprochement will also have to overcome relentless opposition not only from AIPAC and the other major groups in the Israel lobby, but also from Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states. Unfortunately, the U.S. political system doesn’t reward patience, and Obama has not shown himself to be especially bold or courageous when it comes to foreign policy. Indeed, he has yet to take and stick to any foreign-policy position that requires him to buck powerful political forces at home. By the time his finger-in-the-wind approach to diplomacy has run its course, the opportunity for a new approach to Iran may be lost, thereby reinforcing the Iranian belief that the only thing the United States will accept is the end of the Islamic Republic, and strengthening the American conviction that even reformist Iranian leaders are beyond the pale.”

  7. yousaf says:

    Fitzpatrick has a blog post on the subject:

  8. Denis says:

    A Gallup poll in Iran??? I’d love to see the methodological details on that one.

    “Hello, this is Gallup calling. We’d like to know if you agree with your Supreme Leader’s decision to continue enriching uranium, and if not whether you’d prefer solitary confinement or general population.”

    Results: 67% favor continuing enrichment; 17% oppose. I think that’s about the same odds Gallup gave Romney.

    The results are 6 months stale. Isn’t there a use-before date on these things?

    Nothing to see here, move along.

    • Cyrus says:

      The respondents to polls taken in Iran feel comfortable enough to express quite a bit of disapproval with the government.

      For example in one poll less than a majority expressed full confidence in the Guardian Council (42%) and the Ministry of the Interior (38%).

    • Dan Joyner says:

      If you are interested, they have a breakdown of the methodology at the site. I dont think one should dismiss public opinion polls in Iran categorically. The methodology is of course important.

      • Denis says:

        Yeah, Dan, you are right. I shuda’ looked at the Gallup article for the methods before flappin’ my mouth. Here’s the sum total of what they tell us.

        Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted Dec. 16, 2012-Jan. 10, 2013, in Iran.

        OK, so what does that mean? Gallup has no offices in Iran. So were the Gallup employees in London speaking Persian with a British accent? Or Kurdish? Or Armenian? Or . . . with a dozen indigenous languages, how is a poll designed to be representative of the whole country? Gallup doesn’t say.

        Gallup gives no indication of age distribution, geographical distribution, or method for selecting the target telephones. So the poll could have been conducted on 1000 fifteen year-old sheep herders in Kermanshah selected from the Kurdish telephone book for all we can tell.

        And note the nonsense of the stats. Less than half (48%) said the sanctions have hurt their own livelihoods “a great deal,” but 56% said the sanctions have hurt the livelihood of Iranians “a great deal.”

        The first question is one of fact about the respondent’s own financial situation; the second one is speculation about what the respondent thinks about the rest of the country. The poll seems to verify its own inaccuracy.

        Gallup does a lot of yada-yada about how hard Iran is being hit by the sanctions. Cost to the country = $4-$8 billion/mo. 40% drop in oil exports. 40% devaluation in currency. And yet, 10 years into this thing, only 48% of livelihoods have been hurt a great deal?

        The headline here should be: “Sanctions not working. After a decade, not even half of Iranians’ livelihoods hurt a great deal by sanctions.”

        But of course, as always, Gallup has its own political ax to grind and hangs the report on the line:

        A majority of Iranians (56%) say sanctions the United Nations, the U.S., and Western Europe imposed have hurt Iranians’ livelihoods a great deal . . .

        Lies, damn lies, statistics.

        Gallup goes on to tell us that 31% of Iranians report that they are “suffering.” How is it that 48% can have their livelihoods hurt a great deal and yet only 31% are suffering? Well, that can only mean that the polls are screwed or that the livelihoods of at least 17% of respondents were so outstanding prior to the sanctions that they could take a huge hit and still not be suffering.

        The “suffering” figures only have relevance in the context of the Gallup article with respect to pre-sanctions v. post-sanctions. Prior to the sanctions, 70% might have said they were suffering for all we know, and the sanctions were a god-send to 40%. What we need is a “delta-suffering figure” and compare that figure to other countries – like Greece, Italy, Ireland, Spain – during the same time frame. Are-you-worse-off-now-than then sort of thing.

        Finally, you are right that it’s not fair to dismiss opinion polls in Iran because it’s Iran. And Cyrus also takes issue with my (admittedly) un-informed quip suggesting draconian incarceration awaits those who don’t toe the line. I keep forgetting that “Midnight Express” was about Turkey.

        @Cyrus “The respondents to polls taken in Iran feel comfortable enough to express quite a bit of disapproval with the government. “

        But please review the Gallup stats and maybe you will see what I think I see.

        With respect to the questions on perceived economic consequences, 2%-5% of the 1000 respondents are listed as “Don’t know/Refused.” This is a pretty typical range of non-responses to individual questions. The same questions asked in America would likely be in the same ball-park of non-responses.

        But when it came to the question about whether IRI should continue what it’s doing, a question in which a “no” equates to criticism of IRI policy decisions, the non-responses were 19% . That’s, like, 5-10 times the non-responses of the economic questions – in the same poll!!!

        Interestingly, the other question that could draw responses critical of IRI, the one about who is responsible for the sanctions, had about the same level of non-responses – 20%, if you include the 3% who said “Someone else” as a non-response, which it is. Had “Iran” not been one of the choices in that question, my guess is the non-responses would have been closer to the 2%-5% level.

        I can’t imagine that in America – even with PRISM cranked up – 19% of respondents would decline to answer any question about government policy.

        What does it mean when almost 200 respondents out of 1000 refuse to offer an opinion of IRI’s policies? That is a huge percentage of non-responders, which in and of itself indicates the people are afraid to bitch about their government, which, in turn, means that the 63% approval rate reported is badly skewed. It is skewed because those who agree with the policy would be more likely to say they agree, and those who don’t agree would also be more likely to say they agree.

        But consider this, too. We don’t know how many calls Gallup had to make in order to find 1000 people who would answer at least 1 question on the poll, and thus be included in the final tally. Surely, there were a number of people in Iran, like everywhere else, who answer the phone, get annoyed because it’s dinner time, and make a curt suggestion as to which orifice the caller should select for disposing of his poll. The hang-up rate is a part of the poll’s data-set. It would be interesting to know what the hang-up rate in Iran was viz a viz, say, America. It would be an indicia of the people’s perception of the extent of their own freedom of speech. Would love to see that number.

      • Dan Joyner says:

        Hi Denis, I think those are some fair and insightful critiques. And I’m sure it is hard to ever gauge public feeling accurately in a place like Iran.

        This is not a critique of your comments, but I would say, though, that at least I looked for what empirical evidence there was, instead of Fitzpatrick’s apparently gut-based conclusion.

      • Mohammad says:


        “I can’t imagine that in America – even with PRISM cranked up – 19% of respondents would decline to answer any question about government policy.”

        A quick google search found several such instances in Western countries, like this one:

        Perhaps people in CalgaryCentre were afraid to “bitch about their government”? (As a sidenote, Only 7% of Iranians failed to answer that EXACT SAME QUESTION with regards to the 2009 election in WPO’s September 2009 opinion poll.)

        I think a more plausible explanation for the high rate of Don’t Know/Refused cases in the Continue/Not Continue nuclear program question, is that it is a difficult choice. On one hand, Iranians are very proud, nationalist people unwilling to bow to external pressure, and on the other hand they can’t help but notice the effect of sanctions on their pockets. The ratio of Don’t Knows appears to be high on such difficult choices elsewhere, e.g. this one:

        And now imagine that all of these non-military options have been tried and the only option left to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is use of military force. In that case, should the [European Union\ United States] take military action against Iran, or should [it/they] simply accept that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons?
        European Average Response:
        41% Take Military Action against Iran
        39% Accept that Iran could acquire Nuclear Weapons
        20% DK/Refusal
        www DOT cfr DOT org/content/publications/attachments/2011_USPOPCH12bNuclear.pdf

        The other common situation where I found the DK/Refused rate to be high in Western countries is that of multiple-choice questions, where one is likely to be unsure which choice to select. This is the case in the “whom to blame most” in the Gallup Iran poll. Here’s another example from the same CFR link as above:
        “And who do you think can best handle the issue of Iranian nuclear weapons?”
        European Average
        43% UN
        15% NATO
        8% US
        19% EU
        14% Don’t Know/Refused
        (in Turkey the DK/R rate was as high as 34%)

        I find your argument on Iranians being afraid of expressing dissenting views on phone polls to be unconvincing. Most non-Iranians don’t realize that Iranians are totally free to express opinions in private. The taboos are only for opinions expressed in media, speeches delivered to crowds, etc. Some of my coworkers routinely deride the Iranian government (in some cases even Islam itself) in the workplace, even though the company I work in is indirectly owned by the government. Non-Iranians and their fellow opposition-supporting Iranians tend to overemphasize and exaggerate the “fear of officials” in Iran. Have you ever heard someone in Iran being arrested, harassed, etc. just for expressing opinions on phone?

        By the way, what do you think about this one:
        “In another indication of the Iranian public’s strong support for a more open and fully democratic system of government, 77 percent said that they support a political system for governing Iran where the Supreme Leader, along with all leaders, can be chosen and replaced by a free and direct vote of the people.”
        www DOT terrorfreetomorrow DOT org/upimagestft/TFT%20Iran%20Survey%20Report%200609.pdf
        (As a sidenote, the same poll found that “Nuclear energy is favored by 94 percent of Iranians.” and “Iranians favor president Ahmadinejad’s re-election”)

      • Dan Joyner says:

        Also good points. Thank you for sharing these thoughts, Mohammad. I think this is a nice, useful dialogue.

      • thepatentguynet says:


        Thank you. Brilliant response to my concerns. I live in Canada and I can see your point on that 19% “dunno’ ” response rate on the Elections Canada poll — these Canadians are an ambivalent lot. LOL

        It sounds like you are actually in Iran. I hope to be able to visit there some day. I spend hours peering down at Iran from the GoogleEarth satellite. It is absolutely fascinating. During the TV coverage of the ’09 Green Movement I couldn’t help but notice how universally beautiful the Iranian young people are. 

        I agree w/ you as to the multi-choice poll questions. Those that force just one choice and do not include “none of the above” are generally propaganda traps of some sort. But then elections are the same — the only elections I know of that allow a null vote, or “none of the above,” is Australia. Without the ability to register a vote that none of the candidates are adequate, all you have is a faux-democracy. And I mean all of them, save the Ozzies’. 

        You made this comment that I find disturbing but consistent with my understanding of free speech in Iran: “Most non-Iranians don’t realize that Iranians are totally free to express opinions in private. The taboos are only for opinions expressed in media, speeches delivered to crowds, etc.”

        So chit-chat behind closed curtains over the dinner table is pretty much OK. My guess is that Jews in Nazi occupied Poland were also “totally free” to express their views when the Nazis couldn’t hear them. And slaves in 18th c. America were totally free to bitch about slavery out of earshot of the masters. And First Nations people locked up on reservations in northern Alberta in 19th c. Canada were free to talk all they wanted. 

        It’s my bet that had any of these folks received a telephone call from some unknown pollster asking them what they thought of their occupation, their slavery, or their internments on reservations, they would have said “No response.”

        As to freedom of speech in Iran, specifically, my views are informed by the most recent Reporters Without Borders ranking of free speech world wide. Reporters have their fingers on the pulse of free speech b/c they are the ones most likely to get prosecuted for practicing it. 

        RW/oB ranks Iran almost at the very bottom of the free-speech barrel. 175 out of 179. Only Syria, Turkmenistan, NoKo, and Eritrea rank lower. (The US, embarrassingly, is ranked 47th, below Botswana, Ghana, and Comoros, wherever the hell that is.),1043.html 

        Or as this free speech blogger put it:

        Reporters without Borders said that, “Hounding and humiliating journalists has been part of [Iran’s] officialdom’s political culture for years. The regime feeds on persecution of the media”. Iran has a long history of violence and current history does not show signs of reversing. From barring students from education because of their political beliefs to opening fire on protesters and shutting down news publications, the Iranian government is working hard to chill free speech and silence the press.

        Being “totally free” to chit-chat in private but not to express an opinion in public, just doesn’t get it in my book. And in view of the sanctions against Iran, I know of nowhere else in the world where public opinion of it’s government’s position is more important. 77 million Iranians are staring down the barrel of a preemptive Israeli/US attack that, if recent history is an indicator, could easily kill hundreds of thousands. It would be nice to know what they think of that.

      • Mohammad says:


        Thanks for the kind words. Yes, I’m an Iranian and I live in Tehran. Actually Western tourists visiting Iran (I read somewhere that there are a few thousands of them every year) have invariably reported a great time here. I urge you to google and read their stories.

        It seems that you have misunderstood my comment that “Iranians are totally free to express opinions in private“. In private doesn’t mean out of reach of officials (as I remarked about my workplace). You could shout at a Basiji that you hate Khamenei, and if he does anything to you, you could have him condemned in court. But if you do that in the street in the presence of a crowd, or publish a newspaper and deride Khamenei in it, yes your newspaper will be closed and you’ll be thrown in jail, since there’s a law banning that (as opposed to the former case), as reported by Reporters Without Borders, etc. This is why dissident “reporters” are in danger, as opposed to dissident ordinary citizens.

        Why I’m stressing this distinction? Because it matters in gauging the validity of opinion polls. I don’t believe that there has ever been a single case of anyone being arrested simply because of expressing views on phone (I’m open to anyone pointing me to any such case). I also provided an example from a 2009 TFT poll where 77% of Iranians were willing to profess a far more subversive view than simply opposing the continuation of the nuclear program, which shows they are not as fearful from officials as usually advertised. I doubt that even public criticism of Iran’s nuclear program wouldn’t be allowed. Ahmad Shirzad (former reformist MP) has done this for years, and as far as I know, nothing happened to him.

        The problem of the Western view of Iran is that it is over-shaped by the Iranians who support the opposition. Now, I respect these people, and as I live in North Tehran and come from a well-educated, middle-class background, I have quite a few friends who support the opposition. We routinely and freely discuss politics, and I enjoy these discussions, especially those which are light on emotions and high on substantiated arguments.

        But viewing Iran solely through the lens of opposition-supporting Iranians (who tend to be more liberal and West-friendly, better educated, media-savvy and having a better-than-average command of English, according to opinion polls) makes the false impression in the outside world that a majority of Iranians support the opposition. This is a very real example of systematic bias. Sadly, this bias feeds on itself, as both sides (the Iranian opposition and the Western media and pundits) benefit from it. The opposition finds a venue to express itself out of proportions, and the Western media make sure that their narrative is rarely challenged, since those Iranians who could challenge their narrative, though larger in numbers, don’t care much about the Western media (since they are less exposed to them and don’t trust or care about them), are less educated and media-savvy and don’t know enough English, or feel overwhelmed when trying to change deeply-rooted perceptions in the West.
        Even when things don’t go in the direction the media and the opposition envisage, they either play it down (just like the 2009 election where conservative neighborhoods (like Shahr-e Rey) and cities (like Semnan) erupted in celebration as Ahmadinejad was declared the victor, but the Western media focused on the dramatic protests in central and north Tehran), or they forge some theory on the fly to justify their position. Of course, the Iranian government itself fuels this bias when it restricts journalists; naturally it’s hard to argue that a government represents its people when it is seen as constraining freedom of expression (by the way, I believe – and opinion polls have shown – that most Iranians, while valuing freedom of expression in principle, don’t consider it an absolute value, especially when they perceive it as clashing with their security or as being used to express “offending” views. Of course, this is one of the root causes of the divide between the opposition and pro-establishment Iranians).

  9. Unlike what some claim here, Gallup and other foreign polls are totally unreliable when it comes to Iran, due to cultural reasons. The most reliable polls are taken by the IPOS website, done by Dr. Hossein Ghazian, an Iranian experts who has accurately measured Iranians’ sentiments.

    Rouhani won because Rafsanjani, Khatami, the reformists, part of the Green Movement, and moderate conservatives that are fed up with Ahmadinejad and even Khamenei, made a grand coalition, and the ruling elite could not – I repeat, could not – commit fraud the way it did in 2009. Yes, Iranians are feeling the effect of the sanctions, but, first of all, Iran has been under sanctions one type or another ever since the hostage crisis of 1979 and, secondly, when the effect of sanctions was not so important, Iranians still voted for the reformists in 1997, 2001, 2009, and now. Even in 2005, when Ahmadinejad supposedly won, there was smaller-scale of vote manipulations in the first round, to elevate Ahmainejad to second place and bring down Mehdi Karroubi to third place. Karroubi resigned in protest from all of his official positions, and Rafsanjani said at that time, “I take refuge in God for what they did.”

    And, the idea that, aside from a very small minority (mostly those who voted for Jalili), are “comfortable” with the Guardian Council is baseless.

    See my piece posted today:

    and my radio interview

    • Dan Joyner says:

      Dear Professor Sahimi, thanks so much for your comments, and let me say that that is an excellent piece you published on It’s among the most insightful pieces I’ve seen on the subject of the election. I’m glad you addressed the “this is a victory for Western sanctions” nonsense. I do hope that you or someone else will undertake to translate Rouhani’s book into English. I’m anxious to be able to read it.

  10. Thank you Dan for your kind words. I am grateful.


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