Iranians Demanding Change Deliver Emphatic Victory For Rouhani

DUBAI/BEIRUT, May 20 (Reuters) – President Hassan Rouhani pledged on Saturday to open Iran to the world and deliver freedoms its people have yearned for, throwing down a defiant challenge to his hardline opponents after securing a decisive re-election for a second term.

Rouhani, long known as a cautious and mild-mannered establishment insider, reinvented himself as a bold champion of reform during the election campaign, which culminated on Friday in victory with more than 57 percent of the vote. His main challenger, hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi, received 38 percent.

In his first televised speech after the result, Rouhani appeared to openly defy conservative judges by praising the spiritual leader of the reform camp, former President Mohammad Khatami. A court has banned quoting or naming Khatami on air.

?Our nation?s message in the election was clear: Iran?s nation chose the path of interaction with the world, away from violence and extremism,? Rouhani said. He promised to serve as president for all Iranians, not just those who voted for him.

Although the powers of the elected president are limited by those of unelected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who outranks him, the scale of Rouhani?s victory gives the pro-reform camp its strongest mandate in at least 12 years to seek the sort of change that hardliners have thwarted for decades.

Rouhani?s opponent Raisi, a protege of Khamenei, had united the conservative faction and had been tipped as a potential successor to the 77-year-old supreme leader. His defeat leaves the conservatives without an obvious flag bearer.

The re-election is likely to safeguard the nuclear agreement Rouhani?s government reached with global powers in 2015, under which most international sanctions have been lifted in return for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

And it delivers a setback to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), the powerful security force which controls a vast industrial empire in Iran. They had thrown their support behind Raisi to safeguard their interests.


Thousands of people gathered in central Tehran to celebrate Rouhani?s victory. Videos on social media showed young people clapping and chanting ?We love you Hassan Rouhani, we support you.?

Some youngsters wore wristbands in violet, the color of Rouhani?s campaign. Others wore green, representing the reformist movement crushed by security forces after a 2009 election, whose leaders have been under house arrest since 2011.

During campaigning, Rouhani promised to seek their release if re-elected with a stronger mandate.

?We won. We?ve done what we should have for our country. Now it?s Rouhani?s turn to keep his promises,? said coffee shop owner Arash Geranmayeh, 29, reached by telephone in Tehran.

Videos from the cities of Kermanshah, Tabriz and Zanjan showed hundreds of people in the streets, cheering and dancing.

Rouhani, 68, faces the same limits on his power to transform Iran that prevented him from delivering social change in his first term, and that thwarted Khatami, who failed to deliver on a reform agenda as president from 1997-2005.

But by publicly thanking ?my dear brother, Mohammad Khatami? in his victory speech, Rouhani seemed to take up that mantle. It was a remarkable challenge to the Shi?ite Muslim religious judicial authorities, who have blacklisted Khatami from public life for his support for other reformists under house arrest.

Many experts are skeptical that a president can change much in Iran, as long as the supreme leader has veto power over all policies and control over the security forces. Some said the pattern was all too familiar from Rouhani?s first victory four years ago and Khatami?s victories the previous decade.

?The last two decades of presidential elections have been short days of euphoria followed by long years of disillusionment,? said Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment who focuses on Iran.

?Democracy in Iran is allowed to bloom only a few days every four years, while autocracy is evergreen.?

The re-elected president will also have to navigate a tricky relationship with Washington, which appears at best ambivalent about the nuclear accord agreed by former U.S. President Barack Obama. President Donald Trump has repeatedly described it as ?one of the worst deals ever signed,? although his administration re-authorized waivers from sanctions this week.

Trump arrived on Saturday in Saudi Arabia, his first stop on the first trip abroad of his presidency. The Saudis are Iran?s biggest enemies in the region and are expected to push hard for Trump to turn his back on the nuclear deal.

Kuwait?s emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, an ally of Saudi Arabia, congratulated Rouhani on his re-election.


Rouhani?s reinvention as an ardent reformist on the campaign trail helped stir the passion of young, urban voters yearning for change. At times he broke rhetorical taboos, attacking the human rights record of the security forces and the judiciary.

During one rally he referred to hardliners as ?those who cut out tongues and sewed mouths shut.? In a debate last week he accused Raisi of seeking to ?abuse religion for power.? The language at the debate earned a rare public rebuke from Khamenei, who called it ?unworthy.?

The contentiousness of the campaign could make it more difficult for Rouhani to secure the consent of hardliners to carry out his agenda, said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies program at Stanford University.

?Rouhani upped the ante in the past 10 days in the rhetoric that he used. Clearly it?s going to be difficult to back down on some of this stuff.?

The Guards could also use their role as shock troops of Iran?s interventions across the Middle East to try to derail future rapprochement with the West, said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born lecturer at Israel?s Interdisciplinary Centre Herzliya.

?Since the 1979 revolution, whenever hardliners have lost a political battle, they have tried to settle scores,? he said.

?I would worry about the more confrontational policy of the IRGC in the Persian Gulf … and more confrontational policy with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.?

Among the congratulatory messages sent to Rouhani by world leaders, Iran?s battlefield ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looked forward to cooperating ?to strengthen the security and stability of both countries, the region and the world.?

The biggest prize for Rouhani?s supporters is the potential to set Iran?s course for decades by influencing the choice of a successor to Khamenei, who has been in power since 1989.

A Raisi victory would have probably ensured that the next supreme leader was a hardliner. Rouhani?s win gives reformists a chance to build clout in the body that chooses the leader, the Assembly of Experts, where neither reformists nor conservatives dominate.

Khamenei praised Iranians for their big turnout after voters queued up for hours to cast their ballots. The strong turnout of around 73 percent of eligible voters appeared to have favored Rouhani, whose backers? main concern had been apathy among reformists disappointed with the slow pace of change.

Many voters said they came out to block the rise of Raisi, one of four judges who sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death in the 1980s, regarded by reformers as a symbol of the security state at its most fearsome.

?The wide mobilization of the hardline groups and the real prospect of Raisi winning scared many people into coming out to vote,? said Nasser, a 52-year-old journalist.

?We had a bet among friends, and I said Raisi would win and I think that encouraged a few of my friends who might not have voted to come out and vote.?


(Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Andrew Roche and Helen Popper)

— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Congressman Expertly Trolls Donald Trump With Cheat Sheet For First Big Trip Abroad

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) majestically trolled Donald Trump by tweeting him a cheat sheet for his first big trip abroad as president.

As Trump jetted off for his nine-day jaunt to the Middle East and Western Europe on Friday, Lieu thought it prudent to give the president some advice to ensure he stays out of trouble whilst overseas.

?DON?T leak classified information,? was his top tip. He also felt compelled to state that Israel is an ally of the U.S., and Russia is not.

Lieu advised Trump not to talk about his controversial Muslim ban during his stop-off in Saudi Arabia, where caterers are reportedly planning to serve him steak with ketchup.

And in preparation for his visit to the Vatican, Lieu warned Trump that Pope Francis ?knows climate change is real, hates your proposed wall and is not a fan of locker room talk.?

The post has since gone viral. As of early Saturday, it had garnered more than 58,000 likes.

Lieu, who represents a district in Los Angeles County, has form in using the microblogging service to take aim at Trump. In April, he mocked his inauguration crowd size claims by posting this snap from a town hall event:

type=type=RelatedArticlesblockTitle=Related Coverage articlesList=591ec9e5e4b03b485cb0adcf,591febb2e4b094cdba5456d0,591fda91e4b034684b0c9e2a,590d9366e4b0d5d9049ccbc9

— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Samantha Bee Reveals What Happens If You Read Ivanka Trump’s Book

Samantha Bee can?t get enough of Ivanka Trump?s new self-help book. Well, making fun of it at least.

In a recent ?Full Frontal,? Bee went to great lengths to explain why she wouldn?t be reading Women Who Work: Rewriting The Rules again anytime soon.

Then on Friday, her show posted a 33-second video to YouTube which went even further ? by demonstrating what happened when one of its writers read the book from cover to cover. ?It was not a good idea,? said the clip?s narrator.

Find out what went down in the clip above.

type=type=RelatedArticlesblockTitle=Related Coverage articlesList=591fda91e4b034684b0c9e2a,591e9325e4b094cdba52df46,591ead48e4b094cdba52f930,591ec9e5e4b03b485cb0adcf

— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Muslim Americans Have Some Advice For Trump On His Islam Speech

President Trump is making his first trip abroad with scheduled visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican. Each of these locations have important diplomatic implications for America?s standing in the world, as well as political relevance for Trump?s waning popularity in America. Whether intentionally or not, this trip has huge interfaith significance as Trump makes a pilgrimage (of sorts) to the centers of Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim faiths.

Trump?s international sojourn is making many nervous as it is one thing to provoke a nation state ? say Mexico, with derogatory comments and threats ? it is quite another to provoke a religion.  

There are many ways Trump?s trip could go wrong: Pope Francis and Trump have exchanged barbs via Twitter; and while Trump enjoys a love fest with Netanyahu and Israel?s right, he has also (rightfully) criticized settlements in Palestine and (thankfully) refrained from moving the American embassy to Jerusalem.

But nothing reaches the level of potential disaster of Trump?s visit to Saudi Arabia, where he is scheduled to give a speech about Islam to the Muslim world.  This would be fraught for any politician or religious leader.  Pope Benedict attempted an address to the Muslim world in 2006 at the University of Regensburg in Germany, and… let?s just say… it was not well received.  If the address of such a skilled theologian as Benedict resulted in riots and serious breaches between the Muslim and Catholic world, what might such an address by Trump produce?

The idea of a Trump speech to the Muslim world is made even worse by the consistent anti-Muslim message put forth by the Trump campaign during the 2016 campaign and the introduction of a ban on immigrants from Muslim countries in the first weeks of his presidency. One of the effects of the rise of Trump has been the enormous increase of anti-Muslim hate groups, as well as five Mosques being burned in America by arson. Trump?s reaction: silence.

If the address of such a skilled theologian… resulted in riots and serious breaches between the Muslim and Catholic world, what might such an address by Trump produce?

Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University feels that Trump?s negative rhetoric about Islam, up to this point, does not give him the credibility to speak to the Muslim world:

?President Trump is uniquely unqualified in speaking to Muslims about Muslim affairs given the record of his discriminating rhetoric and policy proposals against Muslims.?

It is a sentiment that Dr. Debbie Almontaser, Board President of the Muslim Community Network, echos. Her recommendation is that Trump?s Muslim outreach should begin at home:  

?President Trump needs to exercise diplomacy at home first, with the diverse Muslim communities he has endangered with his campaign policies and rhetoric, as well as disregarding them as citizens of the United States. When he recognizes and respects their right to live with dignity and respect in the U.S., free of hate and fear, Muslim world leaders will give him the benefit of the doubt.?

The most worrisome piece of all is that Trump?s speech is being written, not by Muslim Americans who might help bridge and articulate the possibilities mutual benefits and thriving of Islam and America, but instead by Stephen Miller, the architect of the Muslim ban executive order.  Linda Sarsour, a progressive Palestinian activist finds that inexcusable:

?My first concern is that Stephen Miller, a known Islamophobe and conspiracy theorist is writing his speech which raises many flags. Trump has said things like ?Islam hates us? during the campaign and we can not afford a speech that vilifies Islam in this tense political climate globally. He?s a national security threat.?

The framing of the address may be at the root of the problem.  Trump?s team has said this is a forthright speech about radical ideology in Islam and, according to National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, will be ?inspiring yet direct.? Yet, this basic approach is the problem according to Imam Sultan:

?My concern is that President Trump?s obsessive singular focus of seeing Muslims as a security threat will be highlighted in such an address to the Muslim World resulting in dividing walls rather than bridges.?

All of these worries are combined with the irony of going to Saudi Arabia for a speech on Islam, given that Saudi Arabia has been exporting Wahhabism, a fundamentalist form of Islam, and that the majority of Muslims do not live in the Middle East, as Imam Sultan explains:

?Making such a speech in Saudi Arabia is exactly the wrong stage as the kingdom?s vision of Islam and influence in the Muslim World needs to be contained rather than exaggerated.?

The most complete response came from Wajahat Ali, attorney-turned-playwright and lead author of the investigative report ?Fear Inc: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America.? He had some seriously funny, yet extremely serious advice for the President:

?President Trump, allow me to give you sincere advice. I know how hard you work while golfing at Mar-a-Lago or obsessively watching cable news shows when you should be, you know, reading. Being President is hard. It carries burdens and responsibilities, such as being informed, not tweeting reckless lies, having a functional White House staff, not colluding with foreign enemies and so forth.

?It can take a toll on even the biggest, greatest and smartest of leaders, such as yourself. That?s why you can tap out of this upcoming speech on Islam you plan on giving in Saudi Arabia. You don?t have to do it. Seriously. Please. Don?t. On behalf of 1.7 billion people, apparently part of the ?Islam? that you think ?hates us,? I?m giving you an out.

?You?ve enlightened us enough with your Obama birther conspiracy, lies about New Jersey Muslims celebrating the 9-11 attacks, Muslim bans, plans to do extreme vetting of Muslims, mulling a Muslim registry, and surrounding yourself by reactionary extremists like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller who yearn for an apocalyptic confrontation with Islam. Also, in a testament to your enduring genius, you?ve tapped Mr. Miller to write this Islam speech for you. The same Mr. Miller who co-authored the Muslim Ban ? even though he?s not an attorney ? and also launched IslamoFascism Awareness Week at his Duke University.

?That?s genius lateral thinking.

?I hear Hezbollah is waiting to be drafted for your remarks on Judaism in Israel and Richard Dawkins in on tap to write about Catholicism and religion when you visit the Pope.

?Help me, help you.

?Don?t say anything about Islam.?

This post was originally published on Voices at Auburn.

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush is Senior Vice President at Auburn Seminary, and Editor of Voices at Auburn.

— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.