Rowhani’s victory in Iran’s 2013 presidential election is a clear protest vote against his predecessor’s management of the country’s relations with the Western world. Although Rowhani’s support for broader social freedoms, as well as his advocacy for women’s rights rendered him a favorite candidate for change, undoubtedly economic insecurity — caused by the imposition of sanctions by the Western world in reaction to Iran’s nuclear program — was a key factor in his victory. Since Rowhani is ultimately beholden to the Supreme Leader, the question persists: Does the election of yet another reformist generate false hope or genuine hope? We will have to wait and see if Rowhani’s presidency can provide the perspective necessary for breaking away from the futile approach of the past.
Recent uprisings and unrests across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have brought new leadership to Egypt and Tunisia, and could possibly result in more leadership changes. While it is too early to assess the meaning and implications of the MENA uprisings, it is even more difficult to predict whether the current ferment could fundamentally reshape the region by bringing real democratic transformation. What is evident, however, is that the United States’ old bargain with autocrats is collapsing; and that U.S. strategic interests are seemingly better served, at least during this historic period, by working with governments that genuinely reflect the will of their people. This essay’s central argument is that change and transformation in MENA has resulted from bottom-up, anti-establishment popular movements that have exposed the flaws of the U.S. foreign policy and will most likely challenge the conventional U.S. policies in the region for years to come.