23 August 2022 marked the second and final day of the conference “Iran: The Raisi Presidency One Year On,” organized by the Iranian Studies Unit of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS).
The first day had focused on Ebrahim Raisi’s election, and Iran’s ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Africa, and South Asia.
The second day of the conference began with the panel on “domestic and cyber politics,” moderated by Professor Ibrahim Fraihat. In his analysis of Raisi’s domestic policy, Bernard Hourcade, Senior Research Fellow Emeritus at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, claimed that former President Hassan Rouhani’s administration paid special attention to three policy areas, namely the nuclear negotiations, the economy, and relations with neighboring countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. According to Hourcade, the main challenges facing the new administration are the social demands and the possible popular upheaval of the new well-educated middle-class which did not vote for him. Another presenter, Hassan Muzaffar Al-Razzo, who is Director of the Mosul Center for Strategic and Future Studies, outlined the institutional structure of Iranian cyber strategy, highlighting its most important characteristics and identifying the changes that have occurred since Raisi’s election.
The conference also included a panel on “Iran, the US, and Israel,” which was moderated by Dr Emad Kaddorah. The panel examined Iran’s relations with the US and Israel’s policy on the Iranian nuclear program. Mahmood Muhareb, Associate Researcher at the ACRPS, presented on Israeli policy in dealing with the ongoing negotiations to return to the Iranian nuclear agreement, and its rejection of any political solution that does not lead to a definitive end to the Iranian nuclear program. Muhareb examined Israel’s efforts to establish an Israeli-Arab-US military alliance against Iran, its perception of military attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities, and its vision of what could happen in the event that Iran achieves nuclear capability. Gawdat Bahgat, Professor of National Security Affairs at the National Defense University in the United States, explained the key forces that shape the relations between Iran and the United States, arguing that despite the intense animosity, there is room for rapprochement. Bahgat argued that reduced tensions between the two is important in order to reinforce regional stability and security.
“Sanctions and Iran’s Economy” was the focus of another panel, which was moderated by Professor Hamid Ali, Dean of Public Administration and Development Economics at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, Founder of the Bourse & Bazaar Foundation, examined the growing use of the synthetic control method (SCM) to analyse the effects of sanctions on the Iranian economy. Nikolay Kozhanov, Research Associate Professor at the Gulf Studies Center of Qatar University, provided an overview of the economic strategies adopted by Raisi’s cabinet during his first year in office. Raisi’s economic policies have certain differences and similarities with those of his predecessor, and Kozhanov assessed the potential impact of these policies on Iran’s economic development.
The final panel of the conference, “Iran and the Caucasus,” moderated by Dr Aicha Elbasri, looked into Iran’s foreign policy toward the South Caucasus. Javad Heiran-Nia, International Relations Director of the Gulf Studies Group at the Center for Scientific Research and Middle East Strategic Studies in Iran, and Mahmood Monshipouri, Professor of International Relations at San Francisco State University, maintained that Iran’s leverage and assets in the South Caucasus are limited, in part due to Tehran’s strained relations with Washington, but largely because of its 20-year strategic agreement with Russia. Rovshan Mammadli, taking part in the conference from Lithuania, concluded the session by discussing how the Raisi administration sought to overcome new challenges in the South Caucasus and assessing its success in doing so. He examined Iran’s policies after the Nagorno-Karabakh war and its view of Israel and Turkey’s activities in the region.
In his concluding remarks, Mehran Kamrava, Head of the Iranian Studies Unit at the ACRPS and Professor of Government at Georgetown University Qatar, thanked the participating researchers, attendees, and organizers of the conference. He stressed the significance of the research and discussions on continuities and changes in Iranian politics under Raisi. The conference took place at a crucial juncture in the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, at a time when perceptible shifts seem to be taking place in the country’s regional policies and a move toward dialogue and diplomacy.