Iran is worried about the health of US democracy.
Iranian state television zeroed on the voting irregularities reported throughout America during midterm elections, watched closely in the Islamic republic as well as around the world as a verdict on the first 22 months of the presidency of Donald Trump.
“US rights groups report problems with machines in a dozen states,” said a recurring caption on state-owned English-language Press TV.
Iran’s hardline Fars News Agency, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard, spun an entire article out of a tweet by Richard Haas, a former US diplomat who is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, lamenting that the “election results underscore just how divided we are”.
Perhaps no other nation has more of a stake in the success or failure of President Trump than Iran, which has become a target of the White House over its missile programme and deployment of armed proxies throughout the Middle East.
The US also regularly lambasts Iran’s human rights record. Last week, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said in an interview that Washington wanted to “restore democracy” to Iran, adding to fears that the US seeks regime change in Tehran.
Just days before the elections on Tuesday, President Trump’s adjutants unveiled what they touted as the toughest sanctions in history against the Islamic republic in a move that will likely increase economic hardship for ordinary Iranians. Some Iranians hoped that opposition Democrats’ winning control of the House of Representatives from Republicans might force President Trump to ease his policies.
“Everyone hoped the Democrats would take the Senate, and some in Iran believe that the pursuit of domestic issues and investigations by the House of Representatives could keep Trump busy and distract him from Iran a little bit,” said Rohollah Faghihi, a Tehran-based writer and researcher who contributes to news website Al Monitor.
Iranian officials were largely silent on the election results. Most were off duty yesterday at the start of a long holiday marking the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
Many Iranians on social media celebrated the victory of Florida state legislature candidate Anna Eskamani, an Iranian-American Democrat, as well as other Muslim women voted to congress in Minnesota and Michigan.
Press TV regularly touted a tweet by EU deputy commissioner Frans Timmerman, who described the election as a victory of “hope over fear, civility over rudeness, inclusion over racism, equality over discrimination”.
But few believe that the elections will mark a US policy shift on Iran. Some analysts inside Iran noted that Senate Republicans tightened their grip over the more powerful upper chamber of the legislature, and that many Democrats are avowedly pro-Israel and may support the White House’s hawkish anti-Iran policies.
“I think the harsh line on Iran would at best remain unchanged, if not get worse,” said Babak Jafari, an international affairs correspondent for the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency. “Iran’s diplomacy apparatus lost a good opportunity to enter talks with Trump pre-election and pre-empt sanctions. Now it’s much more difficult for Iran.”
Just as some in Washington criticise Mr Trump for having a posture rather than a policy, critics of the government of President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran argue that officials need to come up with a coherent proactive strategy to address Mr Trump’s belligerence.
“Instead of pinning hopes on the collapse of Trump or exploiting the competition between political parties in the US, the Iranian government should make up its mind as to what it wants to do in the face of Trump,” Ahmad Zeidabadi, an outspoken Iranian opposition activist, wrote on his Telegram page.
Regardless of where they stand on President Trump, many noted that Iran suffers endemic problems that won’t go away regardless of who resides in the White House and how much power they have.
“Some in Iran pray that the Trump presidential term ends as soon as possible,” said Mahdi Khalili, a reformist-leaning political scientist. “Some are happy and supported by Trump and his policies in trying to change the regime. The majority of society is now dissatisfied, whether on the issue of compulsory hijab, or in terms of salaries, income, and welfare.”