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Perhaps to divert attention from here and now problems, such as the ravages caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, economic meltdown, hyperinflation and rampant corruption, Tehran's ruling elite have decided to give an early start to a presidential election expected to be held in June.
The main tune played by the official media is that the election this time is going to be the final showdown between the "reformist" and "principalist" factions that have provided an Islamist version of the Punch-and-Judy show as a sign of democracy in the Islamic Republic.
A sub-theme is also built around rumors that the "Supreme Guide" has decided to have a military president as his sidekick. So far at least two of Iran's estimated 1,000 or so active or retired brigadier-generals have already thrown their caps into the ring.
Finally, a third tune would have us believe that the "Supreme Guide" wants a change of generations at a time that almost all top positions in his Islamic gerontocracy are held by septuagenarians to nonagenarians.
However, judging by the strident new conditions set for those who wish to stand for presidency, it may be hard, if not impossible, to find a candidate that would meet the desiderata fixed by the "Supreme Guide". In fact, the rules, published last week, seem to be designed more to show who cannot stand than who could.
The aim, here, is exclusion rather than qualifications.
First exclusion, of course, concerns female Iranians, although they account for some 52 percent of the population. Next exclusion affects non-Muslim Iranians who account for two to four percent. Non-Shiite Muslims, accounting for 12 percent of the population, are also excluded. Even then, being male, Muslim and Shiite isn't enough to secure qualification. As a Shiite you have to be a Twelver Shiite to be considered. But that isn't all. Being male, Muslim, Shiite and Twelver you must also be an "oslui" (fundamentalist) which means that dozens of sects, such as akhbaris, sheikhis, Sufis etc; are excluded.
Thought that was all? Wrong.
Even being male, Muslim, Shiite, Twelver and "osuli" won't be enough to let you stand for the presidency of the Islamic Republic. You must also be "imam-mand", a neologism by mullahs to indicate the belief that Islam is incomplete without imams.
However, even being "imam-mand" won't do the trick.
You still need to be "wala'i", or someone who believes that "walayat al-faqih" (Custodianship of the Jurist) is the only legitimate form of government.
Oof! Is that all? Not by a long chalk.
Belief in "walayat al-faqih" isn't enough either. You must believe in its absolute version.
Finally, once you have fulfilled all the above conditions you must meet another one, absolute devotion to the "Supreme Guide" Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, who has quietly asked to be referred to as Imam.
Apart from those basic conditions for candidacy, you must also be aged at least 30, which excludes over 50 percent of Iranians, and under 70. which excludes another 5 percent.
Needless to say, the estimated eight million Iranians in exile are also barred from candidacy.
The new conditions also stipulate the necessity of university-level degrees or equivalent in theological seminaries and military schools.
That, too, won't be as easy as it sounds.
A Majlis report in 2018 claimed that there were thousands of fake PhDs in the Islamic Republic, including many in the high echelons of government. Being suckers for titles, Iranians love to be called "doctor" or "engineer" when they cannot be called "sayyed", ayatollah or, at least, Hojat al-Islam. The height of glory, of course, is to bear several titles as was the case with Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Doktur Muhammad Beheshti, one of the early operatives of the Khomeinist power grab in 1979.
It is not surprising that almost all top commanders of the Revolutionary Guard also use the title "Doktur" on the strength of real or fake degrees from real or non-existent universities.
One fake university with an address in the island of Saba, in the Caribbean, has sold over 500 doctorates to Iranian officials for $25,000 apiece.
Theological qualifications are equally subject to doubt and speculation.
Traditional seminaries in Qom, Mashhad and Najaf do not recognize seminaries set up by the regime under mullahs on state payroll. In exchange, state-funded seminaries do not recognize certificates of jurisprudence (Ijtihad) issued by traditional seminaries.
Again, leaving aside women and non-Muslims, and non-Shiites, that condition would exclude 80 percent of those who might wish to apply.
To complicate matters further, the conditions demand other qualifications that are hard if not impossible to measure.
For example, how do you prove "heartfelt belief in the necessity of religion" or "transparent hostility to the West" or "opposition to all seditions that have taken place against the Islamic Revolution"?
Another hard-to-prove condition is "preferring the interests of the system to personal interests" while "a deep knowledge of domestic affairs, regional politics and international situation" may require at least an undergraduate course followed by examinations.
Things become more complicated when would-be candidates are asked to prove loyalty not only to the regime and all its policies but also to be committed to preserving all the existing institutions of the Islamic Republic. This means that those who dream of reforming let alone disbanding the High Council of Guardians of the Constitution or merging the Revolutionary Guard with the national army need not apply.
One condition, perhaps designed to exclude President Hassan Rouhani's so-called New York Boys, bars anyone with a dual nationality or permanent residence permits in foreign countries to stand.
But that is not all. Those with foreign-born or foreign-resident parents, offspring or any other close relatives are also barred.
In 2018 the Islamic Majlis, the ersatz parliament, claimed in a report that over 1,500 senior officials, including unnamed members of the Cabinet and provincial governors, had a dual nationality, mostly US or Canadian, or had children attending school in Western Europe or North America.
Last week, the Islamic Majlis gave the Council of Guardians the power to veto would-be candidate on the basis of their program as well.
Even if you fulfill all those conditions, your application may still be rejected by the Council of Guardians on grounds that are never explained. But approval by the council isn't the final hoop either. The "Supreme Guide" may veto your candidacy and, as you believe in his infallibility, you will not be able to challenge his decision.
One can think of only one candidate who might have all the qualifications and certainty of approval by the "Supreme Guide": Major-General Qassem Soleimani.
Problem is, he is no longer available.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987.
This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.