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How Rouhani’s main asset became his biggest liability

Seeing the nuclear deal — what was supposed to be his main asset — turn into his main liability, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s best bet is continued disunity among his conservative foes.

Six minutes’ walk from the office of the Iranian president in downtown Tehran lies Horr Square, which features a statue of a warrior killing a mythical monster. Every time President Hassan Rouhani goes to work, he can’t but see the warrior, who might inspire him in his fight for another term. While Rouhani might not be bound to lose, elements that could greatly assure his victory in the upcoming May elections are still missing. His main investment, the July 14, 2015, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), does not seem to be satisfying the Iranian street. The nuclear deal might have doubled the country’s oil exports as well as ended its political and economic isolation, but to Rouhani’s adversaries in Tehran, this does not mean anything when it comes to the battle for power.

Make no mistake about it: Rouhani is engulfed in a fierce battle that might see him become the first Iranian president since 1981 to not serve a second term. This is what his conservative foes are fighting for, yet their coalition is not delivering — despite the building of solid anti-government rhetoric, exploiting the setbacks of the JCPOA, highlighting the failures of Rouhani’s team since coming to office in 2013 and hitting him over his shaky relationship with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The main reasons behind the conservatives’ failure include their lack of unity and the absence of strong candidates who could defeat the incumbent in the polls.

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