Hassan_rouhani

President Hassan Rouhani

May 17th will see the next Iranian presidential election – and the result really matters to us in the west.

This time next week we will know – we know whether the President of Iran is the reformist current president Hassan Rouhani, or someone else, most likely Ebrahim Raisi, a former judge who sat on what was called ‘death commissions.’ There is a third serious contender, the debonair Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.

The current president is a reformist – before he became President, the Iranian economy was in a state of permanent crisis – some say close to collapse. It was Hassan Rouhani who negotiated an international deal over Iran’s nuclear programme. And under him, growth in GDP has shot up, hitting 6.6 per cent last year, a growth rate that is expected to be maintained in 2017.

But Iran also suffers from high unemployment and there is a feeling, advanced by Ebrahim Raisi, that the current leadership puts too much emphasis on trading with the west, and that Iran needs to be more self-sufficient and also see trade deals with China.

Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf is a young puppy of a contender, the former Revolutionary Guards Commander and currently mayor of Tehran, with his snappy dress sense, is a mere 55. He appeals to the younger voter.

But in an odd way, the election feels familiar – reformists versus isolationists. Those who want to free Iran from the shackles of what they see as foreign masters – and make Iran great again, and those who see that as the rhetoric of the past – who want to see more reform, to make Iran a global player, working with other global players.

Iran is an important country – it always has been, since the days of the Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great. What happens in Iran has ramifications worldwide.

With the US under the leadership of Obama and Iran under Hassan Rouhani – the cleric who studied at university in Glasgow – it felt as if the US and Iran were, if not becoming good friends, at least were no longer enemies. The days when the US saw Iran as an evil empire, and Iran saw the US as the Great Satan seemed to be over – maybe one of the most spectacular achievements in global politics this century. A side benefit of this may have been the collapse in the oil price – so we can thank the fact that it no longer costs a small fortune to fill our cars up with petrol on the thawing of relationships between the US and Iran.

A return to the bad old days would be a tragedy and may eventually make us all a little bit poorer.