Maxim Shemetov / Reuters Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin walls in Moscow, Russia March 28, 2017.

The JCPOA Helps Iran's Elites and Hurts Rouhani

Why That's a Problem

These are hard times for Hassan Rouhani. With fewer than two months to go until Iran’s next national election, currently scheduled to take place on May 19, the long knives are out for the soft-spoken cleric who serves as the country’s president. 

Recent weeks have seen mounting criticism of Rouhani’s stewardship of the Iranian government and the emergence of new challengers seeking to grab the political reins from the Islamic Republic’s embattled incumbent. Both trends have also been blessed by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is pushing an increasingly populist—and protectionist—political line.

WHAT PEACE DIVIDEND?

At the core of Iran’s souring national mood lies the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal signed between Iran and the P5+1 powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) back in July 2015.

A model of Simorgh satellite-carrier rocket during a ceremony marking the 37th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, in Tehran February 11, 2016.

A model of Simorgh satellite-carrier rocket during a ceremony marking the 37th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, in Tehran February 11, 2016.

In his successful bid for the Iranian presidency in 2013, Rouhani banked heavily on the idea that such a deal (then quietly under discussion with the Obama administration) could bring prosperity back to a country that had been ravaged by Western sanctions. Iranian voters agreed, backing Rouhani at the ballot box and giving him the electoral mandate to turn around the economy.

But the promised peace dividend hasn’t materialized—at least for ordinary citizens. True, the Islamic Republic has reaped an enormous economic windfall as a result of the agreement (encompassing some $100 billion in previously escrowed oil revenue, reintegration into the global financial system, and a surge in post-sanctions trade). The cumulative impact of the stimulus has been nothing short of transformative. According to IMF and World Bank estimates, Iran’s economy, which was teetering on the brink of collapse in late 2013, is now on a path of sustained growth.

However, prosperity hasn’t trickled down to the average Iranian. As the Iranian regime has translated its newfound resources into massive, multi-billion dollar arms deals and deepening foreign adventurism in places such as Syria and Yemen, conditions

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