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Rouhani Left Toughest Criticism to Last

On the last day of campaigning in the presidential election in Iran, the incumbent, Hassan Rouhani dropped his biggest bombshell yet.

In an unprecedented speech he targeted the institutions that are under the direct supervision of the Supreme Leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and accountable to nobody, but him.

The main targets in Rouhani’s speech, on May 17, in Mashhad were the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Islamic Radio and Television, the judiciary, and Astan Quds Razavi, a religious financial empire run by his closest challenger, Ebrahim Raeisi.

Rouhani, without any elaboration, said Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his deputy Abbas Araghchi received an “unidentified telephone call” pressuring them in the heat of Iran’s negotiations for a nuclear deal with world powers.

In his last campaign speech, Rouhani also referred to the controversial banning of concerts in the holiest Shi’ite city in Iran, Mashhad.

“[Iran] has one leader, one government, and one constitution. We do not want a leader in each province,” he said.

Mashhad’s Friday Prayers Leader Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, who happens to be Raeisi’s father-in-law, recently criticized public music performances in the holy city. His criticism led to a ban of all concerts in Mashhad.

Furthermore, the incumbent accused his conservative opponents of having a problem with the public and youth in particular.

“You asked people to go outside Mashhad if they were interested in the arts. Now you want to overrun Iran and ask the people to leave. You had problems with the people [I understand], but what is your problem with Ferdowsi? Why did you wipe out his poems?” he said.

Ferdowsi was a 10th-century Persian poet and the author of Shahnameh, or The Book Of The Kings, the world’s longest epic poem created by a single poet. Iranians view the Shanameh as a national epic of their greater historic homeland. Conservatives close to Khamenei, however, do not like the poet or his epic because it’s about mythical kings and knights before Islam and the Arab invasion of Iran.

Rouhani’s reference to banning cultural events in Mashhad led to angry roars from the audience against Al Hoda, the supreme leader’s representative. He asked his supporters to keep calm and avoid negative slogans against the ayatollah or anyone else.

The IRGC and its sidekick, Basij [Resistance Forces], were Rouhani’s next target for bitter criticism.

“I have no problems whatsoever with the personnel of the forces, but I want them to respect the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini’s will, and stay out of politics,” he said.

Furthermore, Rouhani called upon the judiciary to discharge its duties in the framework of the constitution.

Criticizing Islamic Radio and TV as he did on Wednesday morning in the city of Ardebil, Rouhani called on his supporters to vote for him and help free the media from the hands of a “gang,” without elaborating further.

The incumbent then went directly for his main challenger, accusing him of hiring buses to take people to his campaign rallies.

“You only know how to hire buses. Later, I am going to send you the bills. The Twelfth government [my next cabinet] will make you accountable,” he said.

Once again, he accused Raeisi of distributing flour and candies, bought by Astan Quds Razavi, to lure people to vote for him.

Retaliating, Raeisi, who was also campaigning in Mashhad, labeled the accusation an “insult” to his supporters.

“You are ignoring the large crowds [gathered at his election rallies],” Raeisi said. He repeated most of his previous criticisms of Rouhani and accused him of ignoring the national interest.

Nevertheless, Rouhani did not waste time ridiculing his opponent.

“You send knife-wielding thugs to tear up my pictures, but why did you raise their wages to 1 million tomans ($300) per hour?” he said.

For the first time, the incumbent revealed that Iran’s team negotiating a nuclear deal with world powers were threatened and pressurized by unidentified sources in the heat of their bargaining.

On May 18, the candidates rest and campaigning ends.

More than 56 million Iranians are eligible to vote in Friday’s presidential election. If none of the candidates wins more than 50 percent of the votes, a run-off will be held on May 26.

Critics of the regime argue that it makes little difference who becomes president, since the elected executive does not control the bulk of important state bodies and institutions. In almost all critical matters, it is the word of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, who is not elected by popular vote, that counts.

Rouhani won the last election by a fragile majority of 50.88 percent.