Qassem Soleimani Voted Man of Year in Iran
OE Watch Commentary: Qassem Soleimani, head of the Qods [Jerusalem] Force, the elite unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) charged with export of revolution, has for almost 20 years commanded the organization. Given the secretive nature of Qods’ Force operation, it made sense that for years Soleimani remained in the shadows. There were few photographs of him, and he would actively keep himself out of the headlines.
This has changed in recent years. Soleimani has become a public figure. He has allowed himself to be photographed first among forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and then in Iraq among Shi‘ite volunteers fighting to regain ground lost to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. He has sought out the limelight and cultivated a personality cult within Iran which depicts him as a soldier’s soldier and a man who sacrifices everything to defend oppressed Shi‘ites.
It is therefore not surprising that in recent polls conducted by Iranian press outlets, Soleimani has emerged as one of the most popular men in Iran. In one poll conducted by Khabar Online, Soleimani edged out last year’s winner, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. In the poll cited in the excerpted article, Soleimani is runner up to Zarif, the chief face of Iran’s nuclear negotiations. The significance of the poll, which the excerpted article cites, however, is both that Tabnak is a “pragmatic” outlet closely associated with former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and that the poll claims to represent the more educated elite within Iranian society. Hence, Soleimani seems to have real grassroots support across Iranian society.
While Iranians are more open than their neighbors and will participate in polls more forthrightly, state control over newspapers and websites means that only those with approved results can be published openly. That Soleimani is featured as either man of the year or runner-up in prominent polls then raises the question as to why are such polls being published. Few Iranian officials—especially those with the portfolio that Soleimani oversees—would expose themselves without purpose. With regard to Soleimani’s growing public presence, one intriguing possibility is that he is readying himself as a potential presidential candidate. The Iranian system is hardly democratic—less than one percent of candidates on average are cleared to run. Whenever one faction gets too powerful, the Supreme Leader privileges other factions to maintain a balance of power. Hence, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, close to the Revolutionary Guards, replaced the more reformist-minded Mohammad Khatami, purging many of his supporters in the process. Current President Hassan Rouhani behaved likewise, replacing many of Ahmadinejad’s IRGC supporters with a mix of pragmatists and Intelligence Ministry veterans. Soleimani’s rise suggests Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is looking for an alternative to become president should Rouhani and Zarif push their international agenda beyond Khamenei’s comfort zone. Given Soleimani’s history in the Qods Force, a Soleimani presidency might complicate Iran’s relations not only with the United States and Europe, but also with Iran’s immediate neighbors. End OE Watch Commentary (Rubin)
Source: “Mohammad Javad Zarif va Sardar Qassem Soleimani Chehreh-haye Sal 93 Shodand,” (Mohammad Javad Zarif and Gen. Qassem Soleimani were the faces of 2014), 21 March 2015.
Zarif and Soleimani were the men of the year for 2014
A rational and balanced society is perhaps the best description of the people of Iran these days… According to a report by “Tabnak,” Tabnak conducted a survey to determine the man of the year; the audience was asked to comment on the most famous men of the year, and eight individuals were put forward for the poll and comments. They were [Qods Force head Qassem] Soleimani; [Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad] Zarif, [Tehran MP Ali] Motahari; [Health Minister Hassan] Qazizadeh Hashemi; [President Hassan] Rouhani; [Former President Ali Akbar] Hashemi [Rafsanjani]; [Former Science Minister Reza] Faraji Dana; and [Iranian mathematician] Maryam Mirzakhani were the eight people presented by Tabnak. For the sake of ease and time, the top four and four runners up were decided, and only the top four were presented in the final survey, and Mohammad Javad Zarif and General Qassem Soleimani were selected as the winners by the Tabnak audience. The remarkable thing about the poll was unlike those of some political factions and analysis, the audience was drawn from the most educated strata of society… And they decided that dialogue with the world and, when necessary, jihad and combat are the two wings that are able to fly together and give this country victory.