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AP Analysis: New Iran president may help shield rulers

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The pro-reform Etemad daily carried a front page image of the smiling cleric Rowhani flashing a V-for-victory sign: "A salute to Iran and to the sheik of hope."

"Rowhani may face problems like sanctions, inflation and so," said Mirzababa Motaharinejad, a member of the pro-reform Mardomslari party. "But authorities will cooperate with him."

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Up to a point. Iran has been here before and it didn’t end well for reformists.

In 2001, reformist Mohammad Khatami steamrolled into his second term as president. The next four years were a stalemate as hard-liners allied with Khamenei blocked attempts at political reforms in parliament. Authorities gave up some ground on social freedoms — letting women’s head scarves slide back and permitting more Western films and music — but there also were pinpoint strikes on dissent with arrests and newspaper closures. The establishment eventually

Now, the Revolutionary Guard and its nationwide paramilitary force, the Basij, are far stronger and more deeply integrated into every level of society, including monitoring social media.

It’s unlikely Rowhani will push too hard anyway. He is moderate in the mold of his political patron, former President Akbar Heshami Rafsanjani, who wages selective battles against the Islamic establishment but manages to stay an insider with a post within the ruling hierarchy. Rowhani’s candidacy was something of a consolation prize after the ruling clerics barred Rafsanjani from running. Rafsanjani will now play the role of shadow president, advising from the wings.

A test ahead could be whether Rowhani attempts to win the release of the candidates from the disputed 2009 election, Green Movement leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and former parliament speaker Mahdi Karroubi, who have been house arrest since early 2011. Chants at his rallies and victory celebrations urged for their freedom.

"There is a lot to be cautious about. Rowhani is part of the system. He has served in some of the highest positions in Iran, including within the military and national security establishment," said Alireza Nader, senior policy analyst at the Rand Corp., a Washington-based think tank that receives U.S. funding. "He is not a reformist. He appears as an alternative candidate when compared to people like former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This is a low bar."

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