Win or lose, Jalili's candidacy is the perfect metaphor for what has befallen Iran. He is one of the most successful alumni of the centerpiece of the Islamic regime's education system, Imam Sadiq University. As products of the regime, both the university and Jalili represent Iran's shifting place in the world since the 1979 revolution.
In the years before the revolution, a family of innovative Iranian industrialists succeeded in collaborating with Harvard University to set up a satellite campus of the famed American university in Tehran. The team set up a state-of-the-art campus and began giving out Harvard MBAs -- but its doors were shuttered after the revolution. The campus was eventually turned over to Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, who in the early days of the revolution was the head of revolutionary committees and a trusted aide to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and is now an ally of Khamenei. The Harvard campus was renamed Imam Sadiq University; since then, it has been a Kani fiefdom, and the school's mission statement makes it clear that it considers its duty to select students based first and foremost on their professed piety.
If success is based on one's pious pedigree, Jalili succeeded with flying colors. It is often claimed, falsely, that he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Prophet Mohammed's foreign policy. In fact, the subject of his dissertation, which was finished in 2001, is the political paradigm of the Quran. In a language chilling in its certitude, he not only claims that Islam's holy book offers a complete, inerrant, and timeless model for politics and life, but adds that the sine qua non of belief is complete submission to -- and implementation of -- the book's divine wisdom. His dissertation advisor was Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday prayer leader of the city of Mashhad and one of Khamenei's most stalwart allies. In Alamolhoda's most recent sermon, for example, he claimed that anyone who does not vote in the upcoming election will certainly go to hell.
Jalili is still focused on piety at the expense of practical realities. He refuses to recognize the existence of a serious economic crisis, even as oil exports have been reduced to the lowest levels in more than a half-century. Instead of proposing solutions on how to end sanctions and reduce tensions, Jalili offers facile certitudes about the need for an "economy of resistance." In one televised interview, he suggested Iran's economy could be improved if Iran stopped buying millions of dollars of ice-cream sticks from Germany: As he put it, "Imagine how many jobs we can create in our villages by producing ice-cream sticks ourselves."
One of the main slogans of Jalili's campaign is hayat tayyebe -- "pious living." It is a phrase that comes from the Quran and, according to Jalili, demands absolute belief in the righteousness of Khamenei's leadership. He often repeats verbatim what the supreme leader has said -- that pious living is political resistance, not compromise.
Jalili's views on social issues are also framed through his conception of "pious living." In a meeting with a group of women in late May, he drew a sharp distinction between the Western and "Islamic" view of the role of women. In Islam, he said, the most basic unit is the family, and "women's identity is through family, which is the same as being a mother." Iranians should not, he claimed, be ashamed of this view -- it is the West that should be ashamed.
In today's Iran, where more than 60 percent of college science degrees are earned by women -- in spite of the obstacles the regime throws in their way -- ideas like Jalili's are a hard sell. That might be why, with every passing day, his candidacy is also proving to be a harder sell -- even for his powerful supporters.