Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Watching for signs

In the days of the Soviet Union, an old joke was that determining what was going on politically in the Kremlin was as difficult as describing what was going on inside a burlap bag full of fighting cats.

Somedays it seems that the old joking analogy now fits Iran.

In Iran, Rouhani Begins 2nd Term With Signs He’s Yielding to Hard-Liners
President Hassan Rouhani, endorsed by Iran’s supreme leader on Thursday with a nationally televised cheek-kiss, is starting his second term under newly intense pressure from both hard-line opponents and many of his own reform-minded supporters…
Rouhani (center) during the endorsement
Now, as Iran prepares for his second inauguration on Saturday, some of the forces that helped give Mr. Rouhani a 24 million-vote mandate in May are concerned he will not fulfill his promise of appointing women and young politicians to his 18-member cabinet, and instead is running nominations by the supreme leader…

“We supported him during the campaign, but now there is no place for us,” said Jila Baniyaghoob, a women’s rights advocate…

The reform-minded Mr. Rouhani has always occupied a precarious position leading a country that is governed both by a religious ruler and a democratically elected president and parliament. But experts say this is a particularly challenging moment.

Closed in by rivals in Iran’s other centers of power — the supreme leader, influential clergy members and the judiciary — Mr. Rouhani can steer debate but not call the shots. Mr. Khamenei, who often publicly opposes the president but has supported him behind the scenes on key issues like the nuclear agreement and foreign outreach, is far more interested in economic growth than social change.

In Thursday’s endorsement ceremony, the ayatollah advised the president to “pay attention to the people’s problems, which today are primarily the economy and living conditions.” He also urged Mr. Rouhani to have extensive interaction with the world and to “stand strongly against any domination,” state media reported…

[M]any of Mr. Rouhani’s leading supporters in the May election had hoped the new cabinet would represent a new generation of women, youths and daring politicians, ready to implement Mr. Rouhani’s agenda and curb of the influence of hard-liners.

Instead, although all the positions are not yet filled, it looks like the ministers will be a delicate mix of older technocrats, don’t-rock-the-boat moderates and even some hard-liners. Reformists are now saying the 18 slots will all be filled by men, dashing hopes built up during Mr. Rouhani’s campaign…

The supreme leader himself blasted the president over his cultural policies, saying that his government is too lenient toward what Mr. Khamenei calls “Westernization.” Clerics blasted Mr. Rouhani’s signing of a multibillion-dollar deal with the French oil company Total, saying he should be investing in the nuclear program instead.

Mr. Rouhani has also had public fights with the Revolutionary Guards, whom he has called an alternative “government with guns.”…

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