By Mahmoud Reza Golshanpazhooh,
Executive Editor of Iran Review
*This article was produced in partnership with the Fair Observer.
Azadi Square in Tehran
The recent presidential polls in Iran resulted in the election of Hassan Rouhani, who began his term after introducing his cabinet for a vote of confidence to the Iranian parliament (Majlis). Fifteen of his ministers won the Majlis’ vote of approval. Caretakers currently run the three remaining ministries
Throughout his election campaign and after being elected, Rouhani highlighted short-term plans that his government would implement within the first 100 days of his presidency. However, a more accurate assessment of his administration’s performance, fortes and weaknesses will only be possible after the first year of his presidency.
Nonetheless, a review of Rouhani’s remarks, the arrangement of his administration’s top managers, and the way he has chosen to deal with critics since his election, all piece together a picture of what the Iranian nation will face in the near future. In the world of politics, a single event or incident is enough to change both a government’s approach and a nation’s fate, while rendering all previous predictions moot.
As a result, what follows is actually based on the assumption that the new administration will be able to maintain the current atmosphere in Iranian society - there will be no special domestic developments, nor major political upheaval in the Middle East and Rouhani’s administration, or the president himself, will not make any sudden changes to their proposed plans. Therefore, the following article is open to discussion.
The Necessity to Understand
In almost all the speeches he has made since his election, Rouhani has put emphasis on the phrase: “The necessity to understand the message and demand of the voters.” This shows that, firstly, the high voter turnout in the polls as well as the election of Rouhani in the first round of the election, is of high value to the Islamic Republic.
The new administration is determined to reiterate its strategy to take advantage of its domestic and foreign leverage. Secondly, the Rouhani administration wants to keep this tool - his victory in the first round of the elections - fresh in people’s minds in order to control its opponents and critics.
The New President’s Rhetoric
Rouhani’s remarks in various speeches, post-election, shed more light on his positions on domestic issues, the Islamic Republic, international sanctions, nuclear and foreign policy. Below are several excerpts from his speeches:
- His Election: "[The result of] this election was not the consequence of a rift between [the Iranian] people and government, because the Iranian people have voted for a person as their president who has been serving for many years in sensitive posts under the Islamic Republic of Iran. This election was indicative that the Iranian people are striving toward dignity, and put renewed emphasis on the reality that democracy has become institutionalized and will be lasting in Iran."
- Equality and Unity: "'All' the Iranian ethnic groups are [like] diverse flowers in the garden of Iran, provided that they come together under the overarching umbrella of [the] Iranian and Islamic culture of the Islamic Republic... The Ministry of Interior shoulders the responsibility to realize the citizenship rights of 'all' the Iranians across the country. We must act in such a way as to foster a feeling of equality and equal opportunities for 'all' the people... We should take advantage of 'all' religious minorities in [the country’s] affairs and plans. Unity and solidarity can be only created through action, not slogans.
- Islamic Law and Ethics: "The [new] administration considers itself obliged to work toward [the] promotion of the Islamic ethics and do its best to elucidate the Islamic law. I have accepted reasonability with people’s support; the people who seek better livelihood and social status; the people who want to stay away from poverty, corruption and discrimination; and the people who want to thrive under a free atmosphere of spirituality and rationality and have trust in their future."
- Sanctions: "In the international arena, we will also take new steps to promote the position of the Iranian nation in order to meet [the country’s] national interests and get sanctions removed. Although there are many hardships ahead, future prospects are clear and hope inspiring."
- Nuclear Energy Program: "Iran's peaceful nuclear energy program is a matter of national interest, which transcends the borders among political factions. All the principles governing this issue will be maintained. This means that Iran's nuclear rights will be underlined by the administration in accordance with international regulations, and we will never turn a blind eye to [our] people’s right. At the same time, however, we will be ready for dialogue and interaction. We are ready to enter into serious negotiations with our opposite sides with seriousness and without wasting any time. If the opposite party shows the same degree of readiness [and resolve], I am sure that the two sides’ concerns can be dispelled through dialogue before long.
"...As president of Iran, I announce that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has serious political will to solve this problem while safeguarding the rights of the Iranian nation and, simultaneously, addressing and dispelling the concerns of the opposite side. We hope that the opposite side would have this political determination as well, because, if this is the case, the optimal result will be achieved; not in long term, but in short term."
- United States of America: "The White House statements do not conform to its behavior. On the whole, I am not pessimistic about [the] future outlook of negotiations. I don’t think that the West has not heard Iran's message yet. I don’t think that the West still thinks that continuation of [anti-Iran] sanctions or threats will get them anywhere. Constructive interaction and dialogue and dispelling common concerns will be beneficial to both sides. We are seeking a win-win game and this is quite possible."
- Chemical Weapons: "The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran is, itself, a victim of the chemical weapons, and aims to draw the attention of the international community to this point that it should do its utmost in order to ban the use of such weapons anywhere in the world... Insecurity, terrorist acts, and the Zionist regime’s air strikes against Lebanon are both condemned and prove that the enemy has hatched many plots for the Middle East, and the signs of these plots are already visible in [such countries as] Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt."
On the whole, the following points can be derived from Rouhani’s remarks as his main objectives: endeavoring to encourage a sense of self-confidence among Iranians; cultivating a feeling of calm in society; proving the new administration’s approaches are "legal" and "ethical"; making calculated references for the need to respect the rights of all Iranian citizens; emphasizing the necessity of showing logical flexibility with regard to the nuclear energy program; taking advantage of his own experience in domestic and foreign policy for the optimal management of social affairs; understanding people’s suffering as a result of sanctions; raising hope that negotiations will result in the removal of sanctions; and at the same time, emphasizing the need to safeguard Iran's rights and interests in the international arena.
As a result, it appears that rationality has started to play a more powerful role in Iran's political scene as compared to before. This has had a tangible impact on the general atmosphere in Iranian society and has helped placate the concerns of the people.
This newfound state of tranquility has been evident over the last two months, with no major economic or political upheavals within the country. The real change can be seen and heard in the words and attitudes of the Iranian people.
Reviewing the composition of Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet gives us some insight into his administration and policies.
From the viewpoint of an internal observer, for whom economic issues and tranquility in the society are of utmost importance, the Iranian government’s economic team consists of seasoned individuals: university professors; former ministers; and well-known activists from the private sector.
Mohammad Nahavandian, the former head of Iran’s biggest and most influential private commercial entity - the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Mines - is now President Rouhani's chief of staff.
This could be the catalyst needed to improve the difficult and usually tumultuous interactions between the Iranian administration and the private sector. It could also help generate optimism among the economic activists in the private sector regarding the government’s role in the economic arena.
On the other hand, Rouhani's appointment of individuals to senior posts in the ministries of interior, culture and Islamic guidance, mainly due to their bold cultural activities, is proof of the new administration's prioritization of cultural and social issues.
It seems as though the Iranian government will be facing hard times, with many domestic and foreign obstacles to overcome. However, the country's new administration is bent on emphasizing the rich Iranian-Islamic culture that governs society. This will help sustain and give prominence to the process of intellectual and emotional maturation that has developed among Iranian citizens, especially over the months since the hotly debated presidential election.
From the viewpoint of a foreign observer, who is more concerned about Iran’s foreign and defense policy, one has to consider the appointment of Mohammed Javad Zarif and Ali Akbar Salehi as new foreign minister and head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran respectively.
This, in addition to the personal attitude, experience and leadership skills of Rouhani - combined with the strong support from a seasoned team, which is committed to national interests of the country - is indicative of a number of issues.
Firstly, Iran's expertise and professional capacity as well as negotiation power will, in comparison to previous years, increase to the highest degree possible.
Secondly, by taking advantage of the aforesaid capacity and by relying on the experience that Iran has gained in the past eight years, it will become much more difficult for the West and Israel to influence the global public opinion regarding Iran's nuclear energy program as being a threat to international peace and security.
It should not be forgotten that neither during his election campaign, nor following his election as president, nor over the last eight years, has Rouhani raised even the slightest criticism of the country’s general policies with regard to the nuclear issue. “Nuclear energy is Iran's inalienable right,” remains his motto.
Nevertheless, he and his colleagues in the new administration have shown that they believe the two major issues facing the country are the nuclear program and anti-Iran sanctions. They have stated that these issues can be managed more professionally and at a lower cost. One example of this was Zarif’s speech before the parliament prior to his nomination.
Additionally, the presence of two experienced and pragmatic ministers at the helm of the Oil Ministry - Bijan Namdar Zanganeh; and the Ministry of Industry, Mine and Trade, Mohammad Reza Neematzadeh - is a sign that Rouhani’s administration is ready to take advantage of all the available possibilities in order to improve the economic situation of the country; display a higher profile in the international arena; and attempt to restore Iran to its deserved position within the international community.
In the meantime, the new defense minister’s first remarks after his appointment to the post should be taken into consideration. Hossein Dehqan said: “Attuned to the administration’s foreign policy, we will try to have interactions in the defense field and for the exchange of experience with neighboring countries, in the first step, and later with other countries... We think that defense diplomacy will be capable of solving a great number of international problems.” His statement shows that the moderate and rational approaches which govern the new government and the Iranian society will extend to the defense sector as well.
Presently, an Iranian administration whose primary values are moderation and hope is standing face to face with the West. Perhaps, the Iranians needed the experience of the past eight years to reach this point.
The Iranian nation, with all its resolve for change and improvement, still considers the development of peaceful nuclear energy its inalienable right and will support the government in case of the slightest military action against Iran by the United States or Israel. It also believes the United States is the main reason sanctions have been imposed upon the Islamic Republic.
Now, both the United States and Europe have been given the opportunity to replace their current approaches to Iran with rational ones - through proper understanding of Iran's domestic developments, free from any incorrect prejudgment.
Such a political maturity and stability will be outstanding when the situation in Iran - which is the result of empathy and cooperation among the Iranian people to determine the future of their country - is compared to the existing instability and relentless tensions that characterize most countries in the Middle East.
Let us hope that we will not read articles written by western analysts a few years from now that the West wasted the opportunity to improve relations with Iran during Rouhani’s tenure, just as it wasted the opportunity that was offered by former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami.
... Payvand News - 09/20/13 ... --