A vote in Iran’s parliament on Wednesday resulted in the dismissal of President Rouhani’s minister of science.
The vote was a shock but also an important message: the main contradiction in Iran remains between the hardliners and supporters of democracy. If Rouhani’s top priority is the rebuilding of the country’s economy and ending of international sanctions against Iran, the central issue that affects his administration’s efforts in everything remains the hardline confrontation.
The problem that hardliners in Iran see is not just the presence of two individuals at the ministry of science. As Elias Naderan, a hardline MP recently said, “The problems of the ministry of science will not be resolved by the dismissal of these two individuals,” adding, “Representatives from the academia do not want a repeat of the 2009 there.”
The real problem that the majority of MPs see is not the academic scholarships that were unlawfully given to insiders either. In the words of Bijan Nobaveh, another hardline MP, “We are concerned, and the issue is not the dismissal of the minister. The problem goes beyond that.”
Majlis speaker’s attempts to contain the impeachment efforts failed, indicating the larger problem. He had said before the ouster vote, “I think the problem will be solved by replacing a few individuals.” His deputy went even further and said, “Mr. Jahangiri had sent messages that this will definitely be done.”
But it did not work and 145 MPs out of 270 voted to oust the minister. Rouhani quickly appointed another controversial figure as the care taker for the ministry while moving the ousted minister to serve as his advisor, both moves in challenge to what the chief of the country’s judiciary had said: “It is not acceptable that individuals who were active in the 2009 sedition should hold government posts.”
Rouhani gets the message. He, his administration, the majority of the MPs and other state agencies that produce hardliners are well aware of the battle between the two groups. The fight effects every move, decision and event in the country.
From the hardliners perspective, Rouhani’s legitimate field of activity is in diplomatic efforts to break the sanctions and consequently pressure on Iran and the rebuilding of the economy. They have been and will continue to challenge the administration on its efforts to open up the political or social systems. They will not tolerate any opening up of the universities either, as the recent vote indicates.
But graft and misuse of public office and authority is tied to the security-military apparatus in the Islamic republic. This can only be changed in a free atmosphere where the media can be free and secure.
The dismissal of the minister of science is another reminder to civil and political activists not to forget the need for democratization, and not get lost under the weight of economic and diplomatic issues. It is also the latest warning to Rouhani and his administration that without political reforms, economic changes are not possible if the hardliners continue their onslaught and they will not enjoy full public support.
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