By Omid Irani
With the approaching conclusion of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s first year in office, the collective appetite of the world, in particular his domestic constituents, still craves for the bold campaign and inauguration promises echoed so loudly last spring and summer. As the calendar days continue to change since that long-anticipated 2013 election day, so too have the once glossy perceptions of President Rouhani in the eyes of Iranians and the international community as the political savior they so greatly sought after. Mind you, the promises of Mr. Rouhani were deeply popular and appealing to large segments of the Iranian citizenry who were so vehemently turned off by his predecessor’s tactics during his two terms in office. As time would show, while Hassan Rouhani differed in style, speech and demeanor from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former still fell victim to excessively audacious assurances just as easily as the latter.
During his campaign trail and his subsequent election, Mr. Rouhani articulated laudable policies and agendas he planned to enact and pursue which would, in theory, inject progression and moderation into a repressive society crippled at the hands of domineering personalities in power. Encouraging speeches and forums were held which were widely reported in the press in an effort to ready the country for the sweeping changes that were seemingly imminent. Talks of revitalizing the ailing economy, resolving the persistent nuclear issues, transformations in the attitude towards political prisoners and increased domestic liberties were all on the table, but the blueprint to build upon these facets was conspicuously absent.
Arguably, Iran’s most pressing issue at the time of President Rouhani’s election, which still remains paramount today, is the state of its decimated economy. Relying disproportionately on the export of oil as its chief source of income, the Iranian economy is inherently vulnerable to exploitation and thus disintegration. This innate flaw was seized upon by western nations that have been indefatigable in their implementation of sanctions not only on Iran but also on all nations and businesses that conduct any dealings therewith. With Iranian dependence on oil and gas prices, exacerbated by perpetual sanctions, the fragile economy began to collapse like a deck of cards.
Enter Hassan Rouhani. His election and dealings with this problem have only resulted in mild stabilization of the Iranian Rial versus the American Dollar. The inflation rate of the economy as published by Iran’s Central Bank still hovers at around 30%, a staggeringly high rate for a country whose population of 80 million people continues to suffer from double-digit unemployment and underemployment. The economic outlook for Iran is bleak to be modest, save for a total detente on par with that of the feuding Cold War superpowers that would prove to be vastly beneficial to Iran’s economy, but decidedly improbable given the current status of relations between the two disparate sides.
Individuals who wish to drastically understate the current economic situation in Iran, speciously, but quickly, will point out as their positive justification that the currency value and inflation rate are both in comparatively better straits now than a year ago; as if somehow, in their flawed estimation, these two factors are the only benchmarks to meet in order to have a copasetic economy. Parlaying this argument with the notion that Iran has averted the apocalyptic economic depression many savants had anticipated, these apologists paint a flawed picture of Iran’s suffering reality. Such a defective induction of the facts on the ground is the tactic of choice for those who wish to cherry-pick specific aspects of the Iranian economy in a manner that behooves them and their viewpoints. Furthermore, the publication of encouraging data that is done so in total isolation from their true contexts is dubious at best and deceptive at worst. While it is true that some aspects of Iran’s economy are doing better under Rouhani than Ahmadinejad, this does not warrant a carte blanche statement to say “Iran is back!” Conversely, it goes to show how anemic the economy truly was, and still is, that a meager fall of a few percentage points in the unemployment rate to the current approximate 11% rate, as published by the Statistical Center of Iran, is viewed as justification for ecstasy and jubilation. Unfortunately, for the more sensible and levelheaded individuals, a true uptick in the Iranian economy is not foreseen in the near future.
With respect to the nuclear program that has grossly hampered Iran’s ability to be a significant partner among the community of nations, there has not yet been any tangible breakthroughs for the Rouhani administration. Despite agreeing to the ‘Joint Plan of Action’with the West, which only freed up a meager percentage of Iranian funds frozen abroad and allowed for the imports of several desperately needed medical, automotive, and aviation-related goods and services, no concrete advances have even been broached, let alone agreed upon. Notwithstanding these limited gains, the reality is that there has been little reprieve from the sense of demoralizing dejection ever-present among ordinary Iranians.
Rouhani’s critics have lambasted any effort of trying to establish a rapprochement with the West as ‘unpatriotic’ and have often branded him as a ‘sell-out.’ Public support for negotiations with the West from Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, have also muddied the waters. His calls for ‘heroic flexibility’ seem to imply his willingness to strike a deal with the so-called P5+1 negotiating powers, but the lack of agreed-upon points Iran would relinquish on its nuclear program leads one to question his sincerity about arriving at such a potential diplomatic breakthrough regarding this nagging matter. Khamenei’s ambiguity on such a crucial issue suggests that he would like to have his nuclear cake and eat it too - a viewpoint the negotiating powers vehemently reject. One year into Rouhani’s fostered negotiations, all Iran has to show for this precious time is a few billion dollars, some new engines and a temporary amnesty from additional sanctions; all the while Iran’s already restive populace becomes ever more agitated with existing state of affairs.
For decades, Iran’s political and social scene has been plagued by intolerant hostility towards those who dare to express even the minutest forms of dissent or nonviolent resistance. The systemic ebbs and flows within Iran’s political structure are opaque, yet discernable should one successfully navigate through all the false bluster and recycled cacophony of talking points. For all the displeasure Iranians voice with their presidents, they, interestingly enough, experience a unique link with the American electorate. There has been a recently unbroken variation in their presidents’ ideological principles. In Iran, typically a two-term president with a reformist agenda, for example, will be replaced with a president who employs a more conservative and hardline outlook for the following two terms, before a reformist is once again elected back into office (ex: Khatami, Ahmadinejad, Rouhani). This politically alternating dynamic is evident in the American political system as there has been a two-term turnover between Republicans and Democrats dating back to the 1992 Presidential election.
Following this fairly strong correlation between incumbent presidents and their dogmas vis-a-vis their predecessors, President Rouhani has a tremendous burden of responsibility to carry not only because he is the president of a nation that is seemingly apathetic and falling farther and farther into the abyss with regard to domestic and international doings, but also because of his predecessor’s confrontational stances. After eight years of political and social asphyxiation, Iranians want to breathe and be able to do so freely. Rouhani, in isolation, is no different from this atavistic system’s previous and future presidents, however, in the present context, he represents a lifeline and a messianic relief to all of Iran’s troubles - unreasonably so. Unfulfilled campaign promises of varying political tolerance, social equality and cyber freedoms captivated Iranians, especially those under the age of 30 who comprise nearly two-thirds of its population.
For these reasons, there was a palpable expectation that domestic hardships and antagonism directed towards political prisoners would all be ameliorated. One year in, there still remains a yawning chasm between President Rouhani’s campaign promises and accomplishments. Two of Iran’s most recognized reformist leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, still remain under house arrest despite Rouhani’s numerous impassioned pledges to release them; a testament to what happens when assurances on the campaign trail amount to inaction after inauguration. Internet sovereignty is still an aspiration Iranians yearn for. News of six young Iranians being arrested for dancing to the hit pop song ‘Happy’ by hip-hop artist Pharrel only underscores the failure by Rouhani to modernize the outlook of this troglodytic government. Such mind-boggling news is ripe for comedic punchlines, but serves as a verification to the rearward tendencies that are a hallmark of Iran’s governmental fingerprints.
President Rouhani’s election was regarded by many as the long-desired turning point; the marking of a prospective maturation in Iran’s behavior and its image. The wide array of concerns would inevitably be rectified under the wise tutelage of this reformist president. Surely, the missteps and shortcomings of previous policies and presidents would not handicap this politically adept man’s ability to deliver on his assurances to his people. As it turned out, the man above - not God, but rather his purportedly appointed worldly interlocutor and representative, Ayatollah Khamenei, has implemented such unreasonably stringent parameters for his officials. As such even the most admired, courageous and confident presidents are institutionally set up for failure and disappointment due to the unjust rules of the game. Sadly, this is no surprise; as Iran’s recent history has proven far too often, the hopes, desires and aspirations of its proud people seldom ascend to meet the course of action of their government. And without a major shake-up to the status-quo, this behavioral trend will certainly endure. Nevertheless, suffice it to say, Hassan Rouhani’s first year in office leaves a lot to be desired.
About the author:
Omid Irani is a student at Seton Hall University pursuing a major in Political Science and a minor in History. He has written several articles analyzing Iran’s nuclear issue with respect to U.S. and international sanctions thereon and focuses on matters pertaining to Iran holistically. He can be reached at Omid484@aol.com
... Payvand News - 03/25/16 ... --