Domestic Political Reforms in Iran

The Door to Freedom Remains Shut

Iran's conservatives – whose representatives were defeated by Hassan Rouhani in the presidential election earlier this year – have maintained their grip on power in important areas of state such as the judiciary, the armed forces, the Revolutionary Guard and the security forces. Because the liberal Rouhani does not want to wage war on two fronts, it is inevitable that he will disappoint his supporters. A commentary by Rudolph Chimelli

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani does not want to wage war on two fronts. In his first one hundred days in office, he concentrated fully on improving the relations between his country and the West. After all, the country's staggering economic problems can only be solved by the lifting of sanctions and the resolution of the dispute about Iran's nuclear programme. The president is avoiding any additional resistance to his policy from the ultra-conservatives by putting off the domestic liberalisation of Iran, even though he is dashing the hopes of many of his supporters by doing so.

Whether he is postponing such reform or whether things will remain as they are indefinitely is hard to say. The conservative forces, whose representatives were defeated by Rouhani in the presidential election, have maintained their grip on important areas of state such as the judiciary, the armed forces, the Revolutionary Guard and the security forces.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the University of Tehran (photo: ISNA)
Silenced opposition: over 100 political prisoners are currently being held in Iran, among them the two opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi (left) and Mehdi Karroubi. All of them accused Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of electoral fraud four years ago and refused to recognise his re-election as president

It is the former Interior Minister Abdallah Nouri, who was sentenced to five years in prison for speaking his mind while still a member of the government, who has been most outspoken in his criticism of the current situation. Nouri visited the family of presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, who is under house arrest, and reminded Rouhani that he had been elected because Iranians were fed up with lawlessness, civil rights violations and "narrow-mindedness" in the Islamic Republic.

Ayatollah Ali Mohammed Dastgheib, who is held in high regard by the opposition and is a member of the Assembly of Experts, which elects the Supreme Leader of Iran, has made similar statements. Dastgheib reprimanded Rouhani for saying nothing when the daughters of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who is also under house arrest, were mistreated by a female guard when they went to visit their father.

"The reason we cast our votes the way we did was so that you would try to release all political prisoners and, in particular, to release Mousavi and Karroubi from house arrest," said the ayatollah. However, very few prisoners have been released so far.

Rouhani censored

It came as a shock to people in Iran that a newspaper was banned at the end of the month. It was the first time such a step had been taken since Rouhani came to power. On the occasion of Eid al-Ghadeer, the day on which Shias celebrate Muhammad's appointment of Ali as his successor, the pro-reform newspaper Bahar discussed whether Ali, one of the Shias' favourite historical figures, was more a religious or a secular leader.

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