Nothing in the track-record of Iran’s newly-elected president Hassan Rouhani suggests “he might be a closet liberalizer,” says a prominent analyst.
“It is worth noting that Rouhani’s initial steps are strikingly reminiscent of another Iranian president – not reformist Mohammad Khatami, whose 1997 election elicited a similar sense of surprise, but Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, under whose leadership Iran rebounded from a decade of war and upheaval,” notes Suzanne Maloney, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy:
Rouhani’s cabinet selections “reinforce his consistency with the theocracy’s preferences on maintaining strong central control, as well as his reliance on a political circle associated with [former president Ali Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani,” she writes for Middle East Voices:
With reformists largely passed over particularly for the slots that are key to civil society (and women neglected entirely), it is still too soon to say whether Rouhani’s Iran will open the door to greater individual freedom and protection of basic rights. Among the less-than-inspiring picks, one stands out as something much worse – Mostafa Pour-mohammadi, the new justice minister, who has rightly earned international condemnation for his role in a litany of Iranian human rights abuses.
Rouhani’s cabinet selection has been interpreted as a promising signal by some observers, noting the diminished representation of Revolutionary Guard Corps representatives. But others have highlighted the absence of authentic reformist voices as a sign that Rouhani remains a consummate regime insider.
Ostensibly committed to change, Rouhani may find it impossible to avoid the fate of previous chief executives who failed to “make headway against the ideologues who hold final sway over Iran’s national and international policies,” says Jamsheed K. Choksy, professor of Iranian Studies and chairman of the Department of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University.
“Iranian politicians conveniently blame mismanagement by those ex-presidents for the nation’s internal problems. Fundamentalist ayatollahs attribute the problems to lax morals as well. And both groups utilize the nuclear dispute with the West as an expedient means of rallying the nation together in the face of decline,” he writes for YaleGlobal:
Worse of all, unfortunately for Iran and the world, setting aside ideology to resolve domestic issues and their spillover into foreign affairs is not regarded as essential by Supreme Leader Khamenei and others of his persuasion. So, a worst case scenario could result in Iran resembling North Korea by responding to internal socioeconomic disintegration with externally-directed aggression, even nuclear threats.