Iran and the dichotomy of openness

As part of the nuclear agreement, Rowhani’s government raised expectation regarding openness among the youth and showed noticeable flexibility on the freedom of expression. (Shutterstock)

Three Iranian ministers have resigned following criticism from hardliners and differences over the government’s promised era of openness since the nuclear deal. Iran has lived through economic and social isolation since Ayatollah Khomeini assumed power and this has lasted until today.

After the nuclear agreement, Hassan Rowhani’s government raised expectation regarding openness among the youth and showed noticeable flexibility on the freedom of expression. It unblocked social media websites, decreased internet censorship and allowed women to take part in public sporting activities and attend concerts.

Despite what has been said about the Supreme Leader’s approval of government decisions, the struggle erupted among two sections within the regime – hardliners and government officials led by Rowhani.

Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has also been subjected to a torrent of criticism due to his promises of openness. The criticism which led to the resignation of education, culture and sports ministers, do not just reveal differences over openness but also on how extremist elements are using religious groups in this struggle.

Revolutionary Guards, and the hardline elements supporting it, were surprised when they found out that the two major banks refused to provide banking services to a group called Khatam-al Anbiya, which is linked to the Revolutionary Guards. They refused to do so considering the pledge which the government made to international organizations to implement measures to combat money laundering.

The criticism which led to the resignation of education, culture and sports ministers, do not just reveal differences over openness but also on how extremist elements are using religious groups in this struggle

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

It is obvious that Iran’s openness comes at the price of stopping all dealings with banned organizations. This has angered the most dangerous element within the Iranian regime, the Revolutionary Guards, which reportedly funds massive military activities outside Iran through a series of suspicious banking operations.

Hardline preacher Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati also directed accusations at the Rowhani government recently. “They want to provide our financial and banking information to our enemies in the name of combating money laundering and funding terrorism,” he said. Responding to his accusation, a government spokesperson said that these subjects must not be discussed in newspapers or from the pulpits of mosques.

This means that the intense domestic pressure on Rowhani’s government is not due to social openness or allowing sportswomen to play or allowing men and women to attend concerts together. It seems all these are mere excuses being used to pressure the Rowhani government to end its international commitments.

Jostling for power

There are two groups jostling for power in Iran – the Rowhani team, which is described as representing religious liberalism, and radical clerics in the court of the Supreme Leader.

It seems, the Supreme Leader hasn’t yet made up his mind. He wants to maximize benefits of the nuclear deal and break the siege on Iran by buying American and European jets besides getting the oil production technology. At the same time, he wants to control Iran’s domestic turf, prevent openness and safeguard security and religious institutions from international monitoring.

It is clear that the Supreme Leader is waiting to see what the western dealings with Iran will result in, particularly after the US elections which he has described as one between “bad and worse.”

If the new US president implements the promises made by the current administration, then Iran will most probably resort to mixed solutions with few changes. It will curb openness and resume its illegal military and financial operations in the region.

However, if the new American administration insists on testing the Iranian promises and, cooperating with Iran as long as it adheres to its promises, then the Supreme Leader may bury the nuclear deal. He will then, most probably, not repose faith in a new term for Rowhani, which ends in less than 10 months.

This article was first published Asharq al-Awsat on Oct. 25, 2016.
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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed
 

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:49 - GMT 06:49
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