President Hassan Rouhani presented his cabinet yesterday to the Iranian Majles. It remains to be seen if the parliament will approve Rouhani’s ministers, but his list provides valuable insights into Rouhani’s political agenda and possibly a rebalancing of power in the Islamic Republic.
Ahmadinejad’s Gang Out
Rouhani wants eighteen cabinet portfolios, the same number as outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, that’s where the similarities end. Rouhani seeks to purge Ahmadinejad’s gang from the executive. At his first press conference, Rouhani stated, “I have no obligation towards those who entered the government by the busload and without a ticket.”
With the exception of Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, Rouhani’s pick for the Ministry of Justice who was interior minister in Ahmadinejad’s first cabinet, there are no survivors from the Ahmadinejad era.
Rafsanjani Technocrats In
Ten of eighteen cabinet ministers proposed by Rouhani are technocrats who either served in president Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s cabinet or as bureaucrats during Rafsanjani’s tenure.
In many ways, Rafsanjani’s presidency serves as a guide for Rouhani. Rafsanjani’s first cabinet was charged in 1989 to rebuild Iran’s economy after eight years of war with Iraq, and to bring the country out of diplomatic isolation. By appointing the same people, Rouhani seeks to correct eight years of economic mismanagement and diplomatic isolation, which Ahmadinejad – and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – brought upon Iran.
Weakening of the Guards, Strengthening of MOIS
Depending on how one makes the distinction, three to five of the 18 proposed cabinet ministers are members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). In comparison, almost half of Ahmadinejad’s ministers were former IRGC. The relatively light footprint of the IRGC, with the notable exception of the Defense Ministry, is one of the remarkable features of Rouhani’s proposed cabinet.
Rouhani is already at odds with the Guards. The IRGC did not back Rouhani in the presidential campaign, and has, since 2005, denounced his nuclear diplomacy as betrayal.
Meanwhile, four figures strongly associated with the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (MOIS) appear on Rouhani’s list. Coupled with the intelligence minister himself, this constitutes a group of five. This could represent a shift in power. Rouhani, whose formative years in politics were spent amongst the security services, has a strong personal affinity for the MOIS. More importantly, Khamenei may also seek to counter the growing power of the IRGC.
Missing in action
Despite widespread reformist support for Rouhani’s election campaign, there are no Khatami era reformists on the list. This means Rouhani either did not wish to include them or was prevented from doing so. Women are also notably absent, which makes Rouhani less progressive than Ahmadinejad, who appointed the first woman cabinet minister in the Islamic Republic. Rouhani also appears to be extending the tradition of ignoring the regular military, whose veterans are not represented in the cabinet.
Whether or not Rouhani’s entire cabinet is approved, this list reflects the new president’s desire to isolate Ahmadinejad’s gang. To some degree, the cabinet may even indicate Khamenei’s preference for strengthening the Intelligence Ministry to counter balance the IRGC. The Guards, a powerhouse under Ahmadinejad, may prove to be Rouhani’s greatest political challenger.
Table 1: Composition of President Hassan Rouhani’s Proposed Cabinet
|Cabinet portfolio||Name*||Year of birth||Place of birth||Professional background|
|Technocrat||Cleric||Intelligence Min.||Regular Military||RC/IRGC/Basij**|
|Agriculture||Mahmoud Hojjati||Ca. 1955||Isfahan||X|
|Communications||Mahmoud Vaezi||Ca. 1952||Not known||X|
|Cooperatives, Labor and Welfare||Ali Rabi’i (aka Ebad)||Ca. 1955||Tehran||X||(X)|
|Culture and Islamic Propagation||Ali Jannati||Ca. 1949||Not known||X|
|Defense||Hossein Dehqan||Ca. 1957||Isfahan||X|
|Economy and Finance||Ali Teyyebnia||Ca. 1960||Isfahan||X|
|Energy||Hamid Chitchian||Ca. 1957||East Azerbaijan||X||(X)|
|Foreign||Mohammad-Javad Zarif||Ca. 1959||Tehran||X|
|Health||Hassan Qazizadeh Hashemi||Ca. 1959||Razavi Khorasan||X|
|Industry, Mines and Commerce||Mohammad-Reza Nematzadeh||Ca. 1945||East Azerbaijan||X|
|Intelligence||Mahmoud Alavi||Ca. 1954||Fars||X|
|Interior||Abd al-Reza Rahmani Fazli||Ca. 1959||North Khorasan||X|
|Justice||Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi||Ca. 1959||Qom||(X)||X|
|Petroleum||Bizhan Namdar Zangeneh||Ca. 1952||Kermanshah||X|
|Roads and Urban Development||Abbas Ahmad-Akhoundi||Ca. 1957||Najaf, Iraq||X|
|Science||Ja’far Mili Monfared||Ca. 1953||Tehran||X|
|Sports and Youth||Masoud Soltanifar||Ca. 1959||Not known||X|
*“Doktor Rouhani Vozara-ye Pishnehadi-ye Dowlat-e Yazdahom Ra Be Majles Moarefi Kard.” [Dr. Rouhani presents the cabinet choices of the eleventh cabinet to the parliament] August 4, 2013. http://www.president.ir/fa/70146.
**Islamic Revolutionary Committees [Komiteh-ha-ye Enqelab-e Eslami], Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps [Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Enqelab-e Eslami], and Basij [Sazeman-e Basij-e Mostazafin]
Ali Alfoneh is a Senior Fellow at Foundation for the Defense of Democracies