August 12, 2013 | Policy Brief

Rouhani’s Cabinet and the Challenge of Reform

August 12, 2013 | Policy Brief

Rouhani’s Cabinet and the Challenge of Reform

The election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has created an atmosphere of hope and optimism, both at home and abroad, not seen since Mohammad Khatami’s electoral victory in 1997. However, the fate of Khatami and his reform movement should serve as a warning for what may be in store for Rouhani. The promise of reform under Iran’s new president may well be held back by figures opposed to his stated agenda.

Tellingly, Rouhani devoted a considerable part of his August 6, 2013 press conference to explain that his proposed cabinet was not imposed on him by influential circles and power centers in the Islamic Republic. Rouhani stressed, “No one has pressured me… to select someone, and I’m not a person who makes decisions under pressure [from others]… All those whom I have appointed were my own choices. I consulted everyone, but I bluntly declare that the rumors are false.”

The “rumors” Rouhani mentioned were a reference to a warning issued by Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of Kayhan, that the president is “under pressure from the seditionists [the leaders of the pro-democracy Green Movement], claimants of reform [former President Mohammad Khatami and his followers], and the Executives [former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s network].”  

But Shariatmadari is only partially right. Rouhani chose his cabinet nominees under pressure, but not from the quarter the Kayhan editor warned against. Rather than reflecting the wishes of the Green Movement, Khatami-era reformists or Rafsanjani’s network, some of the new president’s nominees were imposed upon him by even more powerful quarters:  Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani (Judiciary head), Ali Larijani (Speaker of the Majles) and the former’s brother, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Ali Teyyebnia, economy and finance minister, is a selection of the Supreme Leader, and so was Mahmoud Alavi, Iran’s new intelligence minister. Hassan Qazizadeh Hashemi, Rouhani’s health minister, and Abd al-Reza Rahmani Fazli, the next interior minister, were imposed by the Larijani brothers. Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, justice minister, is a selection of Sadeq Larijani, but also the Supreme Leader. Hossein Dehqan, defense minister, is the IRGC’s man in the cabinet, and Ja’far Mili Monfared, science minister, is believed to be closer to the Larijanis than to the reformist camp.

Thus, at least seven prominent figures in Rouhani’s cabinet appear to have been imposed upon him. The new president’s ability to  “deliver” on reform will be hampered by these figures in key areas such as political and economic liberties, human rights and the nuclear issue.

Ali Alfoneh is a senior fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Read more on Rouhani's cabinet picks:

All the President’s Men: Rouhani’s Cabinet

President Rouhani’s Cabinet: MOIS vs. IRGC?


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