At the beginning of next month, Iran’s President-Elect Hassan Rouhani is supposed to form a government and take office. The level of expectations of Rouhani, both domestically and in the international arena, is high. Rouhani’s elections campaign and “moderate” messages on the need to fix the economy, freedom of expression, the state of human rights, improving relations with the world (settling the nuclear case as a necessary part of improving the economy), are feeding these high expectations.
It is against this backdrop that the conservative principlists, who have yet to accept their loss and are still caught up in it, are trying, within the time left until the government is formed, to influence its makeup to be free of “any fitna member” (whom conservatives hold responsible for the protests following the June 2009 elections, headed by Rafsanjani, Khatami, Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi), and, subsequently, its agenda. Kayhan, which is affiliated with Iran’s Supreme Leader and generally reflects his positions, is spearheading the conservatives’ campaign. Through its editor, Hossein Shariatadmari, the paper is trying to redefine the concept of moderate and clarify that reforms and moderation that are being emphasized by Rouhani in his messages do not support the reformist camp in Iran, which adopted Rouhani during the elections campaign (primarily following the withdrawal of Mohammad Rezaei Aref from the race).
The conservative camp is trying to constrain Rouhani before he forms his government, and is saying that he will only win support if he continues to act in compliance with the Velayat-e Faqih. Friday prayer leader Mohammad Khatami even emphasized that if the government deviates “even a centimeter from the principles of the Velayat-e Faqih, it would no longer be a part of us.” Conservatives are emphasizing that Rouhani is closer to their positions and that the reformists are “trying to insert themselves into Rouhani’s election victory and claim it as their own.”
Kayhan editor, Hossein Shariatadmari, in a series of editorials that he published and in arguments with critics of his article and the position of the paper, warned against what he called “the enemy’s fifth column (the reformists), which is trying to pave its way into Rouhani’s cabinet and set its policies” and recommended that the President Elect prevent the infiltration of fitna leaders into his government. Shariatadmari claims that although the issue of whether Rouhani is a reformist or conservative should be discussed, the main story (the fifth column) is far more important than that. He also warned against the ramifications of their indirect presence in the cabinet on Islamic and Revolutionary values and summarized that “there was no doubt that the presence of Fitna leaders in the President Elect’s cabinet would seriously harm the regime and the good citizens of this country, and undoubtedly Dr. Rouhani himself would be the first victim.”
In the meantime, at least until Rouhani takes office, executions in Iran are continuing (and increasing according to human rights organizations that are monitoring events in Iran), as are restrictions on the Internet, arrests of bloggers and journalists as well as removal of “offensive” posts on Facebook. The national move to disconnect Iran from the worldwide web is continuing and regulation over net traffic in Iran is increasing (in defiance of Rouhani’s promises to improve freedom of speech on the Internet).
Turning back the clock on reforms is one of the most difficult challenges for Rouhani. Conservatives and the IRGC are trying to mark the boundaries of the sentence and to emphasize the fate of the reformist government of Khatami (one of the Fitna leaders). They will not hesitate to intervene – as they did in Khatami’s government (letter of officers) whenever reforms threaten them and their Revolutionary way, in their opinion.
Kayhan letting loose against the Fitna leaders, which is also nothing new, is taking place at a sensitive time of the transition of governments in Iran, and would not have been possible without the approval of the Supreme Leader. This serves as a message to Rouhani in an attempt to halt or at least slow down the reforms he is planning. “The key” (one of the main symbols used by Rouhani during the elections campaign) to Rouhani’s success to unlock Iran’s domestic and international problems is the ability to navigate the stormy waters of Iran’s domestic politics and challenges that it invites and the high expectations of him in the domestic and international arenas.
Various officials have already cautioned Rouhani against the high level of expectations he set. The greater the expectations, the more brutal the disappointment. The regime may buy some time with the election of Rouhani, but if he fails to deliver, Iran might experience the same instability as other regimes in the Middle East, while increasing the rift between conservatives and what they call the “Fitna leaders” – the reformist camp.