Iran – President under pressure over cabinet appointments

Hasan Rouhani

The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, is having a hard time appointing his cabinet. On November 6th, 150 members of the Parliament (Majles) asked him to monitor the actions and decisions undertaken by Reza Faraji Dana, the Minister of Science, Research and Technology. The move against Faraji Dana is motivated by concerns over two of his appointees, the senior advisor Jafar Tofiqi and the deputy minister Mili Monfared, that Parliament members suspect of being involved in the 2009 electoral protests. This request follows the Parliament’s veto on October 27th of one of three proposed ministers, Reza Salehi Amiri, following the allegation that he was connected to some of the members of the 2009 Green Movement.

Since his election as President of the Republic last June, Hassan Rouhani has been struggling to form the cabinet, which needs to obtain a vote of confidence on the part of the Parliament to become operative. The popularly elected president indeed serves as Prime Minister too (the office was suppressed by the 1989 Constitutional reform), and therefore has the duty to nominate the ministers and defend his choice in front of the Parliament.

Despite being highly supportive of the President on issues related to nuclear negotiations and foreign policy, the Parliament is closely watching Rouhani’s moves when it comes to culture, education and freedom of speech. In particular, the Ministry of Science is a crucial position for all policies related to higher education. The Minister not only appoints the Chancellors of Iranian universities all over the country, he also has a significant influence when it comes to deciding university curricula and, crucially, the weight of humanities in them. This is a particularly sensitive policy area in Iran, and conflicts over higher education characterised for president Ahmadinejad’s presidential terms, for he was accused of carrying out a ‘cultural revolution’ and a ‘forced Islamization’ of campuses, social sciences and the humanities, well before and after the electoral crisis in 2009. In stark contrast to such an attitude, Rouhani recently called for ‘de-securitising’ higher education, thus increasing the concerns of the Parliament whose majority is composed of conservative groups and ‘hard-liners’. Rouhani’s moderate political orientation and his closeness to some of the political personalities connected to the Green Movement (nicknamed ‘the sedition’ by hard-liners and conservatives) have indeed been debated and, to some extent, criticised by the Parliament. The Assembly has often ‘warned’ the President not to appoint ‘seditionists’ as Ministers, and the recent conflict over Faraji Dana is a further evidence of the relevance of this debate in the country.

Although the Parliament is fully aligned with the Supreme Leader Khamenei’s support for Rouhani in foreign policy, this might not be the case for domestic and cultural policies, as the members of the legislative assembly have warned Rouhani not to disrupt the trust among the state’s bodies with inappropriate appointments.

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