The President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has recently come under attack from conservative political groups for his moderate style in both cultural politics and nuclear negotiations. The president has however fiercely reacted to such attacks, increasing the level of intra-elite conflict. Rouhani became president of Iran in June 2013, when he was elected thanks to a platform of moderation in international politics and limited domestic reforms. He has been regarded as able to win the support from both conservatives, who dominated Iran’s politics in the last decade, and reformists who, after the 2009 crisis, have been sidelined. As the negotiation over the nuclear issue unfolds, however, fractures and conflicts are coming to the surface.
After the initial and general support the President enjoyed, the government started to be criticised in April, when hardliners voiced ‘deep concern’ that Rouhani may be willing to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions. At the beginning of May, this ‘concern’ gave rise to a broader initiative organised by conservative members of the Parliament and other prominent conservative political figures, who discussed together in a conference titled ‘We are worried’ the reasons why they believe Iran signed a bad deal. The president reacted to these attacks by ironically suggesting that conservatives might be in favor of the continuation of sanctions. Another attack on Rouhani took place during those days, when a documentary about his life was released. The documentary, according to commentators, contained some controversial information and was believed to be aimed at harming Rouhani’s credibility. Produced by a media company believed to operate under the IRGC, which is at odds with Rouhani over economic and cultural policies, the documentary highlighted once again the bitter conflicts that characterise Iranian domestic politics. More recently, further discord was caused by a declaration made by Rouhani during a public speech, when he stated that force should not be used to promote religion or to ‘take people to heaven.’ Conservatives and hardliners responded by accusing the President of overlooking religious values and, thus, the very nature of the Islamic Republic. Rouhani’s declaration followed two events that attracted international attention, namely the arrest of the director and performers of a video posted to YouTube featuring the song ‘Happy’ and criticism of the actress Leila Khatami, who publicly kissed the president of the Cannes Festival. Rouhani questioned the arrests and the riticism against Khatami, but his most forceful reaction was during a speech delivered on May 31st when he mocked his critics and declared that ‘a religious government is a very good thing, but a governmental religion, I don’t know.’
As the atmosphere in Iran is heating up, yesterday a video was leaked online, where the commander of the IRCG said that the return of the reformists during the 2009 presidential elections was a ‘red line’ for the organisation. Many believe this to be the evidence that electoral fraud took place in 2009. Its release will have relevant consequences for the troubled relationship between the government and its conservative counterparts, and might trigger the Supreme Leader, who so far has maintained a relatively lower profile, to enter the disputes.