Last week President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at his critics who oppose the nuclear talks with the West. The language and the tone he used were unprecedented and indicate an escalation in Rouhani’s fight to preserve his political power as we wrote in our last post.
The president, who was elected with a promise for ‘reform’ is constantly being criticized by many factions in Iran including the army, the conservatives, the religious leaders and sometimes even the Supreme Leader himself.
In fact, although his election seemed like a breath of fresh air to Western lungs, Rouhani’s role was always fragile in Iran, and he holds it solely because he still receives the general support of Khamenei even if it is mixed with doubts.
Since the Iranian people voted Rouhani in, Khamenei has voiced his ongoing support for Rouhani but not without criticism and red lines. Only yesterday, Khamenei vocalized his doubts as to the need to communicate directly with the US and although he backed FM “Dr. Zarif and his friends” he made it clear that those who wanted to “sit down with Americans at the negotiating table” were misled and misleading.
Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, is always at the center of power struggles: keeping the IRGC, who oppose the president, at bay, as well as other hardliners. But Khamenei is getting older. He turned 75 last month, and with growing health issues, the question of his successor is yet unanswered. Rouhani knows that the next Supreme Leader might not back him and his vision of rapprochement with the West would be trashed.
It will be hard for Rouhani to continue with his planned reforms, since the next Supreme Leader will be ‘vetoed’ by the IRGC and since the IRGC is supporting Rouhani only because Khamenei does, candidates for the next Supreme Leader should be loud critics of Rouhani or at best stifle any support for Rouhani until elected.
It seems that Rouhani’s power hangs on a very loose thread. Will he be able to keep dangling? It is a question that only time can answer – but the current Middle East climate is so fragile, that one must sit and wait – as new players emerge constantly – a bet on Rouhani is not a wise one.