Last week, hardliners in the Iranian parliament (Majlis) impeached Reza Faraji-Dana, the Minister of Science, for supporting reformist teachers who protested back in 2009, allowing students who were deemed radicals back into universities, fighting politically-motivated scholarships, being an “extremist”, purging staff from previous administrations, hiring employees not cleared by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence etc… all of which can be summed up under one main goal: undermine President Rouhani.
Finally, Hardliners Battle and Win
This was not an overwhelming victory by hardliners (145 votes for impeachment, 110 against and 15 abstentions) but it did send out a war cry: If we can’t topple Rouhani, we’ll topple his administration one minister at a time. To their chagrin, the hardliners may not have enough influence to derail Rouhani’s efforts for a nuclear deal with the West due to the support he receives from Khamenei, but they can legally hamper him on internal affairs in which Khamenei remains an ultra-conservative.
The final nail in Faraji-Dana’s impeachment was a video in which he said “I will not pay ransoms such as scholarships to remain a minister and avoid confrontation with the MPs” which echoes Rouhani’s attitude since his election. The hardliners are now setting their sights on impeaching Rouhani’s Culture Minister, Ali Janatti for his efforts to open up access to the Internet and ease enforcement laws regarding Hijabs for women.
Rouhani saved some face by absenting himself from the impeachment (he was on a tour of the remote province of Aderbil at the time), by rehiring Faraji-Dana as his advisor, by hiring another reformer, Mohammad Ali Nafaji as interim minister while advising him to maintain Faraji-Dana’s course and by magnanimously accepting the Majlis decision.
The Main Battle – the Nuclear Deal
Last month, Rouhani lashed out at hardliners by calling them “political cowards” and telling them to “go to hell“. He criticized them further by stating that they were “50 years too late”, and hampering his efforts to “change the image of the Islamic Republic, which has been tarnished in recent years”.
Rouhani needs a nuclear deal but more importantly, he needs the nuclear-based sanctions lifted in order to restore an economy on the brink of disaster. His strategy is sound since Iran’s economy began recovering with the onset of the nuclear negotiations which brought some sanction relief but more importantly opened the doors of Tehran to foreign business.
But the hardliners are worried that Western influence would undermine the power of the mullahs and the IRGC which have been the bloodline of power since Khomeini returned triumphant to Tehran. For them a nuclear deal would just mean that Westerners could increase their influence not only on foreign policy but on internal affairs as well…they are probably right.
In fact, the nuclear deal is dangerous for Rouhani in a “dammed if it succeeds and dammed if it fails” situation: if the nuclear deal is inked, hardliners will poke holes at the deal in an effort to derail Rouhani himself while if the talks flounder, Rouhani’s voters will stop supporting him out of disappointment.
If anyone doubted Rouhani’s ability to lead Iran to a rapprochement with the West in the past, their doubts can only increase. The day after may even be more difficult. The only person who can save Rouhani in his upcoming battles is Khamenei himself who also chose to remain silent on Faraji-Dana’s impeachment. In any case, Rouhani’s internal battlegrounds are beginning to materialize.