According to the “Rouhani Meter”(www.rouhanimeter.com), an online tool to monitor President Rouhani’s progress in office, Iran’s newly elected, moderate President has taken a clear cut route to improving Iran’s detrimental foreign policy above all else. He has then focused on economic policies followed by improvements to Iran’s domestic policy.
What appears to be lacking however, are socio-cultural promises and improvements. These are questions and concerns most likely directly presented to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the “Man Behind the Curtain” and Iran’s supreme, religious and cultural leader. Any real changes under this classification would be challenges to a conservative and theocratic rule and concessions could very well be interpreted as “Pro-Western”, a position that has always been out-of-line with Iranian politics and policies that still view the United States as “The Great Satan”.
While socio-cultural matters appear to be farthest down on Rouhani’s list of priorities, they are also some of the only promises he has yet to firmly achieve. Upon entering office, he ended the expulsions of politically active university students. He also reinstated university professors and administrators who had been forced into early retirement due to their dissident political views. In addition, Rouhani has reopened Iran’s House of Cinema which could very well lead to additional relaxation of censorship in film and media. He has also ensured the extension of Iran’s subsidy programme. While these remain the only promises he has fulfilled out of some forty five election promises, there remain sixteen currently in progress which could provide the momentum he needs to carry out more.
Rouhani’s most publicized and far reaching promises currently in progress are the ones most harming to Iran’s standing abroad and conducive to his foreign policy approach. Unlike his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rouhani has set off to improve relations with neighboring Persian Gulf states and has attempted to allow for more transparency in Iran’s nuclear program. A leap forward in relations with Western powers as well as a route to the reduction of economic sanctions which have crippled Iran’s economy and domestic support for the government. Above all, this is probably the most notable of Rouhani’s promises, a move to normalize relations with the West as well as a step that will give Iran the economic impetus it requires to accomplish many of Rouhani’s other goals such as increasing the purchasing power of Iranian households, creating new administrative laws to boost the economy, control Iran’s inflation, provide commodity subsidies and institute further privatization.
The new Iranian President seems to be on track to improve his nation’s image internationally as well as to gain the much needed support among the disenchanted youth and academia domestically. While monumental steps have been taken, much remains to be done in a Middle Eastern country known for its hardline policies on civil rights, political opposition, censorship, economic creativity not to mention its outright animosity towards Israel, another regional power.
In the economic field, Rouhani has yet to strengthen the value of the Iranian currency and/or remove such firm government controls over Iran’s Central Bank. He also has yet to export petroleum products instead of crude oil, provide affordable housing and control the housing prices. Domestically, Rouhani must strive to improve Iran’s record of inequality. He has promised equality between men and women, equal rights for all Iranian ethnicities, respect for minority religious rituals, and even the appointment of members of Iran’s minority groups as advisors to the President. The objectives are lofty, but doable, if only, with the blessings of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The latter’s support will also be necessary for Rouhani’s aspirations in socio-cultural matters such as bills to protect women’s rights, clear rules for auditing books, minimizing censorship in the film industry and reviving the Association of Iranian Journalists. At face value, Rouhani appears to be a force for reform; whether the new Iranian leader is good for Iran and a bridge to the international community is a question that remains to be answered.
Yiorghos Leventis, Ph.D. & Justin Lehmann, M.Sc.: Director & Research Assistant respectively, International Security Forum, Cyprus