Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s seven years of broken promises
This month marks seven years since Hassan Rouhani assumed the Iranian presidency. There was a lot of hope, both in Iran and abroad, when he was elected in 2013. He twice ran to be president, offering promises such as “prudence and hope” and “freedom, security, peace and progress.”
He pledged to improve Iran’s economy, raise people’s living standards, bring normalcy to the country, enhance its image abroad, improve its ties with other countries, bring it out of international isolation, and advance civil liberties, human rights and the freedoms of speech, press and assembly.
In the West, he was dubbed as a reformist and a “diplomatic sheikh.” But anyone who had studied the Islamic Republic since 1979 and examined Rouhani’s political and religious background in the system, as well as his books, speeches and activism prior to his presidency, was cognizant of the fact he was anything but a reformist.
What the international community, particularly the West, failed to realize was that Rouhani, like many other Iranian politicians who are labeled as reformists or moderates, had always been a staunch supporter and advocate of the Velayat-e Faqih (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist) system, which was expounded by the founding father of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In a speech in 2008, Rouhani said: “In an Islamic society, the ‘Islamic system’ (of Velayat-e Faqih) is more important than anything else, and the preservation of the system is a religious obligation.”
A look at Rouhani’s past positions in the Islamic Republic should also have made it crystal clear to the international community that Rouhani was the ultimate insider and one of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s closest confidantes. Ever since the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) was set up in 1989, Rouhani has been Khamenei’s representative on the committee. It is difficult to believe that Khamenei would have chosen Rouhani to be his representative on this important council without having assurances that Rouhani believed in his hard-line approach. Rouhani was even promoted to SNSC secretary for 16 years. He has also been a member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts since 1999 and a member of the Expediency Council since 1991.
Rouhani, like many authorities across Iran’s political spectrum, has always believed in the revolutionary ideals of the Islamic Republic, such as exporting the revolution abroad. He famously said, following the establishment of the Islamic Republic, that: “If the revolution remains within the country it will be destroyed… We must export our revolution to Iraq, to Kuwait, to Afghanistan and to all Muslim countries and to all the oppressed countries.”
Rouhani’s seven years in office have dashed the hopes of many governments, as well as the Iranian people, of there being any meaningful change in the regime. As an Iranian activist told me recently: “The country has gone from bad to worse. We thought (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad or (Akbar Hashemi) Rafsanjani’s administrations were incompetent and evil, but we are now seeing that this is the worst administration the regime of the mullahs has had since 1979.”
When it comes to the economy, Iran now has the highest level of poverty it has had in the last two decades. An Iranian economist, Hossein Raghfar, told the state-run Iranian Students News Agency in April 2018 that 33 percent of Iran’s population was living in poverty. According to statistics from last year, that figure had risen to 40 percent — and it has likely increased further since. This is due to the fact that the unemployment rate, inflation rate and devaluation of the currency are all at record highs.
Meanwhile, Iran’s crackdown on free speech and its levels of oppression have peaked under Rouhani’s watch. The regime has brutally suppressed the unprecedented levels of social, economic and political unrest it has faced for more than two years. During the widespread protests of 2017 and 2019, many slogans became popular for the first time, such as “Death to Rouhani,” “Shame on you Khamenei, step down from power,” and “Death to the Islamic Republic.”
During Rouhani’s tenure, thousands of people have been executed, tortured or killed by the regime’s forces. In its 2019 global review of the death penalty, Amnesty International stated: “Iran retained its place as the world’s second-most prolific executioner after China.” The regime also increased its systematic persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, including the Kurds, Sunnis, Christians, and Arabs.
Rouhani has always believed in the revolutionary ideals of the Islamic Republic, such as exporting the revolution abroad.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
When UN sanctions were lifted as a result of the 2015 nuclear deal and Iran was reintegrated into the global financial system, Rouhani’s administration did not keep to its promise of redistributing wealth among the ordinary people. Instead, the regime funneled the additional revenues to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies, such as Hezbollah, to expand Iran’s military and political influence in the region, including in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.
In short, Rouhani’s presidency has dashed hopes of meaningful change in the Islamic Republic. He has achieved nothing positive, instead bringing destruction, suppression, instability, poverty, military adventurism and broken promises.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh