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Hardliners Voice Support For Rouhani As He Switches To Anti-U.S. Rhetoric

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him (L) speaking during the swearing in ceremony of Iranian President Hasan Rouhani (R) in Tehran on August 3, 2017

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s hardline political rivals, including his challengers in the 2017 presidential elections, have welcomed “the change in Rouhani’s behavior” following his recent address to the country’s executive managers, reported Fars news agency on Friday, June 29.

Rouhani who was reacting to nearly a week of protests by Iranian merchants and others across the country, said he would not resign, but did not say what he was going to do to tackle rising prices and fluctuations in the forex market.

Protests began June 24, as the continuous steep drop in the value of Iran’s currency led to turmoil in the markets.

In his speech on Wednesday, Rouhani called on “all political factions” to unite against economic and political challenges facing the Islamic Republic, and blamed the United States’ pressures for the current economic crisis in Iran.

Gholamali Haddad Adel, hardline Iranian politicianundated
Gholamali Haddad Adel, hardline Iranian politicianundated

Fars characterized the speech as “a call to stand against the arrogance of imperialism,” and quoted conservative figure Gholamali Haddad Adel, a senior adviser and a close relative of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as describing Rouhani’s comments as “positive,” but added, ”We expect Rouhani not to return to his previous rhetoric.”

He said, “All of us believe that there is an economic war going on and the enemy is trying to exert economic pressure on our nation.”

Meanwhile, Tehran’s former Mayor, conservative Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf also supported “the administration’s clear stance against the United States.”

He welcomed Rouhani’s call for cooperation with other branches of the government and setting aside differences with other factions; however, he stressed that it was Khamenei who “mobilized the three branches of the government” to work together against “the economic war.”

Iranian conservative politician, former IRGC commander and Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf spekas to his supporters during presidential campaign in the capital Tehran, May 2, 2017
Iranian conservative politician, former IRGC commander and Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf spekas to his supporters during presidential campaign in the capital Tehran, May 2, 2017

Fars also quoted former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, one of the staunch critics of Rouhani’s policies and the nuclear deal with the West, as saying that he would offer advice to the Rouhani administration. He added that “Under the current circumstances, Rouhani should be the commander of resistance economy,” a term coined by Khamenei with no clear definition.

The agency quoted several other conservative figures who hoped “Rouhani would change his behavior in the same way he changed his rhetoric.” Hardline Qom MP Mojtaba Zolnouri, said “I hope the change in Rouhani’s approach is for real.”

This comes while Iranian media reported earlier in this week that several conservative members of the Iranian Parliament (Majles) have called on Rouhani to resign his post.

Meanwhile, Rassoul Montajabnia, the vice-secretary of reformist National Trust Party, has called on Rouhani to be more transparent and “talk to the people as protests intensify,” reported ISNA on Friday.

Montajabnia told ISNA, “If Rouhani does not talk to the people, they would think of him as the one whose economic policy has failed,” adding “Rouhani should also talk to his hardline rivals who have called for his resignation because of a grudge they hold against him.”

Mahmoud Vaezi, president Rouhani's Chief of Staff. Undated
Mahmoud Vaezi, president Rouhani's Chief of Staff. Undated

In another development, Rouhani’s chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi held talks with several clerics in the Qom Seminary on Thursday, reassuring them of the Rouhani administration’s capability to control the situation at the markets, “but we need serious support from clerics at the seminary,” he said.

Mohammad Saeedi, an influential cleric in charge of the holy shrine in Qom, told Vaezi that there are solutions in the history of Islam for the economic crisis the government is facing. He advised that Rouhani should take lessons from history, ISNA reported.

Top cleric Ayatollah Nouri Hamadani called for better ties between the regime and the people in the face of the ongoing economic crisis.

In a meeting with hardline Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi, Vaezi called for his support for Rouhani against those who want to weaken his administration, the report added. Makarem is known for his opposition to the Rouhani administration’s policies.

Hardline grand ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, on May 26, 2018.
Hardline grand ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, on May 26, 2018.

In another meeting with Vaezi, Ayatollah Alavi Gorgani said the Rouhani administration should seek to meet the people’s demands in order to make sure of their support for the establishment.

Another cleric, Ayatollah Sobhani, spoke about “a new situation the Islamic Republic is facing,” and called for “lawfully dealing with those who take advantage of this situation,” and reminded “In the Islamic Republic we are all on the same boat,” ISNA quoted him as saying.

It is difficult to judge why Rouhani suddenly changed his tone and blamed the “enemy” for Iran’s economic problems. Previously, he had criticized the IRGC’s role in the economy and pointed out other shortcomings.

One possible explanation is that U.S. pressure to re-impose economic sanctions and the deteriorating conditions in Iran has put the whole elite of the Islamic Republic on the defensive and a show of unity is seen as the best way to confront both internal and external pressures.