Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani is under pressure by conflicting demands of the people and hardliners including those on top of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).
Rouhani’s relations with the IRGC have undergone many ups and downs during his presidency. While his positions on foreign policy have moved closer to those of IRGC, it appears that the Guards still expect more from him.
IRGC Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari praised Rouhani’s tough talk against the US when the president traded threats and counter-threats with U.S. officials in July.
In a late July note addressed to Rouhani, Jafari praised the shift. Nevertheless, Jafari at the same time Jafari called on Rouhani to “take revolutionary measures in controlling prices and preventing further skyrocketing rise in the price of gold and rate of exchange of foreign currencies while Iran is experiencing an economic war with enemies.”
Jafari urged Rouhani to use the “inherent might and anger we know you are disposed with,” asking “Why you do not use that might and anger against mismanagement in your cabinet’s economic affairs?”
It appears that Jafari was alluding to Planning and Budget Organization Chief Mohammad Baqer Nobakht and others in the circle of top Rouhani economic aides. These are the same individuals who have been harshly criticized by the media and many people for their role in bringing the Iranian economy to the verge of collapse.
The IRGC has a dual objective by intervening in the government’s executive affairs. On the one hand it shows sympathy and support for the public’s call on Rouhani to change his economy officials; and on the other hand, this is an attempt to strip the Rouhani administration of executives who are sympathetic to the reform movement.
Unconfirmed reports say that hardliners wish to replace some of Rouhani’s ministers with conservative figures.
Jafari says clearly that the IRGC’s support for the Rouhani administration depends on the cabinet’s further coordination with the political forces close to Khamenei. This is an indication that the core of the regime is becoming less tolerant of the way Rouhani is running the affairs of the state.
An almost similar trend is visible in the Iranian society among the people as Rouhani’s popularity declines. The poor performance of Rouhani’s ministers in controlling prices and the overall corruption in the economy have eroded the people’s trust in Rouhani and his administration to the lowest level.
Even the Majles has been exerting pressure on Rouhani recently to introduce extensive changes in his cabinet. This is partly because the members of parliament are under pressure from their constituencies to demand change.
Meanwhile, political figures in the reform camp have also been calling for changes in the administration’s economic team.
These pressures, as well as discords among Rouhani’s aides, and the pressures coming from outside the country, such as sanctions and threats, have made him more vulnerable.
So far, Rouhani’s only reaction to demands for change in his cabinet has been replacing the governor of the Central Bank.
On the other hand, there is no guarantee that Rouhani’s shift to stances similar to those of hardliners close to IRGC and Khamenei would protect him against social pressures. What the regime demands from him are different from the people’s demands for transparency, equality and democracy.
In the meantime, the society, and particularly those who support social and political changes in Iran are enraged by Rouhani’s shift toward conservatives.
All this leaves Rouhani in a difficult situation as he is unable to create a balance between conflicting demands.
Under the circumstances, it is unlikely that Rouhani can protect his close aides in the executive body. His only chance for survival is that the people who have taken to the streets under the pressure of poverty, unemployment, economic hardships, corruption and discrimination would define their main issue as opposition to IRGC, Khamenei and other hardliner clerics.