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Rouhani, Khamenei Spat Heats Up

Iran -- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, delivering his speech in a meeting on Wednesday June 14, 2017.

Recently re-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has described the May 19 election as an expression of “our national glory to the whole world” trying to strengthen his claim to a popular mandate.

“The loud voice of the people in the spring ’96 (current Iranian year is 1396) presidential election was an honor and glory for the nation,” he said on June 14 at an iftar feast, breaking the daily fast of Ramadan.

His speech was as a response to the supreme leader’s comments on the recent election. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had insisted the whole vote merely meant choosing an individual from several candidates and had nothing to do with their political stance.

However, Rouhani once again hit back, saying his presidential campaign was a platform set for the people.

“It has rarely been seen that people of a country express all their needs and demands in a loud and clear voice during the [election] gatherings,” he said.

Rouhani was attending an iftar ceremony with university professors, doctors, and other healthcare professionals. He referred to Ali ibn abi-Talib, the first Shi’ite imam, as the paragon of rule.

“Imam Ali’s rule was based on people’s opinions and votes -- Imam Ali’s rule was short but replete with lessons. Imam Ali’s rule was established with the people’s insistence.”

Then, as if directly addressing his opponents and adversaries, his speech rose to a crescendo, “Imam Ali said, ‘Whoever people elect as their leader, I will be the first to obey him.’ The foundation of a ruling system, according to Imam Ali, was the people’s choice and opinion. [Yet] it appears we have distanced ourselves from Islam.”

By mentioning Imam Ali, Rouhani tried to use religious symbolism to gain political advantage in the tense post-election atmosphere.

Despite Rouhani’s reiteration on the necessity of respecting people’s demands for security, freedom, and interaction with the world, as well as branding his re-election victory as “peace and compromise winning over tension and violence,” Khamenei has dismissed the idea of people casting their votes based on issues as “baseless.”

“People merely voted for the candidates” not for or against the different issues, he said. “Let’s be careful and avoid downgrading people’s common achievement by raising disputes and creating divisions.”

The history of tit-for-tat speeches between Khamenei and the president goes back to the campaign trail.

Khamenei denied giving Rouhani any credit for clearing the dark clouds of war from Iran and rejected the role played by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Tehran’s nuclear deal with global powers.

“It has been the presence of the great nation of Iran that removed the shadow of war from our country,” he said.

Rouhani retorted that by maintaining that the Iranian nation has always existed and has always been great. “A great nation needs a great government to impose its will,” Rouhani said, tacitly referred to his own administration.

Despite all the muscle-flexing, the two sides were careful to avoid naming the other -- until Khamenei mentioned the president directly on June 12. “Rouhani pointed at some issues and demanded ‘this and that should be done,’ ” he said. But who is he addressing, asked Khamenei, adding, he is the one who should be taking care of these.

While Khamenei delivered these vitriolic remarks, a video clip of the speech shows the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Sadiq Amoli Larijani, laughing heartily.

The video clip went viral on Iranian social media.

But Rouhani, at least for the moment, has chosen to ignore it.

Meanwhile, at June 14’s iftar, Rouhani -- still cautious about naming anyone in particular -- took the chance to praise JCPOA as his government’s greatest achievement.

“Some used to say when JCPOA came nuclear technology would go away, but in the first year after, we finished 43 new technologies, and our greatest progress yielded results,” he said.