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Rouhani Besieged By Sanctions, Domestic Scorn And Loss Of Grassroots Support


The front page of Iran newspaper covering Rouhani's angry speech. The headline says: "I will tell the people who has shut down the country". October 24, 2019.

In his latest speech at a cabinet meeting in Tehran on Wednesday, President Hassan Rouhani complained in the harshest tone he has ever used against his critics and those who he says obstruct his administration's efforts to run the country.

All Iranian presidents in the past 41 years have experienced a difficult last year in their second term in office, but Iran's embattled President Hassan Rouhani appears to be experiencing the longest period as a lame duck executive. He seems to face insurmountable problems with the political system, the people and international players since 2017.

In late 2017 he faced the largest ever anti-government protests in his country since 1979. The protests, as well as an economic crisis coupled with corruption and mismanagement continued in 2018 while, the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Tehran brought unprecedented economic problems for the country. In 2019, tensions with regional states and the United States made life even harder for Rouhani.

In this June 25, 2018 file photo, a group of protesters chant slogans at the old grand bazaar in Tehran, Iran, as the national currency loses value and inflation picks up.
In this June 25, 2018 file photo, a group of protesters chant slogans at the old grand bazaar in Tehran, Iran, as the national currency loses value and inflation picks up.

Rouhani said in his unusually long 45-minute speech that messages from foreign countries keep coming calling for a solution to Iran's foreign policy problems, but problems are unlikely to be solved without agreement inside the country. He criticized his critics and political rivals for disrupting the affairs of the state.

In a comment similar to what U.S. President Donald Trump said in September to tempt Rouhani to meet with him, Rouhani told his opponents without naming them, "Making peace needs more courage than going to war."

He insisted that in spite of foreign pressures and domestic obstructions he was still the country's President and that he was not going to surrender to dual pressures from outside and inside the country.

The highlight of his speech was about the ratification of the four bills required by the international watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), to take Iran out of its blacklist in a place next to North Korea. He harshly criticized and even scornfully commented on those who have stopped the bills that have already been ratified by the Parliament.


He charged that those who have stopped the bill should be accountable for the FATF counter-measures that will return if the bills are not finally approved.

No Iranian politician or media outlet was observed to express any form of support for Rouhani's angry comments since Wednesday except the administration's own daily newspaper Iran.

Rouhani has been warned for months by political activists and journalists that he has lost his power base. Reform minded voters and activists seem to have lost all hope in Rouhani and his administration. They have reminded him time and again that he has failed to deliver what he had promised during his election campaigns in 2013 and 2017.

Meanwhile, the cases of financial corruption among individuals linked to him, his first vice-president and some of his ministers has led to a deep disillusionment among the public. Last week, Rouhani's brother was sent to prison for five years on charges of taking bribe and the daughter of one of his former ministers was on trial for financial corruption. Many others are awaiting trials or verdicts.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) speaks with Hossein Fereydoun (C), the brother of Iranian President, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (R), before a press conference in Vienna, July 14, 2015
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) speaks with Hossein Fereydoun (C), the brother of Iranian President, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (R), before a press conference in Vienna, July 14, 2015

Part of the angry remarks by Rouhani was censored on the state TV, adding insult to injury. Other hardliner media's behavior has not been friendlier. The Kayhan newspaper linked to Khamenei, in an editorial on Thursday harshly reacted to part of Rouhani's speech in which he had said: "We have not reached a clear definitive answer during the past 41 years. Some say we need to have constructive interaction and others say we should move toward continuous confrontation."

Kayhan's editorial said: "As it is evident from what he said, the President is interested in holding a referendum about negotiating with America," and asked: "Didn't you hold negotiations with America over Iran's nuclear program during the past few years? Didn't you call the nuclear deal 'the biggest of victories' and lashed out at your critics and said they should be ashamed? Well, what was the result? It would be unfair and far from the truth if you say "nothing!" You destroyed the country's nuclear industry, gave tens of concessions to the other sides, wasted many of the country's capabilities and potentials, and instead of lifting the sanctions which was the main objective of negotiations, imposed many more sanctions on the nation. So, what you gained was not simply 'nothing!', it was tens of times less than nothing!"

Kayhan was referring to the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal that brought back harsh sanctions, crippling the economy.

Accusations like this can make any President lose his temper. Particularly one week after he finds out his brother Hossein Fereydoun is sent to jail for what the latter said was the result of eavesdropping on the President's office by the IRGC Intelligence.

Rouhani threatened that he "will name those who have brought the country to a state of shutdown", although it is highly unlikely that the moderate conservative cleric would name anyone. "Some people" is the closest he can get to the culprit. But many in Iran assume he is talking about the Supreme Leader.

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