President Hassan Rouhani fired his Minister of Industry, Mining and Trade Reza Rahmani on Monday May 11 without offering any explanation about his abrupt decision.
Nearly all Iranian news agencies and daily newspapers covered the event and came up with various hypotheses about why Rouhani chose to fire one of his economic ministers about one year before his term of office as President and in the middle of an economic crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 epidemic.
It was said during a debate at the Iranian Parliament, Majles, on Tuesday that the 54-year-old Rahmani fell victim to his failure in controlling the vehicle market in Iran.
This could be a valid hypothesis as the rise in the price of Pride, a sub-standard car copied from an outdated South Korean model, rose from around 400 million rials in February to nearly one billion rials in May. In the meantime, many analysts in and out of Iran mentioned this as an example of a total failure of the Iranian economy under president Rouhani.
Meanwhile, the press reported the mishandling of the market for the car as they suspected the ministry has been manipulating the website that sold the car to both end users and investors.
In a letter which has been circulating on social media since Rahmani's dismissal, he told Rouhani that presidential Chief of Staff Mahmud Vaezi had threatened him that he should resign if he cannot convince the Iranian Parliament to agree to establishing a Trade Ministry in order to make the burden on Rahmani's shoulder lighter and to make the Rouhani administration agile.
He said in the letter that Vaezi had told him to take advantage of his ethnic Azeri background to influence the Azeri MPs at the Majles. However, Vaezi's office denied the accusation and said it had played no part in the firing of Rahmani but threatened that the office might reveal the role three of the people close to Rahmani played in dealings with the Majles, although it did not elaborate.
Rouhani himself did not say a word about the dismissal and simply appointed a caretaker for the Ministry, Hossein Modarres Khiabani, a former Deputy Minister who specializes in trade but has no background in industry or mining. This strengthens the possibility that Rouhani was not happy with Rahmani's performance in the area of trade.
Rahmani was seriously criticized by officials and the media in March for his failure to supply personal protection equipment including face masks to Iran's medical staff facing serious shortages. He was also harshly criticized for exporting millions of face mask to China while his own country was in dire need.
Nevertheless, there is another possible reason the press has ignored. Rahmani was fired within minutes of coming out of a meeting with the powerful head of Iran's Judiciary, Ebrahim Raeesi (Raisi), who has been Rouhani's political rival since the 2017 Presidential elections.
Rouhani may have been enraged by the meeting particularly if he did not know about it beforehand.
After the meeting with Rahmani, Raeesi told the press on Monday that he issued orders to sort out misappropriations in the area of trade. Raeesi spoke with the demeanour of a president and an executive, issuing several economic orders.
In one of the latest developments about the dismissal, former Culture Minister Ali Jannati, the son of the Guardian Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, wrote in a tweet that Rahmani's colleagues at the Ministry of Industry, Mining and Trade were not happy about his performance.
Jannati, a close ally of Rouhani, supported Rahmani's dismissal and said the measure was "right but was taken too late." Jannati further accused Rahmani of "incompetence and weakness in management" and "lobbying with MPs against national interests," but did not elaborate further.
He suggested that "those who criticize Rouhani for the dismissal should talk to the ministry's senior managers to find out about Rahmani's incompetence and grafting." Considering Jannati's shared political affiliation and long-term ties with Rouhani, this could be , by far, the closest thing to Rouhani's reason for firing his Industry, Mining and Trade Minister, if he ever choses to talk about the matter.