December 31, 2017


Rouhani offers protesters 'space for criticism,' but warns against violence (AGENCIES and TOI STAFF, 12.31/17, Times Of Israel)

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday that government bodies must provide "space for criticism," as he sought to head off days of unrest, but warned protesters that violence was unacceptable.

"Criticism is different to violence and destroying public property," he said in a cabinet meeting, according to the state broadcaster.

How Rouhani can use protests to advance reform (Mohammad Ali Shabani, December 31, 2017, Al Monitor)

The president has a unique opportunity to lead the way and transform a great challenge into a great opportunity.

First, his administration must act on its promises to provide outlets for the expression of grievances. There has been an increase in acceptance of differences of opinion in the discourse of the Islamic Republic, as seen in Rouhani's emphasis on his Citizens' Rights Charter and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's public recognition that there are Iranians who do not support the Islamic Republic (and even urging these constituencies to take part in elections). One important and tangible move would be to engage with other centers of power, including the judiciary and the security services, to realize promises to license peaceful protests. Even conservative voices such as the spokesman of the parliament's national security and foreign policy commission have urged the latter. It would be an astounding achievement for Rouhani to sow the seeds to produce what prominent member of parliament Ali Motahari has noted is lacking in Iran: namely, a "culture of protest."

Second, Rouhani should address the genuine economic grievances -- which also have to do with increased expectations stemming from his own promises -- by addressing concerns about the impact of the neoliberal aspects of his proposed budget bill. The latter includes reconsiderations of the schedule of subsidy cuts and to also open the door to new modes of wealth transfer.

Last but certainly not least, rather than allowing the protests to become a tool for his domestic opponents and an opportunity for radicals to reassert their relevance, Rouhani must engage with the supreme leader to convince him of the need to tackle unaccountable centers of power and money. The president fired an important salvo in this game when he published details of budget allocations and through his recent revelations about the undue influence of opaque actors on financial markets. In the view of some, that very salvo is what helped mobilize the current protests. But in the long run, if the opportunity before him is seized, Rouhani could have in his hands his perhaps greatest chance to confront the vested interests that are preventing his agenda for reform. 

Posted by at December 31, 2017 4:25 PM