Rouhani miscast as a reformer

The Washington Post continues to portray Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, as a reformer whose relatively moderate views are making a difference in Iran. Erin Cunningham writes:

People have criticism and objections on the economic issue, and they have a right. But the objections aren’t only economic,” Rouhani said at a televised news conference earlier this month, according to the Reuters news agency. “They also have something to say about political and social issues and foreign relations. Our ears must be completely open to listen and know what the people want.”

That sentiment has registered with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who on Sunday acknowledged the criticism and said officials were “well aware” of the issues plaguing the country.

Amir Handjani, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, said Rouhani “has gone further than any Iranian president” in advocating for political and economic changes. “He has pushed back on the notion that all protesters are seditionists, he has given them space to air their grievances, and he has said they have a right to question their leaders,” he said.

Yet, I’ve been hearing reports from the emigre community of stepped-up arbitrary arrests and jailing, especially of women. And there is this report from Tyler O’Neil of PJ Media:

The brave women in Iran who inspired the world and became the face of a revolution by removing their face veils in protest to the theocratic government are now being beaten, tortured, and charged with “inciting prostitution” in Iranian prisons. . . .

Two women arrested for protesting the hijab have been already been informed that they face charges of “inciting corruption and prostitution” for their protest. Narges Hosseini was put on trial last week before an Ershad (Moral Guidance) court in Tehran on this charge. Shaparak Shajarizadeh, who is being held in solitary confinement in a prison near Tehran, faces the same charge.

In addition to facing the prostitution charge, Shajarizadeh has also been subjected to torture and beatings, according to her lawyer. She was also injected with an identified substance several times by force against her will.

The issue here isn’t the hibab, per se. I’m told that in Tehran women often cover only the back half of their hair. This is confirmed in the 2017 Iranian film “Disappearance” which recently was shown here.

The issues are lack of freedom and beatings/torture. Indeed, the Post acknowledges “high-profile deaths of detainees in prison, including a prominent environmental activist who died days after he was arrested.”

If one looks closely at the Post’s article, one sees how limited Rouhani’s “reforms” are. They seem confined to alleviating corruption in state run businesses and the banking sector.

The banking sector is, by all accounts, a massive problem. But what about the “political and social issues and foreign relations” regarding which Rouhani claims he’s listening to the people?

A key grievance during the large-scale unrest of a few months ago was the extent to which resources, including those obtained in the nuclear deal, are being funneled away from the economy and into foreign military action. The Post gives no indication that Rouhani has any objection to the ayatollah’s adventurism. In the unlikely event that he does, I’m pretty sure he keeps it to himself.

As for the economy, the Post makes no mention of Iran’s runaway inflation. A friend who visited Iran this year told us that the money he paid for a cab ride from the Tehran airport a few years ago couldn’t cover his tip this time.

He also reported that, although the economy seems stagnant and many people are hurting, there is a remarkable amount of construction, particularly of infrastructure. People assume the money is coming mostly from China, he said.

That sounds right.