Iran’s Green Movement Looms Large Over Cabinet Hearing

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Today, Iran’s parliament began debating President Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet nominations. Although opposition websites had stated that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had twice reviewed Rouhani’s cabinet nominations before they were presented to parliament, today’s session was an opportunity for some hard-line parliament members to publicly air grievances, especially in regard to the 2009 election protests and the Green Movement.

Rouhani began his two-and-a-half-hour defense of his cabinet by reminding MPs that “Everyone knows that the country is in a difficult economic and social situation and that international pressure has added to these problems.” He continued, “The conversation is not whether the sanctions have been effective, but is the method that Western countries have used to solve the problems correct or not? To take hostage the needs of a society to solve an issue whose resolution can without a doubt have a low cost, is this logical, wise and acceptable, and is this accepted by humanity in today’s time or in the future?”

Rouhani also addressed the need to make economic reforms in the banking and oil industries. He then defended some of his key cabinet picks, adding that “no group or faction applied pressure” to the all-male cabinet list. Rather, he chose from the elite of the country based on their merits.

Parliament member Ataollah Hakimi took one of the strongest positions against Rouhani’s cabinet nominations. He told Rouhani, “After the elections, the door to your staff was closed to the Principilists, and individuals came to your staff that had never accompanied you before, some of whom are the theoreticians of the 2009 sedition.”

Rouhani’s proposed Minister of Oil Bijan Zanganeh and Minister of Urban Development Abbas Akhoundi were senior members of 2009 Reformist candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi’s campaign staff. Mohammad Ali Najafi, the nominee for Minister of Education, was a senior member to Mehdi Karroubi’s campaign staff. Mousavi, along with his wife Zahra Rahnavard, and Karroubi have been under house arrest without charge since 2011 for contesting the 2009 election outcome.

Eight other Rouhani nominees of the 18-member cabinet held positions under Khatami’s presidency. Many hard-liners in parliament include Khatami as part of the “sedition.” In an open, taped session after the 2009 election, some parliament members suddenly took to the podium and chanted “death to Khatami,” along with other chants against Mousavi and Karroubi.

Hakimi accused Rouhani of “opening the environment for the companions of the sedition” but warned that “the children of Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] are alert and awake and will not allow the enemies to rule again through the agents of the sedition.” Addressing Rouhani directly, Hakimi asked, “What’s going on? What were you thinking? The Rouhani before the elections is different from the Rouhani after the elections. You have to explain if you are trying to revive the sedition. Did you forget Imam’s message? Do you want to sell your forgotten oaths and values to the foreigners?”

Hakimi also criticized Rouhani for not inviting the families of assassinated nuclear scientists to his presidential inauguration and questioned why so many of Rouhani’s cabinet members were educated in the West.

Parliament member Kazem Jallali came to the defense of Rouhani’s cabinet, saying, “Some members in this parliament think of 95% of the people as seditionists.” He added that not everyone who was part of Karroubi’s and Mousavi’s campaign staff can be called seditionist. Rather, “The seditionists are those who violated the law, questioned the elections or who invited the people to street protests only after the supreme leader made his clear and direct statements on June 19.”

Khamenei’s first public statements after the contested election was at a Tehran University Friday prayer sermon on June 19, 2009. He explicitly said that then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s views were “closer to mine” and warned that the responsibility of bloodshed lay with those who continued to urge protests. The 2009 elections resulted in the biggest street protests in Iran since the 1979 revolution, and many activists and journalists are still in prison as a result of the crackdown that took place after the election.

Confirmation voting on Rouhani’s cabinet will take place later this week.