Khamenei warns Rouhani about cultural policies, again

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Iran’s Supreme Leader said in a meeting today that he is worried about the cultural direction of the country and once again warned President Hassan Rouhani’s administration to take a more assertive position on cultural issues.

I, too, am concerned about cultural matters, and I share the concern the Assembly of Experts have,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said at a meeting with the assembly. The president was also present.

“The administration should pay attention to this issue,” he continued. “The cultural officials should also pay attention to what they’re doing because in cultural matters, one cannot be reckless.”

Khamenei had previously warned Rouhani about his proposal to lessen the influence of the administration over cultural matters. “Entrusting cultural issues to the people does not negate the regulatory role and guidance of the administration,” Khamenei said at a meeting of the High Council of Cultural Revolution in December 2013. These statements were viewed as a direct rebuke of what Rouhani had said earlier.

Since he came into office, conservative politicians and media have targeted the president’s cultural policies.

At meeting last week with Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi, hard-line cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi said that his main concern was not the nuclear negotiations but that the new administration was creating a cultural climate that would bring about another movement similar to the 2009 post-election protests.

“We have criticisms against the administration that are not related to the nuclear issue,” Mesbah Yazdi said. “Our prime concern is that the administration’s cultural policies are similar to the negligent policies of [former President Mohammad Khatami’s] Reformist administration, which will create the groundwork for a sedition more dangerous than the 2009 sedition.”

One of the earliest and more consistent critics of Rouhani’s cultural policies has been the weekly publication of Ansar-e Hezbollah, Yalasarat al-Hussein. In January, the culture minister issued a suspension notice to the organization for its repeated attacks, though it appears it has since resumed publishing. The top story on the website this morning concerns Khamenei’s recent statements, with the headline “Cultural officials should know what they’re doing.”

Khamenei also stressed today, “Cultural issues are important because the persistence and movement of the Islamic system is based on protecting a revolutionary and Islamic culture.”

He continued, “Everyone should know the value of faithful and revolutionary youth because it is these youths who, when there is danger, are brave. People who look down upon these youths or try to isolate them are not doing a service to the country or the revolution. Of course, these faithful and revolutionary youths will never be isolated.”

There are no signs that Rouhani has attempted to isolate or defund programs associated with student Basij organizations or any other youth-oriented religious or political group. Undoubtedly, Reformist student groups and organizations have supported Rouhani in the hopes that he would create a climate that would allow them to resume their political activities. Some view the recent removal of the highly controversial Tehran University chancellor on the orders of the science minister as a positive step in the direction of more open universities.