Today, Iran’s Majlis voted to confirm all but three of the cabinet picks that Hassan Rouhani had proposed. However, the confirmation hearings drew attention within Iranian society for how much the nominees were grilled not only on their qualifications and policy proposals for their portfolios, but also about their role in the Green Movement protests that followed the 2009 election – known as the “sedition” in the Iranian conservative media. With Rouhani’s moderate proposed cabinet including some reformist-leaning faces after eight years of a conservative-dominated cabinet, hardliners turned to their attention to the ideological track record of the nominees. Reports indicate that two of the three rejected nominees – Mohammad Ali Najafi for education minister and Jafar Mili-Monfared for science minister – were turned down due to their connections with the Green Movement.
Reformist papers, and many moderate outlets, have been filled with outrage over what they have perceived as a self-serving witch-hunt or a form of revenge for the emphatic loss the right wing saw in the presidential election. In the reformist Shargh today, Fatemeh Rakei – a former MP herself – argued that the lines of questioning were a disgrace to the Majlis and had shocked domestic public opinion. She spoke of MPs “who, instead of using logical or principle-based arguments against the programs of the proposed ministers or making expert criticisms, resorted to bringing up unproven issues surrounding the events of 2009.” An editorial in the more centrist Jomhouri Eslami showed similar disgust at what it saw as a cynical political game. “Yesterday, the anger of many of the representatives whose parties lost in the presidential election was obvious, and they insinuated undue relationships and levied unacceptable accusations and debased the Majlis to a level of irreverence and profanity,” it wrote, continuing, “Worst of all, a number of [representatives] have used and abused the word ‘sedition’ as a front to hide their political motivations.” In Mardom Salari, Hamid-Reza Shokuhi lamented that vague criticisms of certain contracts he was once involved in, plus baseless accusations of ties to sedition, were threatening the approval of Bijan Namdar Zangeneh as oil minister, despite his status as the most qualified man for Iran at a time of crisis: “Given the Iranian oil industry’s current circumstances, Namdar Zangeneh has no alternative. He is the alternative in the oil ministry.” (Zangeneh was ultimately confirmed.)
More conservative outlets, however, defended the idea that the “sedition” was a crucial issue for the Majlis to consider, as it is the parliament’s duty to prevent people who are not fully committed to the Islamic Republic from holding cabinet positions. In the hardline Kayhan, Hossein Shamsian accused the reformists both of trying to demand a share of Rouhani’s cabinet and to stack it with officials tied to the sedition. Regarding reports that the reformists aren’t happy with the entire cabinet list, he sarcastically asked them which nominees they don’t prefer: “Is it those ministers who supported the seditionists and still won’t refrain from supporting them and won’t ask for absolution for their mistakes? Or is it those who, thanks to your lobbying and your bargaining, have been selected to build up the share of a political faction in the government despite having no experience or specialization…?” Similarly, in Javan, Abbas Hajji-Najjari wrote that the Majlis has the duty to prevent seditionists from entering government, and that by being tough on this line of questioning and voting down nominees who were too close to the events of 2009, the parliamentarians wouldn’t be opposing the president but merely doing the nation a favor.
In Kayhan, Mohammad Imani went a step further, and said that the Majlis was in complete accord with Rouhani by pushing his nominees on their stances on the ‘sedition.’ To support his argument, Imani quoted Rouhani’s reaction to the February 14, 2011 Green Movement protests, in which he reportedly said, “This group, with its anti-revolutionary slogans, has been useful and a cause of happiness for America, the Zionist regime, and other opponents of the revolution.” Not only does the contentious historiography of the 2009 election and its aftermath remain central to Iranian politics even after the election of a president who ran on moderation and unity, but it does so to such an extent that his own words on the topic are used as justification to reject his own cabinet choices.
APPENDIX: Translated Summaries of Selected Opinion Pieces (Newest to Oldest)
Rakei, who served as a member of the reformist-dominated 6th Majlis, writes in the reformist Shargh that the Majlis has forfeited much of its dignity in the confirmation process, as, despite a reasonable, moderate, and experienced proposed cabinet, certain MPs insisted on focusing on wild and baseless accusations surrounding the 2009 election and its aftermath. She sees these self-serving actions as being detrimental to the Iranian political system and likely to have large repercussions. “The individuals who, in the first day’s meeting and to some extent in the second and third days’ sessions, failed to uphold the dignity of the Majlis and the principles of representation, and who instead of using logical or principle-based arguments against the programs of the proposed ministers or making expert criticisms, resorted to bringing up unproven issues surrounding the events of 2009, likely understand that, given the live television broadcast of the hearings, and through the detail-by-detail reflections upon their actions in the independent media, they have shocked public opinion at home and abroad.”
Hajji-Najjari writes in the hardline Javan that the insistence from many conservative members of the Majlis upon questioning nominees about their role in the 2009 uprising is necessary for Iranian political society to move forward. He argues that the process has shown how isolated the “seditionists” have become, and will be a sign that anyone who has not shown themselves to be separate from the seditionists will not be allowed into political society. He writes that the Iranian people expect the Majlis to uphold their duty, and thus the questions of nominees about their loyalty to the Supreme Leader and the Velayat-e Faqih system are correct to ask, even if the end result is that some nominees are rejected. Even in this likely case, he writes, it does not mean that the Majlis is opposed to Rouhani; it merely means they are upholding their duty to make sure only the most qualified public servants can hold cabinet positions.
The daily editorial of Jomhouri Eslami argues that the early signs from the confirmation hearings in the Majlis have shown an unpleasant side of Iranian politics, as extremists within the parliament have made sweeping accusations of various nominees that exhibit plainly that they are interested not in constructive critique but in political revenge. “Yesterday, the anger of many of the representatives whose parties lost in the presidential election was obvious, and they insinuated undue relationships and levied unacceptable accusations and debased the Majlis to a level of irreverence and profanity,” the paper writes. It also argues that the frequent discussion of the 2009 protests – and any support nominees may have had for them – in the confirmation hearings is not about the event itself but rather is about political rivalry. “Worst of all, a number of [representatives] have used and abused the word ‘sedition’ as a front to hide their political motivations.”
Shamsian writes in the hardline Kayhan that despite assertions to the contrary, the reformists have followed through with “share-seeking” behavior to try to carve out a chunk of Rouhani’s cabinet for themselves. He says that reformists have tried to deflect claims that they have demanded – and received – a proposed cabinet that suits them by voicing vague comments that they’re not thrilled with all the names and have objections. But, Shamsian argues, this is mere posturing which obscures the fact that supporters of the 2009 post-election “sedition” have been allowed into Rouhani’s list. “The question that must be asked of this group is exactly whose presence in this list of ministers has met with your disapproval? … Is it those ministers who supported the seditionists and still won’t refrain from supporting them and won’t ask for absolution for their mistakes? Or is it those who, thanks to your lobbying and your bargaining, have been selected to build up the share of a political faction in the government despite having no experience or specialization…?”