Iran’s new cabinet: Rohani’s recruits

11 August 2013 | 16:12 Code : 1919739 Latest Headlines

ON AUGUST 4th at a ceremony in Iran’s parliament, Hassan Rohani (pictured third from the right) kissed the Koran and was officially inaugurated president of the Islamic Republic. Having kept quiet about whom he might appoint to his cabinet since his election victory on June 14th, Mr Rohani issued a list of nominees for parliament’s approval.

It includes Javad Zarif for foreign minister, an American-educated former ambassador to the UN, who was part of a cadre of technocrats referred to in the Iranian press as “the New Yorkers”, and who, as deputy minister of foreign affairs, was vital in brokering a deal on Afghanistan between the Americans and Iran’s Afghan allies, the Northern Alliance, in 2001. Most of the rest of Rohani’s men—no women were appointed—are familiar faces who served under former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani between 1989 and 1997.

In Iran’s highly factional political system, the MPs who head the country’s 18 ministries can wield much influence. Each appoints his own team, which is especially important given the lack of a strong civil service.

"I feel the burden of this endorsement and I honestly and humbly besiege Almighty God to keep this weak servant away from misery, jealousy, arrogance and egotism,” said Mr Rohani during his inauguration speech. His biggest burden, however, may be the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

According to local news reports, Mr Khamenei vetoed several of his new president’s cabinet choices, including two of the most important posts, because of their ties to another reformist former president, Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005). Saham News, a reformist website, reported that Mr Khamenei had intervened days before Mr Rohani’s inauguration, asking him to drop Ali Younesi as his prospective intelligence minister and Ahmad Masjed Jame’I as his minster for Culture and Islamic Guidance (Ershad), which controls the media. Both men had held those jobs under Mr Khatami, who was instrumental in mobilising electoral support for Mr Rohani and who as president expanded civil liberties and attempted to curb Mr Khamenei’s power.

Although the constitution stipulates that the president select his ministers, Mr Rohani heeded the supreme leader's words, replacing his first choices with more acceptable mandarins: Mahmoud Alavi for the intelligence ministry and Ali Janati for Ershad.

Mr Alavi was a Tehran MP under the liberalising presidencies of Mssrs Rafsanjani and Khatami and is now a member of the Assembly of Experts, a supervisory body that monitors the supreme leader and selects his successor. Mr Janati is Iran’s former ambassador to Kuwait, and the son of hard-line cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, though apparently more moderate in his outlook. In an interview with the centrist newspaper Ghanoon in May, the younger Jannati vowed to enact major changes to the policies brought in under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, which increasingly muzzled the press. “The cultural and artistic atmosphere of the country will soften so that artists can breathe better,” he told Bahar, a reformist paper.

Despite Ayatollah Khamenei’s interference, President Rohani’s new team boasts a pragmatism that has been missing in Iran for the past eight years. The reformists may not be in control, but Rohani has offered them a lifeline, albeit a delicate one.

tags: rohani