There were hopes and there were fears. But when on Tuesday, August 8, President Rouhani submitted a list of his second-term cabinet ministers for parliament’s approval, the hopes were mostly dashed and the fears did not generally materialize. The list did not include any women, and names reformists hoped to see were left off. Most of the key ministries remained in the same hands. The only exception was Mahmoud Vaezi, the former Minister of Communications. But even here, there’s nothing controversial: He has not been kicked out, he’s been promoted as Rouhani’s new chief of staff.
Not long after the list became public, the backlash began — from hardliners and reformists alike, but also from those hoping women would be included in the new cabinet. Not only are there no women, one prominent female politician from Rouhani’s first term, Vice President for Women’s Affairs Shahindokht Molaverdi, will not continue in that role.
Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, the principlist interior minister who reformists have abundantly criticized over the last four years, has kept his role. His reappointment shows that, in the ongoing power struggle in Iran, Rouhani is more keen to safeguard his political ties to Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani than he is concerned with making the reformists happy.
The “generals” of Rouhani’s first cabinet — Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Ahmad Akhoundi, Minister of Health Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi, Minister of Labor Ali Rabiei, Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi and Minister of Agriculture Mahmoud Hojjati — all remained in their posts.
Hardliners have been most critical of Zarif and Zangeneh. Zangeneh in particular has come under fire recently for orchestrating the gas deal with the French oil giant Total. But both Zangeneh and Zarif have been useful enough to Rouhani that he was willing to fight for them in parliament if need be. Over the last four years, Health Minister Hashemi has clashed with a number of ministers, including in a major way with Labor Minister Ali Rabiei, though he has had few problems with reformists or principlists. Rabiei even hinted that he wanted to resign, but he seems to have accepted Rouhani’s promise that he will solve the differences among the members of his cabinet.
Neither Labor Minister Rabiei nor Minister of Roads Akhoundi have particularly strong records. Principlists and reformists have accused them both of corruption. However, Akhoundi is the brother-in-law of the principlist politician Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, who carries a lot of weight with Larijani and Rouhani supporters. And Rabiei is an old friend of Rouhani, as is Intelligence Minister Alavi.
Of the newcomers, three are reformists: Energy Minister Habibollah Bitaraf, who was also the energy minister for eight years under the reformist president Mohammad Khatami, Minister of Economy and Finance Masoud Karbasian, and Minister of Industries Mohammad Shariatmadari, who was minister of commerce under Khatami. So the reformists do have something to celebrate, little as it might be. In recent days, reformists have announced their support for Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi for the top role at the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology.
A Promise Kept
Rouhani has kept one promise: He has ensured his cabinet is younger. With today’s announcement, the average age of his new cabinet nominees is three years younger than the previous cabinet.
But there is one cabinet post missing from Rouhani’s list and, depending on who it is, the average age of the cabinet could change. Iran’s government currently has 18 ministers, but the list unveiled today only contains 17 nominees. Absent is the nominee for the ministry of science, the department that also oversees universities. In the past, this portfolio never had to be “coordinated” with the Supreme Leader as many other top jobs did. But this time around, Ayatollah Khamenei has let it be known the new minister of science must receive his seal of approval.
On August 7, it was reported that Mohammad Mohammadian, the Supreme Leader’s representative at Iran’s universities, had resigned. It is not known if his resignation has anything to do with the unsettled fight about the minister of science, but now that the Islamic Azad University, the largest higher-education conglomerate in the world, has been taken over by hardliners under the auspices of the Supreme Leader and his senior advisor Ali Akbar Velayati, whoever is appointed as science minister will have more influence than ever before.
Other new cabinet appointments include Mohammad Bathaie, who takes up the education post, Alireza Avaee at the Ministry of Justice, Brigadier General Amir Hatami at the Ministry of Defense and Abbas Salehi has been appointed head of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The nomination of General Hatami is noteworthy because he comes from the regular army — whereas in the past, this role was usually given to a Revolutionary Guards commander.
Equally important is that the Minister of Justice Mostafa Pourmohammadi has been replaced by Alireza Avaee. Although Avaee is a more reputable figure, international organizations have singled out both men as violators of human rights. Avaee’s name appears on a European Union sanctions list for human rights violations in connection with his time as president of the Tehran judiciary, from 2005 to 2014.
Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, the 36-year-old nominee to run the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, is a former top intelligence official who was in charge of surveillance under President Ahmadinejad, but it would appear he is popular enough for his past to be ignored. And Abbas Salehi wins the nomination for the culture ministry simply because he is Rouhani’s friend. He is not expected to satisfy any particular expectations — in fact that same could be said for the cabinet in its entirety.
Of course, it’s not over. Within hours after Rouhani’s list became public, the backlash started. “The lack of women ministers shows we are treading water," said Shahindokht Molaverdi, the outgoing vice president for women's affairs. Molaverdi was one of only three women to serve under Rouhani in his first term. Following on from the decision to exclude a top Sunni leader from inauguration proceedings, the fact that the new cabinet is devoid of women will no doubt lead to questions over Rouhani’s repeated election promises, which had included greater attention to issues affecting the country’s women and minorities.