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One Year Under the Pragmatist Government Insider: Rouhani

President Hassan Rouhani's approval to run for presidency by the constitutionally-mandated and appointed 12-members of the conservative Guardian Council, his endorsement of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, his promises of bringing "dignity" to the nation, freeing political prisoners, promoting civil rights, normalcy, reintegrating Iran in the world economically and politically, struck a chord with many Iranian people.

In addition, Rouhani's relative acceptance and legitimacy within Iran's political spectrum (the hardliners, conservatives, moderate, principalists -- Osulgarayan -- and reformists), his loyalty to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iran's revolutionary principles, his background profile as a government insider and chief nuclear negotiator, the blessings of Supreme Leaders for him, and the low standards from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, placed Rouhani in a unique position last year for the presidency.

Avoiding to adopt extremist political and economic positions, categorized as a pragmatic, moderate, realist, and centrist in the political realm, campaigning for "Prudence and Hope" (tadbir va omid), advocating for normalcy, attempting to merge the Islamic Republic's ideology, principles with its economic and national interests, has predominantly defined President Rouhani, the "Diplomatic Sheikh."

With all the aforementioned promises, coupled with years of a deteriorating economy, high inflation, double-digit unemployment rate, severe economic and political sanctions, as well as domestic crack down, human rights violations and lack of freedoms (assembly, press, and speech), the expectations from President Hassan Rouhani were high domestically, regionally and internationally.

Last year at this time, President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist government insider, took the oath and assumed the office of the presidency after he was unexpectedly elected as president of the Islamic Republic by winning more votes than the five other hardliner candidates put together.

His campaign promised and promoted the slogans of "Government of Prudence and Hope" and "moderation and wisdom," which were found appealing to many, domestically and internationally. Crowds of Iranian people celebrated the landslide victory of Hassan Rouhani who has been characterized as a centrist, realist, and moderate.

President Hassan Rouhani, came to power at a time when international economic and political sanctions had hit the Islamic Republic, crippled its economy, and threatened the hold on power of the Iranian ruling government.

How has President Rouhani addressed the critical issues on Tehran's agenda in his first year and has he succeeded in fulfilling his promises?

To his credit, Rouhani's policies on rapprochement with the West and stance on Iran's nuclear program has alleviated the threat partially.

According to the International Monetary Fund, the Islamic Republic's economy has been stabilized and growing one to two percent, rather than detracting. In addition, this growth is predicted to ratchet up in the following years. In addition, Iran's oil exports have increased by approximately 25 percent, specifically to Asian countries, in the first six months of the year 2014.

In the first year under his presidency, President Hassan Rouhani's strategy has primarily focused on spending a significant amount of political capital on foreign policy rather than domestic policies, attempting to remove the damages that former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad caused, putting moderation on the Islamic Republic's ideology, removing the threat against the hold-on-power of the ruling government, and avoiding antagonizing the hardliners and conservatives in Iran in order to achieve the nuclear objectives, remove the economic sanctions, and gain long and short term benefits.

Rapprochement with the West and Progress in Nuclear Talks (P5+1 and Iran)

On the other hand, by striking the nuclear interim deal with the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, France, China, the United Kingdom, plus Germany), President Hassan Rouhani and his technocrat nuclear team were successful in obtaining sanctions relief -- worth between $6 and $7 billion - and suspending certain sanctions on some of Iranian including the automotive sector, gold and precious metals trade, and petrochemical exports.

From the perspective of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the senior cadre of the Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, there was a need for a President who can address these threats by carrying out policies that contribute in removing the sanctions against the Islamic Republic and stabilize the economy.

With regards to diplomatic headway and the relationships between the Islamic Republic and the United States, Rouhani managed to break several taboos in the Islamic Republic including the historic phone call between him and President Barack Obama. Currently, officials from Iran and the US regularly speak with each other either in nuclear talks in Europe or through various social networks.

In addition, President Hassan Rouhani's administration has managed to normalize diplomatic relationships with the United Kingdom after the British embassy in Tehran was stormed by students in November 2011. The UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and the Iranian chargé d'affaires to Britain, Mohammad Hassan Habibollah Zadeh, pointed out that the United Kingdom and Iran will reopen their embassies soon.

In terms of domestic economy, Rouhani's administration carried out some fiscal and monetary policies such as removing some of the subsidies and increasing the prices in the energy sector.

The latest survey on Iran's economy, by the International Monetary Fund, points out that "Iran has taken important steps to lower inflation... The Islamic Republic of Iran has made progress toward stabilizing its economy in recent months..." In addition, according to the Bloomberg Business Week and The Iran Project, director of the IMF's Middle East and Central Asia department Masood Ahmed, pointed out to reporters in Tehran on Tuesday that: "The process of stabilization has taken hold and we do see the results already in a dramatic improvement in inflation. Inflation rate has eased and currency rate has been stable and such improvements are the results of measures taken by the Iranian government..."

On the other hand, according to the IMF's report, the inflation in the Islamic Republic has significantly declined by 29 percent: "The exchange rate has appreciated markedly in the bureau/parallel market. The CBI has kept a lid on base money growth thanks to tighter credit to the banking system and some fiscal consolidation, and inflation has declined to about 29 percent in January 2014."

One of the most significant challenges for President Hassan Rouhani remains to be charting a way to strike a comprehensive nuclear deal and persuading Iran's Supreme Leader and hardliners that the Islamic Republic will gain long term economic and political benefits, giving a little, and preserving its rights to nuclear enrichment.

Consistent Policies Under Rouhani

While President Hassan Rouhani has spent a considerable amount of his political capital on international arena, nuclear talks, attempting to reintegrate the Islamic Republic in the world affairs and economy, and removing economic sanctions, some of the Islamic Republic's regional policies remained unwavering in the last year .

President Hassan Rouhani voiced his support for the Syrian government, as Iran's support for the Syrian government financially, militarily, politically and advisory continues. Even, after the use of chemical weapons against the civilians in Syria, Rouhani's administration has not shifted its support and policies towards President Bashar Al Assad.

In addition, under Hassan Rouhani's administration, the Islamic Republic continues to support non state actors such as Hezbollah and Hamas. In addition, the Islamic Republic's foreign policies towards Israel remain intact as well.

Domestic Politics: Human Rights, Unemployment, and Freedoms


The inflation is still around 30 percent , which still posses hardship on eighty million ordinary Iranian people. In addition, the unemployment rate remains to be a double digit for millions of Iranian people.

When it comes to human rights and freedoms (assembly, press and speech), President Hassan Rouhani has not made progress. According to the Human Rights Watch, there has been "no sign of improvement" and the Islamic Republic continues to violate human rights under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani.

On March 11, Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights conditions in the Islamic Republic of Iran, released his second annual report to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), pointing out that there exists an "apparent increase in the degree of seriousness of human rights violations" and he expressed his concern at the "rate of executions in the country, especially for crimes that do not meet serious crimes standards."

In addition, in October, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released his annual report expressing concerns with regards to the continuing human rights violations in the Islamic Republic under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani. Human Rights Watch points out that "The government continued to block access to Shaheed and to experts with other UN rights bodies."

Majid Rafizadeh, an American scholar and political scientist, is president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He is originally from Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria.

This article first appeared on Al Arabiya.

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