As anxiety and frustration spread among the people of Iran due to uncertainty about the future and economic hardship, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani appeared before parliament on Tuesday to answer questions on pressing issues.
In almost two hours of questions posed by MPs to the president, neither the parliament nor the wider public are likely to be satisfied with Rouhani’s answers, which seemed aimed more at deflecting attention than presenting honest responses to the questions.
In particular, Rouhani focused most on the threat of impeachment that is hanging over him. The finance minister was impeached a few days earlier, and with the return of sanctions on Iran’s oil industry and banking system Rouhani may see his own impeachment forecast.
“I consider today to be a special day for democracy, the country and religious democracy,” Rouhani said, adding that “in this 12th government, I have been trying to establish a close and brotherly relationship between the government and the majlis,” the country’s parliament.
However, he seemed to concentrate so much on mending relations with the parliament that he lost the opportunity to talk to anxious Iranians having to deal with problems as basic as how to feed their families.
Rouhani seemed to praise himself and his government for its achievements during almost six years of power, producing numbers to show that inflation and unemployment had decreased, as had smuggling and corruption.
However, the reality of Iran is the opposite, and one MP pointed to the number of smaller and larger businesses that had closed due to bankruptcy and the many people who had lost their jobs. None of this was mentioned by Rouhani.
Instead, the president had gone to parliament with two goals in mind: first, to improve relations with the parliament, and second, to claim that his opponents are behind the recent public demonstrations and currency crisis.
The president spoke about a “conspiracy” against the government and threats against his life. He wanted to gain the sympathy of the public and at the same time to warn MPs that the country was in danger because influential groups wanted to kill or topple the president.
Some observers close to the president and the reformists in Iran believe that last January’s demonstrations, which started in the city of Mashhad and soon became national in scope, were backed by the hardliners and their supporters in the Revolutionary Guards.
There are those within hardline ranks who have been involved in the recent chaos, aiming to increase public anger by claiming that the country has economically collapsed with the aim of pushing the president to resign or be impeached.
Rouhani is trying to warn MPs of the consequences if such plots succeed, saying that they endanger the nation.
His flattering words about the country’s parliament, judiciary and Revolutionary Guards, saying that they are all united and act in tandem, nevertheless sounded strained to some observers.
The recent public demonstrations may have caused the system in Iran to come together to save the regime from public anger that can no longer tolerate the corruption, mismanagement and hierarchy of the country’s clerical rulers, however.
People understand that the next wave of sanctions in November will likely mean another wave of the protests by those who do not care if the parliament and the president are united.
Such ordinary Iranians simply want a decent life, and the president signally failed to address this in his appearance in parliament this week.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 30 August 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Pressure mounts in Iran