This week in the Iranian press, the primary topic of discussion has been the disqualification of former President Hassan Rouhani's candidacy for the Assembly of Experts by the Guardian Council.
Highlights in the Iranian Press (January 27 - February 1)
This week in the Iranian press, the primary topic of discussion has been the disqualification of former President Hassan Rouhani's candidacy for the Assembly of Experts by the Guardian Council. In addition to this, developments in the Red Sea have been another focus of attention that has not fallen off the agenda. Following the normalization of relations with Pakistan, the tone in the media has shifted towards highlighting bilateral cooperation.
Iranian Press Post-President Raisi's Visit to Türkiye
Before President Ebrahim Raisi's visit last week, articles that could potentially strain relations appeared in the Iranian press. However, on the day of the visit, the coverage followed a completely positive agenda, emphasizing the potential in the relationship between the two countries. The day after the visit coincided with an official holiday in Iran, and subsequently, this holiday merged with the weekend holiday, preventing the topic from being covered in the press immediately. Nevertheless, newspapers published on Saturday, the first day of the week in Iran, featured articles discussing the content of the bilateral cooperation agreement. These articles, sharing nearly identical texts, covered various topics from water issues and Afghan refugee concerns to the right of transit between the two countries and the tragedy in Gaza, presented in a straightforward manner without commentary to the Iranian public.
Attacks on Rouhani by Kayhan
Former President Rouhani was disqualified from the elections for the Assembly of Experts by the Guardian Council's decision. This veto, which supports the reformist wing's complaints of "our candidates not being given space in the elections," has sparked significant debate in Iran as the elections approach.
It's important to underline that this veto has created significant disappointment and despair among reformists, as it represents a major blow to the ongoing calls for election participation over the past year. Notably, the current President Raisi is also a candidate for the Assembly of Experts, and he is the only candidate whose nomination has been accepted in the Southern Khorasan constituency. All these factors have further fueled the debate on the meaninglessness of the elections. It should be remembered that there was a historic low in the participation rate in the 2020 Islamic Consultative Assembly elections. Considering the despair among the reformist camp and the participation rates in the last two elections, a similar decline in this election is quite likely.
The conservative faction, led by the Kayhan newspaper, has continuously published articles throughout the week, explaining why Rouhani is not the "right" candidate and why the veto decision was correct. Articles written by Kayhan's Editor-in-Chief, Hossein Shariatmadari, can be considered to have the harshest content on the topic. In one article, Shariatmadari stated, "The Guardian Council avoids disclosing the reasons for disqualification to protect the dignity of the rejected candidates. This is both a religious and a legal prohibition. However, the Guardian Council informs the candidates of the reasons for their disqualification upon their request. The publication of these reasons by the candidates is not legally prohibited and is entirely free. Therefore, if Mr. Rouhani believes, as he stated in his announcement, that his disqualification was made with a 'politically biased' intention, he can request these reasons from the Guardian Council and present them to the public's knowledge and judgment!" trying to argue that Rouhani is chasing a false perception and that the Guardian Council's rejection is based on valid reasons.
The vetoes have also been widely discussed among reformists, with speculation on whether Rouhani could become a new "Rafsanjani" capable of uniting all reformists. However, the situation of hopelessness and disappointment is apparent at first glance. On January 29, the Javan newspaper conducted an interview with Ali Larijani's advisor, Mansour Haghighatpour, and reflected the tense atmosphere of the interview in the article. The level of tension in the interview was unusually high, and the interviewer's biased stance was evident from the initial comments, which is quite intriguing. Haghighatpour described the current assembly as "one-sided" and stated that a one-sided assembly would not be effective.
Criticism of Rouhani by IRNA and Subsequent Modification of the Article
Another article aimed at discrediting former President Rouhani was published in IRNA under the title "Hasan Rouhani's Distance from the People." However, some interesting developments occurred with this article. Generally, the article highlighted the protests, the pandemic, and other difficulties experienced during Rouhani's presidency. The main theme of the article was built on the claim that Rouhani was not genuinely populist, engaging in "fake" populism. Lastly, the article shifted focus to President Raisi, indicating that he is a true populist.
This situation is quite interesting since Rouhani is a candidate for the Assembly of Experts, not the presidency. Thus, creating a narrative as if he would be entering a presidential race if not disqualified by the Guardian Council and positioning Raisi as the ideal candidate against Rouhani involves conceptual contradictions. The final part of the article stated, "In conclusion, populism requires much more than being a popular slogan during election periods. True populism involves being with the people during hard times, listening to their problems, and finding solutions. In this context, Raisi's government has shown real populism, not just in words but in actions, unlike the previous government."
This contradiction must have caught the attention of authorities in Iran, as the article was modified after its publication, with changes made to the title and content to protect Raisi's reputation. The title was updated to "Rouhani's Relationship with the People Behind the Glass," and the commentary quoted above was completely removed from the article, turning its focus solely to criticism of Rouhani.
Relations with Pakistan
Despite it being almost two weeks since the attacks, articles positively framing relations with Pakistan continue to be published in the Iranian press. However, the tone has slightly shifted towards emphasizing steps taken to enhance bilateral relations.
On January 28, newspapers reported the ceremony where the new Pakistani Ambassador to Iran presented his credentials to President Raisi, with nearly identical news texts in many publications. Raisi's words during the ceremony were extensively covered in the reports. During the ceremony, Raisi stated, "According to the view of the Islamic Republic of Iran, borders are an opportunity for economic exchanges and enhancing the security of neighbors, and this opportunity must be protected against all forms of insecurity."
Shortening Mandatory Military Service
Efforts are underway in Iran to shorten the duration of mandatory military service. According to Ettelaat, the new arrangement will reduce the service period to an average of 14 months, including the training phase, resulting in a reduction of at least three months for all soldiers. Tehran MP Seyed Mohsen Dehnavi announced the decisions taken in meetings attended by Parliament Speaker Qalibaf and Major General Bagheri, aimed at reforming military service within the Seventh Development Plan.
Dehnavi stated that this new arrangement would reduce the need for conscription and increase assignments of soldiers in their areas of expertise. He also mentioned that Iranians studying abroad could benefit from an education exemption, aiming to facilitate their return to the country. Additionally, the General Staff is considering a plan to regularize the status of draft evaders.