Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was elected largely on the premise that he’s a moderate. But his 2015 budget proposal suggests that he’s more interested in preserving the repressive regime than moving the country toward the middle.
Emanuele Ottolenghi and Saeed Ghasseminejad, both fellows at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, write in the Wall Street Journal that while Rouhani did soften sanctions on Iran and help lead the country on a path out of recession, his 2015 budget is great for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), intelligence branches, and clerical courts that serve the repressive regime of Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei
There’s some increased healthcare spending built into the budget to help appease middle- and lower-class Iranians, but the budget also includes an increase in government tax revenue and defence spending and a substantial reduction in bread subsidies.
“Rouhanomics,” therefore, “isn’t a recipe for economic growth but for balancing middle-class discontent,” according to the op-ed.
Ottolenghy and Ghasseminejad write:
Not only is Rouhanomics going to inflict economic pain on the very constituency that swept the new president to power, but it will also empower the regime apparatus tasked with taming the inevitable discontent of Mr. Rouhani’s constituents. …
The bottom line is that Mr. Rouhani’s budget appears aimed at streamlining public spending without cutting off welfare completely, but at the same time strengthening the institutions tasked with internal repression and external adventurism.
This increase in defence spending comes at a time when oil revenues — which are estimated to account for about a third of the public budget — are dropping significantly.
Meanwhile, activists say the number of executions and political prisoners hasn’t changed much during Rouhani’s tenure, and the press is still heavily restricted.
“After a year in office, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has achieved a steady thaw in relations with the West but failed so far to deliver on campaign promises of more freedom at home,” Babak Dehghanpisheh of Reuters reported in September.
Hardline Iranians are still restricting political and social freedoms. For example, earlier this year, several young Iranians got suspended sentences of six to 12 months in jail and 91 whip lashes for making a music video for Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” that showed women without hijabs dancing with men, according to Reuters.
Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies program at Stanford University, told Reuters in September that Rouhani doesn’t consider internal human rights issues to be a high priority right now and is instead focusing on diplomatic relations with the West — one area where he has made tangible progress.
The US greatly upgraded its relations with Iran last year. A phone call between Rouhani and President Barack Obama represented the first time US and Iranian leaders had spoken since the 1979 Iranian revolution. Obama and Rouhani discussed Iran’s nuclear program.
Iran and Western nations haven’t reached a deal yet on Iran’s nuclear program. The talks have been extended into next year.
Meanwhile, the foreign arm of the IRGC has been running the Assad regime’s campaign against secular and Islamist rebels in Syria. The Iran-backed government in Damascus continues to rain barrel bombs on civilian areas while Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate routs US-backed rebels, ISIS runs a self-declared caliphate, and Tehran sends fighters from multiple countries to bolster Assad.
The IRGC has also co-opted the government in neighbouring Iraq, where Shia militias — some of them backed by Iran — are using the fight against the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) to burn Sunni communities to the ground. Iran is also running Baghdad’s air war.
“The United States is not the first player in Iraq. Iran is the first player in Iraq. They think Sunni fighters will be like militias for the Sunnis,” Najim al Jabouri, a retired Iraqi army general who is now a fellow at the National Defence University in Washington, told Jonathan Landay of McClatchy last month. “I think Iran is working very hard to stop the United States’ strategy in Iraq.”
Now that Rouhani’s own budget reflects the power of the IRGC, Ottolenghi and Ghasseminejad note that the people “in the West, and inside the country, who had entertained illusions of reform will be disappointed.”
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.