Inside President Rouhani’s Immediate Circle and Possible Scrambling Scenarios
The 80-day window between the presidential race and the official inauguration of the Twelfth Administration by Hassan Rouhani has provided for a frenzy of speculations about the next cabinet. The debate has taken up Iran’s mediasphere, and is becoming more and more heated as we approach August 5, the day of inauguration.
The time seems apt to scrutinize the president’s immediate circle, known to be highly influential in arranging the cabinet, to see if it is about to undergo scrambling. Obviously, a change in the circle would have an impact on consultations provided to Hassan Rouhani for the cabinet line-up.
Rouhani’s immediate circle consists of ten men:
- Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri
- Bureau chief Mohammad Nahavandian
- Economy advisor and campaign mastermind Mohammad Ali Najafi
- Vice President for Executive Affairs and campaign director Mohammad Shariatmadari
- Cultural advisor and head of the presidential center for strategic studies Hesamoddin Ashena
- Economy advisor, dean of research and higher education institute for management and planning, and head of economic coordination secretariat Massoud Nili
- Director-general of the presidential bureau Morteza Bank
- Deputy bureau chief for political affairs Hamid Aboutalebi
- Deputy bureau chief for communications and information affairs Parviz Esmaeili [known, and criticized, for his close ties to Rouhani rival Baqer Qalibaf]
- Special aide for executive affairs and brother of president, Hossein Fereidoun
Five out of ten of these men will continue to serve in Rouhani’s second administration for sure. Jahangiri will retain his post and a similar scenario is expected for Rouhani’s economic right hand Massoud Nili, who may also be promoted as a minister. Economically involved in the Rouhani campaign, Najafi, Shariatmadari, and Aboutalebi are also expected to keep their positions in the least.
However, four men are on shaky grounds. These include a triangle from the presidential bureau and of course, Hossein Fereidoun. Here, we review a brief account of the triangle, otherwise known as the ‘moderate circle’.
Let us see what political inclinations are there in President Rouhani’s immediate circle, before going through the details. Jahangiri and Najafi come from the Executives of Construction Party and Morteza Bank is a member of the Moderation and Development Party. In terms of political bent, Nili and Aboutalebi are also close to the two moderate pro-reform parties. On the other hand, Nahavandian, Shariatmadari, Ashena and Esmaeili are more inclined to the moderate Principlist front than to the pro-reform camp. Thus, the immediate circle around Hassan Rouhani is cherry-picked from moderates of the two sides. It appears to be why radical groups in both camps prefer to target this insider circle in their criticisms, rather than the ministers. A quick glance at Principlist media outlets suggests how heavily they have attacked Ashena and Nili. On the flipside, Reformist outlets mirror how deeply dissatisfied they are with Nahavandian and Esmaeili, believed to be close to Principlist Tehran mayor and twice presidential candidate Bagher Qalibaf.
Back to our main question. Will Hassan Rouhani submit to criticisms by Reformists like Mohsen Rohami, known to be a radical leftist, giving up working with Nahavandian, a move that would change his bureau’s structure? Did, as pro-reform analyst Sadegh Zaibakalam has suggested, President Rouhani mean the likes of Nahavandian when he complained about those who failed to support him wholeheartedly during the presidential election?
It seems unlikely for certain reasons. Above all, Rouhani has shown that he scarcely changes his stances even though he is good at standing and listening to criticism. Regardless of the intensity of attacks against Esmaeili, Ashena and Fereidoun or even Minister of Industry Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, Hassan Rouhani is not going to replace them.
On the other hand, Rouhani is not personally able to work with any individual, except from moderate Reformists and moderate Principlists. Take Rouhani’s team in the Expediency Council’s Center for Strategic Research for example. Remember his intellectual affinity with the late Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani. Or the way Rouhani selected his first administration’s cabinet members.
Still another reason is that nothing has been heard so far about the President’s dissatisfaction about his bureau. In fact, the bureau chief is so trusted he represented the President in nuclear talks. Last but not least, Rouhani is well aware of how effective his immediate circle, and more particularly so his bureau chief, is in regulating ties with other branches and institutions of government. Therefore, it is very unlikely that he opts for substantial change.
Although a change in such a structure is not impossible, we should not expect but a juggling of responsibilities. Rouhani’s immediate circle will stay close to the president, if they do not get promotions. “Many will be surprised when the list of cabinet members is published,” read a recent tweet by Parviz Esmaeili.
* The article above was originally posted to Nameh News in Persian.