When President Rouhani won the presidency in 2013, he marketed himself as a leader who would bring economic prosperity, a more moderate government, and a decrease in human rights abuses. Though all presidential candidates are required to be approved by the supreme leader Ali Khamenei, Rouhani tried to distance himself from Khomenei’s severe and authoritarian image, attempting to convince Iranians he would bring a better, more progressive future for the country.
However, Iran’s reaction to Rouhani has proven that his campaign was nothing more than a charade by the regime, and that his promises were nothing but lies. Recently, Rouhani’s popularity has been steadily declining, with Iranians who view him as “very favorably” falling from 61% in August 2015 to 28% in the last half of 2016. Though there are many diverse reasons to explain this decline, the reality that Rouhani was not a moderate, and was simply a puppet of Khamenei’s has disappointed the Iranian people. Specifically, the failed nuclear deal, political corruption in the government, Iran’s position in the Syrian war, and a lack of human rights reform are seen as proof that Rouhani is far from moderate and far from speaking for the people.
The Nuclear Deal
When the nuclear deal was originally crafted and signed by the United States and Iran in 2015, Iranians in general hoped that the deal would at least help improve the economic conditions of the country. A year later, this deal is largely viewed as a failure. Iranians feel that the economic conditions have not changed in the country, and with a plummeting unemployment rate and recent renewal of sanctions, there is “a growing frustration at the lack of economic improvement under President Hassan Rouhani“. The growing cynicism that Iranians have of this deal may be partially due to the fact that they were misinformed about what the deal actually was in the first place, leading them to feel swindled by the president.
With the economy already struggling, recent revelations that government officials were participating in corrupt financial dealings only added fuel to the fire when it comes to Rouhani’s popularity. The 2016 “Pay-slip gate” revealed that top government officials were earning salaries ten times those of lower level workers, leading to anger and accusations of corruption by the Iranian people. With homelessness and unemployment at record highs, news that members within the government were taking advantage of their power to bolster their own salaries added to existing divisions between the people and the ruling body, especially Rouhani, whose campaign promised economic prosperity for the working class and hinted toward putting a stop to Iran’s history of corruption.
The War in Syria
It is not just Iranians who are losing faith in Rouhani. Anger towards Rouhani has moved outside of Iran to the surrounding middle eastern countries. Iran’s support of Bashar Al-Assad and Russia in the Syrian civil war has led the middle east to grow in their suspicion of the leader. Countries that have paid the price for the war like Jordan and Turkey have a notably low opinion ofRouhani, but many of Iran’s own people also disagree with Rouhani’s choice to side with Russia and Assad in the conflict, as the dictator’s forces have led to the death of millions of Syrian civilians.
No Progress in Civil Liberties
Rouhani consistently promised civil rights reform when he was put in office. However, after three years in office, many western countries are disgusted to find that the country has made “little perceived gains on civil liberties” and continues to exercise violent authoritative control over the daily lives of its people. Though Rouhani is often still referred to as a moderate and progressive leader by media outlets, in reality, there have been more cases of violence towards dual nationals under Rouhani’s regime that the supposed “hardliner” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. With executions, unfair imprisonments, and unjustified arrests still common, it appears that Rouhani’s promises for more civil liberties were unfounded, and that the election itself was simply an attempt to portray Iran as a moderate democracy.
All in all, Rouhani’s falling popularity comes from the Iranian people’s sentiment that they weren’t truly able to pick a candidate democratically, and that Rouhani is a fake progressive. As one citizen explains, “Rouhani’s popularity is taking a hit primarily because he is perceived to have failed to deliver on his campaign promises.” Because Rouhani campaigned as a moderate who would bring economic prosperity to the country, the fact that Iran remains a struggling economy with a violent, oppressive government reveals Rouhani as an empty symbol of progress that betrayed the values he allegedly stood for as soon as he got into office.