Iran Vice-President Says Rouhani Resists ‘Closing The Atmosphere’
Masoumeh Ebtekar, Vice-President with responsibility for women and family affairs, says the Rouhani administration has resisted imposing a political clampdown at a time of escalating tension with the United States. She also suggested that a government controlled by hardliners would have tightened censorship to create better leeway for secret talks with the Trump administration.
“If a hardline administration had the power in the current circumstances, the atmosphere would have been much more closed,” she said in an interview published by Borna News on Friday October 30.
“The atmosphere is opening up. [Hardliners] tried to pressure [Communications Minister Mohammad-Javad] Azari-Jahromi to shut down the whole of the Internet including Instagram. It was the [Rouhani] administration’s resistance that prevented that from happening.”
Rouhani was first elected in 2013 as a pragmatic and more palatable alternative after eight years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s erratic presidency. In his reelection in 2017 he made lofty promises of opening the society, defending women’s rights and guaranteeing civil rights of citizens. But many voters who had chosen him became disillusioned as security forces relentlessly pursued critics of the regime and violently suppressed protests.
The disillusionment manifested itself in countless attacks on Rouhani in social media and the low turnout in the February 2020 parliamentary elections. Even a prominent reformist pundit, Abbas Abdi in September asked Rouhani to step down for his failures in governance.
Ebtekar argued that while a principlist administration could have undertaken secret talks with the Trump administration it “would not have succeeded [in getting good results] because they lack the basic skills of diplomacy.” Ebtekar, who was appointed vice-president in 2017, previously headed the Department of the Environment under reformist president Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005).
International organizations have frequently criticized Iran for censoring the media, and for shutting down the Internet down during protests. Officials often refer to the Internet as a potential security threat and block access to thousands of websites, including news sites belonging to opposition groups and nearly all major social-media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Telegram.
Many Iranians access social media through proxy servers and VPNs (virtual private networks), allowing them to express dissatisfaction with the political system or religious establishment and to read uncensored news. The Majles Research Center has reported Iran spending 190 trillion rials (around $1 billion based on average rate in 2020) on the National Information Network (NIN), an intranet allowing access only to authorized content and renders useless VPNs and proxy servers.