While most of the world’s attention was focused on the country’s nuclear program, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took what seems to be a brave plunge towards rehabilitating Iran’s economy – raising energy prices and cutting cash subsidies for wealthy Iranians. Unsurprisingly, his constituents’ response was lukewarm.
Both Western news outlets and the Iranian mainstream press, especially financial press, praised Rouhani’s move, describing it as a step towards correcting the mistakes of the past. But some, including reformist columnists, remain skeptical that the president’s plan would work at all. The people on the streets, interviewed by all the major English-language news outlets and agencies, expressed similar sentiments.
According to The Guardian and AFP, the public’s faith in Rouhani began to falter after his promise to fix Iran’s economy resulted in higher prices for consumers. The people still support Rouhani, but according to The Economist, his credibility and popularity now hinges on whether or not he manages to secure an agreement with the West; for now, says AFP, Iranians have delivered Rouhani’s first political defeat by refusing to forgo the payouts.
Quick to step in was Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Rouhani’s political rival, who pitched an economic plan of his own, based on self-sufficiency, to dozens of Iran’s most influential leaders.
So what will it be? An inward-looking “resistance” economy with little outside influence or an administration that cuts subsidies while courting Western investors?
Semira Nikou of the US Institute of Peace warns that Rouhani’s move comes at “one of the most precarious moments” in Iranian history; facing a backlash at home, from hardliners and reformists alike. The young generation reformists expecting more and faster, and looking over his shoulder, ready to step in, are the powerful hardliners whose patience with his reforms seems to be running out.