By Edward Carney
As Tehran struggles with the economic impact from re-imposed sanctions by the Trump administration, pressure from demonstrations and protests engulf the country. Iranians are demanding relief from the plummeting economy and national currency.
In an attempt to show frustrated Iranians that the regime trying to fix its problems, the Iranian parliament acted to remove President Rouhani’s finance minister from office. State media said that parliament backed minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Masoud Karbasian’s removal from office by 137 votes to 121.
This move was the latest in a continuing shakeup of top economic personnel. Iranian lawmakers voted out the Minister of Labor in early August, and last month Rouhani replaced the head of the central bank.
Tasnim news agency cited Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying on Sunday, “(America’s) focus is on a psychological war against Iran and its business partners.”
Foreign firms from contracts in Iran, such as Total, Peugeot, and other leading names are quickly exiting Iran, which demonstrates just how effective the potential of the secondary economic sanctions from the U.S. are.
The Trump administration requires that the Iranian regime rein in its support of the Assad regime, and halt its military involvement in Syria. This weekend, the Iranian regime’s Defense Minister met with with Bashar al-Assad in Damascus and pledged to continue support. Amir Hatami said,according to ISNA, “The Islamic Republic has high capabilities in the area of defense and can help Syria in expanding their military equipment.”
Last week, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said that Iran should remove its forces from Syria. But, senior Iranian officials said their military presence in Syria is at the invitation of the Assad government and they have no plans to withdraw.
In the beginning, the Revolutionary Guards kept quiet about their role in the Syria conflict. With ore than 1,000 Iranians, including senior members of the Revolutionary Guards, killed in Syria since 2012, they have become more vocal, framing their engagement as an struggle against the Sunni Muslim fighters of Islamic State.
However, some believe that Iran’s role in Syria was meant to preserve one of their few allies from being deposed as part of the democracy movement protests that swept across the Middle East in 2010.
Iran’s military intervention has resulted in over half a million killed and nearly five million refugees flooding into Europe.
Amid the speculation about Rouhani’s, one should remember that since Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is the true head of the regime, both spiritually and practically, Rouhani is largely irrelevant, although he may be useful as a scapegoat to protect Khamenei from the anger of the Iranian people.
The impeachment of the Education and Interior ministers has also been called for by Parliament members, and according to the Wall Street Journal, the Industry and Housing ministers may be impeached as well, if Rouhani doesn’t shake up his economic team himself.
The economic outlook in Iran is dire. Analysts at BMI Research in London project economic growth to slow to 1.8% this year, followed by a contraction of more than 4% next year.
The Iran lobby, especially the National Iranian American Council, argue that Rouhani’s downfall will leave the regime in the hands of hardliners. They miss the point that Rouhani is manipulated by Khamenei, and therefore, the hardliners have always had the power.
The Iran nuclear deal was designed to get Iran desperately needed cash, but that much-needed capital was diverted from the Iranian people to the military. Since December protesting Iranians have been chanting to get out of Syria and stop supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon.
In an effort to show that Iran is slipping into the grip of hardliners because of the new economic sanctions, the NIAC posted a roundup of news items. Still, watching the regime’s military involvement throughout the Middle East while cracking down harshly on dissenters at home, makes the idea of a “moderate” government hard to believe. What we are now seeing is a government trapped between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”.