One Year On: Evaluating Rouhani’s Presidency So Far

One Year On: Evaluating Rouhani’s Presidency So Far August 4, 2014

A year has passed since Hassan Rouhani was sworn in as the president of Iran. I have talked about the meaning of his election before, and I suggest you read that article before this one. In this one, I review his one year as the president, and I will say how successful I consider him to be.


I will tackle everything issue by issue.



What is his situation:

Hassan Rouhani has inherited the worst economy Iran has ever had. Ahmadinejad’s government had completely mismanaged the economy, it was the most corrupt administration in the history of Iran, and its insane adventurism in the international scene had brought about sanctions, and this added to a very corrupt and mafia-like structure and problems with existed before Ahmadinejad and all resulted in a cocktail of disasters.

Before Rouhani came to power, inflation was at one point about 70%, economic growth was -5%, (which means that Iran was facing a stagflation situation), the national currency had become completely worthless, and many things such as certain foods and medicine had become scarce.

The country also suffers from great deficit, and it seems that the government has no money to pay back its loans.

We need to also remember that Rouhani’s control of economy is less than any other president in the history of Iran. A large portion of economy is controlled by military and militia organizations such as the Revolutionary Guards and institutions under the supervision of the Supreme Leader, which pay no taxes and are under no supervision. Their influence grew exponentially under Ahmadinejad, therefore previous presidents, Hashemi Rafsanjani and the reformist Mohammad Khatami had much more control over the economy than Rouhani.

What are his achievements:

By all accounts, Rouhani has created a very impressive economic team. I am no economist myself, but I have heard a large number of prominent economists, many of whom are not necessarily fans of the reformists, to call it “the best economic team in the history of Islamic Republic”. All of them are academics, all of them have long experience in public sector, and all of them are well-respected. So as far as choosing cabinet members go, it’s a success.

Before Rouhani the value of currency fluctuated very suddenly, there were rapid changes in the course of a day, the price would change even in hours. In the course of few months the price of 1 dollar changed from 1000 tomans 5000 tomans and then it suddenly dropped to 3000 tomans. Rouhani has completely taken the currency market under control, he has completely controlled and calmed it, and now the changes in currency value are slow and natural. This in itself is a very major success.

The economy has begun to grow. Now I don’t know if it has become 0% growth or -0.1% growth, I have seen different numbers. Inflation has also dropped, and its speed is under control. Right now it is said that it’s 25%, although I have seen some economists propose it’s 33%, but the point is that it’s dropping. It seems that stagflation is not yet over, but under control, and it might be over soon.

What are his failures:

It seems that Rouhani’s administration cannot decide to find a good way to handle Iran’s deeply flawed subsidy program. Ahmadinejad suddenly cut almost all subsidies, and decided to give the money in cash form to people to spend it as they like instead of giving it to fuels and foods and such. And it wasn’t given only to the poorest people, but to everyone. The economic disaster which happened was to a large part because of that. Now Rouhani doesn’t seem to know how to handle this situation.

It seems that Rouhani wants to cut at least 10 million people from this program. He asked people to do it voluntarily, but this failed as 72 million people decided to reapply for subsidies. He tried to give goods instead of cash, and that program was botched too and he had to apologize to people. He also wants to raise the price of gasoline, which will make the inflation come back with a vengeance.

Overall assessment:

I’d say considering all the obstacles and problems, he has been very successful. People are still suffering, the corrupt structures still remain (which are out of his control), but overall it seems that the worst of the crisis is over and at least the direction is now right.

It is said – sometimes as a form of criticism – that Rouhani doesn’t want to revolutionize Iran’s economic system but he wants to return it to the situation it had in 2005 before Ahmadinejad came to office. But this would be a very huge improvement, and it’d make the lives of Iranians much better. It is a worthwhile short term goal. Let’s first cure the cancer and then we will decide what to do with other illnesses.

Foreign Policy


What is his situation:

Iran has experienced the eras of extreme isolation before. After that stupidity of hostage taking and the 8 year Iran-Iraq War, Iran was completely isolated. However when Hashemi Rafsanjani came to power as the president he wanted to amend relations around the globe. Due to some political assassinations in European countries carried out by the Iranian regime he never succeeded in amending ties with many western countries as much as he wanted, but he drove Iran out of complete isolation. The next president, Khatami, made Iran’s foreign policy sane and reconciliation was the top of agenda. So before Ahmadinejad came to power Iran was already 16 years on the road out of confrontation and isolation, and keeping in mind that 60% of the population were born in this period, certainly no one wanted isolation again.

But it seems Ahmadinejad was hell-bent on making Iran isolated. Not only with his asinine bigoted remarks about 9/11, the Holocaust, wiping Israel off the map, and other stupid stuff, his election was also spontaneous with a much more aggressive approach in nuclear talks (which, to be fair, was not only his fault but also Supreme Leader’s), and an increase in Iran’s support for terrorist activities around the globe (again outside president’s jurisdiction). And Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top negotiator, was an ineffective and fundamentalist diplomat who believed in confrontation. Ahmadinejad doesn’t bear the whole blame for Iran’s international situation, but he is responsible in his own way a lot.

So, before Rouhani came to power Iran was heavily sanctioned, and these sanctions played a huge role in harming the economy, and made life incredibly difficult for Iranians. Also Iran lost many of its friends and allies. Most importantly, Iran was close to war, or at least it was perceived to be close to war. Foreign policy was a major source of worry for Iranians.

Right now, Rouhani faces many obstacles inside in his goals. The Supreme Leader seems to have given him permission to handle this situation, and the Revolutionary Guard has grudgingly supported him too (but I feel this might not last long), but at the same time there are forces within the regime which are vehemently opposed to any form of reconciliation because of either ideological reasons or that they have benefited from the mafia created by the sanctions or both, and they will do anything to sabotage the talks.

What are his achievements:

Rouhani himself is a symbol of compromise. He used to be a conservative, but he has always been a proponent of reducing tension and reconciling with the West. Before his presidency he was most famous as the top negotiator under President Khatami in the nuclear case, and it was his decision to suspend the program and to try solve things by diplomacy. His nickname is “The Diplomat Sheikh”, and he was respected by Jack Straw with whom he negotiated back then. Therefore to all Iranians he was a symbol of diplomacy and amending ties with the West, and he ran specifically on this, and his victory was a clear sign that Iranians wanted to amend relations with the West and decrease tensions.

Mohammad Javad Zarif is undoubtedly the best diplomat in the history of Islamic Republic, and he too has always been a symbol of reconciliation and pragmatic approach towards foreign policy. I have done a complete profile on him on this blog. He was effectively retired during Ahmadinejad’s time, and Rouhani brought him out of his retirement to make him foreign minister. No better choice was possible.

The most important achievement of this administration was to finally break the taboo of talking directly with the United States. Secret talks had happened before, and through intermediaries, but this time they happened in open and defying all the opposition coming from radical conservatives. It’s no more news to hear that Kerry and Zarif have negotiated, and this a huge and historic step.

The Geneva Agreement which provided some sanction reliefs and a framework of a final deal was also a major event celebrated by Iranians, and now the nuclear issue is again out of the confrontational and aggressive state, and both sides are really willing to solve it diplomatically and peacefully. I wish the talks had concluded successfully when they were supposed to and I could write a much happier note, as real differences still exist between the two sides, and this is still an unfinished story. But even so far Rouhani’s administration has done everything as it should have.

What are his failures:

Rouhani’s foreign ministry has failed to take a more active role in the issue of Syria and Iraq and this important region is completely under the thumb of the Revolutionary Guard, however that is understandable to the degree that they have prioritized the nuclear deal.

Also Rouhani had promised to make relations with Arab countries better, but it seems no progress has been achieved there.

Overall assessment:

Also very successful. The sane adults have taken over foreign policy, so things can only get better, hopefully.

Domestic Issues


What is his situation:

Iran has had worse periods under Islamic Republic, but then again, a vast majority have not experiences that. In the eight years before Rouhani, human rights situations and democracy were severely bad. The protests were violently repressed, political prisoners were aplenty (including the house arrest of reformist leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi), the press were heavily censored in an unprecedented degree, cinema and books were undergoing a severe crisis, there was a huge tension between minorities and the regime and their situation would get worse and worse, and the executions were on the rise. There was a very strong movement to undo all the progresses made by women, to turn them away from work force and academia. It was hell.

Rouhani wants to reform all of these issues, but there is a huge catch: a great majority of them are completely out of his hands. The Supreme Leader has openly blocked his attempts on multiple occasions, the Parliament sabotages his efforts as his ministers have been summoned more to Parliament and warned by it than the entire eight years of Ahmadinejad, (right now the shadow of impeachment looms over his Science Minister), the judiciary closes papers close to him and continues to harass his supporters and increase executions, and all the military forces are against him.

It is a very unequal game.

What are his achievements:

No one can claim Rouhani has not put up a good fight. I have tried to demonstrate this on this blog on many occasions. He has continued to speak up, whether by indirectly contradicting the Supreme Leader over his remarks on women’s equality, or by speaking up about the arrested youth, or by fighting back against extremists again and again and again. And I have mainly reported on his own activities, many of his ministers have been resilient, including the Culture Minister who has repeatedly talked about reducing filtering and censorship, or now that Tehran municipality is trying to segregate men and women his Labor ministry is facing them. I think all of this provides ample evidence that he has been genuinely fighting, and shows the common criticism that he has abandoned domestic issues and doesn’t confront conservatives is clearly false. He doesn’t pick open fights about every single political prisoner or banned newspaper (which seems is what his critics expect him to do), but as the president he needs to pick his battles and he really is in a weaker position.

Like, his administration simply refused to filter WhatsApp against the court order.

By far, in domestic issues, he has been the most successful when it comes to universities and academic freedoms. Fundamentalist deans were removed from the office, many of the students who were fired because of political activism during the previous administration have been able to return to university and resume their studies, many great university professors who were prematurely retired or fired for political reasons have returned to universities and resumed teaching, universities have more leeway in choosing their own deans, and overall he has reduced governmental intervention in academic and executive affairs of the universities considerably. It’s no accident that it is the minister in charge of this aspect which is threatened by impeachment (and that it’s one of the very few areas that administration has some real control over).

There have been small advances. A woman governor, a Sunni governor, few papers being published, some writers being removed from the banned writers list, a lax in book censorship, gender segregation stopped here and there, etc, etc.

Overall, the atmosphere has improved to a degree.

What are his failures:

Rouhani had made some promises during his campaign, like appointing women ministers, creating a ministry for the issues of women and to pursue their equal rights, using religious and ethnic minorities in high positions, removing book censorship, decreasing internet filtering especially Facebook and Twitter, creating a special vice president position for racial and ethnic equality (he has created another lower cabinet position), letting ethnic minorities to teach their language at school, creating a safe haven for exiled Iranians to return to Iran (some have returned and were jailed), and most importantly, lobbying so that the leaders of Green Movement are freed from house arrest.

None of these were done. At least not so far. It seems he thought he could pull them off, but his opponents proved stronger, so he has failed in these regards.

Of course, it’s very stupid to blame him for many of things that happen in Iran, like executions (completely out of his hand), closing down newspapers and arresting journalists and human rights activists, etc. This would be like blaming Obama for the obstructionism of Republicans. They are done with the purpose of stopping Rouhani. They are done by his enemies against him.

That being said, his enemies have been successful in stopping him, simply because of their superior power.

Overall assessment:

I’m going to rank this one as not successful. I don’t blame him for not succeeding, but he has gained much less than he himself had hoped.

Overall Assessment




Rouhani called himself a man with keys, someone to solve problems. He was never a very loud member of opposition. He was always the man of diplomacy, to solve everything with talks. This is his attitude abroad and inside. Even his criticism of Green Movement was that one or two protests are enough, we need to talk and solve this problem.

In this case, he’s a reformist very similar to his political mentor Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, both of whom used to be conservatives, but pragmatic and sane conservatives, people who wanted to solve things with talks and deals and negotiations, who always strove to be “moderates”, and became reformists.

This is exactly the kind of president that Iran needs right now. Opposition should do their work, human rights activists should do their work, and president’s job is different – he has to find solutions.

Iran is on the brink of collapse, economic bankruptcy, war, both civil and foreign. Many Iranians who live abroad are blind to this, but Iran is not safe from becoming a country like Syria or Iraq. There is much urgency. There is much at stake.

Rouhani has relatively turned the tide. As much as he could. It’s very important to support him, and make sure he succeeds.

After all that is said and done, I’m very happy to have Rouhani as president. This has been a historic year.

Further Reading:

Why Iranian Politics Is So Hard To Understand – Basic introduction to Iranian politics

Why I Support Rouhani – Basic reasons of why his presidency is important

The House Arrest of Mousavi, Karroubi, and Rahnavard Can Determine the Future of Rouhani’s Administration – The most important aspect of Iran’s domestic policy

History Can’t Wait: What Is The Significance of Rouhani’s Election? – Already linked to but very important context

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