It’s been a couple of months since we published our last report examining the Iranian conservative blogosphere, and there’s a lot to catch up on. As a result of President Rouhani’s dramatic push for a long-term resolution of the nuclear issue, it’s been a very hectic period of political debate inside Iran, with conservatives particularly vocal about Rouhani’s rejection of Ahmadinejad-era isolationist policy. This flurry of activity has naturally carried through to the Iranian blogosphere, where discussions about the nature of Iran’s engagement with the West dominate the agenda.
From our analysis of the conservative blogosphere over this period, it’s clear that the historic phone call between Hassan Rouhani and Barack Obama (and its implications for domestic politics) provoked the most discussion amongst conservative bloggers. As a result, we’ll first be taking a look at the conservative community’s reaction to this issue, before exploring the concerns of a number of bloggers about the broader implications of the nuclear negotiations for Iran.
Mahmoud Mehdi Khosravi heavily criticized Iranians’ optimism about the Rouhani-Obama telephone conversation in a post titled “Thank You Obama!”, on his blog Perplexity. He reminds his readers of “the 100 years of enmity, courtesy of the bombs, missiles and chemical weapons granted to the Iraqi Ba’athist regime [by the West], as well as the attacks on naval ships and Iranian installations in the Persian Gulf”. His post points to a subsequent meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which took place a few short days after Rouhani and Obama’s conversation. He argues that this Israeli-American meeting justifies continued caution with regard to Iran-US negotiations, before going on to describe the talks as ‘hopeless’. Khosravi posits that in demonstrating its continued closeness with Israel, the US has presented its true image, and it is for this reason that he thanks President Obama.
On his blog Ahestan, the prominent conservative blogger Omid Hosseini described the phone call as a shared victory for Rouhani and Obama. He argues that “the winner in terms of politics, media, advertising and strategy is Obama” because “the main target of this telephone conversation was not Rouhani, but the hearts and minds of people around the world. This is especially so for those in Muslim countries that have been influenced by the Imam [Khomeini]’s teachings in their decades-long struggle with the US, and have engaged in a shared struggle with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Now, however, they will see that these teachings have been altered, as the Islamic Republic of Iran is beginning to speak of negotiations with the Great Satan!”
From Hosseini’s perspective, this telephone conversation has also demonstrated that the Islamic Republic “is not a closed political system where one person decides every issue”. He states instead that the numerous governmental organs of the Iranian state are autonomous and independent of the Supreme Leader’s control.
Not all conservative bloggers were quite so cautious about the phone call - some even declared their enthusiastic support. Interestingly, one of these supporters was Vahid Yaminpour - an ultra-hardline conservative blogger who vehemently opposed Rouhani’s 2013 presidential campaign. In his blog post “Regarding the telephone call!” he describes the negotiations between Iran and the US as beneficial for the Iranian regime, arguing that they constitute a valuable experience for the nation: “The outcome of this reformist government’s policies will be beneficial for the country, because even if the negotiations prove harmful, Iran will gain experience at the national level. We should remind ourselves that the more hardship a nation experiences, the more likely it is to overcome future difficulties.”
Ruhollah Aminabadi, in his post “The age of deception is an age of repeated lessons!” compares the optimism around Iran-US negotiations to previous optimism around the 2003 disarmament of Libya, which was discussed in the book of Mohamed Elbaradei, the former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Aminabadi believes that the nature of the government’s engagement with the West has the potential to shape Iran’s destiny in a similar manner to the 2003 negotiations with Libya: “Today, four months on from Rouhani’s victory in the elections, this phrase has been passed around: ‘Soon the sanctions will be lifted, the doors of trade will be opened, and just like before, Iran will be made a subject of indecent abuse.’ ”
‘Fatima’ agrees with Aminabadi, suggesting in a sarcastic post entitled “Mullahs are not from Mars!” that the outcome of Rouhani’s engagement with the US will be the destruction of the Islamic Republic: “We are grateful that Iran’s doors have opened to the US, allowing them to bring freedom to Iran just as they did in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost of living will decrease, and we will become happy and prosperous!”
The blogger ‘A.S.’ in a blog called “Memoirs of a barefoot” expresses suspicion about the potential outcome of negotiations between Rouhani’s government and the West, stating that Iran’s re-acceptance of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol is the most disgraceful concession to have been accepted by an Iranian government in the past two hundred years.
Besides expressing their hopes and fears concerning the outcome of the nuclear negotiations, conservative bloggers have also been vocal in their concerns about the confidentiality of Iran’s negotiations with the G5+1, with some objecting to what they see as a lack of transparency in the negotiating process.
In a post on his blog Notes by a Student, Amir Hossein Sabeti criticised the confidentiality of the negotiating process, considering it to be a gross deviation from Rouhani’s election slogan: “It is the people’s right to know!”. Beneath a photo of Jalili on his blog is written: ”The man who stated: “Broadcast my negotiations to the people, to make clear to them that I have not compromised on their rights!“ is gone…”
Meysam Ramezani makes a similar point to Sabeti on his blog Habil. Ramezani believes that there is no logical reason to keep the details of the nuclear negotiations under wraps, arguing that Rouhani should publish more specific details of the process: “I do not understand why we should have to ask to make the contents of our negotiations on this blood-stained, nation-defining issue public. What is the Iranian delegation so afraid of? And what prize is being offered to the West, that Iran feels it must keep so hidden?”
- In contrast to Sabeti and Ramezanali's articles, Seyed Ali Pourtabatabai states on his blog Kheizaran that greater transparency in negotiations would be unwise, and that negotiations and internal debates within the executive branch of government should remain secret. From Pourtabatabai’s perspective, a far greater priority for the expansion of transparency relates to the dealings of the Iranian Parliament.
Taking this new analysis alongside our previous reports, it is clear that the conservative supporters of Saeed Jalili are unhappy that the nuclear negotiations are progressing at such a rapid pace. On the other side, meanwhile, a number of conservative bloggers are quietly waiting for the negotiations to fail so that they might frame them as a naive misadventure, thereby vindicating the isolationist foreign policy of the Ahmadinejad administration.
Perhaps the most interesting and revealing conclusion from this analysis, however, relates to Iranian conservatives’ fears for the economy. In contrast with Iranians active on other social networks - many of whom perceive negotiations as a path to economic recovery - a number of conservatives instead argue that the normalisation of relations between Iran and the West will inevitably lead to the economic and political subjugation of the country by the US and its allies. It seems as though fears of imperialist domination are still deeply entrenched in the collective conservative psyche.
- Yet, events in recent days would suggest that the road to an agreement may still be long and troubled, and so there is plenty of time for conservative bloggers’ positions to shift once more. Small Media will continue to track the discussions within this community as the process continues.