Many critics of the Obama administration’s approach to negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are keen to connect that singular issue to the overall character of the Iranian regime, which is cited by many to prove that that regime has not earned the right to be treated as an equal and rational negotiating partner.
On Tuesday this view was once again reflected in the actions of leading US congresspersons as Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk issued a statement urging that Iran be required to release captive Americans including Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian before any agreement is concluded.
“This case is just the latest example of the true nature of the Iranian regime,” the statement declared, according to CNN. But it can fairly be assumed that there are always more recent examples of that nature if one looks at news that concerns Tehran’s relationship with its own people and not just with American citizens and the US government.
On Tuesday, IranWire reminded readers that earlier this month Iran’s Interior Ministry had declared that the well-known ban on women in sports stadiums would remain in full force, in contrast to earlier reports that the restriction might be relaxed. IranWire added that clerics have since come forward to express staunch commitment to the continuation of the ban and of similar restrictions on women in the Islamic Republic.
“Men and women sitting next to each other to watch matches will destroy religious and revolutionary values,” said Hassan Mosleh in a sermon in Bushehr province on Friday, April 17. He was joined by another Bushehr Friday prayer leader in describing female attendance at sporting events as immoral and out of keeping with the “chaste and noble” character of “the majority of our women.”
Some observers have presented the reaffirmation of this ban as part of a broader conservative crackdown across Iran, arguably motivated by fears that the regime will be viewed as easing up on its revolutionary ideology in the midst of negotiations with the West over the Iranian nuclear program and associated economic sanctions. This has been reflected, for instance, in initiatives encouraging Iranian citizens to confront one another in public over perceived violations of Islamic principles.
This is one social trend that was observed by Alma Bahman, an Iranian-American born in the United States who detailed her first trip to her parent’s homeland in an essay for The Week on Tuesday. The essay focuses on the author’s falling in love with Iran and her desire to go back, but it also touches upon the repressiveness that makes that a difficult prospect, noting for instance that Bahman’s mother begged her not to go.
Bahman is fortunate to report that her only experience with “her mother’s oppressive Iran” came in the form of her being angrily ordered by a stranger to button up her jacket. Although Bahman reports no run-ins with authorities, this incident is a direct reflection of official policy.
What’s more, there are growing indications that the oppressive elements of Iranian society may be worsening. So although Bahman’s essay illustrates the desire of exiles to return, current trends make it less likely that their subsequent experiences will avoid the intrusions of government authority.
Another article in IranWire points out that the public initiatives of Iranian hardliners are such that they may be on the verge of returning the bellicose and confrontational former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the national stage. What’s more, the push for Ahmadinejad’s return to power may be further bolstered by alliance with formerly competing hardliners, namely the Front of Islamic Revolutionary Stability.
IranWire adds that the potential victory of these parties is made rather more likely by the aspects of the current presidential administration that contradict its moderate image. These include the fact that many officials who were loyal to Ahmadinejad have retained their positions since the election of Hassan Rouhani in 2013.
This has reportedly been a source of criticism even for some Rouhani backers including former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, widely described as a centrist. On Monday Al Monitor discussed Rafsanjani’s present and future political life in a way that gave further context to the potential resurgence of the Ahmadinejad camp.
The article asserts that Rafsanjani’s influence has been waning ever since the election of Ahmadinejad, even in spite of subsequent efforts to attach himself to reformist movements including the 2009 green movement. Al Monitor suggests that these efforts may be somewhat disingenuous but have in any event contributed to his alienation from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority in all Iranian affairs and a supporter of the conservative initiatives that have sprung up in the midst of the Rouhani administration’s outreach to the West.