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Iran: Rejection of Science Minister is Part of Larger Conservative Trend

By INU staff
INU- Numerous news outlets on Wednesday reported on the Iranian parliament’s rejection of Hassan Rouhani’s third nomination to fill the post of Minister of Science, Research, and Higher Education. The previous occupant of the position was removed by parliament in August over concerns that he was loosening restrictions on student demonstrators. The rejection of his potential replacement is generally regarded as another defeate for Rouhani.

Reuters describes the Science Ministry post as sensitive because it “sets the ideological direction for universities, which have been a hotbed for pro-democracy protests and clashes with security forces.” By setting the tone at institutions of higher learning, Iranian conservatives are presumably angling to largely restrict education to ideological supporters, and in turn secure greater social power for their own side of the Iranian culture war.

Many new outlets appear to be missing potentially significant connections between this latest move and other government initiatives. For instance, Iran’s state-affiliated Tasnim News Agency announced on Wednesday that Iran is now offering Masters programs in cyber defense, and would soon expand this to doctoral programs as well.

This is noteworthy because at roughly the same time that Iran has been engaged in superficial negotiations with Western powers over its nuclear program, it has also been credited with a dramatic expansion of its cyber espionage and cyber terrorism capacities. The press announcement by the head of the Iran Civil Defense Organization suggests that Iran is doubling down on this expansion and is striving to utilize its universities to improve tactics for confronting the West.

Even barring this effort to turn civilians against the West, there are clear signs that the Iranian government is working to radicalize more of its citizens as part of a crackdown on liberalism and demands for reform. The Council on Foreign Relations comments upon the parliament’s vote on Sunday to increase the power of civilian militias to “enjoin good and forbid wrong” by confronting or even physically attacking persons deemed to be in violation of the country’s Islamic mores and customs.

The Council explains that the details of this new law have not yet been pinned down, but it leaves no doubt about the connection between such measures and the recent series of acid attacks perpetrated by mostly-unknown assailants on women apparently accused of “bad veiling.”

These attacks also come in the wake of series of moves that seem to step up the repression of women, including efforts to separate men and women in many workplaces, and arrests of women who have protested for rights, such as the right to attend public sporting events. Arguably, the execution, amidst much international outcry, of Reyhaneh Jabbari for allegedly killing a man as he attempted to rape her, points to this same effort to return women to a traditional, subservient place in society.

However, The Daily Beast on Wednesday gave a different emphasis to the Jabbari case, insisting that the essential lesson to be taken from it relates not to gender but to the inordinate amounts of power given to certain government agencies and their affiliates. The site quotes Jabbari’s first lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei as saying that the court was biased against Jabbari from the beginning because of the connections to the Intelligence Ministry of both the alleged victim and another man who was said to be present at the scene, and may have actually been responsible for the death.

Mostafaei’s commentary on the case implies that Jabbari’s execution may have been a means by which the Intelligence Ministry could use its influence to effectively cover up the wrongdoing of one or both of the men involved in this case.

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