Iran’s politics go topsy-turvy, 40 years after revolution

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Hard-liners batter President Hassan Rouhani over his faltering nuclear deal, sending his popularity plummeting. Women in the streets film themselves removing their mandatory headscarves, or hijabs, in protest. Meanwhile, state television airs moments from a major corruption trial.

Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of Iranian politics.

Ahead of the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, the country’s government is allowing more criticism to bubble up to the surface. Analysts say that may serve as a relief valve in this nation of 80 million people, which already has seen widespread, leaderless protests rock the country at the start of the year.

But limits still clearly exist in Iran’s Shiite theocracy, ensnaring lawyers, activists and others in lengthy prison terms handed down in closed-door trials. And the frustration people feel may not be satiated by complaining alone, especially as U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil industry take effect in November.

“If we continue like this, the situation will be more complicated, because people are very tired and they have less tolerance,” Faezeh Hashemi, the activist daughter of Iran’s late President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, told The Associated Press. “I don’t think that the majority of people are after regime change . because everybody is worried what may happen next. But people are after their demands.”

Faezeh Hashemi, the activist daughter of Iran’s late President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, speaks in an interview with The Associated Press, in Tehran, Iran, on Sept. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Perhaps the person in the biggest lurch in Iran now is Rouhani. America appears poised to further sanction Iran despite Tehran abiding by Rouhani’s nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for sanctions being lifted.

In response, Rouhani has slowly replaced his message of rapprochement with the West with hard-line hints about Iran’s ability to close off the Strait of Hormuz, through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes.

Part of that may be a hedge over his political future. The 69-year-old Rouhani, himself a Shiite cleric, could potentially be considered when Iran picks its third-ever supreme leader. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility: Iran’s current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, served two four-year terms as president before becoming leader after the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic’s founder.

“From (Rouhani’s) perspective, the most important thing is to come through the presidency in one piece and keep himself in the running for the ultimate job, the supreme leadership, which will be up for grabs the day the 79-year-old Khamenei dies,” recently wrote Alex Vatanka, an analyst at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.

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