In Iran, hard-liners return to the spotlight


Iran's President Hassan Rouhani. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Conservatives in Iran are enjoying their first major return to the spotlight since the surprise victory of Hassan Rouhani in the June presidential election, highlighting lingering divisions within the Islamic republic’s political establishment.

The conservatives used a event Monday to stage rallies around the country that criticized Rouhani’s outreach to the West and portrayed him as aligned with a 2009 protest movement that authorities here refer broadly as the “sedition.’’

In parliament, conservatives who dominate that body are seeking to scuttle the interim nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers in November. As a lever, they are pressing for passage of legislation that would require Iran to enrich its stockpiles of uranium to 60 percent, a level not permitted under the accord.

In some ways, the moves serve as little more than political theatrics designed to remind Rouhani that he faces domestic opposition. But the vocal support being expressed for a more confrontational Iranian foreign policy suggests that conservatives feel emboldened to reaffirm an ideology increasingly at odds with the policy of international engagement favored by Rouhani and his administration.

“The seditionists must know that the playing field is not open to them, and our people are very angry that some seditionists have been assigned key government positions,” conservative Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said in a speech Monday in the southern Iranian city of Kerman, according to domestic media reports.

Crowds there and at similar gatherings around the country shouted “death to seditionists,” an apparent reference to the leaders of the 2009 protest movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, and their political allies.

Monday marked the fourth anniversary of what is remembered here as a decisive victory by conservatives over the opposition forces who had spent months challenging the reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The massive rallies orchestrated by the government on Dec. 30, 2009, were recalled on Iranian state television Monday with archived footage showing large crowds chanting their support for Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Among Rouhani’s advisers are several key figures from the 2009 opposition movement, opening his young presidency up to some criticism.

Although Rouhani never openly supported the opposition movement, and publicly distanced himself from it at the time, many here consider him sympathetic to its goals of liberalizing Iran.

Mousavi and Karroubi remain under house arrest despite calls from some Rouhani supporters for them to be released. There is no sign that conservative figures are ready to absolve Mousavi or Karroubi of offenses that they say are “against God.”

“Mousavi and Karroubi intended regime change and are therefore guilty of spreading corruption on Earth, and the punishment for such crimes is execution,” Mehdi Taeb, a hard-line cleric, said in an interview Monday with Tasnim, an official news agency.

In public remarks Sunday, Rouhani sought to deflect discussion of Iran’s tumultuous recent history, instead emphasizing the challenges and opportunities the nation must address at the moment.

“Now that we are dealing in serious talks with world powers, what is expedient for our country is to have the highest degree of national unity,” the Iranian president said.

Jason Rezaian has been The Post’s correspondent in Tehran since 2012. He was previously a freelance writer based in Tehran.

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