Rouhani Signals Iran Freedoms Push to Go on Amid Resistance

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani signaled he’ll continue efforts to allow greater freedoms on university campuses, in a challenge to conservative opponents in parliament who impeached the minister driving the policy.

In comments yesterday following the removal of Reza Faraji-Dana by lawmakers, Rouhani said the former minister for science had taken strides “toward creating a suitable, scientific climate and bringing about calm in universities,” according to the state-run Mehr news agency. He asked Mohammad-Ali Najafi, named as acting minister, to continue on the same path as Faraji-Dana.

Faraji-Dana’s ouster represented the first major clash between the legislature and Rouhani in his yearlong presidency. It came at a time of heightened conflict within Iran’s Islamic theocracy between more reform-minded officials allied with Rouhani and those who oppose greater social freedoms. Pledges from Rouhani for more liberties, including freer media, less restrictive access to the Internet and more leniency when it comes to womens’ dress code in public, have not yielded results.

As friction continues, Rouhani has stood firm on a foreign policy of engagement with the West. He broke taboos last year by speaking with President Barack Obama on the phone and securing a preliminary deal with world powers to ease economic sanctions against his nation in return for curbs on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Rouhani’s opponents maintain that the U.S. cannot be trusted and have accused the president and his team of acting too “soft” in their talks with the U.S.

Conservative legislators moved to oust Faraji-Dana after he allowed the return of students and professors kicked out of colleges, some for political activities, during the two terms of Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He also appointed people who had protested the disputed 2009 re-election of Ahmadinejad to positions in the Science Ministry.

‘Policed Climate’

Iranian universities have been a hotbed of political confrontation and were the site of rallies and a subsequent crackdown following the 2009 vote, which the opposition movement says was rigged. While Iranian authorities have since been sensitive toward campus politics, Rouhani has criticized the “policed climate,” and backed more freedom of expression for professors and students.

Faraji-Dana’s removal was political, Vice-President Masoumeh Ebtekar said on her Twitter account today. The former minister “stood firm on academic values, dignity of students and faculty,” Ebtekar said.

Rouhani must still introduce a new minister who will need to be approved by a parliamentary vote of confidence. Najafi had been Rouhani’s first choice for science minister but failed to receive parliamentary approval last year. Rouhani yesterday underlined his commitment to more open campuses by appointing Faraji-Dana as an adviser on education and science.

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