Mohammad Ali Kadivar and Ali Honari write: The recently agreed-upon nuclear framework between Iran and the P5+1 world powers is a great example of how grass-roots participation at the level of domestic politics can interact with important changes at the level of international politics. The nuclear breakthrough could not have happened without important developments that led to the election of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani in June 2013. If this agreement turns in to a comprehensive deal by June 2015, it will have important ramifications for Iranian domestic politics.
Grass-roots activism was crucial for the results of the 2013 election in different ways. First, grass-roots pressures convinced reformist leaders to support a candidate in the election despite the disqualification of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was initially the first choice for the reformist camp. Second, grass-roots participants in the electoral campaigns of Rouhani and the other reformist candidate, Mohammad Reza Aref, pressured the two to make an alliance and stay in the election with a single candidate. Reformist backing was crucial for Rouhani’s electoral victory. According to polls before the election, Rouhani was a runner-up candidate until the day the reformist coalition headed by former president Mohammad Khatami endorsed him. After this endorsement, his support skyrocketed and continued until election day. Finally, the mass mobilization after the disputed election of 2009, later called the Green Movement, perhaps contributed to the rather clean voting process in 2013. The protest mobilization of 2009 signaled both the high costs of fraud as well as Iranian’s strong desire for a fair and free election. From this perspective, the rather healthy polling process in 2013 was a result of 2009’s large protest wave.
Rouhani’s victory had important effects on the conditions of civil society forces and democratic activists in Iran. True to promises in Rouhani’s electoral platform, the level of state repression, which had intensified since 2009, remarkably decreased after the election. After 2013, new newspapers with moderate or reformist orientation came into being. The policy of barring students from higher education because of their political activities ended due to diligent insistence from the new Ministry of Sciences. Accordingly, activists and politicians perceived that the level of repression had decreased and that they would therefore not be prosecuted for organizing private meetings. When reformist groups were able to have a public convention in January 2015 for the first time after six years, Khatami stated that under the new administration the context is more favorable for gatherings and activities of different groups and organizations. As such, there appears to be a greater frequency of public protest about issues such as violence against women, teachers’ salaries and air pollution. [Continue reading…]