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President Rouhani Loses Popularity In Iran Since Election

Jan 14, 2014
Originally published on January 14, 2014 5:32 am
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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

U.S. and Iranian negotiators say they're making progress in nuclear negotiations. Last weekend, Secretary of State John Kerry said they'd worked out the details of a temporary nuclear deal.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: For the first time in almost a decade, Iran's nuclear program will not be able to advance. In fact, parts of it will be rolled back.

MONTAGNE: In exchange, the U.S.-led economic sanctions that are crippling Iran's trade with the world will ease.

INSKEEP: But permanent nuclear deal is still to be negotiated. And the stakes are very high for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. He's the man who won a surprise election last year on promises to improve relations with the world, and expand freedoms at home.

New York Times Tehran Bureau Chief Thomas Erdbrink has been following Rouhani's progress. He says Iranians are anxious for further benefits and expecting Rouhani to keep more promises.

THOMAS ERDBRINK: All his promises on domestic policies are still matters that people are waiting for.

INSKEEP: What do you mean?

ERDBRINK: Well, for instance, something very simple and something very normal for people here back in the States. But he promised to open up Facebook. Now, you should know that Facebook is blocked in Iran. When you go online to Facebook, you get a message that, "this website is bad for your health." And...

INSKEEP: Bad for your health, that's a quote?

ERDBRINK: That is a quote, "is bad for your health," that's for your mental health.


INSKEEP: That's like a threat of some kind, this website is...

ERDBRINK: Yeah, the quote keeps on changing.

INSKEEP: ...bad for your health.

ERDBRINK: Exactly.


ERDBRINK: But at the same time, you know, young Iranians are incredibly connected. They use special software to go online. But it's just not the same thing. For instance, when I - with all my resources - try and access Facebook, I get the site but not the pictures, and this goes for many people in Iran.

INSKEEP: And that is a subtle reminder that even though this man is the elected president of the country, he is not necessarily in charge. He can't even get Facebook opened up to the public.

ERDBRINK: He can't even get Facebook opened up to the public, and there is a reason for that. In Iran, of course, the leadership tries to control basically everything from the cradle to the grave. And they also control the media. Facebook, like in many other countries, would open up a stage for people to have free discussions. Now, Mr. Rouhani came out very clearly, I want to open up these websites. But now, seven months down the line, nothing.

INSKEEP: Are there other promises that he made that have also not been kept?

ERDBRINK: Of course, there's also the matter of the opposition leaders. In 2009, they were protesting Iran. The two men: the former presidential challengers, Mr. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, were later placed under house arrest for playing a role in those protests. They've been under house arrest for a thousand days by now. Nobody knows how these people are doing. And it's been a main demand of people to get these two men released.

INSKEEP: So is this man in danger of being discredited?

ERDBRINK: I think he's doubling down on his foreign policy. Now, let's just paint a picture of Iran. Iran has been under sanctions over the last year. Their national economy has been ravaged. The national currency has lost over two to 300 percent. People have lost track how much value it has lost. You go to the supermarket. You buy a carton of milk. It's twice the price it used to be a month ago. People don't like this kinds of things.

Now, Mr. Rouhani has been preaching that any real nuclear deal with the world powers - and especially, of course, with the United States - will herald in, you know, the coming of Western companies, more jobs, better relations with other countries and, of course, the ability for Iran to sell its oil again.

Now, people are still patient enough to wait for this. And at the same time, in their opinion, the deal for the nuclear case is taking too much time. They want to see things move at a faster pace, is what they're saying.

INSKEEP: OK. Suppose the deal does fall through or it just - negotiations dragged on and on. Is Iran in a position where he can last, where it can sustain itself economically for months and months or years and years?

ERDBRINK: It's funny. When you talk to Iranian economists or even people within the Iranian government, they admit privately that there's no money in the bank. They're out of money. They have trouble paying certain people. At the same time, the Iranian government is sort of an enigma. There's a big underground economy, there's a lot of trade that we don't know about. They will manage to mug along for a very long time; compared in a way to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union had a lot of issues with its ideology. Their economy had been bankrupt for decades but still they managed to survive. Well, I don't see a reason why Iran is not able to survive. Will the people like such a situation? I don't know. But they've put up with it in the past, so why not in the future?

INSKEEP: Thomas Erdbrink, of The New York Times, always a pleasure to see you.

ERDBRINK: Thanks for having me, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.