Hassan Rouhani is the president of one Iran. But there is another Iran, which has no president, no parliament and no Supreme Leader. This Iran — parts of which live inside and outside the country—has adapted itself to a government vacuum, living without the hope for a government that will recognize its citizens’ rights. If a member of this “other Iran” has money and has been able to escape the trap of criminals, he has one foot in Iran and other foot outside. If he has no money and is eligible for subsidies, then he gets them. “A hair from a bear is a plunder,” as they say in Iran. He takes the subsidies believing that the government does not really exist and citizens’ rights are a myth, but in the knowledge that plucking a hair from a bear is indeed a plunder: a way to survive when a responsible government is nowhere to be found.
Sometimes something happens in the establishment. Somebody comes forward and the Iranian people appear to recognize him as their president. He himself takes it for real. At the beginning he talks big, until he is made to understand that he has been sadly mistaken. As Hossein Shariatmadari, the managing editor of the hardliner daily Kayhan puts it, the “real president” is the Supreme Leader. Problem after problem piles up on the shoulders of the man who imagines himself to be president, until the weight of his contradictory statements — comments to win the hearts of those in power, and comments to flaunt his non-existent power to the people — breaks him apart, even if he does not deserve it. This is the inevitable fate of the president in a system that is dominated by the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist. Even if an angel from heaven enters the presidential palace under the wings of other angels, his destiny is written on his forehead. He has one predetermined fate and he cannot escape it.
Claiming that he can solve the nuclear dispute, Rouhani has been able to present himself as the president of the other Iran, both inside and outside the country. He wants to portray himself as the president of all Iranians but is hamstrung by the past and the present injustices of the Islamic Republic, a system in which he has always played a role.
The other Iran resists and does not recognize him. Some prominent figures of the other Iran occasionally change their minds and extend a hand towards him. These gestures are conditional and Rouhani has to shake their hands in secret. But the whole thing is not simple. What are the restrictions on those few Iranians who do not accept the Islamic Republic system and want to support a man who claims he wants to save Iran from the perils of sanctions, poverty and isolation? Under what condition was Rouhani able to invite them to his reception in New York and be interviewed by them (apart from access to any information that might be of interest to the Iranian authorities regarding security issues)? Can we deduce some of these conditions and restrictions by consulting news and photographs that covered the events?
No Identity, No Face, No Name
Have a glance at the photos and videos of Rouhani’s receptions and press conference in New York. Everyone has their backs to the camera. You could believe these guests have no identities, no faces and no names. Like people charged with a crime, they are afraid of something and do not want to be recognized. In short, they escaped from the camera. Only Rouhani faces forward. Why? Can we ignore this question and remain silent about it, as we often do when confronted with other wonders of the Islamic Republic?
Most of Rouhani’s guests did not want to be seen. Apart from a few, who acted transparently and wrote about it on their Facebook pages, the rest sat, ate and left without leaving behind their voices or their pictures. Was it the guests who asked the photographers to take pictures and videos from this angle? Is Rouhani’s administration worried about adverse consequences if it becomes known that some groups outside Iran support him? Are Iranian guests afraid that their presence among Rouhani supporters will discredit them in their communities?
Whatever the answers are, they expose many political weaknesses. These weaknesses have two sides. One side relates to the government and the sick political culture that the daily Kayhan and its licentious brethren have promoted among Iranians who believe in the system. But the other side is about us, the citizens of the other Iran who always sing in praise of liberty and at the same time play “gotcha,” not allowing each other to freely choose our political direction or change it if we so desire. This denied freedom in Iranian communities outside the country is of the same nature as the arrests and the imprisonments inside Iran.
True, we do not have ministries and torturers and prisons, yet with nothing more than a few accusations and allegations, we are able to make other people’s lives in our communities miserable. We are all forced to hide from each other our real faces and our political preferences. This is the common denominator of both Irans — the one run by those faithful to the Islamic Republic, who plunder the country and compete with one other in pronouncing their faith, and the other, which does not support the Islamic Republic and has paid a high price for opposing that system. The second equals the first when it comes to denying the freedom of like-minded people. Perhaps in this way we can discover the secret of why Rouhani’s guests had their backs to the camera. Or maybe we are dealing with another deception that we know nothing about.
The president is afraid of his opponents inside Iran and does not reveal the faces of his guests. The guests are afraid of their friends and the members of their own communities and tell the president to plant the cameras behind them.
The result is the same. We do not want to leave our traditional political culture behind. The essence of liberty has yet to run in our veins.