Education key Battleground as Rouhani’s second term begins

By Zep Kalb for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iran Business News.

Iran’s parliament opened negotiations on President Hassan Rouhani’s proposed second-term Cabinet on Aug. 15. That day, the re-elected moderate president said he had been “under no pressure from any faction, party or group” in picking his 17 choices for minister posts.

Yet state media outlets reported in July that Rouhani had traveled to the city of Mashhad to discuss his proposed list with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Several prominent figures have argued the move would reduce the parliament’s freedom to review the Cabinet independently. Outspoken parliamentarian Ali Motahari said any coordination with the supreme leader “would limit the room for discussion.”

Both Rouhani and Khamenei denied that they had determined the choice of “each and every” minister together and insisted they had stuck to the customary mutual understanding over the ministers of defense, foreign affairs and intelligence.

The supreme leader’s office added that Khamenei was “sensitive” about three ministries (education; science, research and technology; and culture and Islamic guidance), putting Rouhani under public pressure to work with Khamenei on these matters as well.

The conspicuous absence of a science minister from the president’s proposed Cabinet and the last-minute difficulties in picking a candidate for education underline that education is shaping up to be a key front in the struggle for power, pitting the Reformists and the Rouhani administration against Principlists and the supreme leader.

Rival factions are currently clashing over the fate of Iran’s largest private university, Islamic Azad University (IAU), and to a lesser extent over primary and secondary education.

The relationship between the political elite and education in Iran is complex. While primary and secondary schools were already largely in state hands by the mid-1970s, the nationalization of higher education occurred only after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Universities were closed for two years while curriculums were rewritten and opposition students and staff purged according to the new Islamic Republic’s ideology.

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