Friday, March 1, 2024

Civic rights, an unfinished dream

A look at how successful the government has been in its efforts to put together a civic rights charter.

When Hassan Rouhani launched his campaign nobody believed he could be a force to be reckoned with in the 2013 presidential race. In a speech on campaign trail he hailed “freedom”, and promised to save the country’s economy and ride out the storm Iran’s diplomacy was experiencing.

In the 50th issue of the Nasim-e Bidari (The Breeze of Awakening) Weekly out in August 2014, Mehdi Ghadimi has examined the performance of the government of Hope and Prudence and how committed it has been to the promises made by candidate Rouhani. To begin with, he praises the stress Rouhani has repeatedly placed on his promises on different occasions and ceremonies, and assesses the government’s performance in the areas of economy and diplomacy, healthcare and social wellbeing, and civic rights.

He says failure of the business index to grow in the short term is the main negative score on the government’s one-year report card, but, he adds, a drop in inflation and foreign exchange rates is among the upsides of the cabinet’s economic team. As for diplomacy, he describes as positive the country’s handling of the deadlocked nuclear dispute [with the West] and the subsequent steps toward the lifting of international sanctions.

Another campaign pledge of the president focused on the state of healthcare. The author believes the government has fared well on that front. Its good performance has been so compelling that even the cabinet’s outspoken critics have expressed satisfaction with the measures that, among other things, are aimed at universal insurance coverage and a tangible decline in the expenses associated with treatment.

But when it comes to social welfare, the demands of many workers in factories that were totally or partially shut down as a result of mismanagement in the previous government have yet to be met and failure to reactivate the guilds is indicative of low efficiency in the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor and Social Welfare.

Ghadimi finally points to efforts to lay the foundation of a civic rights organization which will not be run by any three branches of government, saying for the bulk of the middle class, the elite and political activists this issue outweighs the government’s economic pledges. The organization in question can pursue its duties even after the rise to power of a new government. If materialized, it could be the most enduring legacy of the eleventh government. The following is the translation of an excerpt of the article:

President Hassan Rouhani’s push for a civic rights bill to be sent to the Islamic Consultative Assembly seems to be one of his key election promises, a campaign pledge which resonated with the bulk of the middle class, the elite and political activists more than the government’s economic vows. Elaborating on the major principles of civic rights, Rouhani touched on such issues as the rights of religious minorities and tribes, women’s rights and freedom of speech, as well as academic issues at a university level.

A look at the yearlong performance of the [eleventh] government reveals that it has taken acceptable steps in the right direction to fulfil its election promises. The fact that Hassan Rouhani during his first year in office named individuals such as Shahindokht Molaverdi as vice-president for women and family affairs, Elham Aminzadeh as vice-president for legal affairs, and Ali Younesi as his adviser on issues related to ethnic and religious minorities bodes a new and forward-moving attitude toward all these areas.

What Molaverdi did to pursue her responsibilities was not confined to following up the deliberations of MPs on laws concerning women; rather, she adopted a hands-on policy on the question of women’s presence in stadiums. Ali Younesi, for his part, visited border towns and the holy sites of different faiths in a bid to ease religious and tribal discriminations.

Nonetheless, what stands out about President Rouhani’s civic rights record is the formulation of a civic rights charter, the first edition of which came out last winter. Reports from the Legal Department of the presidential office suggests all problems with the first edition have been addressed and a second edition is set to be released.

When efforts were underway to put together the civic rights charter [Hamidreza] Olumi-Yazdi, the dean of the Faculty of Law and Political Science at Tehran’s Allameh Tabatabaei University, who is Aminzadeh’s deputy, said the charter was not supposed to be sent as a bill to the [Islamic Consultative] Assembly for now, because of the possible opposition it might draw in the chamber.

After securing the Cabinet’s approval, a civic rights department is to be set up in the presidential office. That would be followed by efforts to set the stage for the establishment of a civic rights organization which will not be run by any three branches of government. The organization, he added, is expected to forge ahead with its undertakings concerning different articles of the civic rights charter even after a new government takes office. If it proceeds according to what the president and his legal deputy have planned for, it could be viewed as the most enduring legacy of the eleventh government.

However, the civic demands put forward by government supporters and those who are viewed as the support base of Rouhani’s government have gone unanswered. The camp backing Rouhani is demanding a wise approach to issues such as the house arrest of Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi [the two presidential hopefuls in the 2009 election] and the changing of the security atmosphere in universities and media outlets into a political one.

The government argues that such things are not within its powers, and simply vows to pursue them through appropriate channels. But the truth is that as usual the patience of the public is wearing thin and it cannot make do with such reasoning one year into the presidency of the new government. Therefore, failure to satisfy the demands of Rouhani’s support base and the gap it might create between the government and members of the public are viewed as the government’s Achilles’ heel three years before its term comes to an end.

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