President Hassan Rouhani’s pragmatic conservative, security-intelligence-oriented Cabinet nominations

Hassan Rouhani was inaugurated as the seventh president of the Islamic Republic of Iran on 04 August 2013 before the Iranian parliament. On the same day, Rouhani nominated the members of his Cabinet, which must be approved by parliament. Rouhani’s Cabinet nominees are listed below. As readers will note, very few of the nominees come from/are associated with the Reformist political current, which formed a coalition with the Centrists for the 2013 Iranian presidential election and was crucial in Rouhani’s victory.  The majority of nominees are Centrists associated with former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Just as importantly, many have security-intelligence backgrounds. The composition of Rouhani’s proposed Cabinet and its implications for his administration will be discussed in greater depth in the editor’s note.

Rouhani’s Cabinet nominees

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Mohammad-Javad Zarif, the former Iranian representative to the United Nations. A U.S.-educated foreign affairs ministry insider, Zarif is believed to have good relations with Western diplomats.

Minister of Intelligence and Security: Mahmoud Alavi, a member of the Assembly of Experts and a former member of parliament and head of the political ideology office of the Iranian Army. Alavi was disqualified by the Council of Guardians from being a candidate in the 2012 Iranian parliamentary election.

Minister of Defense: Hossein Dehghan, a former head of the Martyrs and Veterans Affairs Foundation (Mohammad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad administrations), deputy minister of defense (Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Khatami administrations), senior security official in the Expediency Council, and a commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) during the Iran-Iraq War. Dehghan has a PhD in Management from the University of Tehran

Minister of Interior: Abdol-Reza Rahmani, former head of the Supreme  Audit Court of Iran and member of parliament. He holds a PhD in Geography from Tarbiat Modarres University. Rahmani is known to be close to the Larijani brothers, and was a senior deputy of Ali Larijani during his tenure in various senior posts including as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and head of Voice and Visage of the Islamic Republic.

Minister of Justice: Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, current head of the National Inspection Organization, he has also held a number of senior security-intelligence posts in the past including as Minister of Interior (Ahmadinejad administration) and a deputy minister of intelligence and security in charge of extraterritorial operations under the leadership of the notorious Ali Fallahian.

Minister of the Economy and Finance: Ali Tayyibnia, a current professor of economics in the University of Tehran, in the past he has served as head of the presidential economic commission (Rafsanjani and Khatami administrations) and been involved with national economic planning. He is believed to have begun his doctoral studies at the London School of Economics (LSE) but actually completed a PhD at the University of Tehran.

Minister of Oil: Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, a current professor at Khajeh Nasir University, he previously served as Minister of Construction Jihad (Mir Hossein Mousavi administration), Minister of Power (Hashemi-Rafsanjani administration) and Minister of Oil (Khatami administration).

Minister of Industry, Mines, and Commerce: Mohammad-Reza Neimatzadeh, the head of Rouhani’s 2013 presidential election campaign and a former Minister of Labor.

Minister of Power: Hamid Chitchian, he was previously a member of parliament, head of the Tabriz IRGC intelligence unit and employed in some capacity at MoIS.

Minister of Agriculture: Mahmoud Hojjati, a former governor of Sistan and Baluchestan province and a former Minister of Transportation and Minister of Agricultural Jihad. He has a background in civil engineering.

Minister of Transportation and Urban Construction: Ahmad Akhoundi, a former Minister of Residential Housing and Urban Construction (Hashemi-Rafsanjani administration), he holds a bachelors in civil engineering from the University of Tehran and holds a doctorate in the same field from the United Kingdom.

Minister of Labour, Cooperation, and Welfare: Ali Rabi’i (intelligence cover name “Ebad”), he was among the founders of MoIS alongside Saeed Hajjarian, and in the years since leaving the ministry has specialized in labor market and corruption issues.

Minister of Communications: Mahmoud Vaezi, a former head of the economics and North America and Europe divisions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and head of foreign policy at the previously Rouhani-led Center for Strategic Studies (CSS) think-tank with a background in electrical engineering, he is believed to be one of the key foreign policy wonks of the Centrists with the strong backing of both Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Rouhani.

Minister of Education: Mohammad-Ali Najafi, a former Minister of Higher Education, Minister of Education, and head of the Planning and Budget Organization (PBO), he serves on the faculty of Sharif University of Technology and pursued graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) but did not complete them due to the Islamic Revolution of 1979. He is an old hand with close ties to Hashemi-Rafsanjani.

Minister of Higher Education: Jafar Meyli-Monfared, he previously served as a caretaker Minister of Education (Khatami administration) and has a degree in electrical engineering from Amir Kabir University of Technology and a PhD from the University of Paris.

Minister of Health: Hassan Hashemi, he previously served as head of and faculty member at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences and completed his studies in ophthalmology at the University of Mashhad.

Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance: Ali Jannati, Iran’s former ambassador to Kuwait and a governor of Khuzestan province, he was a educated at the conservative Haghani School and is the son of Ahmad Jannati, the conservative head of the Council of Guardians.

Minister of Sports and Youth: Massoud Soltanifar, a former governor of Gilan, Zanjan, and Markazi provinces and political deputy of the governor of Fars, Hamedan, and Hormozgan provinces, he holds master in political science.

A number of nominees, including Zanganeh, Akhoundi, Rabi’i, Najafi, and Meyli-Monfared are rumored to be in the sights of hardliners in parliament who may try to obstruct their appointment because of their past association with Khatami and the Reformists.

Editor’s note: While Rouhani’s Cabinet contains a number of Western-educated nominees associated with the Reformists and brings to the fore a moderate foreign policy team, it is by and large Centrist with a strong contingent of Traditional Principalists such as the Larijani-linked Rahmani as well as more hardline figures such as Pour-Mohammadi. This Cabinet, like the previous one, also has a strong security-intelligence background, perhaps a function of Rouhani’s own extensive background in Iran’s security-intelligence community. The irony of this is that Rouhani promised during his campaign to lift the stifling “security” atmosphere over the country. Indeed, the list of Cabinet nominees may come as a disappointment to the Reformist voting base who supported Rouhani on the assumption that their desires and interests would also be represented in a Rouhani administration. The appointment of someone like Pour-Mohammadi as head of the justice ministry is particularly troubling for Reformists given his likely involvement in planning the assassination of political dissidents and intellectuals inside and outside Iran in the 1980-1990s and his stewardship of the interior ministry at a time of high domestic social and political repression under the Ahmadinejad administration.

From another perspective however, the composition of the Cabinet could be a sign of Rouhani’s slogan of pragmatism: By giving concessions to Traditional Principalists and the security-intelligence establishment and taking a somewhat conservative stance on domestic issues, he may be buying himself greater leverage on foreign policy issues (specifically the nuclear crisis and economic sanctions) which are arguably the most pressing and where there is space for actual consensus among Traditional Principalists, Centrists, and Reformists.  We must judge Rouhani on his actions and the composition of his Cabinet by itself is not enough to draw any definitive conclusions regarding the direction of his administration.