Rouhani very open to idea of Islamic democracy, Iranian VP says in interview
TEHRAN / Hürriyet
Ebtekar was the spokeswoman for the group of students that seized the US Embassy in Tehran three decades ago.President Hassan Rouhani is very open to the idea of Islamic democracy and sees moderation as the path to solve conflicts, according to Iranian Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, an influential political figure.
Ebtekar, who is also the head of Iran’s Environmental Protection Organization, sat down with daily Hürriyet in Tehran over a number of issues including Iran’s nuclear deal with the West, the changes in Iran during Rouhani’s term and the Syrian crisis.
Ebtekar, an immunologist and former journalist who lived and studied in the U.S. in the past, was the spokeswoman for the group of Iranian students that seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran at the beginning of the Islamic revolution 35 years ago.
Last November a historical deal was signed between Iran and the P5+1 countries. How determined is Mr. Rouhani’s government to take this nuclear deal further?
This is a historical opportunity for both sides; both the West in general and Iran. The West has been moving ahead and building these very high walls of mistrust. We had very high walls of mistrust on both sides. The West has been moving in this direction, trying to depict Iran as a threat for nuclear issues. However, Iran has displayed its good will. I think Iran has made it very clear in several instances that it is not intending to build any nuclear arsenal or any nuclear warfare but it is all for peaceful purposes. But, unfortunately, there has been this constant motion against Iran in terms of the sanctions and threats.
Dr. Rouhani, who has been in this negotiation process in the past and who has now been elected in a very democratic process with a very strong popular backing, is now giving strong indications of the will of the nation and his government to find a reasonable, just and sustainable solution to this issue. I think this is an excellent opportunity, and I hope Western powers will not take this opportunity for granted.
The existing issues have to be resolved between the two sides. It is very clear that the majority of the Western world is looking forward to improving relations with Iran. The first indications were seen as many European countries have indicated their readiness to come and invest in Iran again and to revive relationships in terms of business, trade and to work with Iran particularly on energy issues. Iran is a strong player in the region; both politically and economically. And I think the West has realized that they cannot ignore Iran and they cannot pressure Iran to change its independent position. And I think it is about time that these relationships come to a balanced and meaningful equation together in which Iran can help to promote peace in the region. I think most Western powers know that Iran has a lot of influence in the Islamic world. For all these reasons, I hope the negotiations go forward with a positive tone and I hope they will be able to come to a resolution where all sides will feel comfortable with the final outcome.
Rouhani’s theme is moderation
We have seen some changes in Iran after Mr. Rouhani came to power. How do you yourself observe these changes after President Rouhani took the office?
Dr. Rouhani has studied law and he is very open to the idea of an Islamic democracy that we should have in Iran. He sees the resolution of the internal conflicts in Iran in a moderate approach to the political trends. Moderation is his theme. That means we need to push forward on legal matters, lawfulness, abiding to the constitution and abiding to the laws we have. The government has to be transparent, this is what he has asked for and he is pressing on this issue very much. There has to be an atmosphere where freedom of expression is possible and people can criticize the government. He has asked several times that the people be able to speak out and criticize the government and the officials. This is a demonstration of the democracy and it is in line with our Islamic values. We need to be able to learn our weak points, strengthen our capabilities, and that is only possible when we are able to criticize and see things in a critical tone.
In addition to that, he has made serious improvements in terms of the economic structures in the country. His approach on improving the living conditions of the Iranians, improving living standards, dealing with issues like employment, dealing with the issue of reviving the industrial sector which was seriously degraded during the former government is very important. Dr. Rouhani also has a very strong strategy for the environment and this is very different form the previous government. All of these issues are very different from what the former government and former president had to say. Specifically all these areas, freedom, political freedom, social freedoms, freedom of expression, promoting these civil rights; these are all current strategies of the president. He has also proposed a bill to improve civil rights and to create a more open civil society. He has also indicated his support for NGOs and different members of the civil society. He has elected officials to office which are in line with this approach. Many of them are reformists who were isolated during the former government, they were cast aside totally. And there are also many principalists, who are more conservative but act in line with moderation. They are moving in line with his policies of moderation; that means being able to tolerate different viewpoints in the political sphere. This is what is happening in the current government. I think it is very important. He is mending the different political factions which had a lot of clashes between each other before. So this is very important.
People asked for change
We have witnessed a big corruption investigation in Iran regarding Iranian businessman Babak Zanjani’s case. How determined is the current government to dig into these corruption investigations more?
Considering the general change of attitude this government has and considering the fact that the people who have elected Dr. Rouhani, they have asked for change. One of the areas in which they were not comfortable with the former government was the area of lawfulness, the issues where we had cases of corruption in the government. These issues came to the media and people knew about them. There was a general sense of discontent about this atmosphere and about this issue. And people were not happy with the former government because they felt that the government was not serious about combatting corruption. Many government officials were involved. Dr. Rouhani made that point very clear in the beginning. We see this line in the government: The fact that combatting corruption and making sure that all lines of financial transactions are very transparent and that the government abides by all the legal guidelines and legal restrictions that exist. These are very important.
Considering this policy and this support that Dr. Rouhani has for the regulating bodies, and also the fact that the political factions who are competing within this government in some of these regulatory bodies; has helped to make things more transparent. This might be a positive dimension when we have a diversity of political factions. One faction can help to create more oversight due to the competition that they have, but of course everybody has to abide by the law; that’s very important. Another important factor which I think is lacking in today’s governance systems in many parts of the world is the fact that many people in power – leaders, presidents, government officials, ministers –lack the necessary ethical commitment to their work. That’s why in many cases we see again that corruption occurs. Sometimes people abuse power and most of these go back to the inner ethical binding that each person should have inside. We see this trend in many governments in the world. That’s a reason why in many cases governments are not successful in implementing justice in being able to restore the rights of the poor and deal with the employment.
Iran and Turkey should work together in Syria
There has been a big gap between Turkey’s and Iran’s Syria policy. How would you evaluate the relations between Iran and Turkey in the shadow of Syria issue?
A: They might have begun in different positions but now due to the developments in Syria; now their positions have somehow come closer. The realities have now become clear particularly after what has been happening with very violent Salafi groups in Syria. What is happening in Syria has become a bloodbath now; it has becoming worse and worse. I think this is now an opportunity for Iran and Turkey to resolve their past differences and to work closer together to help to find a viable and peaceful solution for Syria. And [it is also important] to be able to work together in bilateral issues which are very important for Iran and Turkey. We have a lot of joint and common issues; we are neighbors, we are members of many regional organizations together, we have a lot of trade on issues like energy and different products. We have a history of environmental cooperation and we think that we have a similar ecosystem on the border region where we can work together to protect these areas together and to exchange experiences. Both of our countries have to believe that we are living in a region together, so we have to work together to protect our region. Because if something happens either in terms of peace and war or conflict or natural disaster, we are all in the same boat. We can’t look at each country as an isolated island. There is no such thing in today’s world. We all have a common destiny. And if governments realize that reality, then they will work together more to protect peace, to protect stability, environment, natural resources, water resources and they will learn to share together because we are all living in one region and even more, we are all living in one planet.
So as neighbors, Iran and Turkey should work together very closely to put aside the differences, to help find the viable solution which is acceptable for the people of Syria and which will bring peace and which will put an end to radicalism and violence, as that is a major threat. Not only to this part of the world, but to the whole Islamic world.
More women are now literate in Iran
As an Iranian woman who has been appointed to one of the highest positions in the government, how would you evaluate the participation of Iranian women in the political life and in the work life? Are you planning to take this participation further?
Iranian women took great steps after the revolution. Although there have been many challenges for Iranian women, after the revolution a novel paradigm of development has been presented for the women in Iran. And this is advancement in context of Islamic values. Now women are much more literate and much more educated. For more than a decade in the national university entrance exams, more than 60 percent of the students – without a quota – gaining entrance to the university are women. We have an emerging elite of educated women in Iran. We do have a challenge in employment but this is for everyone, for men as well. We do have challenges in the legal system, in marital law.
There are differences in terms of interpretations between the religious authorities – the ulama – about where women stand. But leaders like Imam [Ruhollah] Khomeini opened the way for women. He made it very clear that there should be no restriction for women’s advancement as long as it doesn’t degrade her human value. She should be allowed to take part in the economic sphere, the political sphere, the social sphere, and Iranian women took that for granted. Women also had challenges. Sometimes political activism has been very difficult for women in Iran. There are still many obstacles but in general women are advanced. In general their conditions are much better in the rural areas, in most parts of the country. Things have changed very much even though we have a very long ahead.