Iran Judging Rohani on Issues Like Soccer and Concerts, Not Nuclear Deal

These protests may look somewhat anecdotal, incapable of being a real threat to Rohani or bringing about any real change, but they are the result of the general atmosphere of dissatisfaction

Women hold t-shirts as they protest for Iranian women's rights to enter stadiums in Iran, ahead of the FIVB Volleyball World League match between Poland and Iran, at Atlas Arena in Lodz, Poland June 17, 2017.
STAFF/REUTERS

Does U.S. President Donald Trump intend on withdrawing from the nuclear deal with Iran? According to Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, it is impossible to separate the nuclear deal from the other matters that worry the world concerning Iran.

Iran not only is violating the nuclear agreement, but the country is also a supporter of terrorism and is developing ballistic missiles, Haley said last week in a speech given at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, in Washington. That is why it is necessary “to put together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle” of the Iranian threat and thefn determine the administration’s position on the agreement.

But Haley used baseless reasons to justify withdrawing from the agreement. She said Iran has violated the agreement dozens of times and has hundreds of sites the International Atomic Energy Agency has not examined, where suspicious activities are being carried out.

Such claims contradict the latest reports released by the IAEA, and the United States has never informed the agency of any such suspicious sites. Military sites that Iran does not allow access to do exist, but the agreement has placed military sites outside the scope of supervision.

Constructing the claims in favor of withdrawing from the nuclear agreement is gathering momentum among Republicans. But while the global dispute over the nuclear agreement is being conducted like a game of ping-pong of declarations between governments, the Iranian public is judging President Hassan Rohani’s government on issues considered to be less critical, yet far more important in its eyes.

An Iranian holds a national flag as she celebrates after Iran's win over Uzbekistan that secured Iran's presence in the 2018 Russia World Cup, Monday, June 12, 2017. Iran became the second team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup by beating Uzbekistan 2-0 late Monday, sparking celebrations in the streets.
Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

A groundswell of protest

For example, Iranians recently protested against the ban on Iranian women entering soccer stadiums to watch the games. This may not be a new protest. In July the women received unexpected support from the captain of the Iranian national soccer team, Masoud Shojaei, who demanded to allow them to attend games, and even raised the issue with Rohani in a meeting they held after a World Cup qualifying game.

“I think if [the ban is lifted] we would have to build a stadium that could hold 200,000 spectators, because we will see the flood of passion from our ladies,” said Shojaei. But Rohani, who is treading very carefully between the conservatives, who are putting spanners in the works of the reforms he wants to implement, and the reformers, who are demanding that he immediately implement the reforms he promised during his election campaign, is in no hurry to make a decision.

Last week, the social networks heated up once again when it emerged that Syrian women who had come to watch a soccer game between Iran and Syria in the Azadi Stadium in Tehran were admitted in to watch the game, while Iranian women were kept out. One of the Iranian women wrote on her Twitter feed that she and her friends managed to enter the stadium only because they carried a Syrian flag and the guards thought they were Syrian. When they were discovered, they were removed from the stadium and now face trial. “We understand that in order to root for our national team we need to change our citizenship,” another female fan wrote.

It seems the government also is debating how to act in the face of the public pressure, and not just about sports. Last week, the national biennale for modern sculpture opened in Tehran last week, in which 80 fascinating works from Iranian sculptors were displayed, after a six-year hiatus when the exhibition was banned. At the same time, the government has banned holding dozens of concerts for religious reasons in recent years, and without any clear criteria for allowing events music lovers have found themselves holding tickets to performances that are canceled at the last minute.

Iranians celebrate on a street after their national soccer team's win over Uzbekistan that secured Iran's presence in the 2018 Russia World Cup, in Tehran, Monday, June 12, 2017. Iran became the second team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup by beating Uzbekistan 2-0 late Monday, sparking celebrations in the streets.
Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

This phenomenon has caused Ahmed Marjian and his wife Zohara Barati to launch a symbolic protest campaign. The couple and their two children bought tickets to a concert of the famous tenor Shahram Nazeri, knows as the “Iranian Pavarotti” and the winner of numerous international awards, which was scheduled to be held in the city of Gochan. The family traveled the 150 kilometers from their home in Mashhad to Gochan just to find out that the city had canceled the concert. The mayor’s explanation was that the “concert site was inappropriate and did not dignify the artist and the audience.” The real reason was the objections of several religious scholars from Gochan, who said the concert violated the principles of Islamic religious law and the spirit of the country.

Since then the family has been visiting cities around Iran carrying a sign: “It is my right to hear the music of my country and my city.” They are not alone. The cancellations of concerts has pushed hundreds of Iranian music lovers to sign a petition to Rohani, in which they ask him to put an end to the cancellations – or at least introduce transparency as to the reasons for the cancellations. The authors of the petition remind Rohani that music is part of the rights of the Iranian people and he must fulfill his obligations to his voters to bring about a change in the censor’s intervention in cultural matters.

These protests may look somewhat anecdotal, incapable of being a real threat to Rohani or bringing about any real change, but they are the result of the general atmosphere of dissatisfaction with the limitations the religious regime places on the populace. This is the important development that expresses itself not just in these protests but also in the attitude of disgust people on the street display toward the religious scholars or those who display excessive religious zeal in public. The secular revolution may still be very far off, but the fissures can already be seen.