With the election of president Hassan Rowhani, many people inside and outside of Iran have been hopeful that Iran will take a more moderate path. Still for every two steps forward, there has been one step back. The most recent step back has been the disqualification of would-be city council member Nina Siakhali Moradi, because her colleagues did not want a “cat walk” model in office.

Iran nina siakhali moradi

Nina Siakhali Moradi campaign for human rights in Iran

Moradi, who won a summer election, is not affiliated with any political party, so her initial victory in elections surprised election officials. She ran on a campaign for increasing human rights, and upholding the interests of both women and young voters. She swept into power with 10,000 votes coming from younger voters and the promise of “young ideas for a young future.”

Moradi placed 14th, making her an “alternative member” of Qazvin’s city council. When a council member stepped down, she was supposed to be given a seat. A council member did, in fact, step down but the council refused to confirm Moradi as a member, citing her beauty and “provocative” campaign posters. The posters show her in a dark hijab and with little or no make up.

Iran promising a moderate path

If Rowhani is serious about leading Iran down a more moderate path, the national government might step in to put pressure on the local city council. If not, cracks could already be showing in Rowhani’s campaign platform of building a more moderate government. The new President made a point of promising to fight for women’s rights, something clearly being violated in this case, so there is a good chance that he will step in, or at least voice his views. So far, he has taken no official stance.

At the same time, bringing young and liberal Iranians into the fold may be essential for Iran’s ruling elite. As the Arab Spring proved, large numbers of under-employed young people can create an unstable situation ready to explode if something should spark unrest. If the liberal factions in Iran are unable to express their views and desires through elected offices, there may be a serious risk that more forceful measures, such as protests, will be used.

Stability in Iranian government

Iran’s government is more stable and has a firmer grip on society than many other governments in the region. Further, while the militaries in some countries, such as Pakistan and Egypt, enjoy some self-autonomy, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is firmly under the control of the Supreme Leader, Ayotallah Khamenei. The Revolutionary Guard is one of Iran’s two primary military forces and is considered the more elite unit

If protests were to break out, the Revolutionary Guard would almost certainly move to protect the entrenched elite. Protesters would likely face harsh reprisals, and the lack of a free or independent media would lesson local and international pressure. Further, Iran’s ruling clerics have already shown a willingness to flaunt international pressure.

As Iran moves forward, tensions between liberal and conservative elements will likely grow more stark and intense. Unless the two segments of society learn to cope and work with one another, it may only be a matter of time before a confrontation breaks out. While the barring of Moradi may seen like a minor point, after all she is only seeking office on a city council in a medium size city, the issue is a micro-chasm signifying much larger and more important tensions. It will be especially interesting to see how Rowhani will respond if the issue is not quickly resolved.