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Iran Lawmaker Says Rouhani Should Hang As Debate Rages On 'Peace With Enemy'

Maryam Sinaiee

Attacks have escalated on President Hassan Rouhani for suggesting “peace with the enemy” based on the “will of the majority.” Mojtaba Zolnouri, Chairman of the Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Relations Committee, has said the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei should order Rouhani hanged “to satisfy the majority.”

Zolnouri, who is a leading hardliner, was adding to the controversy that erupted after Rouhani at Wednesday’s cabinet evoked the example of Imam Hassan, the second Shiite Imam, who in 661AD made peace the Muslim Caliph Muawiyah.

Addressing Rouhani in a tweet on Friday Zolnouri wrote: “You are saying Imam Hassan made peace with Muawiyah because the majority of people asked him to. The overwhelming majority of the people of Iran will accept nothing less than your dismissal and punishment. Using your logic, the Leader of the Revolution should order you to be hanged a thousand times to satisfy the people.”

In Iran, the “peace of Imam Hassan” is evoked to justify concessions. Decisions on such issues lie with Khamenei, so there can be little doubt Rouhani’s analogy was for his ears as much as to speak in a public discussion. He appears to have succeeded.

Zolnouri continued his attack on Saturday, saying he has collected 44 signatures from lawmakers for Rouhani's impeachment but 11 MPs have changed their minds, since Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had earlier said the government should stay to serve its full term until June 2021.

An early reaction to Rouhani’s suggestion of talks, presumably with the United States, which Khamenei has generally prohibited, came from the editor of Kayhan newspaper, Hossein Shariatmadari, who called those suggesting talks “cowards.” A day after Rouhani’s remarks, Shariatmadari pointed out in an editorial that Rouhani’s remarks were over possible nuclear talks and amounted to “treachery.”

Hardliners launched a massive attack on Rouhani on their websites, newspapers and on social media. Drawing on the same religious analogy, many accused the president of cowardice or treason.

“One of the main reasons that Muawiyah could impose peace on Imam Hassan was the presence of the likes of you – the fifth column [of the enemy] – among his troops,” wrote Sheikh Morteza, who has posted tens of tweets on the subject since Wednesday.

Controversial subjects are rarely discussed in Iranian media due to censorship. The moderate conservative Asr-e Iran news website, however, not only published an opinion piece by its Chief Editor Jafar Mohammadi on Thursday, but has also – which is unusual in Iran - allowed readers to comment and rate others’ comments. 

In the Asr-e Iran article headlined ‘Do Iranians Want Peace? Ask them…’ Mohammadi responded to Kayhan’s assault on Rouhani by suggesting the historical analogy be dropped. “Who is right [about the historical facts] is irrelevant [today]. If the matter of contention is our Iran today, we must ask why we are not asking our people about their views on the country’s foreign policy at the present time instead of speculation about the intentions of the people at the time of Imam Hassan and whether they wanted peace or not.”

This did not necessarily mean holding a referendum, the Chief Editor of Asr-e Iran argued: “A scientific and unbiased opinion poll can reveal the truth to act on.”

The website, as of Saturday morning, indicated that only 64 of 734 comments had been published, with 670 either dropped or awaiting moderation. Hundreds of readers, however, had ‘voted’ on the published comments.

The first comment - in which ‘Vahid,’ with an IP in Iran wrote: “I want peace, interaction and cooperation with the world” – had 845 ‘likes’ and 65 ‘dislikes.’  The same pattern was found with other comments, with 630 against 31 favoring: “Peace, calm and an economy that is alive, 100 percent.”

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