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Background Brief: Ahmadinejad’s Cabinet

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presented his final list of cabinet nominees to the nation late on Aug. 19. The president must present his cabinet within two weeks of his inauguration and presidents have traditionally waited the full two weeks, preventing extended parliamentary discussion of candidates before their confirmation.

The Iranian Cabinet, also known as the Council of Ministers, is comprised of eight vice presidents, who are appointed by the president and manage his constitutional duties, and 21 ministers, nominated by the president and subject to parliamentary approval. With their assistance the president sets governmental programs and policies, and implements the law. Each minister serves as the head of his respective ministry, working with the president to formulate relevant policy. Although ministers are technically responsible to the president, the Supreme Leader must approve candidates for the defense, intelligence and foreign affairs ministries. These positions therefore afford the most power within the cabinet body.

Cabinet nominees must be confirmed by a vote of confidence in the Majles, the 290-member parliamentary body that drafts legislation, ratifies international agreements and approves the budget. The Majles also has the power to subpoena and impeach cabinet ministers, as well as the president. Subcommittees within the Majles hold confirmation hearings during which ministers must answer questions about their relevant experience for office and plans for developing their ministry; vice presidents are not subject to parliamentary approval. The review period is one week, which this year began on Aug. 23, and the Majles began casting its final votes to confirm appointees on Aug. 30. Each minister must receive a simple majority of votes for confirmation. Should the Majles reject a nominee, the president has three months to nominate another candidate. It is not unusual for the parliament to deny candidates. In 2005, the Majles rejected four of President Ahmadinejad’s nominees for lack of experience. As Ahmadinejad moves forward with his second administration, there is already speculation that the Majles will reject at least one-third of his nominees.

Among Ahmadinejad’s cabinet nominees, only six are returning ministers from his original administration lineup in 2005.  He has filled his cabinet with loyalists, confirming that appointments are often based on political affiliation rather than professional experience. Nominees for the influential ministries of oil, defense, interior and foreign affairs are veterans of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG), a valuable asset in negotiations with the Supreme Leader.  In addition, for the first time since the 1979 Revolution, the president has nominated three women for cabinet positions, which has caused controversy within the conservative dominated parliament and the religious establishment.

2009 Cabinet Nominees:

1. Sousan Keshavarz: Education Minister
Keshavarz holds a PhD in philosophy of education and is currently the deputy education minister at the Special Education Organization.

2. Reza Taqipour: Communications and Information Technology Minister
Currently the head of the Iran Aerospace Organization, Taqipour helped put Iran’s first domestic research satellite into orbit. He has plans to design and launch a satellite in collaboration with the Organization of the Islamic Congress, as well as send an Iranian into space in the next 10 years.

3. Heidar Moslehi: Intelligence Minister
A mid-ranking cleric and presidential advisor on clerical matters, Moslehi currently serves as the head of the Organization for Endowment and Charity Affairs. Moslehi was Ayatollah Khomeini’s representative not only to the Khatam al-Anbia and Karbal military bases during the Iraq war, but also to the Revolutionary Guard’s land forces. Commentators speculate that if approved by the Majles Moslehi will enhance dramatically the military’s influence within the national security and intelligence apparatus.  Despite his positive management record and military history, Moslehi is not familiar with Intelligence Ministry politics, and there are rumors that the Majles will not approve his nomination.

4. Seyyid Shamseddin Hosseini: Economic Affairs and Finance Minister
Hosseini became finance minister in August 2008 after a cabinet shuffle. The previous minister resigned after a row with Ahmadinejad over soaring inflation rates and attempts to manipulate the banking system. Hosseini’s appointment was widely viewed as a concession to the Majles; he replaced Ahmadinejad’s more radical candidates.

5. Manouchehr Mottaki: Foreign Affairs Minister
After serving in the army, Mottaki began his political career in 1980, serving in the first post-revolutionary parliament.  With over two decades in government, Mottaki has served in the Majles, rising to chair the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee in the Seventh Majles. He has also been secretary general for West European affairs, deputy foreign minister for legal, consular and parliamentary affairs, and ambassador to Turkey and Japan.  He most recently served as foreign minister in the last Ahmadinejad administration.  However, his politics are more closely aligned with Iran’s pragmatic conservative factions. He managed current parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani’s campaign during the 2005 presidential elections.

6. Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi: Health Minister
A medical university professor and two-term former parliamentarian, Dastjerdi has spent most of her career in medical practice as a gynecologist and researching women’s infertility. While serving in the Majles, Dastjerdi opposed a bill that would have helped Iran join the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She also drafted a proposal to require hospitals and medical institutions to comply with Shari’a laws regarding gender segregation; the plan was rejected by health professionals and eventually by the Majles.

7. Mohammad Abbasi: Cooperatives Minister
Mohammad Abbasi, a legislator from the city of Gorgan, is a former university chancellor of the Islamic Azad University and deputy governor-general for planning affairs in the northern Mazandaran Province. Abbasi served in the previous Ahmadinejad administration as cooperatives minister and came to office during a 2006 cabinet shake-up. He holds a doctorate in strategic management, a degree commonly bestowed upon military personnel.

8. Sadeq Khalilian: Agriculture Minister
Currently Ahmadinejad’s minister for planning and economic affairs for agricultural jihad, Khalilian holds a PhD in economics from the Department of Agricultural Economics at Tarbiat Modares University.

9. Hamid Behbahani: Road and Transport Minister
Behbahani served as minister of transport in Ahmadinejad’s previous administration. He holds a PhD in civil engineering, and was formerly the head of the Civil Engineering College of Iran, University of Science and Technology.

10. Fatemeh Ajorlou: Welfare and Social Security Minister
Ajorlou, a current member of parliament and conservative lawmaker, is an outspoken advocate for punishing women who flout the Iranian dress code and an ardent supporter of the chador. She began her career serving in the Revolutionary Guard and Basij militia, later working to establish the Basij Sisters militia. Most recently she advocated a draft law to decrease the number of women entering university, claiming that men were being adversely discriminated against in higher education.

11. Ali Akbar Mehrabian: Industries and Mines Minister
Mehrabian, a former presidential advisor, is up for confirmation for a second term as minister of industries and mines. Mehrabian was convicted in July 2009 of fraud in an intellectual property rights case, which has raised concerns about his nomination. A longtime friend of Ahmadinejad, Mehrabian was a municipality official during Ahmadinejad’s term as mayor of Tehran.

12. Kamran Daneshjou: Science, Research and Technology Minister
Daneshjou’s previous appointments include deputy interior minister, governor general of Tehran, and election commissioner during the June presidential elections. He rejected the Reformist call for a referendum, confirming the legitimacy of Ahmadinejad’s election.

13. Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini: Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister
A faculty member of the University of Tehran, Hosseini served in the Fifth Majles and is a former deputy science minister.

14. Abdolreza Sheikholeslami: Labor and Social Affairs Minister
Currently the minister of housing, Sheikholeslami holds a PhD in civil engineering. He served as secretary of Ahmadinejad’s office and presided over the Council for Spreading the President’s Thoughts. He is also a faculty member at Iran University of Science and Technology.

15. Mostafa Mohammad Najjar: Interior Minister
Najjar held the position of defense minister during Ahmadinejad’s first administration, directing the development of Iran’s missile and nuclear technology. A career Revolutionary Guard official, he now commands the police force and his close ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) could signal an even tougher approach to safeguarding Iran’s domestic security

16. Ali Nikzad: Housing and Urban Development Minister
Nikzad served as the head of the Organization of Municipalities and Rural Administrations (OMRA), governor general and head of the Housing and Urban Development Organization for Ardebil Province.

17. Masoud Mirkazemi: Oil Minister
Mirkazemi held the position of commerce minister in Ahmadinejad’s previous administration. His experience includes time as a former commander in the Revolutionary Guard, and he directed the IRGC’s Center for Strategic Studies. Mirkazemi plans to develop Iran’s domestic oil industry by finishing the projects outlined in the Five-Year Development Plan (2010 – 2015). His priorities include increasing the private sector’s involvement in developing infrastructure, improving energy consumption and instituting reform within the oil industry.

18. Mohammad Ali-Abadi: Energy Minister
Abadi served as the vice president of Iran’s National Physical Education Organization, which oversees the Iranian football federation. He is also president of the National Olympic Committee.

19. Morteza Bakhtiari: Justice Minister
Ahmadinejad is replacing Tehran Governor General Said Mortazavi with Morteza Bakhtiari, formerly the Isfahan governor general and director of the State Prisons Organization (SPO).

20. Brigadier Ahmad Vahidi: Defense Minister
General Vahidi is a former commander of the IRGC and the elite Quds Force, a covert unit of the IRGC that organizes and finances foreign Islamic revolutionary movements. He currently serves as the deputy defense minister and chairman of the Expediency Council’s Political and Defense Committee.  Vahidi is currently wanted by Interpol for a 1994 attack on a Jewish cultural center in Argentina that left 85 dead and 200 wounded.

21. Mehdi Ghazanfari: Commerce Minister
Ghazanfari currently serves as the deputy commerce minister and director of the Trade Development Organization of Iran. He is an associate professor with the Department of Industrial Engineering at Iran’s University of Science and Technology. Ghazanfari has outlined an eight-point plan for the Commerce Ministry that includes:  1) easing trade and reducing unofficial transactions; 2) expanding trade and supporting the export of non-oil goods and services; 3) joining and enhancing Iran’s membership in regional and international trade unions; 4) developing electronic commerce using the latest technology; 5) increasing efficiency and renovating distribution networks in the trade sector; 6) reasonable regulation of goods and services markets; 7) increasing effectiveness of subsidies; and 8) modifying structures and creating competent human resources

This brief was prepared by NDI’s Louisa Glenn


Published on September 1, 2009