The first sign of a change in President Ebrahim Raisi's economic team which was reported on April 24 was denied on Monday, leaving confusion in its wake.
The official Telegram channel of the Revolutionary Guard was strangely one of the first to report that Senior Vice President Mohammad Mokhber had dismissed two members of Raisi's Economic Commission: Vice President for Executive Affairs Solat Mortazavi and Vice President for Economic Affairs Mohsen Rezaei.
The announcement sounded odd enough as Rezaei is a vice president after all. The other oddity was the discrepancy between the letter signed by Mokhber, which indicated that the dismissal was based on several articles of the law, and the statement of government spokesman Ali Bahadori who said the two were relieved of their responsibilities at their own request.
Monday evening both the government spokesman and Rezaei denied the reports, insisting that no change has taken place in the government's economic team.
But based on the letter reported in Tehran media dated April 20, the decision to get rid of the two was made on March 27. Iranian media have approached the story in a way to indicate that Rezaei may no longer be part of Raisi's team altogether.
Rezaei was initially introduced by Raisi last year as the chairman of the commission. Like all Raisi rivals in the 2021 presidential election, Rezaei was also given a good post. However, the difference was that he was the only one who was not linked to any political group or party.
Mohammad Mokhber, Raisi's First Vice President
When he joined Raisi's economic team, he thought that he would be leading the team. Soon, it was made bitterly clear to him that Mokhber oversaw the team. The first sign came in December when Rezaei announced that cash handouts to citizens will be doubled. Mokhber ordered Economy Minister Ehsan Khandouzi to refute the statement in half an hour.
It was clear then, though maybe not for Rezaei, that he was appointed to the post of vice president as a sign of courtesy by Raisi as he had paid the same courtesy to all other presidential contestants.
In the meantime, almost everyone in Iran has been criticizing Raisi and his team for the worsening economic situation. Rezaei's dismissal, if true, could be something to prove that the president finally decided to act. The other man, Mortazavi, was probably dismissed only to make sure that the measure would not look like an action against Rezaei.
However, some say that as Mortazavi headed the State Employment Organization, his opposition on legal grounds to some of administration’s appointments cost him his job.
Hamid Hosseini, an economist in Tehran, told Nameh News that several people in the economic team wanted to be its leader: Mokhber, Rzaei, Khandouzi, and Planning and Budget Chief Massoud Mirkazemi. This was part of the struggle that has so far led to jettisoning Rezaei. The economic team's other problems are caused by managing problematic officials such as Labor Minister Hojjat Abdolmalehi and Housing Minister Rostam Ghassemi.
Speculations about Rezaei's future, in case of dismissal from the Economic Commission, include leaving him to resign from the government altogether or allowing him to wander in the administration without assigning him any task or sending him back to the Expediency Council where he was the secratary. Another option is giving a job outside the administration only to save face for the former commander-in-chief of the IRGC.
According to ultraconservative former lawmaker Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, the government is under pressure to make a change in its economic team. Rezaei's possible dismissal would be the first change, and further changes are likely to be introduced at the Central Bank, the Ministry of Industry, and the Ministry of Economy.