Although the need for changes in President Ebrahim Raisi's cabinet has been long discussed by the media, debate on an urgent reshuffling has intensified.
Although the demand of anti-regime protesters is not about a government reshuffling, regime insiders are debating the matter amid a fast-deteriorating economic situation. The unprecedented steep fall in the value of Iran’s currency puts pressure on political elites to appear responsive to public anger.
Proreform Ensaf News website wrote December 24 about "The increasing possibility of changes in the cabinet." It said "moves among conservative political groups, as well as debates among conservative politicians and lobbyists to put forth their preferred choices indicate that a change in the cabinet is imminent."
A few changes Raisi has already made in his cabinet have remained unnoticed probably because those who left had not done anything significant and those who joined were not much different in calibre.
IRGC-linked Housing Minister Rostam Ghasemi died less than a month ago and was replaced by ultraconservative Mehrdad Bazrpash. Vice President for parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Hosseini was silently removed from his post for an unknown reason. Populist Labor Minister Hojjat Abdolmaleki was replaced by Solat Mortazavi a politician with long experience and no eye-catching achievement at the Interior Ministry.
Oil minister Javad Owji with his senior team seen on March 9, 2022
One of the outgoing ministers is said to be Javad Owji who had a minor heart attack at the cabinet meeting two weeks ago, apparently due to pressures caused by a chronic shortage of natural gas. Ensaf News wrote: "Ironically, those who lobbied to get the oil minister’s post during his illness were his close aides!" The candidates named so far for the post include Hossein Shiva the head of the Iranian Oil Tankers Company and Alireza Zeighami, a former senior official at the ministry.
According to Ensaf News, there are talks in the corridors of the government about possible changes at top level in the Oil Ministry and the Ministry of Education. Politicians in Tehran say that individuals close to the IRGC and the ultraconservative Paydari party are in fierce competition over winning the posts. The lucrative nature of the oil ministry post is clear to everyone. The candidate for the post of education is Yousef Nouri from the Teachers' Fund, an organization known for a major financial corruption case.
Meanwhile, as parliament’s term comes to an end in early 2024, some lawmakers are also trying to get closer to Raisi in a bid to win a post in the cabinet.
Mohsen Rezaei, Raisi's vice president for economic affairs, is a former IRGC officer who says he received a PhD in economics
According to most Iranian news outlets including the moderate news website Rouyda24, Raisi's economic team is likely to be where most of the changes will take place. Economist Kamran Naderi told the website that changing the members of his economic team is Raisi's only way out of the problems created by the current team.
Economy Minister Ehsan Khandouzi is said to be under pressure to leave the cabinet, reportedly for giving many posts to individuals from Khorasan Province, presumably those linked to hardliner Friday prayer leader Ahmad Alamolhoda. According to recently leaked top-secret documents, even Raisi himself, who is Alamolhoda's son-in-law is not happy about the cleric's interventions in the affairs of the government.
Naderi attributed the continuing fall of the rial to the inefficiency of the government's team, including self-proclaimed economic genius Mohsen Rezaei who is the vice president for economic affairs.
Meanwhile, former IRGC officer and presidential candidate Saeed Mohammad, who recently left his post as the head of wealthy Kish Free Trade Zone and was once one of Raisi's closest allies, has started harshly criticizing Raisi's economic team. Mohammad's new stances reveals that dissatisfaction of with Raisi's economic team has reached his closest inner circle.