The international agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme between Tehran, the European Union and the five permanent members of United Nations Security Council plus Germany has heralded a new beginning for Iran. The easing of sanctions are set to have a huge impact on the country, which has large reserves of oil and gas. Euronews met with one of the most powerful women in the Iranian government, Vice-President Masoumeh Ebtekar, and head of the country’s Environmental Protection Organisation.
"We very much hope to be able to establish logical and fair relations with all countries so that we can change the situation and witness positive developments both in Iran-US ties and, also, in terms of the role Iran can play in the entire region."
Iran and the environment
euronews: “Let’s start with one of the big issues in Iran – the environment. We know that the country is facing a water crisis and there is also the danger of the total destruction of many environmental resources. In the Environmental Protection Organisation, led by you, what projects are in place to deal with these serious issues?”
Masoumeh Ebtekar: “Yes, what you mentioned is absolutely correct. The first programmes we have undertaken, as part of President Hassan Rouhani’s government, have been to reform and change the approaches taken by administrative organisations with regards to the management and the usage of water resources. We are also paying special attention to keeping a sufficient reserve of water. If we had not taken such a large share, we probably would not have had the crises in Lake Urmia and in important wetlands across the country. Essentially, a different approach has been taken by this government. Plans were drawn up in the Water Council and the Supreme Environment Council to allow us to manage water resources in Iran. The agricultural sector has also had to make changes taking into account the shortage of water.”
euronews: “To what extent are the Iranian people aware of the current dangers? Are the media free to report on this issue so that people are informed and how much of this is done by experts out on the field?”
Masoumeh Ebtekar: “Yes, these are topics that are widely reported on and everybody is kept informed. Many of these issues are discussed by state and independent media. A large part of these debates are at an expert and scientific level. Fortunately, universities and research centres are working on these issues and it’s helping. We have also invited international advisors.”
Free elections in Iran
euronews: “Let’s discuss politics. You are one of the most well-known pro-reformist figures in Iran. We know that, after the nuclear deal, Hassan Rouhani’s government has been in dire need of parliamentary support. This means that the next parliamentary elections, which are set to take place in February, are very important. Rouhani has stressed that the next parliament should not be one-factional but instead multi-factional. Taking into account the Guardian Council’s supervision of elections in Iran, how can Rouhani’s expectations become a reality?”
Masoumeht Ebtekar: “I believe the president has said many times that the government is determined to hold free elections so that all political factions, all those who believe in Iran’s Constitution, and everybody interested in the future of Iran can take part. The government, the Interior Ministry, Governors and the Executive Election Boards all hold a great deal of responsibility. There are, of course, challenges but like in any other country, we have differences of opinion and, the government respects each and every one of those people. We consider this a great opportunity, provided that it is done in the framework of the law. The law has the final say, and our president is himself a lawyer. Evidently, with this view on the issue, and with the approach that the government has taken, we very much hope that we can hold fair elections in Iran.”
Women in Iranian society
euronews: “Ms. Ebtekar, you are the first woman who has been able to reach the highest level of political decision-making in the capacity of Vice-President. But in the 37 years since the Revolution, women have rarely reached the top. Why has that been the case? From now on, will there be more women taking part in politics and top level decision-making?”
Masoumeh Ebtekar: “We’ve progressed well over the past 37 years in many areas such as the participation of women in society. For example, in the area of education, the presence of Iranian women at different levels of higher education is remarkable. In terms of political participation, we have had many ups and downs like any other country but, in general, now particularly in the eleventh government since the revolution, a lot more attention is being paid to women. President Rouhani has three women vice-presidents: the vice-president for legal affairs, the vice president of women’s affairs and me working in the environmental agency. There are also women deputy-ministers and director-generals in many of the ministries. In the Environmental Protection Organisation, two of my deputies are women, as well as many of the managerial staff. An interesting point to make is that women have been very successful in rural areas and many have made it through to the Rural Councils.”
Iran in the future
euronews: “Finally Ms.Ebtekar, in 1979, you were among the most active students to take part in the hostage-taking crisis of the Embassy of the United States in Tehran. We know that now the US and Iran have taken the route of diplomacy and negotiation. How do you feel about that? Do you think that, in the near future, we could witness a real change in Iran-US relations?”
Masoumeh Ebtekar: “What happened in 1979 was the result of a long period of US intervention in Iran. At that time, students were very worried that an event similar to the 1953 coup against the popular government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh would be repeated. In fact, they were very worried that history could repeat itself and that was probably why they took action to prevent those events. Iran is now looking at a new era of relations with the world. We very much hope to be able to establish logical and fair relations with all countries so that we can change the situation and witness positive developments both in Iran-US ties and, also, in terms of the role Iran can play in the entire region.”