Hassan Rouhani attends a conference on National Unity in Tehran in 2007
Courtesy Reuters

When Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivered a speech last month at Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University, the audience was a microcosm of his country’s bitter politics. Gathered at the back of the hall and amassed outside on the campus grounds were groups of young women and men who supported Rouhani's election campaign promises: engagement with Western powers, economic rejuvenation, and greater social and political rights. At the front of the hall, scowling, sat university administrators and conservative student groups. Those seated farther from Rouhani chanted, “Release the political prisoners,” while those closer to him shouted, “Death to America.” It was a tough crowd, to say the least.

But Rouhani managed to win it over. “A centrifuge should revolve,” he declared at one point, “but people’s lives and the economy should revolve as well.” Everyone cheered that line.

If Rouhani has any hopes of following through on his campaign

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  • KEVAN HARRIS is a sociologist in Princeton University's Department of Near Eastern Studies.
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