Under President Hassan Rouhani, cultural freedoms have continued to expand. Legal Persian pop music is now widespread and pop concerts are regularly held in various cities around the country. However, securing a permit for hip-hop concerts remains difficult. Although the state has taken some steps to release the pressure on rap music, normalization of hip-hop continues to be a challenge.
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Today, the Iranian education system presents both opportunities and challenges. It is clear that the system, and in particular higher education, is facing challenges both externally and internally. Internally, hardline factions of the regime see higher education as an ideological tool; externally, sanctions imposed by the West. Despite these challenges, Iran’s education system seems to be dynamic especially in scientific and engineering subjects.
Most observers agree that the tiny kingdom is building up its army to continue to offset the influence of Iran while acting as a bulwark against Islamist and jihadist insurgents. But Ibish suggests that the UAE’s more weaponized approach to politics is part of a wider ambition to determine its own fate in a region that has become increasingly destabilized since the Arab Spring.
During his campaign, Rouhani promised to open up the political space and adopt a rational foreign policy. Raisi primarily focused on pro-poor economic programmes. In many ways, his visions and ideas echoed those of the supreme leader: anti-Western sentiment, social conservatism and a ‘revolutionary’ approach to both the economy and foreign policy.
Qatar adopted an ‘open foreign policy’, relying mostly on soft power tools such as the media, diplomacy, economy, humanitarian aid and generous donations. Doha’s strategy was to maintain good relations with all of its neighbours, regardless of their contradictory policies towards each other, notably Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, it maintained ties with several of the West’s adversaries, including Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The agreement drew swift opposition and skepticism from Syrian rebels, who now control the four areas designated as safe zones. The rebels vowed never to accept any plan sponsored by Iran, a key ally of President Bashar Assad. The rebels further questioned why a truce would take effect only in the four zones instead of throughout all of war-ravaged Syria.
The early 21st century media environment fluctuated between periods of relative openness and restriction. However, any initial optimism was ultimately quashed following the events of the 2009 Iranian presidential election protests, which prompted a government crackdown on dissenting media voices. Foreign journalists were temporarily expelled and a mass arrest campaign was undertaken to target domestic reporters. The government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also sought to dramatically cut subsidies underpinning the country’s more liberal newspapers.
At the root of the conflict between Iran and its Arab neighbours lies the Shia-Sunni divide, as the patrons of the two Muslim sects, Tehran and Riyadh respectively, are both prepared to promote and support their sectarian beliefs. Conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Bahrain can be viewed in this light. Yet it is also the result of an ordinary struggle between two regional powers.