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A Lawyer, Cleric, and Former Prisoner - Hassan Rouhani’s Story

Israel, Walla! News

By Dr. Moshe-hay Hagigat

The choice of him indicates that he managed to collect the trophy of votes found in this vast political database – and as of now, it just remains to be seen how he will proceed with the trust he was given.


Translated by Viktoria Lymar

Edited by Steven Stenzler


16 June 2013



Reformist or conservative? Associate of the leader of the Revolution Khomeini or representative of the Green Movement? The Iranian President-elect made sure to walk "between the raindrops" and rake a bounty of votes of those who came his way.


The doctor of law and cleric Hassan Rouhani, Saeed Jalili's predecessor on negotiating the nuclear issue, who currently holds the office of President of Center for Strategic Research, entered these elections actually as a candidate attributed to the conservative camp. This is despite the fact of his having very good relationship with Hashemi Rafsanjani who over the recent years has been drifting closer to the reformist side.

Rouhani was born and grew up in Semnan province, east of Tehran. At age 12 he already embarked on higher studies of Islam with the clergymen in the province, and a year later was sent to study in Iran's largest Shi'ite religious center in the city of Qom, where he was schooled by the top of the religious establishment before the Islamic Revolution. At age 17, he began to become closer to one of these clergy, who in those days started to gain reputation and influence Ayatollah [Ruhollah] Khomeini. Hassan accompanied him in his sermons, and in parallel, began to express his dissatisfaction with the rule of the Shah, when calling to replace the monarchic rule. These actions led to his imprisonment, and he was forbidden to preach religious sermons.

When released from prison, Rouhani studied law. At first, he attended the University of Tehran and later arrived in Scotland, where received a doctorate in law. He became famous at a period when the first signs of the Islamic Revolution emerged, due to the fact that for the first time, he called Khomeini "Imam" a title reserved among the Shiites only for Mahdi (the Islamic equivalent to the term "Messiah"). After the Revolution, he was kept busy with a variety of roles, starting with developing the renewed Iranian army, and was briefly a deputy head of the armed forces [Deputy to Second-in-Command of Iran's Joint Chiefs of Staff]. Later he headed the Supervisory Board of IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) and was a member of the Majlis [Iranian parliament]. Later on, he was elected to serve in some of the state’s councils, such as the Assembly of Experts, and Expediency [Discernment] Council [of the System] for protecting the interests of the regime.



Rouhani has left the biggest imprint on the Supreme National Security Council, where he served as secretary for 16 years under presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. By virtue of his post, he ran in the early last decade the nuclear negotiations with the six world powers. In this context, he attacked the outgoing government, and a few weeks ago, when announcing his candidacy for president, he said that Iran needs a new concept that is not based on internal struggles, inconsistency and erosion of the state’s capacity, but on consolidation, unity and flow of "honest and efficient people"1 into the branches of the government.

When he announced his candidacy for presidency, by his side there were two of the children of one his close friends  former Iran’s president Rafsanjani. The backing of Yasser and Fatemeh Rafsanjani, and most probably also that of their father, can attest to the interesting vote layout in voting at the polls on Friday. Two other of Rafsanjani’s children have been in and out the prison gates in the last years for their support of reforms in the Islamic regime. By contrast, Rouhani, whom many consider both a conservative camp man and at the same time – a pragmatic person, did the unbelievable and managed to sway votes on both sides of the barricade.


The Non-Partisan Candidate


Miscellaneous examples recently testify to the relative openness with which Rouhani sought to present himself to the broad public in the election race, and his rapprochement with the reformists. For instance, an open conversation he conducted while riding in a car with his supporters, without a turban on his head, about his impressions of the last debate he took part in. Also remarks he delivered at a support rally held in a sports complex in Tehran, according to which all political prisoners should be freed, enjoyed applause of the young crowd that had come to see him. In his opening words of this rally, Rouhani said that he feels young in the face of an audience of the 'men and women' in front of him. In response, everyone cheered him.

In addition, he expressed his sorrow to those cheering for “We are in a cultural, economic and political winter”2 in the country during the past eight years. Also before the crowd in Rashat, north of Tehran, Rouhani repeated the same ideas, and spoke of the damage on the part of the government over the years to the positions brought up by Rafsanjani and Khatami to the Iranian public. Rouhani's words made the crowd shout the slogans like ‘Death to liars’ (apropos the allegations against Rafsanjani), ‘Viva Hashemi, Rouhani continues your way’ and ‘Peace Be Upon Rouhani, Salam bar Khatami.’3 Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind the fact of Rouhani’s participation in the funeral of Ayatollah Taheri, who was from among the proponents of the Green Movement.



Rouhani declared from the very outset that if he wins the job of president, his government will be composed of figures coming from all the colors of the Iranian political spectrum, and that it would be non-partisan by definition. This declaration steadily proved, slowly-slowly, as a call to increase the involvement of reformists in the political arena so that with the election day approaching, Rouhani’s statements also steadily drew even closer to the supporters of the reformist faction in the country. In the campaign interviews carried out with him on state television as well as in the televised debates with the other candidates, Rouhani increasingly positioned himself one step before crossing the line between the two camps and two factions. In fact, in the stances Rouhani expressed, and in promises he gave in the election campaign, he placed himself in the eyes of voters as a candidate in the middle. Not a conservative or a reformist, but both of them simultaneously. The appreciation he won at least until the beginning of the campaign from the Office of the Supreme Leader, as well as the great endorsement he received from his close friend Rafsanjani, have joined the warm words he lately himself bestowed on the former president Khatami, who belongs to the reformist camp.

His stands on various political matters seek to reach common ground, among other things, between the Western demands of tighter control on the issue of the nuclear project in spite of Iran's request to carry on its development. His election as president can bring change in Iran's nuclear policy, even if not to a change in its fundamental positions regarding nuclear development in general, since Rouhani is the one who at the time had led to the speedier talks, which for the first time bore fruit.


Boasts the Preparation of "Yellowcake"


However, a few weeks ago, in response to a quote from the mouth of Jack Straw, the British former foreign secretary, who told that Rouhani had promised him a suspension of 10 years in the nuclear program, the latter said that this is absolutely false. He then added that the achievements of his tenure as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council were "increasing amount of the centrifuges 150 and 300, opening the heavy water facility at Arak and preparing the 'yellowcake',"4 intending to say that at his time, the nuclear program had advanced without poking the eyes of the West and without attracting undue attention, as the current government does. He issued similar comments also during the election campaign and in the different debates.

On the political subject, Rouhani said that he has always had good relations both with the conservative camp and the reformist camp and so it would continue to be, adding that government under his helm would be non-partisan. Within his duty as head of Iran’s Center for Strategic Research, he was responsible for the task to plan for the future of the country from a comprehensive look at the inner society in it, along with the geopolitical situation around it. Hence, his daily occupation required of him in the past years to maintain a balance between varied internal Iranian conceptions with the goal to outline future policy within a strategic vision.

By his very contending, Rouhani has combined several political outlooks in Iran, that put him on the conservative side of the political map, while winking significantly to those who previously cast a green vote for the reform seekers in the presidential election. The choice of him indicates that he managed to collect the bounty of votes found in this vast political database and at the moment, it only remains to be seen how he will proceed with the trust he was given.


Original Hebrew article:

Photo credit: The New York Times/Maryam Rahmanian;
Wikimedia Commons/Mojtaba Salimi - Hassan Rouhani (first row) praying with Ruhollah Khomeini and his followers, Neauphle-le-Château, Paris, France, 1978;
Newsha Tavakolian/The New York Times;

ILNA/M. Mehdi Shaban

By the same author on the same day:

Iran under Rouhani: Cohesive Society, Not at the Expense of Nuke





2. Probably, the same reference as here:

3. Similar [from another rally]:

4.Unclear whether this is an actual quote or rather a generalization of Mr. Rouhani’s words; accurate translation of the Hebrew quoted text