The Truth About Iran’s New ‘Centrist’ President

Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar, is president of the International American Council and serves on the board of the Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a former senior fellow at the Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington, DC and is a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. He can be reached at rafizadeh@fas.harvard.edu. Follow Rafizadeh at @majidrafizadeh.


Hassan Rouhani press conferenceWestern liberal media have recently contributed in creating the narrative that the newly-elected president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, is the political figure destined to resolve Iran’s heightened political, economic, strategic, and diplomatic tensions with the Western world. Specifically, media suggest that Rouhani may solve Tehran’s nuclear defiance in the face of the international community, its stance towards Tel Aviv, its support for Assad’s brutal and authoritarian regime, as well as the Islamic Republic of Iran’s unconditional military, financial, intelligence, and advisory support to regional and international non-state actors classified as terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

To support this argument, Western liberal media repeatedly make the following three points: first of all, they refer to Hassan Rouhani’s presidential campaign slogan, which is to pursue “constructive interaction” with the rest of the world, including the United States, Israel and European Union. Secondly, they refer to Rouhani’s nickname within Iran: “the Diplomatic Sheikh.” Thirdly, an overwhelming majority of liberal media assert that Rouhani is not an Islamist hardliner or traditionalist, but rather, a centrist. As a result, allegedly, a bright and promising era will commence for Tehran-Western relationships with Rouhani’s presidency.

It is crucial to address some of the significant inaccuracies that comprise the liberal narrative surrounding Iran’s newly-elected president. Hassan Rouhani is not a renegade reformer; rather, Rouhani is deeply woven in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s political fabric. If Hassan Rouhani’s background – including his personal life, Persian-written books and career – are closely examined, it becomes evident that he is one of the founding fathers of the Islamist regime. In his early ages as a teen, Rouhani took religious courses on Islamist and Sharia law and actively participated in anti-West, anti-U.S., anti-Israel, anti-“imperialism,” and anti-Shah campaigns as well as various religious extremists’ Shiite sermons. He caught the attention of Ayatollah Rooh Allah Khomeini – the leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran – when he became an outspoken protester against the West, capitalism, democracy and the Shah. While gaining popularity among the Islamic Shiite fundamentalists, Rouhani then became the mouthpiece of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Rouhani received a significant welcome by Iran’s Islamist establishment and clerics. He was then particularly quick to climb the theocratic political ladder, first serving in Iran’s new parliament and then monitoring the state media where he was responsible for censoring any kind of information that was perceived as detrimental to the ruling of the clerics and Ayatollahs. Afterwards, he built a strong friendship with Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is currently sought by the Argentinian government for ordering the 1994 AMIA bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Rouhani was then appointed as Rafsanjani’s top national security adviser during his 1989-97 presidential tenure. Additionally, Rouhani has also served as the Islamic Republic of Iran’s top nuclear negotiator.

Moreover, before becoming president, Rouhani was promoted during his political career to become the representative and mouthpiece of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – the current most powerful hardliner in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Since 1989, Rouhani served as the Supreme Leader’s representative in the Supreme National Security Council. He has also been member of other fundamentalist and Islamist institutions in Iran, including the Assembly of Experts since 1999,the Expediency Council since 1991, and head of the Center for Strategic Research since 1992.

Additionally, and most significantly, the fact that Rouhani was qualified by Iran’s authoritarian Guardian Council – which barred 98% of the candidates from running for the 2013 presidency –sends a formidable indication that he is ideologically aligned with the Islamist fundamentalists. Moreover, when Rouhani was the top nuclear negotiator and advisor to the Supreme Leader, he and Iranian leaders continued to defy the international community, arm Assad’s regime, spin the centrifuges, enrich their nuclear program and provide financial, military, advisory and intelligence support to terrorist groups. It is thus unrealistic to argue that Rouhani will alter his fundamental Islamist ideologies and become an advocate for human rights, democracy, and secularism overnight.

Finally, in his most recent speeches after his election as the 11th president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Rouhani has already clearly stated the Islamic Republic of Iran’s inalienable right to continue enriching its nuclear program, spin its centrifuges and obtain nuclear capabilities. He also has yet to even slightly condemn Assad’s violent suppression on citizens, which has thus far caused more than 93,000 deaths. Any political figure or cleric who is allowed to become the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran comes from the Islamist establishment.

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  • Sarah

    I thought Rouhani was a reformist who will transfer Iran

  • Walter Sieruk

    It would be wise not to trust Rouhani too much in his claim that he wants to work of reform in the Islamic “Republic” of Iran. He may be very disingenous and just set up window dressing. Nevertheless, even though it may be extremely doubtful that his real intentions are for reform. Even if he really means it, such reform is not possible because as many former Iranians who escaped from this cruel and heinous Islamic regime will testify there is nothing good about this tyranny to act as a basis of foundation for reform. To put this last statment in another way, the Bible teaches “That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.” Ecclesiastes 1;15. [KJV]

  • Walter Sieruk

    Rouhani has shown by his statments about going nuclear that he has the same mindset as Ayatollah Khamenei and the other mullahs who have all the power in Iran. So the the idea of even trying to have a worthwhile constructive dialohue with the officals of these characters who are the dictators of this Islamic “Republic” is both foolishness and folly. This is because those in power in this regime have their own kind of Islamic agenda about going nuclear and will not listen to reason. This is because they in their irrational religious delusion actually believe that they are right in trying to obtain W.M.D.. Thus in any so called “negotiations” they will be very disingenous and will dissimulate. They will speak the truth only when it happens to suite them. The rest of the time they will be lying and saying half-truths. Thomas Jefferson has explained just how things really are when he stated “An enemy generally says and believes what he wishes.

  • Vakil-e-Roaya

    Rouhani is no moderate! I think he will be credited with consolidating the Islamic Republic in the coming years and he is cleverly chosen by Khamenei (I strongly believe that Khamenei seriously helped him in the elections when in the last two days quite uncharacteristically appealed to those ‘who do not believe in the system’ to participate in the elections), to confront the rising power of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and the principalists especially in the last four years of Ahmadinejad’s presidency. Rouhani in the end serves Khamenei and his insatiable appetite for power, especially at a time when that desired power boost could serve well to groom his successor when he is pushing 73 and not in good health.