A Suicide and Allegiance to Supreme Leader: The Truth Behind Iran’s President-Elect


Now that Hassan Rouhani has been elected president of Iran, it’s worth examining some surprising aspects of his politics and personal history. The bottom line seems to be this: that Rouhani uses the word “reformist” to describe himself, and he smiles as he promises to change the public face of Iranian policy — but, in fact, he has been very close with Iran’s hardline Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

One set of clues is found in a powerful essay not officially permitted to be read or cited in Iran.  It’s called “Mourning for Children: The Sins of Fathers,” and it’s become the talk of the town among Tehran’s political, business, and academic circles.  It was published in November 2011 by Ali Reza Nourizadeh, an influential exiled Iranian political commentator.  Nourizadeh has said that Rouhani has a history of pretending that he’s a moderate, when he’s actually a Khamenei loyalist.

Rouhani – man of the hour for the world’s media

The essay reveals what is likely Hassan Rouhani’s most guarded and dark secret: the suicide of his son, and the angry note the son left behind. When Rouhani, an ambitious politician within the Islamic Republic of Iran’s political structure, was studying at age 44 for a post-graduate degree (MPhil) at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland, his elder son killed himself.

Rouhani went on with his studies and his life, improving his English and completing a PhD in 1999 in Glasgow, but some of his friends admit that he never fully recovered from his tragic loss.

Nourizadeh’s essay about the suicide — published in an Arabic newspaper in London, where he resides, and broadcast on European-based Radio Farda — includes the text of the note left by Rouhani’s son: a Persian version of “J’accuse,” aimed at the Islamic Republic’s ruling elite and his own father.

“I hate your government, your lies, your corruption, your religion, your double acts and your hypocrisy,” the son is said to have written. “I am ashamed to live in such an environment where I’m forced to lie to my friends each day, telling them that my father isn’t part of all of this. Telling them my father loves this nation, whereas I believe this to be not true. It makes me sick seeing you, my father, kissing the hand of Khamenei.”

The father was, without doubt, among the important disciples of Iran’s first supreme ayatollah, Ruholla Khomeini, who led the Islamic revolution of 1979. Hassan Rouhani could be seen sitting next to Khomeini during prayers in Paris, where the ayatollah held court before his triumphal flight to Tehran after the Shah’s departure.

Rouhani went on to serve Khomeini and his successor, Khamenei, in various capacities.  He was a deputy speaker of parliament (the Majlis) and member of the board of IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting).

After completing his thesis in the United Kingdom in 1999 on “the flexibility of Sharia (Islamic law) with reference to the Iranian experience,” he was appointed Secretary General of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) and served also as the national security advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei.

The highlight of his 16-year term was his handling of the nuclear negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the big powers known as P5+1 (the United States, Russia, UK, China, France, and Germany). For his sophisticated approach he was nicknamed “the Diplomat-Sheikh” by the Iranian, Arabic and Western media.

Rouhani is the only clergyman ever to serve on Iran’s nuclear team. He was trusted by the highest authorities, and he knows a lot.

His behavior in the negotiations seemed to be carefully stage-managed: smiling and expressing readiness for minor concessions, but displaying an iron-clad determination to continue with Iran’s nuclear project.

Rouhani did convince his superiors to effect a temporary suspension of uranium enrichment, a pause which which lasted 10 months. This was apparently to avoid U.N.  Security Council action on Iran’s nuclear program, and American analysts feel certain that Ayatollah Khamenei feared — just after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 — that Iran might be similarly invaded if it did not stop its nuclear work.

After Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005, Rouhani resigned; but he continued to be involved in public life. He ran a center for strategic studies and edited a foreign policy journal.

Just last year, Iranian newspapers started writing about his memoirs: a 1,000-page oral history. The book, titled National Security and Nuclear Diplomacy, contains his reflections as the official in charge of Iran’s nuclear case. It gives an account of how decisions were made in Iran’s political system, as well as the role of top-level institutions in the nuclear issue. Rouhani also included relevant documents in discussing all stages of negotiations with the European countries.

National Security and Nuclear Diplomacy, which has been recently reprinted but only in Farsi (Persian), is a must-read for every intelligence analyst and state official who wishes to know how Iran’s nuclear policies will be adjusted and re-explained.

In summary, it is now highly likely that Iran will change its tone – it will be softer and pleasant – but the music will remain the same. Iran will continue to advance and master the nuclear technology, but scientists and decision-makers there will probably stop short of assembling their first bomb.

June 21, 2013

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