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: "Diplomat Sheikh (Who Is Hassan Rowhani)?
Sharq, Daily Newspaper, Vol. 1, No. 52, Oct. 28th, 2003, Page 1-4
By : Mohammad Qoochani
Word Count : 2685
When foreign ministers of the European Union arrived in Tehran on October 22, they were received not by Kamal Kharrazi (the standard Iranian diplomat) but by Hassan Rowhani (a man with a bright-colored cloak and a white turban). Head of Khatami administration's diplomacy had been replaced by head of the diplomatic apparatus of the Islamic Republic. In this way, the Islamic Republic unleashed the final face of it foreign policy overnight to prove its resilience vis-a-vis the international community to all those who considered pragmatic clergy as religious fundamentalists. Hassan Rowhani, however, was enjoying the night which brought him to the fore into the limelight after several years of silence. Now everybody in Tehran asked who he was that deserved to play host to such an important party?
1. Academic Cleric: From Semnan to London
Hassan Fereidoun Rowhani was born 55 years ago in Sorkheh district of Semnan. The 50s is an important period during the life of the Iranian clergy: the decade of accepting responsibilities; from the Supreme Leader who was appointed to the post in his 50s to Hashemi Rafsanjani who was elected president in 55 or Mohammad Khatami who came to power in the fifth decade of his life. However, Hassan Rowhani took advantage of his 50s belatedly. He was 12 when he went to Qom to study fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), but the young cleric, as proved in the future life, could not compromise with customary courses of the seminary. Then he learned the not-so-common courses of philosophy and logics, that gave rise not to a source of emulation, but to a researcher and not to a mujtahed (Islamic jurisprudent), but a philosopher. He was accepted to Tehran University when he was only 21 to learn common law instead of the canonical law. He also went to London to study sociology in London University as Scotland and get his doctorate.
2. Militant Cleric: From Seminary to Battle Field
Hassan Rowhani was not in Iran to witness the clerical revolution of 1978. A year before he had delivered a speech at Tehran's Arg Mosque on Ayatollah Mostafa Khomeini, as a result of which he was banned from minbar, which forced him to leave the country: first to study in England and then to accompany the late Imam Khomeini in Paris.
Hassan Rowhani was a modern cleric in Europe, but an ordinary cleric taking to minbar in Iran. Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi remembers: "Once Dr. Hassan Rowhani, who was renowned for his sermons, was supposed to deliver a sermon at (Imam Khomeini) mosque of Qom. I was told to invite him, which he initially refused. He said it was hard for him to deliver a speech among the seminary students. I told him that Qom was a sensitive place and Imam Khomeini had emphasized that people should be kept abreast of the news ... then he accepted."
Hassan Rowhani who had been imprisoned for a while in 1964, went to Europe to prevent that experience to be repeated and gain so much experience as to be appointed to a high post in the incipient clerical system upon return. First, he went to ideological and political department of the Army at a time that Mojahedeen Khalq Organization and Marxists called for its dissolution. The clergy, however, opposed dissolution of the army, but it was the time to reconstruct the most important military organ of the royal regime and such clerics as Rowhani who were more familiar with worldly sciences than religious knowledge were a good choice to pull off the task. Thenceforth, Rowhani was a military man too. However, the Islamic Republic Party was planning to nominate him for the first Majlis elections. Therefore, he returned from London and was elected by the fellow citizens. When in Majlis he went to the same place for which he was trained, that is, Defense Commission. With the outset of Iran-Iraq war he defended his experience in the army in such a way that he became the first clerical general along with Hashemi Rafsanjani. Hassan Rowhani became deputy head and then head of the command staff of Khatam-ol-Anbia headquarters in 1980s and soon after that he was appointed as commander of the general staff of the country's air defense. During a meeting with commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) (Mohsen Rezaei, Yahya Rahim Safavi and Ali Shamkhani) on November 9, 1986, he defended the role of army on the side of IRGC saying, "The Val Fajr 8 operations showed that if we make room for innovation by military forces and support them, the result would be excellent ... we do not need more than two hawk missile systems in the said region, but we will bring four systems. Replacement of Rapier system was not successful, but we try to establish two such systems and make them operational with the help of Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization, while there are still shortages in terms of 45 mm canons ... What we expect from IRGC is not to interfere in the affairs of these brothers (defense personnel of the Army). Anything that you want, just relay your request directly to command of the headquarters." Although the name of Hassan Rowhani was not mentioned in McFarlane affair, we know that the hawk systems were purchased during the same dealings. Hashemi Rafsanjani recalled, "The Americans did a bad thing. To get more money and channel it to Nicaraguan opposition, they finagled with prices. Meanwhile, they brought some missile systems needed by us from warehouses in Israel despite the fact that they knew we were sensitive about it."
At that time, two clerics were more involved in the war: Hashemi Rafsanjani and Hassan Rowhani. Both of them were present during Kheibar operations in March 1984. Before that they were the only clerics along with the then president who took part in a meeting among diplomats, generals and politicians for managing war.
Therefore, the political ideas of Hassan Rowhani were more similar to Hashemi Rafsanjani than anybody else and Hashemi Rafsanjani can be considered as a political role model for Hassan Rowhani. Their similarities include willingness to run the war, efforts for political pragmatism, giving priority to economic development over political development and standing on the border line between political factions. Hashemi Rafsanjani wrote in his memoirs on March 2, 1984, "Presence of Dr. Hassan Rowhani in the headquarters is useful for me."
3. Rowhani the Manager: From Majlis to Television
During the first Majlis, in addition to heading the Parliament's Defense Commission, he was appointed along with Reza Zavarei as Majlis' representative in the council supervising Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). The council, however, did not get along with the then managing director of the IRIB, Mohammad Hashemi, and forced him to resign on July 21, 1983. He was succeeded by the would-be diplomat, Mohammad Javad Larijani. However, this did not last long because Imam Khomeini protested and he resigned too. For three days from resignation of Larijani to July 23, Rowhani was interim managing director of IRIB. As Hashemi recalls, "The same night Mr. Mousavi Ardebili called and said Imam is angry and has ordered the supervision council to be dissolved immediately. Ahmad (Khomeini) said the same. I said that I won't interfere. Mr. Rowhani asked for more time."
In spite of all this, the story ended in the benefit of Mohammad Hashemi. Hassan Rowhani and Reza Zavarei resigned on the order of the late Imam Khomeini on July 23. A session was held at Presidential office 12 days later during which Rowhani talked about the background of the discrepancy and weaknesses of IRIB managing director and the managing director defended his performance. Upon the order of leader of the Islamic Revolution, Mohammad Hashemi was reinstated and continued to work until the demise of Imam Khomeini. Hassan Rowhani, however, never returned to the management of the IRIB.
4. Rowhani, the Diplomat: From China to the United States
During the first Majlis, Hassan Rowhani had another post that made it possible for him to gain diplomatic experiences too. He who had already traveled to India, China and ?? Korea as a member of IRIB supervising council, went to the America to attend the conference of interparliamentary union. Before that, he had a trip to Libya. The trip to the America made him one of the few clerics who had ever set foot on the soil of the arch-enemy of the Islamic Republic, and the second important of those clerics after Hashemi Rafsanjani.
5. Rowhani, the Politician: From Society of Combatant Clerics to Kargozaran Sazandegi (Executives of Construction) Party
Hassan Rowhani is a senior member of the Society of Combatant Clerics and was nominated by them for the second and third parliamentary elections. Of course, from the second Majlis elections, he never succeeded to enter the parliament during the first round of elections, he could be proud of representing the people of capital. Therefore, he was nominated for Tehran whose people sent him to the Parliament with an average vote count of 400,000. His votes during the second, third, fourth and fifth parliamentary elections amounted to 412,895; 432,767; and 465,902 respectively. During the first Majlis, Islamic Republic Party dominated the Majlis, while the government was not still dominated by the clergy and the Society of Combatant Clerics supported Bani Sadr. Hassan Rowhani sufficed to representing Semnan in the Majlis, but simultaneous with the presence of party heads in the government, he grew too. During the second Majlis he managed to gain the support of the Society of Combatant Clerics and was appointed deputy chairman of a Majlis whose former speaker (Hashemi Rafsanjani) had already been elected President. However, the newly established Assembly of Combatant Clergy had the majority in the Parliament and they wanted to see Mehdi Karroubi as the speaker. Therefore, Hassan Rowhani did not get enough votes for deputy speaker and joined the minority MPs. His presence in the minority faction was a strategic decision. From that time on, he frequently opposed leftist inclinations and on January 31 he attended a meeting with Asadollah Bayat, Rasoul Montajabnia, Dorri Najafabadi, and Hashemi Rafsanjani to decide about changing the situation of Ayatollah Montazeri's house. The Assembly of Combatant Clergy considered him a central cadre to the Society of Combatant Clerics and student members of the Office to Foster Unity insisted on drawing a clear demarcation with him when they knew Rowhani was to deliver the speech on November 4, 1983 instead of Mehdi Karroubi. During that ceremony the rightists took charge of the ceremony marking capture anniversary of the former US embassy and tried to hold the ceremony under that aegis of the Islamic Propagation Coordination Council. Then a communique was issued announcing that a high-ranking official was to address the ceremony and that official turned out to be Hassan Rowhani. Now he not only was a prominent member of the system, but also an outstanding member of the Society of Combatant Clerics whose proposed candidates won the parliamentary elections. Therefore, Nateq Nouri was elected speaker with Hassan Rowhani as his deputy. This was repeated during the fifth Majlis elections. However, Hassan Rowhani was supported on two sides: first by the Society of Combatant Clerics and, second by the newly established Kargozaran Sazandegi (Executives of Reconstruction) Party. Hassan Rowhani was so popular with the executives of reconstruction that he was put on the 14-member list that was drawn up in a failed coalition with the Society of Combatant Clerics in 1995. In later years, Hassan Rowhani got closer to the executives. The presidential term of Hashemi Rafsanjani was nearing its end and Nateq Nouri was preparing himself for presidency, when his deputy (Rowhani) was suddenly quoted as saying that Hashemi Rafsanjani was the second important person in the country after Imam Khomeini.
"He is still the second man of the system and the next president would be the third man," he said.
His remarks infuriated the conservatives and next day, Resalat wrote that the remarks were a blow to Hashemi Rafsanjani's personality.
Rowhani, however, retorted in Semnan that if Hashemi had consented the way was paved because "exceptional men could not be confined by any law."
This was followed with a sharp criticism by Resalat, which wrote, "This is either a personal stance or a baseless argument. Don't you remember that the first president turned out to be a fake because he did not consider himself to be confined by any law?"
Therefore, efforts to keep Hashemi in power led nowhere due to clear opposition of the conservatives and his personal refusal to run for president.
The Executives of Reconstruction tried to find a substitute for him; anybody but Nateq Nouri. When their request was turned down by Mir-Hossein Mousavi, they decided to choose from two Hassans: Hassan Habibi and Hassan Rowhani.
Ataollah Mohajerani who was a senior member of the Executives, was the first to say that if Hashemi Rafsanjani did not ran for president, Hassan Rowhani would be the best choice.
They were both working at the Strategic Research Center of the Presidential office, which was headed by Hassan Rowhani who took over after resignation of Mousavi Khoeiniha. Mohajerani was editor-in-chief of Rahbord (Strategy) quarterly. Soon the center became a breeding ground for future reformists such as Saeed Hajjarian and Mohsen Kadivar and the quarterly was the place where such writers as Alireza Alavitabar wrote about political development. Therefore, Hassan Rowhani that was never considered a rightist figure had to work with a group of leftist intellectuals at the center.
When among leftists intellectuals, he showed a penchant for political development, though due to his long record with military and security bodies most those who worked with him did not considered him to be a true proponent of political development. After taking part at a meeting of deputies and executives supporting the Islamic republic party to discuss proposed shutdown of Mizan and Jomhouri Eslami dailies, which was taken up by the late Dr. Beheshti and the then prosecutor general, Lajevardi; Hassan Rowhani never talked about freedom of press. However, he became managing editor of a magazine that gave rise to the concept of political development.
Hassan Rowhani never became the president. A center-right man gave way to a center-left man (Khatami) and remained silent for years to come. The sixth Majlis was the first post-revolutionary parliament that did not saw him on its floor, but his experiences as a man of the military and diplomacy established him as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC). In the council which succeeded Supreme Defense Council, Hassan Rowhani was representative of the Leader and secretary of the Council. SNSC is the main decision-making body for Iran's foreign policy and the Foreign Ministry solely carries out its decisions. So it was very natural for its secretary to play host to EU foreign ministers in Tehran.
Although he made the leftists angry (by opposing Karroubi being Majlis speaker) as well as the rightists (when he talked about reinstating Hashemi Rafsanjani instead of favoring Nateq Nouri), he had succeeded to get the trust of both factions for orchestrating a diplomatic negotiation.
Perhaps Hassan Rowhani would never become a president or Majlis speaker, but heading the Islamic Republic's diplomatic apparatus is not far from him. The Students Following Path of Imam are not worried about him anymore and Friday prayer leaders would not think that a cleric would ever sign a treacherous document. The Society of Combatant Clerics considers him one of his top cadres and the Executives of Reconstruction Party considers him a supporter of Hashemi Rafsanjani's views. Ansar Hezbollah likewise considers him representative of the Supreme Leader in SNSC.
But would the diplomatic Sheikh be once more marginalized in the scuffle between the two factions? Experience has shown that there cannot be more than two factions in Iran and any other alternative would be doomed to be assimilated in one of them just as happened to Hassan Rowhani."