United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Rouhani: Rival Constituencies

Alireza Nader

            Hassan Rouhani now faces the hard part. Iran’s president-elect won a decisive and surprising victory because he appealed to three conflicting constituencies— conservatives, reformists exiled from the political system, and Iranians dissatisfied with the status quo. Now his ability to govern will depend on satisfying disparate factions. Each has its own set of expectations—and each is also intent on coming out on top.
      Rouhani may be able to deliver results precisely because he is an insider. Since the 1979 revolution, he has served in some of the Islamic Republic’s highest positions. Before his 2013 election, Rouhani was Iran’s national security advisor for 16 years and then head of a government think tank. So he has close ties to Iran’s military and national security establishment. Rouhani has also been a deputy speaker of parliament and a member of the Assembly of Experts ― the only constitutional body with the authority to appoint and dismiss the supreme leader. Among 686 candidates who registered, he was one of only eight allowed to run for the presidency.
            So far, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Revolutionary Guards and conservative pressure groups ― such as the Islamic Revolution Steadfastness Front associated with ultra-conservative Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi ― have thrown their support behind him. So the smiling cleric must be careful not to disturb his relations with these key power centers.
            But Rouhani has also presented himself as a moderate and a reformist. And he is, in a relative context. Next to bombastic President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rouhani is indeed a moderate. And compared to the other candidates in the race, Rouhani used language about freedoms at home and “constructive interaction” with the international community that allowed him to don the reformist mantle.
            Yet he is not as much of a reformist as Mohammad Reza Aref, a former vice president who withdrew from the presidential race to support Rouhani. Nor is he as much of a reformer as former President Mohammad Khatami. Other credible reformist leaders such as Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi—who both ran for the presidency in the disputed 2009 election--remain under house arrest. And former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a centrist or pragmatist, was disqualified by the Guardian Council. Thus, Rouhani was the closest thing to a reformer on the ballot. Both Khatami and Rafsanjani endorsed him.
            Rouhani was elected with the support of conservatives and reformists, but it was the Iranian people — exhausted by repression, inflation, and sanctions — who voted him in. Rouhani’s campaign raised people’s expectations and they will seek much in return. But he could risk weakening his support within the regime if he responds unilaterally to popular demands. As Rouhani has stated, Iranians want a “freer and more prosperous life.” Many of his supporters have also demanded the release of political prisoners, especially Mousavi and Karroubi. The regime, which describes both men as leaders of the 2009 “sedition” against the system, may resist freeing them, especially if the reformists do not atone for their perceived sins against the Islamic Republic.
            Iranians expect significant and fast improvements in the economy. Some of the most onerous U.S. and international sanctions could be lifted if Rouhani succeeds in demonstrating transparency on the nuclear program. But he may not be able quickly reverse Iran’s fortunes. Many economic problems predate the imposition of sanctions. The Ahmadinejad government’s inflationary economic policies and growing corruption among the elite also are responsible for Iran’s dismal economic outlook.
            Rouhani may improve the economy in pursuing his underlying goal to preserve the Islamic system. He will almost certainly try to defuse tensions with the international community over the nuclear program, improve Iran’s relations with regional powers such as Saudi Arabia, and pursue relief from international sanctions. Rouhani will present a cheery face for a government described in global public opinion polls as one of the most unpopular in the world.
            But not all Iranians would be satisfied with just economic improvements. Many want greater freedom of expression and a bigger say in the political system. Rouhani’s status as an accomplished insider may also work against his ability to enact political reforms. He may not be able or even willing to offer Iranians what they seek ― especially as long as Khamenei remains in power. Still, Rouhani’s presidency could be a last chance for peaceful change in the Islamic Republic.

Alireza Nader is a senior policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and the author of “Iran After the Bomb.”

Read Alireza Nader's chapter on the Revolutionary Guards in "The Iran Primer"

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Rouhani: Challenges Ahead

Haleh Esfandiari

            The decisive election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s new president has been greeted around the world as a sign that Iranians are tired of hardline policies at home and abroad and are ready to embrace change. But the outcome also raises the question of how the new president might go about it, given Iran’s powerful clerical leadership and long history of quashing reform efforts.
      Rouhani will inherit from his predecessor a host of difficult, even insurmountable problems. In the past eight years, such limited freedoms as existed have been severely eroded. The economy is in shambles due to Western-imposed sanctions and outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reckless spending and misguided policies. With few real friends, Iran is internationally isolated, and its relations with the US and the Europeans are under strain over Iran’s nuclear program, its support for Assad in Syria, and its inflammatory rhetoric on Israel. Negotiations between Iran and the so-called 5+1 (five members of the UN Security Council and Germany) about Tehran’s nuclear program have been deadlocked.
            While he is considered a moderate, Rouhani comes to office as an insider. For sixteen years he was head of Iran’s National Security Council (NSC) and for two years Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator. Even today, he sits on the NSC as the personal representative of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. He served five terms in the Majlis, or parliament. He sits on two major state councils, one of which, the Assembly of Experts, will elect Khamenei’s successor whenever he passes away. In holding high office, Rouhani was more a team player than a maverick and continues to support many existing Iranian policies. On Syria, since his election he has offered only the formulaic non-answer that the Syrian people should decide their own future through elections.
            Critics have noted that Rouhani spoke in support of the harsh crackdown on student protesters at Tehran University in 1999—he later explained he was in the government at the time and could have not done otherwise. He also was silent when security forces brutally crushed protests following the contested 2009 presidential elections, and his explanation for that silence remains unconvincing: he was not then in the government, he said, the nature of the protests had changed, and the protesters were obligated to act within the laws.
            Yet Rouhani did not run his campaign as an insider. On many issues, including political freedoms, the growing presence of government informants among student and civil society associations, Iran’s international relations and its nuclear negotiations with the West, and the state of the economy, he used language and adopted a posture at odds with those of the ruling conservatives and, indirectly, of the supreme leader. While regime conservatives paint a rosy picture of Iran’s international standing, Rouhani spoke during the campaign of the “clouded visage” of Iran in the world. Conservatives describe Iran as the freest country in the world, but Rouhani spoke of the “the bowed silhouette” of freedom in the country, and of the need to free political prisoners. Both the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, an Iranian human rights group in Washington, DC, and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran estimate the number of political prisoners at any one time at around five hundred, although many hundreds more pass through the prison system for short periods of incarceration. Rouhani also promised to establish a ministry for women’s affairs, to pay attention to women’s rights, and to remove restrictions on women’s access to higher education imposed by the outgoing government. He also spoke vaguely of a “charter of rights” for all citizens.
            Regime hardliners have continued to attack their reformist counterparts as “seditionists,” while Rouhani, both during his campaign and in his first press conference after his victory, stressed the need for national reconciliation. He will be the president of all the Iranian people, he said.
            Rouhani also embraced and won the endorsement of two former presidents, Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. This was significant because both men are identified with the reformist endeavor and have been the target of vicious attacks by the hardliners. Rafsanjani, a pragmatist and ultimate insider (and president in 1989–1997), has been marginalized in recent years due to his centrist policies; and the Council of Guardians, which rules on the qualifications of candidates for the office of president, vetoed his candidacy on the lame excuse that, at age seventy-eight, he was too old to spend more than a few hours a day tending to the presidency. Khatami (president in 1997–2005) ushered in an unprecedented period of expanded freedoms, only to be frustrated by a right-wing backlash.
            On the nuclear issue, Rouhani has not strayed far from the official Iranian position—that Iran has a right to enrich nuclear fuel and to the full nuclear cycle, even though it has no intention of weaponizing—but his tone has been far more conciliatory. He has spoken proudly of his success, as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, negotiating compromise agreements with the Europeans in 2003 and 2005. Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw recalled that in the 2003 negotiations, Rouhani broke a deadlock by working the phones with Iran’s president and supreme leader, securing the flexibility to reach an agreement. In brief, he has a track record for looking for compromise and the middle ground, and he is offering greater transparency on Iran’s nuclear program.
            But the obstacles Rouhani faces are formidable. The internal security situation has grown worse in recent years. Journalists and intellectuals are routinely jailed for the mildest challenge to the ruling ideology. According to Amnesty International, Iran executed 314 individuals last year—one of the highest rates of execution in the world in relation to population size. Rouhani will win a lot of credit with the young and the urban middle class if he manages to remove the checkpoints, the security forces, and the morals police from the streets, close the secret detention centers, or if he secures freedom for political prisoners and the two opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who have endured house arrest for the last four years. Yet any attempt by Rouhani to ease controls over the press, civic associations, and political activity will be opposed by Iran’s ubiquitous security agencies and by the powerful Revolutionary Guards.
            The economy is in dire straits. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad squandered a huge influx of oil revenues on pet populist projects and liberal handouts, without generating much employment or investment in productive industry. Under the impact of sanctions, the Iranian currency has lost more than half its value against the US dollar. Iranian oil exports have been halved. Iran’s once substantial foreign exchange reserves have shrunk. Iranian banks have been virtually squeezed out of international transactions, and Iranian industries are having difficulty securing spare parts and raw materials.
            Rouhani understands what needs to be done to reset the economy on a more sensible course, but he is caught on the horns of a dilemma. He cannot resolve Iran’s economic problems without a significant easing of banking and other Western-imposed sanctions. At the same time, the US insists on maintaining sanctions until Iran’s nuclear posture changes; and Rouhani may not be able to persuade Iran’s leader to be more flexible on the nuclear issue unless sanctions are eased.
            However, Rouhani’s election has aroused hopes and a sense of movement and possibilities—and pressure from the left to move quickly on multiple issues. Several senior clerics, congratulating Rouhani on his election, have urged him to address the problems of unemployment, inflation, moral decline, political division, and restrictions on political freedoms. Ayatollah Dastghaib, a senior cleric from Shiraz, called on Rouhani to expedite the release of Karroubi, Mousavi, and Mousavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard. There are other senior clerics, concerned at the mismanagement and the direction of the country under Ahmadinejad, who would support Rouhani’s efforts; but it is also the case that most of the senior clergy have been intimidated by the hardliners and have been relatively silent in recent years.
            Rouhani’s powers are limited: he cannot appoint judges or the chief of the judiciary; he cannot appoint the chiefs of the security forces. But one of his predecessors, Mohammad Khatami, succeeded in removing the intelligence minister—twice—reining in the ministry and purging it of its most notorious elements. Khatami also succeeded in lifting restrictions on the press, book publishing and political association. The security services are much stronger today, but Rouhani has a model he can emulate. And as president, he can at least provide a moral voice and speak out against the widespread violation of human rights.
            Clearly Rouhani’s task will not be easy. He will need time; he will need to pick his battles carefully; he will need to show progress without alienating the real centers of power in Iran; he will need support and understanding abroad. And he will need a great deal of luck.
This article was originally published on The New York Review of Books blog.
Haleh Esfandiari is director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the author of “Reconstructed Lives: Women and Iran’s Islamic Revolution” and My Prison, My Home: One Woman’s Story of Captivity in Iran.”

Photo Credit: Hassan Rouhani's official Facebook page and promotional materials for the 2013 presidential campaign

Rouhani in his own words: On Nukes, Talks

      In mid-2005, President-elect Hassan Rouhani gave a detailed speech outlining Iran’s nuclear needs and its negotiating strategy with the outside world. The 39-page speech is the best indication – in his own words—of his views on Iran’s controversial program. Most notably, he told senior Iranian officials that the government could have avoided problems with the international community if it had been more open about its nuclear activities from the start. Rouhani also claimed Iran “never wanted” to build a bomb. These are excerpts from his briefing to Iran’s Supreme Cultural Revolution Council shortly before he resigned as chief nuclear negotiator after differences with then newly elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—who is now his predecessor.

On Iran's Nuclear Needs
            “The Islamic Republic of Iran 15 or 16 years ago ― that is in [the Islamic years] 1366 or 1367 [1987‐1989 on the Western calendar] ― started to pursue fuel cycle technology. We pursued this technology because we always wanted to make use of nuclear energy, wanted to have nuclear power plants, and wanted to be able to produce the needed fuel for those plants ourselves…
            “The argument that because Iran has oil and gas, it should not have this technology is not a correct argument. The United States maintains that Iran does not need nuclear power plants, but the Europeans say it is Iran’s right to have nuclear power plants and it should have them .Iran has the right to worry about its long‐term future. Iran’s oil and gas resources will be exhausted one day, and it should have this technology…
            “If we can reach a political agreement to work with the world and activate our fuel cycle, that would be very desirable. We think there is a chance we would be successful in this undertaking.”
On Secrecy
            “Some of you say that if wehad said from the start that we wanted to have the fuel cycle, the situation would havebeen easier. Yes, if we had decided to declare our intention at the beginning, if we hadtold the IAEA that we intended to build a UCF (uranium conversion facility) plant at the same time that we started construction at Esfahan, if we had announced our facilities at Natanz from the start, we would not have any problems now, or our problems would have been far less than they are today.
            In fact, this is the very reason that our case has become so complicated. Theyask: If you truly were after fuel cycle, why did you do it secretly?! This is the root of all problems.
            If we had done it openly, the problem would have been far simpler. In thebeginning, we decided not to go public for a number of reasons. For example, pressurefrom the West to deny us primary materials, and reasons like that. We wanted to keep itsecret for a while. Of course, we all knew at that some point this would become publicknowledge…
            “Would presenting a complete picture of our past nuclear activities solve the problem? If we presented a complete picture, that picture itself could take us to the U.N. Security Council. If we did not present a complete picture, this would have been considered a violation of the resolution, and we would go to the U.N. Security Council on the grounds that we had violated the resolution.”
On "Lying" 
Unidentified SCRC member: “Do you mean to say that we have lied about this?”
Rouhani: “No, we have not lied. In all cases, we have told them the truth. But in some cases, we may not have disclosed information in a timely manner…
            “Nevertheless, a few more issues remain, some of which we did not know anything about even when we were talking with the three [European foreign] ministers in Tehran. One is the high degree of contamination in our country… Having uranium that has been enriched more than 20 percent means a country is trying to build weapons… When the [IAEA] inspectors inspected our facilities, they found traces of highly enriched uranium… This caused a new uproar.
            We were taken aback, too, because we did not know what caused this contamination. The only thing we were sure of was that we were not responsible for it. Some people in Iran even argued that the IAEA inspectors, influenced by the United States, brought contaminated handkerchiefs to Iran and presented them as evidence of contamination here. It later became clear that some of the centrifuges that we had purchased from the dealer were used.”
On the Brazil and Pakistan models
            “If one day we are able to complete the fuel cycle and the world sees that it has no choice, that we do possess the technology, then the situation will be different. The world did not want Pakistan to have an atomic bomb or Brazil to have the fuel cycle, but Pakistan built its bomb and Brazil has its fuel cycle, and the world started to work with them.”
On the Libyan Model
            “We also did not know that Libya had purchased [nuclear] equipment from the same middleman we had used to purchase some equipment… The Libyans told everything, from A to Z, to the British and the Americans. They gave everything, all the equipment that they had purchased from that dealer and others, to the Americans and did everything that the Americans and the British asked them to do. With regard to Middle East peace, Israel, cutting ties with the Palestinians, and stopping their financial support of Palestinian groups, and so forth, they did what the Americans and the British wanted…
            Therefore, when they talk about the Libyan model, it is not that they only want to collect the centrifuges, put them on a boat, and ship them to Washington. Instead, the Libyan model means a move toward recognizing Israel, cutting ties with all the liberation movements in the world, and everything else that Qadhafi promised; this is the ʺLibyan model.ʺ You now see that Libya has completely embraced the Middle East peace process. It supports the Middle East peace process to the point of cutting all ties with the Palestinian combatants and ceasing all aid. In fact, it has made a 180‐degree turn.”
On Negotiations
            “We only agreed to suspend activities in those areas where we did not have technical problems… While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Esfahan, but we still had a long way to go to complete the project. In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Esfahan…
            “Even if we do not achieve any results, we will negotiate with the Europeans for a few months and ultimately reach the same point that we are at now. At least we would put off going to the U.N. Security Council. If we were to be taken to the U.N. Security Council in November, we would push that date back a year. This would allow us to justify our position and give final notice to the public, while at the same time we would have an opportunity to work on the technology and solve our legal issues with the IAEA…
            “If we decide to start [uranium] enrichment in the face of opposition by the West, we must find the best time and the most favorable conditions, and if we decide to work with the West, we must utilize all our capabilities and everything that is in our power to achieve our objectives. We should not rush into this. We must move very carefully, in a very calculated manner…
            “We are a member of the IAEA and a member of the NPT (of course, the former parliament ratified those treaties). We did so to reduce the political and propaganda pressure ‐‐ and other forms of pressure ‐‐ against us. It is for the same reason that we have accepted the Chemical Convention (according to which they can come here and inspect any site they want with 12‐hours notice)…
            “This is a very, very complex and difficult effort. Personally, I am not very optimistic, but I am not without hope, either. In fact, I cannot even say that I am pessimistic and think that there is no way and that we are at an impasse. We must go forward. We may not achieve everything that we want 100 percent.”
On the United States
            “When America’s victory in Iraq became evident… they started to think that conditions were right for them to raise the issue of Iran... The idea was to plan sanctions or even military operations against Iran, or at least put political and economic pressure on this country…
            “From the very beginning, the Americans were telling the Europeans: The Iranians are lying, the Iranians have not told you everything, and the Iranians have only revealed part of their program. The Europeans in turn were saying: We trust them…
            “We suspended enrichment activities to the limits required by the resolution, but not more than that. They [Europeans] also had committed themselves to removing Iran’s case from the IAEA agenda at the June [2004] meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors. In any case, because of the opposition by the United States, the outcry by other parties, and the start of the activities in Esfahan, this did not come to pass. As a result, we ended our suspension and resumed our part‐making and assembling activities…
            “Of course, there is a basic difference here between the Europeans and the United States. The difference is that the United States is bent on taking us to the U.N. Security Council and solving all its problems with us there... They intend to raise all of their issues, such as the Middle East, terrorism, and the rest, there… But the Europeans do not want to create a big problem for us…
            “If not for the American and Israeli pressures, our issues would have been solved months ago. You know, we even could have reached an accord with the Europeans about the fuel cycle based on a certain formula. At least we could have reached an agreement with Germany and France, but the United States and England interfered and did not allow the agreement to go through… Nevertheless, in spite of the pressure from the United States, the games by the Zionists, and the Zionist political, economic, and propaganda influences in the Western countries, relatively speaking the Islamic Republic of Iran and the ruling system have proved their effectiveness in this case.”
On Europe
            “Europe today is a little different from the Europe of last year [2004]… There were only three or four countries in the European Union that cooperated closely with the United States. Now, ten new countries have joined the Union, and most of these countries are pro‐American...
            “Europeans fear that the Americans, through increasing pressure and overtime, might be able to break the regime in Iran, and this would not be to their advantage. It is not in their interest to see a pro‐American system in Iran. They also do not want the increasing pressure to force the Islamic Republic of Iran ultimately into complete cooperation with the United States; this would not be in the European interest, either. As the conditions are today, the Europeans have good relations with us. If the conditions change, those relations might weaken…
            “What the Europeans want in their heart of hearts is to put a list in front of us and convince us to give up the fuel cycle. For example, they say that they will give us atomic power plants and light water research plants and guarantee our fuel, or the IAEA guarantees access to fuel and gives us assurances. In other words, they would say that they will help us in the areas of technology and industry, take important economic steps, and help us with advanced technologies on the condition that we give up nuclear fuel. Thus, their idea of a deal is to grant us some concessions in return for a long‐term suspension (several years, for instance), until we can reach an agreement to produce fuel with certain assurances…
            “Overall, it is clear that Europe is not our friend and that it does not have a good relationship with Islam… We are not sure about any of the promises that the Europeans are making, unless we ultimately reach a final agreement and see in practice whether they remain true to what they say. We do not have any trust in them. Unfortunately, they do not trust us, either. They think we are out to dupe them, and we think in the same way, that they want to trick and cheat us. Therefore, we should build trust, step by step and in practice.”
On China and Russia
            “We have had a few tests to see if we can get help from the Russians, but unfortunately, so far, we have not achieved the desired results. They say you can have the fuel cycle, but you cannot have the fuel cycle and build confidence at the same time…
            “I reached some agreements with the Russian foreign minister in a meeting that lasted for two‐and‐a‐half hours. At the end of the meeting, when I wanted to summarize our discussions, he immediately retracted and said: Yes, we did agree on these matters, but I must raise these issues with the president and get permission from him; also, we should consult with our experts regarding these matters… It is very difficult to work with the Russians…
            “Perhaps it is somewhat easier to work with Chinese. In other words, the Russians have certain concerns about us that the Chinese do not have, or not to the same degree. The Chinese have not promised to do anything in this area, but they seem to have a softer position.”
On Economic Leverage
            “If a country is to cooperate with us, we must expand our economic relations with that country. The government stands ready to cooperate in this area, utilize our country’s economic potential, and bring other countries into the picture, but in practice, we have not yet been successful… [Other countries] must see what they would gain politically and economically if they use their veto power…
            “Last year, the discussions about us going to the U.N. Security Council had a great impact on our economy, and these influences persist. When the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issues a strongly worded resolution against us, the value of the shares on our stock market goes down. Therefore, this issue affects the economy, public opinion, and, unfortunately, our security. We must cool down and lower the intensity of our propaganda. As you said, the public is very sensitive about this issue. Whatever we do, we must have the support of the public.”
On Animosity to Muslims
            “As for the suggestion that the Europeans have animosity toward Muslims, well, the governments of China and Russia are not friends with Muslims either. When it comes to this, they are all alike. As the Imam [Khomeini] said: One is worse than the other. There is no doubt that they do not want us to have advanced technology .It is very clear that they are against us. Nevertheless, under these circumstances, while the United States, Europe and Russia all pursue the same objective, there is competition between them, as well.”

Khamenei Comments: Nuclear Deal “Easy”

      In a meeting with the judiciary, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that a deal on Iran’s controversial nuclear program would be “easy” to achieve if unspecified countries in an “anti-Iranian front” were not so stubborn. “If they set aside stubbornness, resolving the Iranian nuclear issue is simple, easy and smooth,” he said on June 26. The supreme leader also called on all parties in and out of government to work with new President-elect Hassan Rouhani. The following are excerpts of his remarks on nuclear talks, relations with the international community, and the June 14 election.

Nuclear Program
            “Some countries that constitute the anti-Iranian front and falsely call themselves the international community stubbornly do not want the nuclear issue to be resolved. But if they set aside their stubbornness, resolving the Iranian nuclear issue is simple, easy and smooth... The nuclear issue was close to being resolved several times but the Americans brought up new excuses… They consider the nuclear issue as a good chance for threatening and putting pressure on Iran.”
            “The Islamic Republic has acted legally and transparently in the nuclear discussion and possesses a strong rationale on any argument. But the enemies’ goal is maintaining pressure, tiring the nation, and changing the system [government]. Therefore, they will not allow the issue to be resolved.”
The United States and the West
            “For them, the nuclear issue, human rights, democracy and nothing else matters. They are seeking to block the nation’s progress and the renew dominance of our dear Iran, but the Islamic Republic has stood with strength, independence, reliance on the people and trust in God and defends Iranian interests.”
           “Experience has also shown that anyone who preserves in the path of righteousness will be victorious, and without a doubt the Iranian nation will also slap the enemies in this field.” 
Presidential Election
            “Iran's latest polls indicated that even those who do not support the establishment trust it…. because they know that a strong Islamic Republic stands like a lion against the greedy and defends national interests and national pride well.”
            “We do not say that you must not criticize or oppose [policies], because proper objection and criticism is certainly useful for the country's progress. But we must all remember that being on the sidelines and criticizing is easy, but execution is difficult and hard; therefore, we all must all help the President-elect.”
            “The enemies and opponents of the Islamic Republic attempted to either prevent the election from being held, or make the nation indifferent toward the poll… They also had plans after the elections so that they could have pursued their ominous goals with various excuses, but with God’s grace, the nation demonstrated its skill and greatness on election day, and what occurred was 180 degrees opposite of the enemies’ desires.”
            “In [local] council elections, due to complicated tribal, regional, and racial backgrounds, it was possible for conflict to break out or instability to occur, but with divine grace and in the ray of the nation’s cooperation and the efforts of officials and related organs, there were no signs of instability in the late elections.”
            “In these elections, [one] could have made excuses, and by implementing divisions and fighting, [one] could have ignored the nation’s great and glorious presence [in the elections] and made the people bitter. But the honorable and law abiding behavior of other candidates brought the feeling of calmness and happiness to the people, and this obedience to the law must forever be a lesson and for everyone.”

Rouhani College Thesis: Islam Flexible

      As a graduate student in Scotland, President-elect Hassan Rouhani wrote about two deeply debated issues: the flexibility of Islamic law and the separation of powers in an Islamic democracy. His work in the mid-1990s echoes many of the reformist ideas at the time.
Glasgow Caledonian University released abstracts from his master’s and doctoral degrees shortly after his election in response to new public interest. Rouhani attended the Scottish university under his birth-name Hassan Feridon. Rouhani, which means “spiritual,” was added after he became a cleric. The following are abstracts with links.  

“The Flexibility of Shariah (Islamic Law) with reference to the Iranian Experience”
Doctoral Thesis Abstract July 1998
            This thesis verifies that no laws in Islam are immutable. Immutability is only applicable to the faith, values and ultimate goals in Shariah. Those laws which look immutable even in ritual part of the religion are not actually immutable and are subject to change under special circumstances. Islamic laws have been developed out of certain conditions and necessities of the time and space. This flexibility must known as the essential feature of the Islamic law. The framework for this flexibility and change has been predicted and verified in the main sources of Sharia i.e. the Quran, the Sunnah, Ijma, Qiyas, Aql and urf.
            The primary source of the Islamic law (the Quran) is, in itself, flexible on the basis of the analysis that the Quranic legislation leaves from for flexibility in the evaluation of its injunctions. The Quran is not specific on the precise value of its injunctions, and it leaves open the possibility that a command in the Quran may sometimes imply an obligation, a recommendation or a mere permissibility. Commands and prohibitions in the Quran are expressed in a variety of forms which are often open to interpretation.
“The Islamic Legislative Power with Reference to the Iranian Experience”
Master’s of Philosophy November 1995
            Islam comprises a systematic and coherent legislative power. The Quran and the Sunna (Sharia) together establish the Primary sources of law in Islam. The Secondary sources lend themselves to debates and arguments among Islamic scholars. The most important secondary sources are ijma, qiyas, aql, and itjtihad.
            Allah (the creator) is recognized as the supreme lawgiver in Islam. The holy Prophet, as the messenger and the Leader of the Islamic community, ranks the second main lawgiver who communicated the revelation to the Muslims and regulated the affairs of the Islamic society. The Sharia, created by Allah and conveyed by the Prophet, is immutable and eternal. Where there is no explicit law (Mantaqah-al-Feraq) in Sharia, legislation has been permissible and necessary. For this purpose and in order to meet the ever-changing requirements of society, the example set by the Prophet in the use of consultation led to the eventual recognition of two other lawgivers recognized as the foqaha and the Consultative Assembly (Majlis-al-Shura).
            As will be discussed, the method of consultation, its continuation and extension as demonstrated and exemplified by the Prophet, has been the prerequisite for today’s Islamic society and era, and has led to the establishment of the Consultative Assembly ((Majlis-al-Shura). Foqaha are to reach and discern an understanding of the Sharia. Whereas Majlis-al-Shura deals with the more complicated daily problems and needs of society and such policy-making issues requiring the special skills of experts, not specified in the Sharia. It will be determined how such legislative authorities provide the Islamic legislative system with a dynamic capability.
            Islamic system approves of the principle of the separation of powers and recommends the implementation of this principle as a guarantee for the realization of democracy. The opposition of Islam to any centralization of power leading to despotism and tyranny will be a matter for discussion.
            It will be subsequently discussed that the Islamic Republic of Iran can be taken as a prototype of an Islamic legislative system. Iran’s Islamic Consultative Assembly (the Majlis) is the central body for formulating and passing laws, and as it will be argued, the nature of law-making in Iran is not in contrast with that of the West. The only difference is that in the West the principles of the Constitution are solely observed, whereas in Iran, the Islamic principles have an equal place in addition to compliance with the Constitution. To serve this dual role, two further institutions – namely the Council of Guardians and the Expediency Council – have been established to supplement the functions of the Islamic Consultative Assembly.

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