Who is Iran’s President-Elect?

Hassan Rouhani was elected President of Iran in the election held three days ago. In contrast to the 2009 election and the Green Movement which followed it, this time there were few signs of protest. This is due in large part to the absence from the ballot of current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is term limited.

What do we know about the incoming Iranian president? He is sixty-four years of age, and he has a doctorate in both law and philosophy. He is partly Western educated, having earned his philosophy degree at Glasgow Caledonian University.

A vocal political activist in his younger days, he traveled the country giving speeches against the Shah and was arrested many times. As a result, he fled the country and joined Imam Khomeini in Paris.

After the Islamic Revolution, he was elected to the Islamic Consultative Assembly and served from 1980 to 2000. During his time in office served as deputy speaker and the head of the defense and foreign policy committees. During the Iran-Iraq War, he held numerous leadership positions with regards to defense, including being the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

In 2000 he was elected to the Assembly of Experts, which oversees and elects the Supreme Leader of Iran. He has since been heavily involved in Iran’s controversial nuclear program and has taken a lead role in negotiations regarding that program, earning the moniker “the diplomat sheikh.”

So what can we expect from him? Rouhani has expressed a desire for reconciliation with the West regarding its nuclear program, saying in his first press conference since his election “The first step will be showing greater transparency. We are ready to show greater transparency and make clear that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s actions are totally within international frameworks.” He also said that he would “”follow the path of moderation and justice, not extremism.”

However, in principle he still supports Iran’s nuclear program. And the true power in Iran remains with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. So any reforms we can expect from this new president will probably be slow in coming and incremental when they do. But it’s hard to argue that he isn’t an improvement over the current office holder.

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