Hassan Rouhani: Moderate reformer

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has presented himself as the candidate of change.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has presented himself as the candidate of change.

TEHERAN • President Hassan Rouhani has spent three decades at the heart of Iran's revolutionary establishment.

The 68-year-old won a convincing victory in 2013, bringing together moderates and reformists with vows to ease tension with the West and improve civil rights at home.

Born in Semnan province on Nov 12, 1948, Mr Rouhani is married with four children and holds a doctorate in law from Scotland's Glasgow Caledonian University. He comes across as jovial and scholarly, if not overly charismatic.

He has presented himself as the candidate of change and social freedoms, attacking his opponents as "extremists" whose "era is over".

His first term saw a 2015 deal with world powers that ended many sanctions and a 13-year stand-off over Iran's nuclear programme. But critics say he oversold the economic benefits, while his popularity has been dented by continuing stagnation and high unemployment.

And while social curbs have eased to some degree during his tenure, many journalists and political activists still face arbitrary arrest, and his efforts to release jailed opposition leaders have failed. A 2016 Bill of Rights was dismissed by his critics for failing to impose changes on the conservative-dominated judiciary and intelligence services.

Still, many young urbanites consider him the best hope for change.

As Iran's nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005, Mr Rouhani earned the nickname, "the diplomatic sheikh", but hardliners at home accused him of kowtowing to the West. Before that, Mr Rouhani held key defence portfolios during the 1980-1989 Iran-Iraq war and spent 16 years as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.

When huge student protests erupted in 1999, Mr Rouhani called them "the corrupt of the Earth" - a charge that carries the death penalty in Iran. He is the first Iranian leader to speak with his US counterpart after then President Barack Obama phoned in 2013.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2017, with the headline 'Hassan Rouhani: Moderate reformer'. Print Edition | Subscribe