Feridon/ Rouhani: A Tale of Tact from the UK
It is not unheard of for public figures to exaggerate somewhat when it comes to their personal qualifications and achievements. More often than not when discovered these exaggerations can be quickly proven to be true or not; however, claims made by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have led only to more questions and mystery.
Rouhani first came to be known in the global media when he ran for the 2013 presidency of Iran and was very much marketed as a reformer keen to rebuild ties with the West. In his own promotional videos (now removed from YouTube) much was made of his education in Glasgow, Scotland. It was originally stated that he attended The University of Glasgow; however, this was quickly challenged and later material stated that he had actually attended Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU). It is here that things become somewhat muddled.
The bulk of source materials available to the public on Rouhani’s biography comes from himself, his friends (Iranian papers, spring 2013), and the Centre of Strategic Research of which he was the president from 1992 to October 2013. The data on him started to inch onto the Net in autumn 2012. Before this time, the Internet was almost void of Rouhani.
In the 1970s, he was an active Khomeinist and he can be seen on the background of many pictures from Khomeini. His own propaganda together with several newspaper reports state that Rouhani first studied in Glasgow in the late 1970s at what was then Glasgow Polytechnic (later becoming Glasgow Caledonian University). However, there is very little evidence regarding his study in Glasgow at this time with most of his education believed to have been undertaken at Qom Seminary and the University of Tehran throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. It can only be assumed that this was undertaken sometime between 1977-79 when he fled Iran and was for some time with the exiled Khomeini in France.
Hassan Rouhani was elected to the first Madjles (parliament) of the newly born Islamic Republic in 1979 and re-elected four more times and was a member of parliament till February 2000. On the Madjles files, his level of studies is recorded as “Doctor in Law”. In the Farsi version off Rouhani’s biography (Cf:Rouhani_Wiki_FA), a quote from Djomhouri Eslami newspaper in 1979, at the time under the editorship of Ali Khamenei (the Supreme guide and leader himself) stated his title as “Doctor in Law Sociology”.
Hassan Rouhani was very keen to be called “Doctor Rouhani” from the cradle. Later (date not recorded), it was proved that he had not written a line of a thesis as yet. So he lied to the Madjles and his electorate for twenty years. In Islam, drinking alcohol, eating pork and telling lies are under the same heading: forbidden – Haram. But then despite his religious title, Hojat-ol-Eslam, meaning “authority on Islam” or “proof of Islam”, Rouhani is above Sharia.
From 1979 to 2013, Rouhani held a number of important positions in the Velayat-e Faghih’s key institutions, as the man in power but in shadows. The list of the men before and after him, in any given job, is a who’s who of the Iranian’s political and religious elite. (Cf:Rouhani_Wiki_EN)
It is confirmed that Rouhani went to Scotland to study and attended GCU during the 1990s, receiving a Master’s in 1995 and a PhD in 1999, not as Hassan Rouhani, but under his born name Hassan Fereydoun, recorded in GCU as Feridon. Yet once again there was more confusion as Rouhani states to have received his Master’s in Law and PhD in Constitutional Law, but the university confirm that they issued Hassan Feridon a 1995 Master’s and 1999 PhD in Philosophy. All of these subtle discrepancies regarding the institution, dates and subject studied have created more questions regarding Rouhani’s time in Scotland, with many speculating that he would have studied remotely from Tehran.
Throughout the 1990s he was a highly important figure within the Iranian state, involved in many top level committees and one of its top nuclear negotiators. It seems hard to believe that a man with such a high profile governmental position could have also been undertaking a Master’s and PhD at a European university.
Here is a limited list of his political positions, close to the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei (many positions at universities and advisory boards to past presidents are omitted):
- 1979–2000: Member of Parliament.
- 1991–present (?): Member of the Expediency council.
- 1998–present: Member of the Assembly of Experts.
- 1989–2013: Representative of the Supreme Leader to the National Security Council.
From 1994 to 1999, an over-occupied man of Iranian high politics and security, and known as a negotiator in the Iran–Contra affair (Oliver North – 1980s), was a registered student in Scotland. Hassan Rouhani aka Hassan Feridon for GCU was a very mature student of 46 years old in 1994, while fulfilling his sensitive political duties in Iran.
A peculiar student in Glasgow in the 1990s; it seems that no one was curious. Was discretion the word?
Some of our Iranian readers were PhD students in the UK: Oxford, London, Edinburgh, etc. We asked them to describe their student life to us. It all came down to long working hours, many tutorials and much writing and rewriting. Many told us about their friends, their homes, and not least of all, renewing their visas, the right to stay in the UK.
In our book, Chronicles from Iran, at some length we covered difficulties in obtaining a visa for the European countries as an Iranian national. In a nutshell: lots of paperwork, meticulous scrutiny on family situation, revenues, and a couple of interviews at the embassy. Since 1979, the consular relationship between Iran and the UK has been on the very difficult side. Many visa applications from students, despite strong recommendations from universities in the UK, were turned down for mere trifles in the papers/certificates.
None of this seems to have applied to Hassan Rouhani aka Hassan Feridon. During the presidency campaign, this picture was published.
Have a close look at his Iranian ID picture. It must go back to 1979, when he officially changed his family name from Fereydoun to Rouhani. Under Iranian law, a citizen must have one and only one ID card. However, in 1994, he seems to have two valid Iranian identity cards and went to Scotland as Hassan Feridon. Double identity? A criminal offence according to Iranian laws. People are known to have been hanged for lesser crimes in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
To sum up, in 1994, a 46 year old man showed up at the UK consular services in Tehran, applied for a student visa for GCU and got it. No one seemed to raise an eyebrow. Very convenient.
There is no word about Mr Feridon student’s life: where he stayed, where he spent his time. Let me speculate. He was a student in Glasgow, a mere 3000 miles (4500 km) from Tehran where he was a member of a half-dozen key committees of the Islamic Republic. In all logic, he would have had to travel frequently, and he would have had contacts within the Iranian embassy in London, not an address to go unnoticed by the British authorities. With high tensions between Iran and the West during this period it seems unlikely that a high ranking Iranian official could study in Glasgow without special measures in place or attracting a high level of attention.
However, this is somewhat established by Dr Mahdi Zahraa who works for GCU, and was appointed to supervise Rouhani during his thesis. He confirms that Rouhani was on campus and that they had many face-to-face meetings throughout his studies.
If Rouhani was indeed living like any other student at GCU throughout the 1990s it seems that only two people remember him, as in all the media coverage regarding his time in Scotland quotes are coming from only two sources. These are Hassan Amin (Cf:Hassan Amin_Wiki_EN), an Iranian who studied and later lectured at GCU during the first half of Rouhani’s education, and Dr Mahdi Zahraa who mentored Rouhani throughout his PhD. Both are keen to state that Rouhani had reformist views and participated in student life like any other student, attending lectures, eating in the cafeteria, and even staying in student accommodation (albeit with his family). It is therefore very strange that there are no reports from fellow students who must have studied with him; even the tabloid papers failed to find any anecdotal evidence to report and it is left for Amin and Zahraa to inform the world of Rouhani’s time in Scotland. Both men were lecturers in Law, yet the university states that Rouhani received his PhD in Philosophy. It is also somewhat of a convenient piece of luck that Rouhani went so far from Tehran to study only to be reporting to a fellow Iranian first, who like Rouhani has a remarkable CV, filled with long lists of accomplishments and awards. (Cf:Hassan Amin_Wiki_FA)
Although there is no evidence of how long Rouhani was in Glasgow for at any time, GCU went as far as to release a 30 second video clip of Feridon now aka Rouhani receiving his PhD; if nothing else all this attention served as a great advertisement for the university.
Materials from GCU on Hassan Feridon were soon to be rectified to Dr Hassan Rouhani and his name to appear in the list of notable staff and alumni.
Whereas an average Iranian student gets to know all the acronyms of the UK’s immigration rules and becomes a familiar face to the local receptionists of the Home Office, Hassan Rouhani aka Hassan Feridon seems to have had a still and serene time in the UK and to have never been concerned with such administrative trifles with the UK authorities. Very tactful.
On 6 July 1999, the Hassan Feridon name was published in The Herald of Scotland, among the GCU graduates.
In 2014, 15 years later, Lady Catherine Ashton, EU’s Foreign Minister, visits Tehran, and Rouhani is the president. The Iranian politico-religious gang indecently criticised her for meeting with those who survived the July 1999 bloodshed but later were condemned as criminals and had their lives ruined. Hassan Rouhani aka Hassan Feridon seems to have not learned everlasting lessons in human rights and freedom of expression from his GCU times.(Cf:July 1999_protests_THR)
Between 1999 and June 2013, Feridon was GCU’s forgotten alumnus. Then Hassan Rouhani became the president of Iran, and it was revealed that Rouhani had enrolled and studied under a different name, using his family name of Feridon.
This use of his previous name only added to some of the confusion around his studies in Scotland. Interestingly, his PhD cannot be downloaded from EThOS.
If the university sources finally cleared up the facts that Rouhani did indeed attend and graduate during the 1990s, more doubt was cast up when it was later claimed that sections of Rouhani’s thesis plagiarised. Only sections of the 500 page thesis were available in electronic form.
In his official biography, Hassan Rouhani claims to have published in Farsi, Arabic, and English a total of more than 100 books (at least 20) and papers (at least 80), while supervising some 700 important scientific studies. A breathtaking achievement that merits a reward; a verse of Ferdowsi on lies.
All of the controversies surrounding Rouhani’s education were quick to disappear, yet almost every Western article regarding his election was quick to mention his Western education.
In his visit to World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, in 2014, Dr Rouhani, the Hojat-ol-Eslam va Moslemin, his official title, was received with unctuous courtesy by the hosts and the journalists. It was as if Western education would instantly back up his reformist claims and boost his ties with the West. This is a trait that is shared by many in his government, which boasts several members who graduated from US universities together with other Western institutions. It seems like great propaganda to have so many Western-educated members of Rouhani’s government following the hard-line approach to the West taken by his predecessor, a fact which has been much repeated in the global media.