In less than two weeks, Hassan Rowhani, Iran’s President-elect, will assume the presidential office and replace the hardliner and controversial figure, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, as more facts from Rowhani’s past are unearthed, questions have been raised regarding who really is Iran’s new president, and more importantly, if he will be able to legally take office based on the new astonishing information released this week by the Persian media.
After a considerable amount of analysis on Persian newspaper archives conducted, one significant fact was revealed this week.
First of all, it is crucial to contextualize the new information by shedding light on previous facts. It is well-known that passages of Rowhani's Glasgow Caledonian University PhD thesis, 1999, titled “The Flexibility of Shariah (Islamic Law) with reference to the Iranian revolutionary experience,” were virtually identical to a passage of a book written by an Afghan author, Mr Kamali, titled Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence. Although Rowhani has refused to put his entire dissertation online, below is a paragraph from Hassan Rowhani’s dissertation “The Flexibility of Shariah (Islamic Law)” dated July 1998:
"The primary source of the Islamic law (the Quran) is, in itself, flexible on the basis of the analysis that the Quranic legislation leaves room 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.”
And here is a passage from an online PDF version of Kamali's book, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, which was first published in 1991:
"This style of Quranic legislation, and the fact that it leaves room for flexibility in the evaluation of its injunctions, is once again in harmony with the timeless validity of its laws. 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……..As a characteristic feature of Quranic legislation, it may be stated here that commands and prohibitions in the Quran are expressed in a variety of forms which are often open to interpretation and ijtihad.”
Although the plagiarism of these passages justifies Rowhani’s PhD to be revoked, plagiarism does not suffice as a strong enough reason to revoke his presidency, according to the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In addition, given the notion that PhD part-time students at GCU are required to fulfill at least 12 hours per week for the demanding law program and given the fact that Hassan Rowhani had several crucial governmental positions, many questions have been raised whether Hassan Rowhani attended GCU and whether he wrote the Masters and PhD theses. Furthermore, GCU is not an obvious academic university for Shiite studies.
The more recently-exposed information however reveals that Hassan Rowhani – before holding a PhD degree, or even a Master’s degree – was already claiming in 1980 to have a doctorate degree from London University. On March 9, 1980, in an interview with Joomhoriye Islami, one of the most significant newspapers circulating in Iran, Rowhani stated that he had received his PhD in “Legal Sociology” from the University of London. The newspaper wrote that he received his PhD in 1979; twenty years before Rowhani actually received a higher degree from another university: Glasgow Caledonian University.
In 1980, after the overthrow of the Shah, Rowhani ran as a candidate from the city of Semnan for Iran’s National Assembly and Parliament. After a successful victory, Rowhani served for five terms in both the National Assembly and Parliament, but was describing himself as a scholar who had already obtained a PhD from the University of London, although he did not even have Masters at that time. These claims are evidenced by the Joomhoriye Islami newspaper publications dating from 1980 to 1988.
Moreover, when Rowhani first ran for the parliamentary elections, Rowhani introduced himself as "Doctor Rowhani" in the official website of the Iranian Parliament. During the third parliamentary elections in 1988, according to the website, Rowhani also suggested that he had a Master’s degree along with the Doctorate.
Fraudulent PhD degree document
In addition, according to several reports that closely tracked the president-elect’s related documents, Rowhani has frequently used a fraudulent PhD degree document while running for the first-to-fifth parliamentary elections, feigning himself as a Ph.D. degree holder in sociology.
There are images from the archives of the Iranian Parliament’s official website clearly revealing that Hassan Rowhani climbed through the political ladder while portraying himself as a scholar from higher education.
Later in his political career, Rowhani was appointed as one of Ayatollah Khomeini's representatives in Iran's former army. He also became a member of Iran’s Supreme Defense Council, commander of the Air Defense Force, Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces, National Security Adviser to the president, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, representative of the Supreme Leader on the Supreme National Security Council, member of the country's Expediency Council, President of the Center for Strategic Research, and a member of the Council of Experts – the group that chooses the Supreme Leader.
For all the aforementioned positions, Hassan Rowhani feigned as a PhD holder and as “Doctor Rowhani”. Are these new revelations significant considering the geopolitics of Iran and the Iranian citizens?
Holding Rowhani accountable?
Although the plagiarism case might not have legal significance, counterfeiting a university degree and portraying oneself as a PhD holder while not even having obtained any graduate degree does have legal consequences in Iran. According to Iran’s Islamic Penal Law Code article 527, any official who lies about his education, forge their university transcripts, or creates a fraud university degree will be sentenced from one year to thirty-six months in prison.
However, it is unlikely that the Iranian government will hold Hassan Rowhani accountable for his actions. Rowhani is a governmental insider; his loyalty lies with Khomeini and Khamenei, he is a benefiter of the cleric system, and was approved by the Guardian Council to run for presidency. Yet, the counterfeiting of a Doctorate degree and impersonation of a London-educated intellectual has undoubtedly played a significant role in helping Rowhani climb the political ladder and even become elected president. An overwhelming of Iranian people highly value education and highly favor those candidates who have obtained a PhD, particularly from Western countries which they believe offer a more open-minded education.
What do Rowhani’s past actions suggest about his morals and personality? It suggests that Rowhani’s first priority has been to use any tool possible – even if it means deceiving the Iranian people - in order to achieve his political ambitions. If honesty has not been a criterion for “Doctor Hassan Rowhani”, the President-elect of Iran, how can millions of Iranian citizens believe in all his promises that he made throughout his campaign? If gaining power and influential positions have been his main goal with disregard to ethics, how can the international community, IAEA, and other regional countries trust the sincerity of his actions?
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American scholar, author and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC.