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Coffee House

Made in Glasgow: the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani

15 June 2013

9:34 AM

15 June 2013

9:34 AM

It’s official – Hassan Rouhani has been declared the new President of Iran with 51pc of the vote. He’s a cleric, a moderate and a polyglot (speaking English, German, French, Russian and Arabic). “Let’s end extremism,” he said during a campaign speech. “We have no other option than moderation.” He took swipes at the Basij, the Islamist morality police who go around asking women to veil up. He’s spoken about releasing political prisoners, and lifting internet censorship. But what jumps out from his CV is that he’s a Glasgow graduate – and very proud of it. He even boasted about it in his campaign video.

GlasgowCali

In this video, he cheekily truncated his alma mater to “Glasgow University”. The ensuing controversy seems to have established that he studied at the old Glasgow Polytechnic in the 1970s. But he seems to have enjoyed Glasgow so much – understandably – that after his MPhil in law he returned to study for a PhD in Constitutional Law. (The 1999 graduation list is here: he then went by the name of Hassan Feridon).

[Alt-Text]


Glasgow Tech only became Caledonian University in 1993 so his PhD study appears to coincide with his tenure as secretary of Iran’s supreme national security council. That’s impressive. Personally, I’d rather do this job from Glasgow than Tehran. What better vantage point to view the world than the kebab houses and hostelries of Sauchiehall Street? Where better to hone skills in diplomacy? (He has been Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator). And you can’t accuse him of reveling in Western decadence – life expectancy is lower in Glasgow than in Iran.

All told, the victory of this Glasgow graduate bodes well for Iranian politics. Those armed with a Scottish education have made excellent leaders of foreign countries. Canada had John Buchan and modern Hong Kong was pretty much invented by John Cowperthwaite who applied the ideas of Adam Smith to make this tiny island as rich (per capita) as America. The American constitution, famously, can be traced back to the Scottish Enlightenment.

I suspect that Rouhani’s time in Glasgow would have made him disinclined to believe in the “clash of civilizations” narrative so beloved of the Iranian religious crackpots who seldom venture outside the country. Glasgow has a sizeable Muslim population, and stands as one of Europe’s most successful examples of integration. The story of Glasgow Muslims is more Ae Fond Kiss than My Son The Fanatic. Once you’ve eaten halal haggis at a Burns supper, as I hope Rouhani had the chance to, you see the truth behind the Scots saying: ‘we’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns’ – i.e. we’re not so different. Glasgow is a globally-minded, metropolitan city. The Chancellor of Caledonian Uni is a muslim: the Bangladeshi economist, Muhammad Yunus.

The principles of the Scottish Enlightenment – limited government, individual liberty, faith in the people – pretty much forged the modern world and are much-needed in Iran. I’m not saying that Rouhani is Adam Smith in a headscarf, but he is globally-minded and won after a campaign advocating equal rights for women, free trade (or the lifting of sanctions anyway) and in general limiting the state’s power to interfere in people’s private lives. A 64-year-old academic whose CV says he has published “about 100 books and scientific papers” is less likely to go around shouting “death to Israel” than his rabble-rousing predecessor. Let’s hope the clerics allow Rouhani to deliver what he dangled at election time. These principles of liberty tend to work, wherever they are applied. To paraphrase St Mungo, it’s time to let Iran flourish.

Hat-tip to Norman Lamont, who pointed out Rouhani’s celtic connections in the diary he recently wrote for us. Read it here. This blog is an updated version of one written before the result was finalised. And hat tip to Mark Eglington for the ‘Iran Brew’ caption.

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