Rouhani’s #Iran: Conservatively moderate or moderately conservative?

President-elect Hassan Rouhani

President-elect Hassan Rouhani

Is Hassan Rouhani’s victory, in the words of the Iranian proverb, a stone thrown at the right time and so, much better than gold given at the wrong time?

The foreign chancelleries that have reacted to news reports that the cleric has won 18,613,329 of the 36,704,156 votes cast – or 50.71% of the vote – seem to see Mr Rouhani as a stone thrown at the right time, a blow for change.

The UK Foreign Office has urged Mr Rouhani to “set Iran on a different course for the future”, as well as to address international concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme and improve “the political and human rights situation for the people of Iran”. France has said it is “ready to work” with Iran’s new leader.

There are some grounds for hope that Mr Rouhani is, at least, a pebble if not a stone cast in the right direction. His remarks, in an election debate on June 5, sound as if they might have emerged from the hands-off-social affairs section of the US Republican Party: “Social woes have been on the rise over the past years. I do believe that the only way to resolve these problems is decentralisation. Our problems will not be resolved as long as only the government is in charge of our cultural affairs.”

It’s hard to believe Mr Rouhani would follow Rumi’s exhortation and restore to Iran the “essence of (its) true origin”. After all, moderation in post-Revolution Iran is about different levels of conservatism. But this, from the 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, theologian and Sufi mystic, bears re-reading:

You think of yourself
as a citizen of the universe.
You think you belong
to this world of dust and matter.
Out of this dust
you have created a personal image,
and have forgotten
about the essence of your true origin