Hossein Fereidoun; The Passions of the Soul(-mate)

05 July 2016 | 15:36 Code : 1960883 Who’s Who in Iranian Politics General category
Hassan Rouhani’s very special brother has become a target for non-stop fire coming from the moderate President’s principlist rivals.
Hossein Fereidoun; The Passions of the Soul(-mate)

Hesam Emami


Soon after President Hassan Rouhani took office, his omnipresent special aide was given an extra seat in the nuclear talks beside Mohammad-Javad Zarif and his team of negotiators in September 2013. His mission then was to directly report details of the talks on the phone to his older President brother, in Sorkhei, the distinct vernacular of Rouhani’s hometown of Sorkheh, so alien even to Persian speakers it has been be used for double-coding radio communications in the fronts of the Iraqi-imposed war. Later, as the “eyes and ears” of Hassan Rouhani, his younger brother Hossein Fereidoun, made it a habit to frequent the talks, this man of many parts turned more and more heads. Iranian foreign ministry officials said Fereidoun was attending the talks upon the request of Mr. Zarif, who was unable to shuttle between Tehran and mostly European cities that hosted the talks. While domestic media outlets raised questions about Fereidoun’s legal status, foreign interpreters saw it as an emblem of Iran’s serious approach to the talks. In spite of domestic objections, he became an indispensable part of the talks, later thanked by US Secretary of State John Kerry for his role in the unprecedented prisoner swap between Iran and the US on the JCPOA implementation day.


In fact, the principlist camp, more so its hardline division, the Paydari front, has put a long-run process in place to demonize him and the fire coming from them has seen an incremental trend more recently. Early in 2015, Hamid Rasaee accused “H. F.” of receiving 50 billion rials in aid during Rouhani’s presidential campaign from Iranian tycoon Babak Zanjani who is now imprisoned over what has come to be known as the ‘three thousand billion toman embezzlement’. Allegations were denied in a harsh tone. Other episodes involved the so-called corrupt mafia of Hinduja Group, allegedly linked with Rouhani’s administration, all of a sudden invoked days before the parliamentary election in late February.  Alireza Zakani, a former MP at the center of the ‘Report of a Catastrophe’, went so far as to directly urge Mr. Rouhani, ‘who insists on fighting corruption’, to say what his brother, Hossein Fereidoun, was doing in the country. Other members of the ninth parliament, including Javad Karimi Ghodoussi and Elias Naderan, have either blown the whistle on Fereidoun over financial allegations or threatened to do so. In the latest of a series of attacks, Zakani has once again spoken out about Fereidoun’s role in multimillion-Dirham interest-free loans by foreign branches of Iranian banks to a number of bank debtors. This comes in the wake of a scandal over unconventional pay checks hitting online, dubbed as the Fishgate (fish meaning slip in Persian), still victimizing senior officials especially in the country’s banking system, including those in the National Development Fund who resigned en masse. Following Refah bank CEO Ali Sedghi’s substitution over the scandal, Justice Nasser Seraj, director of Iran’s General Inspection Office, told reporters that Sedghi’s appointment came as the result of Fereidoun’s pressures and lobbies, despite his being informed of the former’s record of financial corruptions, now apparently under investigation. Also resurfacing are yet unverified documents showing Fereidoun has partnered a bureau de change with Sedghi in 2012, when the Iranian rial crashed, providing ‘profiteers of sanctions’, generally supposed to be privileged principlists, with enormous financial gains over the increasingly widening exchange rates.


Even before these attacks peaked, Fereidoun had his own “major occultation”, in the words of reform-oriented daily Aftab-e-Yazd. Back in May, the daily reported that Fereidoun, who was always literally shoulder to shoulder with his brother, had disappeared from the public’s eye for at least two months. Unverified rumors at the time had it that Rouhani was advised on behalf of the Supreme Leader to discharge his brother of administrative responsibilities and the President refused. The rumors seemed more a typical mental residue of what Ahmadinejad did over his main man Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, known as his ‘eleven-day tantrum’ during which he reportedly did not appear in his presidential office on Tehran’s Pasteur Street. As his absence stretched, it was even rumored that Fereidoun was arrested, a report that was soon dismissed by judiciary officials and later by him.


On the other hand, what might also have infuriated the principlists, besides foreign ties and much-doubted financial corruptions, is Fereidoun’s undeclared duty as a fill-in for Rouhani on occasions and places he cannot show up. He has visited dissident leaders under house arrest in hospitals, to send the President’s regards. Pretty recently, a photo of him emerged in the company of the recently-released reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh who had spent seven years in prison since the disputed 2009 presidential election over charges of assembly and collusion against national security and propaganda against the regime. When pushed to apologize, Fereidoun said the visit was not planned.


Employing brothers as assistants has a long history among the presidents of the Islamic Republic. All the three predecessors of Rouhani have done more or less the same. Early in the 2000s, when the then President Mohammad Khatami appointed his brother as his bureau chief, the Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hailed the move, saying he had recommended the appointment to Khatami and similarly to his predecessor Hashemi Rafsanjani. “One should appoint his closest individuals, in the sense of confidence and intimacy, for inspection to see what is [really] going on so that you have extra information when a report comes in from the usual channels,” he said.


Despite all efforts to elicit non-denial denials from him, Fereidoun has shrugged off nearly all accusations from rivals of the moderate administration led by his brother. However, the President’s alter ego has arguably turned into an easy target for the administration’s hawkish opponents. It may be time Rouhani stopped remaining aloof and weighed the pros and cons of having him by his side. Given the domestic nature of most criticisms and the junior brother’s background in diplomacy, years on mission as Iran’s ambassador in Malaysia and as a member of the Iranian delegation to the UN, the administration may be better off with him on a mission to a European capital, trying to strengthen the nuclear deal, which is yet to bear fruit for the country’s economy.

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