Iran’s new President Hassan Rohani (Photo: Mojtaba Salimi/Wikimedia Commons)
Iran’s electorate has done America’s TV anchors a big favor by voting out a leader whose name they could not pronounce and replacing him with someone whose name they can.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been replaced by Hassan Rohani. I like to think that Hassan Rohani might be easier for them to get their lips around. I do not want to trivialize the deeply adversarial relationship between Iran and America by reducing it to how easy or hard it is to pronounce Iranian names. But it sure helps that Americans can say his name without having to do a doctorate in linguistics.
For those of you who care for such things Rohani is essentially ruhani which in Farsi means spiritual. It flows from the word Ruh meaning spirit. If there is spiritualism in his name, it may not be too ambitious to presume that there is some in him too. There is some disagreement in the international media about the way his name is spelt. Some spell his last name as Rouhani while others Rowhani. For me personally Ruhani is the closest to its original meaning. However, I am going with the spelling used by the official website of the Iranian president.
So if they anchors can say his name, I suppose Washington can do business with him. The new leader, with a reputation for moderation despite being a cleric, has already signaled a change of mood by saying that he would “follow the path of moderation.” He has also spoken in terms of more openness about Iran’s nuclear program even while asserting its right to continue its uranium enrichment program.
Rohani has wasted no time in letting all concerned know that he is going to be fundamentally different from Ahmadinejad. He may be opening a door for the West in general and the United States in particular to explore a negotiated agreement over Iran’s nuclear program and possibly end sanctions which have hit the country rather hard.
He will have to balance the uncompromising nationalist/religious forces represented by the Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the all powerful Revolutionary Guard on the one hand and the reformist/pragmatist constituency that turned out in large numbers to vote for him on the other. There is no reason to think that he would fail just as there is no reason to think that he would succeed.
India, which has been a civilizational friend of Iran’s, has a great opportunity to engage Rohani early on and ensure that its stake in the region remains unshaken. The only major power in Asia and pretty much around the world with which Iran enjoys strong cultural ties is India. Farsi words are routinely used in many Indian languages. In this particular context, I can think one instantly. It is ruh-ba-ruh meaning personally or, more literally, heart to heart. That there is ruh in Rohani’s name should count for something.
It is unlikely that you would find an analysis of the Iranian leader’s last name elsewhere and put in the larger diplomatic context. But that’s what I do. I do different.
There is nothing to prevent Rohani from transforming his nation from a global pariah to a truly refined and creative civilization that it has been for a long time. All that he needs to do is to be more self-aware of his own last name.