August 11, 2020
Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a member of parliament for Qom who also sits on the parliamentary board, claimed in a tweet on July 18 that President Hassan Rouhani dislikes and even fears Qom. “Hassan Rouhani did not have a good financial situation in Qom before the  Revolution,” the MP said, “but now he lives in the best place in Tehran.”
Where did Hassan Rouhani come from? IranWire looks at Rouhani’s background and tests Farahani’s claim.
Hassan Rouhani Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution
Hassan Fereydoun, who later changed his name to Rouhani and for some time ascended the pulpit as a cleric under the pseudonym of Eslami, was born on November 12, 1948 in the village of Sorkheh in Semnan. Rouhani’s grandfather was a cleric. But his father could not follow the same path due to poverty, and so he went into business and opened a small grocery store in the village. His mother was a housewife. Hassan Rouhani stayed in Sorkheh until he finished sixth grade and helped his father by studying agriculture and grocery-selling. He then went to Semnan to study at the seminary and, a year later, at the age of 13, in 1961, Rouhani left for Qom and settled in a room belonging to the Alavi school.
Rouhani with his father
Rouhani once spoke of his move to Qom. “My father told me in early September 1961 to get ready to go to Qom in a few days,” he said. “My parents provided me with the means to go to Qom. My living supplies were a mattress, a quilt, some clothes, dishes and books, all of which I packed up and got ready.”
Rouhani added: “Like most students, I was in a dire financial situation. The total value of all the means of subsistence I had at that time [1961-62] did not exceed a hundred tomans and due to financial difficulties, like most students, I did not have a comfortable life. I could not even prepare hot food on average more than once every 48 hours. I had to wear one set of clothes for several years, and the possibility of traveling and leisure was none or rare for 11 years.”
Rouhani joined the revolutionary movement in Qom in 1961, at the age of 15, and traveled from city to city to give speeches. So it was natural that he was not in a good financial situation as his only income was his low seminary allowance. He remained in Qom until 1968. The only property he owned in the city was an unfinished house, where he never lived. Rouhani then attended the Faculty of Law at the University of Tehran in 1969. And at the age of 20, Hassan Rouhani married one of his relatives, a Ms. Arabi, at the suggestion of his family.
Rouhani first lived in a rented room in Tehran. He writes in his memoirs about the experience: “In the middle of 1971, our first child [Zahra] was born, yet we lived in the same small room. The main problem, however, was that if a guest came to our house, it would be very difficult to host them, so family members or friends who came to see me from the city would see our situation and never stayed the night. The situation continued until March 1972, when one of my friends, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyed Reza Akrami, who was a preacher in Tehran [after the victory of the revolution, he became a member of parliament for four terms] managed to buy a house in an alley near our residence. After buying the house, he offered to rent me the ground floor, which had two rooms. Renting the floor was not possible on a hundred tomans, and since I could not pay more than that for rent, I thought of taking out a mortgage. For this purpose, I sold the half-finished house that I had previously bought for 10,000 tomans in Qom for 11,000 tomans, and borrowed 9,000 tomans from friends, and by paying 20,000 tomans to Mr. Akrami, I mortgaged the ground floor of his house for a year. We [later] moved there and lived there for a year and a half. My second child, Mansoureh, who was about a year older than my first child, was born at that time. The advantage of Mr. Akrami’s house was that in addition to two rooms, it also had a kitchen and a bathroom.”
Savak [the Shah’s intelligence organization] documents from that time give the address of Hassan Rouhani’s residence in Tehran as: “Farahabad Jaleh, Sad-Dastgah, Farzaneh Street, Behesht-e Aein Alley, No. 2673.”
After graduating from the University of Tehran, Rouhani remained in the pulpit and preached for the revolution until he was finally forced to leave Iran and join Ayatollah Khomeini in France. At no point before the revolution did he have a steady job or business. Rouhani himself claims that his life was financially difficult at this time.
Hassan Rouhani After the Revolution
The life of Hassan Rouhani, like most early politicians of the Islamic Republic, changed radically after the revolution. He was no longer just a militant and revolutionary student whose only job was teaching and preaching at the pulpit. He took on not just one new administrative position but several – in fact he always received the highest salaries and benefits in the new government. Five terms of parliament membership, membership to the parliament board, secretary and chairman of the Supreme National Security Council, and president are positions that would transform the financial situation of almost anyone.
From the beginning of the republic, it was common practice to redistribute confiscated official homes among the new officials. In the years before the revolution, revolutionaries had to pay for their housing out of their own pockets; in the aftermath, when the revolution overthrew the Shah, the new military, governmental and parliamentary bodies took over state residences and gave them to the revolutionary elites.
Hassan Rouhani benefitted from this. His work in the ideological and political sections of the armed forces and the Iranian parliament meant that he had access official housing options from the first year following the victory of the revolution.
Tasnim News Agency published a document on May 12, 2017 that showed that Hassan Rouhani bought a 790-square-meter villa in Shahrak-e Gharb, Tehran, in 1989. According to the information contained in the document, Hassan Rouhani lived in a house in the Narmak neighborhood of Tehran that year. His address was listed as: “Tehran, Narmak Square, 72nd Square, corner of 8th Alley, No. 10-2.”
Five years later, in 1994, with the help of Gholamhossein Karbaschi, the then mayor of Tehran, Rouhani became the owner of another villa in Velenjak, Tehran, and still lives in that house. The Urban Title reported on Rouhani’s 500-square-meter villa in Velenjak: “Mr. Kouchak Yazdi bought a plot of land in Velenjak, Kambiz Street [current name Sarollah] in 1971. In 1994, the then mayor of Tehran, Gholam Hossein Karbaschi, referred to him and announced that one of his plots of land was suitable for the construction of a house for Hassan Rouhani [then secretary of the Supreme National Security Council] and asked him to sell his plot. With the agreement of Mr. Kouchak Yazdi and the municipality, the municipality purchased 500 meters of his land on the main street of Kambiz for Rouhani. The price of the transaction was 3.5 billion rials [$17,500], and as the seller of the land says, the municipality of Tehran would pay the amount in accordance with density permit sales. The agreement between the seller and the municipality was that the municipality would pay the price of the transaction in several stages by selling density permits, which eventually ended up in the payment of 300 million tomans [$15,000] to the seller and practically not having to pay 50 million tomans (one-seventh) of the price of land.
As Kouchak Yazdi says, after the purchase, the municipality added a floor to the building and handed it over to Rouhani. This is where the official title of the 500-meter villa in Velenjak is registered in the name of Mr. Rouhani’s daughters, and where the Rouhani family lives next door to Mr. Kouchak Yazdi.
This is the house that presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf also mentioned in a televised debate, which Hassan Rouhani endorsed, and described how it was owned: “If I had one more house in Tehran, let it all be yours. If there is a violation somewhere, you should follow up on that violation and complain about it. You also know how the land was acquired and you are aware of what was given to the owner in return; but now you are presenting it in a different way.”
Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a member of the board of the Iranian parliament, in his tweets about Rouhani’s aversion to Qom, said: “Hassan Rouhani did not have a good financial situation in Qom before the revolution, but now he lives in the best place in Tehran.”
The results of studies show that Hassan Rouhani goes to Qom to study seminary sciences from a low-income family in a village around the city of Semnan, where he lived in absolute poverty, and as he says he had only one hot meal to eat every 48 hours. As long as he was in Qom, he owned nothing but a half-finished house. In 1969, he went to the capital to study at the University of Tehran, and while he was married and had a child, he lived in a rented room. With the victory of the revolution, he gradually became the owner of a larger property. In 1989, while he owned a house in Narmak, Tehran, he bought a house with an area of 790 square meters in Shahrak-e Gharb, and in 1994, he owned a house with an area of 500 square meters in Velenjak, Tehran, and settled there; a house whose value today is over 65 billion tomans [US$3.25 million]. These are all of the assets of Hassan Rouhani that have been published in the media so far, while his assets could be more than what the media has revealed.
IranWire gives Farahani’s claim the benefit of the doubt – but then many politicians of the Islamic Republic were impoverished clerics before the Revolution and have since benefited from its victory.