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Holy cow or poor cousin: On arrest of the Iranian president’s brother

Hossein Fereydoun, Hassan Rouhani’s younger brother. Photo: azattyq.org

The recent arrest of the Iranian President’s brother, Hossein Fereydoun, has become breaking news in Iran. Some experts expect this to turn into a big ordeal for the newly re-elected Hassan Rouhani. The Iranians were shocked and even Fereydoun’s subsequent hospitalization and release were unable to calm them down. Sure thing! It was not just an ordinary man but the President’s brother.

The arrest was not something unexpected though. The Iranian political elite had long suspected Fereydoun of being corrupted. In Jan 2017, conservative MP Alireza Zakari advised Hassan Rouhani to look at his own brother before starting the campaign to fight corruption. During the same month, as many as 46 Iranian MPs urged Rouhani to initiate an investigation concerning his brother. During the presidential race, Rouhani’s rivals laid lots of charges against Fereydoun. And even though Rouhani won the race with 57% of the votes, the charges are still there.

During the race, Fereydoun disappeared. Always by his brother’s side before the elections, he was seldom seen near him during the campaign. Some sources even claimed that he might have been sent to some state as an ambassador. On May 23, Raja News published an article accusing Fereydoun of foreign exchange machinations under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and abuse of office under his brother, Hassan Rouhani. On May 9, Saham News hinted that Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei was Fereydoun’s enemy. The arrest confirmed this as it would not be possible without Khamenei’s consent. So, the current events are not a conflict of the President and the judiciary (as most source claim) but a conflict of the Reformists and the Conservatives.

It is hard to say if Fereydoun is guilty or not. But it is clear that Rouhani’s opponents are firm in their wish to demonize his brother and to remove him from the political arena. As Rouhani’s advisor, Fereydoun is not accountable to the Majlis and only the judiciary can tame him.

The charges laid against Fereydoun say that he has helped some public servants to get higher wages and has interfered in the affairs of the Mellat and Refah banks. These reports have thrown a shadow on Rouhani’s commitment to fight corruption. And this may cause the president serious problems – especially as the lifting of the anti-Iranian sanctions is not giving the results most of the Iranians expected. But Rouhani has a chance to turn the Conservatives’ campaign into his own advantage. For this purpose, he will have to organize a fair investigation. If Fereydoun is actually guilty and Rouhani punishes him, his popularity will soar. None of his predecessors have done anything like this. This will be something comparable to what Lee Kuan Yew did in Singapore. But will Rouhani have enough political will and courage to do such a thing? If he does this, he will knock the Conservatives down. But the question is if Iran’s political system is ready for such a popular leader. The investigation may give answers to these questions. The key point now is to find out if Fereydoun is guilty enough for being used as a holy cow. For the time being, he has been released for a bale of $15.3 million.

Anton Yevstratov, specially for EADaily

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