Rutgers professor hopes to run for Iranian presidency

Hooshang Amirahmadi wants to run June 14.
Hooshang Amirahmadi wants to run June 14.
Posted: February 05, 2013

Can a Rutgers University professor win over voters in his homeland and be elected the next president of Iran?

Hooshang Amirahmadi, of Rutgers' Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy in New Brunswick, says his candidacy is a serious attempt to build bridges between the Islamic republic and the United States, where he has spent four decades.

But experts call him a long shot at best.

"Who can they find better than me as a peacemaker - someone who understands American language, Iranian language, American culture, Iranian culture, and can go back and forth?" Amirahmadi, 65, of Princeton, asked in a phone interview last week. "I feel like I am the one."

He came to the United States 39 years ago to embark on an academic career that has included stints as director of Rutgers' Center for Middle Eastern Studies and chair of his department.

His views on the Islamist fundamentalist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, his faith in diplomacy as the solution to the most intractable foreign policy problems, and his dual citizenship in Iran and the United States have made him a target of criticism.

Here, he's been called an apologist for terrorists, and in Tehran, the news media have accused him of being a CIA agent, Amirahmadi said.

If he is allowed to run in the June 14 election, he believes he can turn his experiences into a selling point, he said.

Whether that happens is far from assured. In 2005, Amirahmadi's candidacy was rejected by the Guardian Council, the 12-member state governing body that decides whether presidential aspirants would uphold Islamic law.

Amirahmadi, who is on a teaching sabbatical at Rutgers, said he was running more seriously this time, and "counting on the rationalism and practicality" of the Guardian Council, which he says now faces greater international scrutiny.

Daniel Brumberg, an expert on political reform in the Middle East who is an associate professor of government at Georgetown University, questioned how seriously Amirahmadi's bid would be taken. His outsider status makes his relevance in Iran "very limited," Brumberg said.

Suzanne Maloney, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, agreed.

"There is absolutely no possibility he will be permitted to run by the Guardian Council," said Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings' Saban Center for Middle East Policy. The governing body will be unable to overlook Amirahmadi's four decades in the United States, she said.

But Amirahmadi says things have changed since he last tried to run.

"Islamic leaders are not suicidal, they are survivors," he said, suggesting his election would ease tensions with the West. "I hope they see me as someone who is trying to help and this time around they will not write me out."

A Rutgers University spokesman said the school had no comment on Amirahmadi's political plans.


Contact Jonathan Lai at 856-779-3220, jlai@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @elaijuh.

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