The presence of Ali Fallahian, the feared former intelligence minister of Iran, at a conference in celebration of president-elect Hassan Rouhani’s campaign staff has sparked controversy in Iranian media, prompting those close to Rouhani to deny that Fallahian was ever invited.
Fallahian, who has been linked to the notorious “Chain Murders” of Iranian dissidents and intellectuals and is wanted by Interpol for involvement in the bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, was Iran’s minister of intelligence from 1989-1997 under then-president Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Pictures of Fallahian sitting in the front row just four seats from Rouhani at the conference circulated widely in domestic Iranian media and caused strong reactions on social media. Hard-line Mashregh’s coverage of the story was simply two pictures from the meeting: one of Rouhani staring down Fallahian (above) and the other of the two men standing close to one another.
A Facebook page claiming to represent Rouhani’s campaign staff wrote that Fallahian “arrived with his security detail without an invitation. His presence surprised and upset Dr. Rouhani and his advisers more than anyone else. He was asked many times that if he insists on attending the meeting, he should sit in the back row because the front row is reserved for Rouhani’s advisers and supporters. But Fallahian only responded that ‘I’m fine here.’ Naturally, the individual didn’t have the status to get entangled with Fallahian, especially given what his known about his security team.”
Entekhab, which strongly supported Rouhani’s run for the presidency, said that “an informed source” denied that Rouhani’s campaign staff had an official Facebook page. Instead, the source told them, “Fallahian requested to attend the meeting and was subsequently sent an invitation.” Fallahian’s son, Ebrahim Fallahian, also said that Fallahian was “officially invited” and that Rouhani even “appreciated” his presence.
Hard-line Afkar News believes that this story has gained so much traction because “Reformists have so much uncertainty regarding Rouhani.” Rouhani’s victory was due in large part to the support he received from Reformists, especially former Reformist president Mohammad Khatami. It is expected that Rouhani will offer Mohammad Reza Aref, the only Reformist candidate who withdrew in favor of Rouhani, to be appointed vice president. Rouhani said that he would work with both moderate Reformists and Principilists, but there has been much speculation and worry over how his cabinet will be divided.
Afkar, which seemed to suggest that the Refomists’ plan of supporting a moderate with close ties to conservatives could backfire, wrote, “Rouhani is not a Reformist. This is known pretty much by all Reformists, whether they admit it to themselves and count it as a weakness or if they prefer not to bring it up until Rouhani forms his cabinet without side issues.”
“Fallahian’s presence at Rouhani’s conference is the first shock to the Reformists since the elections,” read the Afkar article. “Even though Rouhani’s campaign staff answered for this, it provoked great sensitivity in the hearts of those who voted for Rouhani. Someone like Rouhani knows well that even poor planning can cause irreparable injury to the favored president-elect of the Reformists, an injury that Rouhani must consider in the hard days ahead which no side can yet comprehend.”