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Photo: “Hassan Rouhani in 2020 with face mask,” by خبرگزاری تسنیم licensed under CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International. Hue is modified from the original.

Kermani, Hossein. “Populist discourse and the resulting discontent in hybrid regimes: an examination of Rouhani’s rhetoric in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Political Research Exchange 4, no. 1 (2022): 2081585.


This work is an attempt to fill the academic gap that neglects the close reading of speeches of political leaders in non-democratic societies during the COVID-19 pandemic. To this end, this research focuses on the rhetoric of Hassan Rouhani, the former president of Iran, during the first wave of the COVID-19 crisis. Using the two main rhetorical devices of identification and metaphor, this work analyzes all of Rouhani’s speeches from February 2, 2020, to April 27, 2020. In addition, all speeches by three most powerful clerics in Iran, namely Khamenei, Saeidi, and Alamolhoda, and a sample of tweets by Iranian users (1644 in total) were analyzed to understand the extent to which Rouhani’s rhetoric was successful. The results show that Rouhani articulated a populist discourse during the pandemic. In an attempt to break away from hegemonic discourse, he sought to identify his government, rather than the state, with the people to construct a discursive us. Nevertheless, his rhetoric did not go down well with Iranian Twitter users. This study also analyzes Rouhani’s deft juggling act to woo both the populace and the conservative power centers to satisfy them while trying to distance himself from the latter.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.