An ayatollah called yesterday for the education commission of Iran’s parliament to investigate the thesis, a chapter of which he said was copied and translated from one of his own books.
The row was triggered by an Iranian student in the US, who this week posted online a claim that he had “found” the President’s Glasgow Caledonian University thesis and run it through plagiarism detection software.
The student, Kayvan Ibrahimi, had made previous accusations about the thesis, but there was a lack of evidence to support his claims.
Glasgow Caledonian yesterday said it had never been provided with any “substantive evidence” of plagiarism, and passages originally claimed to have been stolen hadbeen acknowledged in the thesis’s footnotes.
On this occasion, the allegations have been reported by state news agencies.
Analysts said the agencies had almost certainly been encouraged by Mr Rouhani’s rivals to discredit him a week before he seeks re-election in the first round of what is expected to be a tightly fought contest. Mr Rouhani’s support base among the urban professional classes is likely to be most influenced by claims of academic fraud.
“It’s hard to know how this will play out,” said one Iranian analyst, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue. “It could affect the result big time.”
The initial accusations surfaced when Mr Rouhani was elected in 2013. The contested thesis, The flexibility of sharia (Islamic law) with reference to the Iranian experience, earned him a PhD in 1999, though it was never clear whether he actually spent time in Glasgow or completed it by distance learning. Domestic critics allege he does not speak English well enough to have genuinely earned a British degree.
The ayatollah, Ali-Akbar Kalantari, told Fars News Agency that 80 per cent of his book had been copied. “As you are well aware, this is in contradiction with morality and sharia as well as legal and scientific codes of conduct,” he said. “I ask the respected (education) commission to urgently investigate this matter and restore my rights.”
Before the scandal broke, Mr Rouhani was expected to win the first round of voting but face a run-off. In 2013 he won outright in the first round.