15 DECEMBER 2013


"Long is the path and I am a new traveler."

The line by 14th century Sufi poet Hafiz, who was raised in the Persian town of Shiraz, added a spiritual edge to an impressive video by new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. It reflects a blend of new media with old culture, an artistic emotional presentation of "the compassionate message of Islam and the rational face of Iran."

Some American media compared it to President Obama's video during the 2008 campaign -- "Yes, we can." Except for the partial use of a speech in a video, there are great differences. Where President Obama was presenting himself through supporters, President Rouhani was presenting Iran through the variety yet unison of its population. The use of Arabic, Kurdish and Belushi, like the involvement of young and old women and men, including handicapped reflected an appeal to "stop talking and step into the path." While candidate Obama used liberally and literally Gandhi's wisdom -- without mentioning appropriate credit -- the Iranian President invoked a revered compatriot in mobilizing for cultured unity while pointing to challenges ahead. "Oh holy bird, make thy blessings the guide of his path" was recited in enchanting unison.

"A new traveler," President Rouhani hails from one of the oldest cultures. While confidentially seeking understanding in his new role, he could draw on 5,000 years of political survival. With or without YouTube videos, that modest looking man with a simple robe, earnest gaze and simple smile could be reshaping a surprisingly new Middle East.