In a seemingly quixotic quest, an East Bay businessman who is a dual Iranian and U.S. citizen has thrown his hat into the ring to be Iran’s next president.
Kazem Sadati, also known as Matt Sadati, 61, lives in Martinez and owns a business brokerage company, Liberty Business Advisors, in Walnut Creek.
He is one of 686 people who registered with the Interior Ministry in Tehran last week to be candidates to succeed termed-out President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“It’s exciting,” Sadati said Monday in a telephone interview from Tehran.
He said of the hour-long registration process, “It was cordial, it was very open.” The next step is for Iran’s conservative Guardian Council to vet the candidates and, by May 23, choose a small number of them — possibly between 10 and 20 — to run in the June 14 election.
Sadati said that if selected as a candidate, he will offer his business skills to help Iran’s economy and create jobs, and his knowledge of the two countries to improve relations between Iran and the United States.
“The two countries shouldn’t be in the position they’re in. They’ve been friends for a long time,” he said.
Three Bay Area professors, however, said Sadati faces insurmountable odds.
“The Iranian election is so complex that there is no chance that a dual American-Iranian citizen could get elected,” said Shahin Gerami, associate director of Persian studies at San Jose State University.
Stanford University Iranian Studies Director Abbas Milani noted that at least one other dual citizen from the United States has registered to be a candidate. He is Hooshang Amirahmadi, a Rutgers University public policy professor who founded the educational American Iranian Council.
Milani said that while Amirahmadi is better known than Sadati, “I don’t think either of them has any chance at all.” “It borders on the absurd,” he said.
Stephen Zunes, chair of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco, said, “Even Iranians who are opposed to the regime are still very nationalistic and they would be suspicious of anyone who is a dual citizen.”
Nevertheless, Sadati believes he has a shot. “I think that if I am given an opportunity for people to listen to me, I have a much better idea and program than the other candidates,” Sadati said.
He said that because of his background as an entrepreneur, he could help the economy and create jobs.
Additionally, he said, “I understand both countries and I can read between the lines politically of both countries. I can reduce the tensions.”
Born and raised in Tehran, Sadati came to the Bay Area in 1970 at age 18 on a student visa. His father, who had an electronic parts import business, encouraged his children to get an education and study abroad, said Sadati’s sister, Lili Santoso of Antioch.
After studying English, Sadati earned an associate degree from Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill and graduated from San Francisco State University with an engineering degree in 1975. He became an American citizen that same year. Later, in 2000, he got a law degree from John F. Kennedy University in Walnut Creek.
Sadati said he worked at and owned a variety of businesses, including in manufacturing, the restaurant industry, real estate, gas stations and retail stores, before establishing Liberty Business Advisors, which acts as a go-between for people buying and selling businesses.
Sadati’s volunteer projects have included raising money to build schools for women and girls in Afghanistan, co-founding the Oakland-based Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California and helping to establish a hospital in Iran for patients with multiple sclerosis.
Pittsburg Mayor Nancy Parent said she knows Sadati from both his business ventures in Contra Costa County and his charitable work. “He’s been a very astute businessman and he’s an upstanding member of the community,” Parent said.
Islamic Cultural Center office manager Azita Sayyah said Sadati “tried to bring in a lot of culture and a lot of humanitarianism” to the center. “He saw the center as a good source to reach out and educate people about the art and music of their culture and about humanitarian work.
He was active in creating schools in Afghanistan,” Sayyah said. Budd MacKenzie, a Lafayette lawyer and longtime friend of Sadati, said, “He’s a religious person. He feels strongly that it’s imperative to help people.” The 12-member Guardian Council now vetting the candidates has been shaped by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has held the powerful post since the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989.
As supreme leader, Khamenei directly appoints six Muslim clergymen to the council. The other six members are lawyers who are approved by the Iranian Parliament after being recommended by the head of the judicial branch, who is appointed by Khamenei.
Milani said he expects the council’s selection of candidates to be based on “which are Islamic enough and have enough allegiance to the regime and the spiritual leader.” “It’s not an open process,” Milani asserted.
If no candidate receives a 50 percent majority in the June 14 election, there will be a runoff on June 21. Sadati said that even if he doesn’t get selected as a candidate, his efforts will have been worthwhile. “If you want something, you have to stand and claim it. You have to let your voice be heard,” he said.
“I really believe I’m doing the right thing for both countries,” Sadati said.
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