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Why Rafsanjani is holding back

An interesting report on EurasiaNet.org, written without a byline, alleges that former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is making headway in his attempt to mount a clerical challenge to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: A source familiar with the thinking of decision-makers in state agencies that have strong ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali ...

An interesting report on EurasiaNet.org, written without a byline, alleges that former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is making headway in his attempt to mount a clerical challenge to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei:

A source familiar with the thinking of decision-makers in state agencies that have strong ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there is a sense among hardliners that a shoe is about to drop. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani -- Iran’s savviest political operator and an arch-enemy of Ayatollah Khamenei’s -- has kept out of the public spotlight since the rigged June 12 presidential election triggered the political crisis. The widespread belief is that Rafsanjani has been in the holy city of Qom, working to assemble a religious and political coalition to topple the supreme leader and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"There is great apprehension among people in the supreme leader’s [camp] about what Rafsanjani may pull," said a source in Tehran who is familiar with hardliner thinking. "They [the supreme leader and his supporters] are much more concerned about Rafsanjani than the mass movement on the streets." [...]

An interesting report on EurasiaNet.org, written without a byline, alleges that former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is making headway in his attempt to mount a clerical challenge to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei:

A source familiar with the thinking of decision-makers in state agencies that have strong ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there is a sense among hardliners that a shoe is about to drop. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani — Iran’s savviest political operator and an arch-enemy of Ayatollah Khamenei’s — has kept out of the public spotlight since the rigged June 12 presidential election triggered the political crisis. The widespread belief is that Rafsanjani has been in the holy city of Qom, working to assemble a religious and political coalition to topple the supreme leader and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"There is great apprehension among people in the supreme leader’s [camp] about what Rafsanjani may pull," said a source in Tehran who is familiar with hardliner thinking. "They [the supreme leader and his supporters] are much more concerned about Rafsanjani than the mass movement on the streets." […]

A reformist website, Rooyeh, reported that Rafsanjani already had the support of nearly a majority of the Assembly of Experts, a body that constitutionally has the power to remove Ayatollah Khamenei. The report also indicated that Rafsanjani’s lobbying efforts were continuing to bring more clerics over to his side. Rafsanjani’s aim, the website added, is the establishment of a leadership council, comprising of three or more top religious leaders, to replace the institution of supreme leader. Shortly after it posted the report on Rafsanjani’s efforts to establish a new collective leadership, government officials pulled the plug on Rooyeh.

The article, if the sourcing is solid, builds on analysis by FP contributor Geneive Abdo, who writes:

Given the tools at Khamenei’s disposal, it should be no surprise that during this past week there have been few clerics either permitted or bold enough to express their views on the present crisis. Nevertheless, some are likely working behind the scenes against Ahmadinejad. Clerics such as [dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali] Montazeri oppose the president not only for his repressive policies used against the Iranian people, but because he believes in ideas that theologians view as heretical — such as the return of the hidden imam who will come to Earth after a world war in which Islam is victorious.

We’ll have to see what happens on the street tomorrow and over the next few days, but I would be very surprised if Rafsanjani does pull the trigger at this point. The protests have died down, especially outside Tehran, and the organizers are being rounded up. As Steve Walt says, the security forces show little to no sign of breaking with the regime. Even Mohsen Rezai, one of the losing candidates and a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, is reportedly withdrawing his complaints about fraud. And keep in mind that most Iranians aren’t getting their news from the Internet and Twitter — they’re watching state television that is doing its best to discredit Mousavi and his supporters. And there are signs that the regime is laying the groundwork now for Mousavi’s arrest.

So it strikes me as highly unlikely that Rafsanjani would make his move now, with all the momentum seemingly with the regime. He’s nothing if not a canny political operator. Moreover, it’s worth pointing out that plenty of clerics have opposed the concept of a supreme leader and velayat-e-faqih for a long time now, with little discernable consequence for Khamenei.

One interesting historical footnote. During the Iran-Iraq war, Mousavi and Montazeri were considered among the hardest of the hardliners, and Rafsanjani and Khamenei were considered pragmatists and allies. Now, Mousavi, Montazeri, and Rafsanjani are all seemingly on one side, with Khamenei on the other. But at least for the time being, it seems the supreme leader has the upper hand.

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