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Showdown at Friday prayers in Tehran

Iran watchers are anxiously anticipating Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s upcoming prayer service at Tehran University. Some expect, or hope, the former Iranian president will come out strongly in support of opposition candidate Mir Hossain Mousavi, who has said he will attend along with former President Mohammad Khatami. Kayhan, the mouthpiece for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali ...

Iran watchers are anxiously anticipating Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s upcoming prayer service at Tehran University. Some expect, or hope, the former Iranian president will come out strongly in support of opposition candidate Mir Hossain Mousavi, who has said he will attend along with former President Mohammad Khatami.

Kayhan, the mouthpiece for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has warned Rafsanjani to "avoid supporting the hooligans" — meaning the opposition. We’ll see what happens, but I’m skeptical that Rafsanjani will say anything too daring. After all, the man couldn’t bring himself to stick his neck out when people were taking to the streets of Tehran in the tens of thousands. Why should he do so now, when it looks like the protestors, brave as they are, have been beaten into submission?

One interpretation of the former president’s motives, a version of which Geneive Abdo explains here, is that this is all about Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. He’s only out for No. 1, and is using the reformers to get a leg up on Khamenei. Or, he’s simply in a fight for survival — Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has all but accused him of gross corruption and is clearly out to get him and his family — and is hedging his bets. Either way, it’s clear he’s no reformist himself.

But this could be a defining moment for Rafsanjani. As Carnegie Endowment analyst Karim Sadjadpour puts it, "This Friday is probably the most important speech of his career. He’s nearly 75 years old, and his legacy has always been important to him. If he complains about personal slights and electoral improprieties but submits to the will of the Leader ‘for the sake of the ‘glorious revolution’, history will remember him not only as a crook but also a coward. I’ve learned to have low expectations of the courage and integrity of Iranian officials, and hope that I’ll be pleasantly surprised."

One other interesting aspect of Rafsanjani’s speech will be how the crowd behaves. Mousavi supporters are planning to turn out in large numbers, but so are Ahmadinejad’s people — and it could get ugly. These are not very nice people.

UPDATE: It’s not completely clear from this Reuters account just how assertive Rafsanjani was, but it does look like he called for called for those arrested to be released, called the current situation a "crisis," and said that many Iranians had doubts about the election’s validity.

"Today, we are living bitter conditions due to what happened after the announcement of the election result," he said. "All of us have suffered. We need unity more than anytime else."

The LA Times‘ Barzou Daraghi says that Rafsanjani criticized the Guardian Council, the 12-member body that supervised the elections. But the bottom line seems to be this: "Rafsanjani’s long-awaited sermon neither poured water on the ongoing fire of protests or added fuel to the dispute within the ruling establishment and Iranian society over the election results." Developing…

Tag: Iran

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