Tehran, Iran, Jan. 9
By Mehdi Sepahvand – Trend:
The reform front in Iran is wondering what will happen to their movement now that Ayatollah Akbar Rafsanjani – the sturdiest reform pillar and at the same time a revolution insider – is dead.
Rafsanjani had served as a true companion of now Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other top Islamic Republic figures during the campaigns that led to the Islamic Revolution in 1979. He rose to great esteem in the Islamic Republic by acting as a commander during the war with Iraq in the 1980s, parliament speaker, president-cum-post-war “commander of reconstruction”, chairman of the strategically important Assembly of Experts, and chairman of Expediency Council.
Last year when he failed to become the head of the Assembly of Experts, which is the body in charge of introducing a new leader once a former leader dies, the reform front was taken by much dismay. However, they kept optimistic by feeling Rafsanjani’s presence among them as one who could lay his impact anyway no matter where he formally served. The ayatollah played a key role in the most recent parliamentary elections one year ago, where his favorite list of reformist candidates took all the seats of Tehran in the Parliament.
Now that he has departed, many believe the reform movement is left without a real leader with enough power in Iran’s political system and influence on both right and left wings. The reformists’ icon and former president Mohammad Khatami is secluded as he is banned from media. During the 2009 post-election disturbances the reformists also lost Mehdi Karroubi, a far-left reform-seeking cleric who had fought alongside many right-side figures of the revolution in earlier decades, but had launched the reform wing under the consensus of late Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the 1980s. In the wake of his uncompromising criticism after the disputed election, Karroubi was put under house arrest, which still continues.
But looking back, Rafsanjani cannot be considered an entirely reform-minded politician. At least up to the 2005 presidential election when he faced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a rival during the campaigns, he had moved quite inside the right-wing venue of the Islamic Republic. He was a true supporter of Ayatollah Khamenei right from the time when he backed him up to leadership after Ayatollah Khomeini passed away in 1989.
Rafsanjani’s approach to social affairs was also quite within the right-side tradition, witnessed by his approach to the Islamic hijab, Iranian music, etc. during his presidency, which makes many Iranian citizens of older age doubt his later, sometimes radical, statements as political gestures.
But during the 2005 electoral campaign, people saw a new Rafsanjani who used reformist slogans. Even the fans of then president Khatami rallied behind him, with their iconic stereotypical reform-minded dresses which went straight against what the right-wing thought appropriate for the Islamic society.
It was about that time that people started to hear a new Ayatollah Rafsanjani, who talked much as Khatami did during his eight-year presidency, rather than like what he himself used to do before.
That year Rafsanjani failed and Ahmadinejad took office. During the 2009 electoral campaign, when Ahmadinejad was running for a second term, Rafsanjani backed Mirhossein Mousavi, the figure whom reformists look to as a savior from the harsh days they had seen under Ahmadinejad.
As the ballots chose Ahmadinejad for another term, Rafsanjani grew harsher in tone, especially towards how people who had protested the election result were treated. He went on so far that he was dismissed as Tehran’s interim Friday prayer leader, a post he had been carrying on since the early days after the revolution. He used the podium for his reform-seeking criticism, moving away from the tradition where the Friday prayer sermon had been used for truly right-wing promotion of the revolution’s cause.
Now Iran’s reform movement is facing an upcoming presidential election, to be held in May, and they are missing Rafsanjani so badly. The reform-minded President Hassan Rouhani is expected to run for a second term. He used to enjoy the full support of Rafsanjani, who even walked before him when Rouhani walked to his swear-in stage four years ago. That day when Rouhani was sworn in, one could read victory written on Rafsanjani’s forehead.
Whatever his motives were, many Iranians looked up to Rafsanjani for his political vision and carefulness. However worried the reform wing may be, Rafsanjani himself recently said he will “go back home” with peace of mind now that he has done his job.
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