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Rafsanjani’s Sermon, Split in the Leadership

July 17, 2009

Today’s much anticipated Friday prayer ceremony was held at Tehran University. Crowds of people, some who could not get inside, jammed the streets outside and around the university. The leader of the prayer was former president and powerful politician Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. As promised, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, the two reformist candidates in the June 12, 2009 presidential election, also participated in the prayer, along with tens of thousands of people. Eye witnesses told the author that this was the largest Friday prayer since the first public Friday prayer was held 30 years ago under the leadership of the late Ayatollah Sayyed Mahmoud Taleghani, a progressive cleric who was immensely popular, and played a leading role in the 1979 Revolution. (Ayatollah Taleghani passed away in September 1979.)

Although Rafsanjani delivered his two sermons seemingly in the framework of unifying the nation, it was unmistakeably highly critical of the hard-liners. Even when he was talking about unity among people, he was implicitly critical of the hard-liners. Practically everything that he said was contrary to the official propaganda; he even peppered his sermons with examples of how Prophet Muhammad and Imam Ali [Shiites’ first Imam and a highly revered figure] acted in times of crisis, to contrast them with how the hard-liners are handling things now.

He reminded the hard-liners of what the holy Quran said about Prophet Muhammad:

He [the Prophet] is one of you [the people]. He is so kind that if you feel any hardship, he suffers as well, and shares in your sadness and happiness. Another of his characteristics is that he is after protecting your interests and happiness, and has a heart full of kindness for the Muslim people.

This was seemingly a response to what the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in his June 19 Friday prayer sermon, when he warned, “If you [the people] demonstrate and get killed, you are responsible for your blood being spilled.” In another part of his first sermon, Rafsanjani said,

The Prophet dealt with injustice and oppression against people, [he did] not [use] power against them. It was due to this [behavior] that people were loyal to him and helped him run society and stood against the enemies [with him]. The important work of the Prophet was creating unity and kindness among the people.

These were clear references to the harsh crackdown on those protesting the rigged election. He was pointing out that a political system that claims to be Islamic and a follower of the Prophet’s teachings, has not treated people with the same kindness that the Prophet did, and that if the government wants the loyalty of the people, it should treat them with kindness and respect.

When Rafsanjani spoke of the killing of Chinese Muslims by non-Muslims and the Chinese security forces, the crowd began chanting, “Death to China.” This was a clear rebuke to the official position of the Iranian government that the Chinese Muslims had been provoked by foreign agents (which is why the government has not condemned the crackdown on Chinese Muslims). Rafsanjani used the chanting to remind people what was going on:

For the reasons that you are well aware of, and due to the special circumstances in the streets around the University of Tehran, I ask you not to chant slogans.

This was a clear reference to the presence of thousands of security forces around the university.

He then began talking about the elections:

In the just concluded elections we began very well, with good competition [between the candidates]. The four candidates who had been vetted and approved by the Guardian Council competed, people were hopeful that the elections would be free, and the turnout was unprecedented. Under those conditions everything was ready for the creation of an incredible honor which would have belonged to the Iranian nation [due to the huge turnout]. We must thank them for participating freely in the elections. But, I wish those conditions [people’s hope and satisfaction with the election process before and after the vote] had continued to date, which would have made us the proudest in the world; but things did not happen the way we wanted them to.

He then asked, rhetorically,

What do we want? What does the Islamic Revolution want? You are hearing these from someone [Rafsanjani] who has helped the Revolution even before the time when the Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] led the Revolution. I am talking about 60 years [of my 75 years of life]. We know what the Imam’s thinking was: He said what I want is what the people want, and we should do our utmost to attract people.

He then said that Ayatollah Khomeini was not opposed to competition between various political groups and parties, and that,

His thinking [not opposing the competition among groups] was the same as the Prophet’s belief that people should participate in the affairs of the state willfully and by their own decision, and it was the Imam’s great accomplishment that he could achieve this [convincing people that they should participate in the affairs of the state]. [Thus,] People became so well informed that the streets that are now full of followers of the Imam could overthrow the arrogant and proud Pahlavi [regime] that was being helped at that time by the reactionary forces both in the East and the West, and because of the high price of oil and the wealth that it had accumulated [it had thought that it could do anything].

Rafsanjani, therefore, reminded the hard-liners that, although they control the resources of the state, that cannot prevent their downfall if they continue down this path, just as even the Shah, who was supported by world’s powers, was overthrown by the people. He then declared that,

The religious basis of Imam’s [thinking] was the idea that an Islamic government cannot be founded without people’s participation, and if people are not satisfied [with the political establishment], the government will not be Islamic.

Hence, he directly challenged the legitimacy of the government.

Rafsanjani then reminded them what had happened right after the Revolution — and how Ayatollah Khomeini believed that all officials must be elected by the people:

In appointing [Mahdi] Bazargan as the first prime minister after the revolution, and in the appointment order that I [Rafsanjani] read [at that time], the Imam emphasized that the Revolutionary Council [that had been formed secretly on the order of Ayatollah Khomeini during the Revolution to lead the Revolution and lay the foundation for the post-revolutionary era] should serve only for a short time. The Constitution must be drafted and ratified quickly, and it [the Constitution] must specify that the basis for everything is people’s vote, from the Supreme Leader who is elected through the people’s vote for the members of the Assembly of Experts [that appoints the Leader], to the president, the Majles [parliament] deputies, city councils, and any other officials; they must all rely on people’s vote.

He then declared that without the republican side of the political establishment that gives the people the right to vote and elect officials, the political system will have no legitimacy:

The Islamic Republic is not just a formality and superficial [to which people responded by chanting slogans in support of Rafsanjani]; it is a reality that has its roots in the Prophet’s thinking. The Islamic and republican aspects must always be together. If any one of them is damaged, the Revolution will be dead. If the system is not Islamic, we will take the wrong path, but if the republicanism does not exist, the government will not be able to achieve any of its goals [and, hence, will have no legitimacy].

Rafsanjani then analyzed what had happened:

The roots of some of the problems go back to what happened right before the election. Doubts developed in some people’s mind, the seeds of which I believe were sowed due to some of the wrong things that the Voice and Visage [Iran’s national radio and television network, controlled by the hard-liners] did. I believe that a solution should be found for this problem [the bias that the national radio and television network demonstrates against the reformist candidates], which I believe is possible.

Rafsanjani was referring to the fact that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was given a free hand in making allegations and accusations against all of his opponents, and was even granted extra rebuttal time on national television on the eve of the election, which was even declared illegal by Ghorban Ali Dorri Najafabadi, the Chief Justice, who is normally an ally of the conservatives.

He then outlined his proposal for getting the country out of what he called a crisis. He made it clear that his proposal is the result of his consultation with the Assembly of Experts, as well as with the Expediency Council (a Constitutional body that arbitrates between the Guardian Council and the Majles, and acts as the consultation organ of the Supreme Leader) and, therefore, has the backing of two powerful organs. He declared that the Guardian Council did not use the five-day extension that the Supreme Leader had granted it [to investigate the fraud in the election] fruitfully. His proposal contained the following elements:

  1. The government should act in a way that people’s trust in it, which has been destroyed, is restored [he did not, however, specify how].
  2. Everyone and every organ, whether it is the political establishment, or the government, the Majles, the security forces, or the protesters, should act lawfully. Even those who are not happy with the present laws must try [peacefully] to modify the laws.
  3. An environment must be created in which all sides can express their opinion peacefully and without fighting or fear [hence, supporting peaceful demonstrations]. The means of mass communication, especially the Voice and Visage, should act effectively for achieving this goal.
  4. All the political prisoners must be released immediately. “We should not allow our enemies to laugh at us and plot against us, because we have imprisoned some people. We need to tolerate each other,” he said.
  5. Those who have been hurt by recent events must be compensated. “We need to express our heart-felt and sincere sorrow for what has happened to them.”
  6. Independent means of mass communication (the press and other means) must be allowed to operate legally and within the framework of law. Their rights must not be limited, and the political establishment must not ignore their lawful rights.

The fact that a powerful politician, such as Rafsanjani, refers to the present conditions as a “crisis” is very significant. The hard-liners deny that the country is in a crisis, and claim that all the protests and demonstrations are due to a few small groups linked with foreigners (meaning the United States, Israel, and Britain). In addition, Rafsanjani acknowledged publicly what has been known for some time, that many clerics and the olamaa (learned Islamic scholars, meaning the ayatollahs) are unhappy with the present conditions:The olamaa have always supported the people and the political system. Why are they hurt and disappointed now [by the present condition]? We must be able to rely on them in these [critical] times [by correcting the mistakes].

Rafsanjani’s sermons demonstrated the glaring fissures in the leadership of the Islamic Republic. The fact that, (a) he called the present conditions a crisis; (b) acknowledged that many clerics and ayatollahs are unhappy with what has happened, contrary to the claims by the hard-liners that the clergy are unified behind them; (c) stated that whatever he speaks of are the results of his consultations with two powerful organ of the Islamic Republic, namely, the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts; (d) he did not mention even once the Supreme Leader; (e) he acknowledged that people doubt the election, that people’s trust in the system had been destroyed, and he blamed the Voice and Visage of the Islamic Republic and the Guardian Council for it, and (f) always contrasted what the hard-liners do with what the Prophet and Imam Ali did, in order to demonstrate the falsehood of their claims that they are the true followers of the two revered Islamic figures, demonstrated that he has sided with the people in the crisis. That is bound to reinvigorate the democratic movement.

Also, by reminding the hard-liners that when people did not want Imam Ali to govern them after the Prophet, he stayed home for 19 years and did not intervene in politics, he implicitly told Ayatollah Khamenei (without naming him) that, “If people do not want you, leave them alone.” This is particularly important in the view of the fact that the hard-liners refer to Ayatollah Khamenei as “the era’s Ali,” meaning that he acts according to Imam Ali’s teachings and life.

Eyewitnesses told the author that people chanted repeatedly,

“Death to the dictator;”

“My dear martyred brother, I’ll take back your vote [a reference to those who been killed over the past several weeks];”

“Death to Russia; death to China [the two major powers that have seemingly supported Ahmadinejad];”

“So long as Ahmadinejad is not gone, every day will be like today [meaning demonstrations and protests];”

“Political prisoners must be released;”

“Our Sohrab is not dead, it is the government that is dead [a reference to Sohran Araabi, the young man who was killed during the first demonstrations, but his family was not told for 25 days by the government, pretending that he had been jailed];”

“If you are silent, Hashemi [Rafsanjani], you are treacherous,” and

“Resign, government of the coup.”

Security forces, the Basij militia, and plainclothes security agents used tear gas to try to disperse the demonstrators. According to various reports, they physically attacked Mahdi Karroubi, while people were chanting in his support.

Thus, it appears that the struggle of the people may have entered a new phase.

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