Abbas Milani is the Moghadam Director of
Iranian Studies at Stanford, where he is also a co-director of Iranian
studies at Stanford. His last book is Eminent Persians: The Men and Women who Made Modern Iran (Syracuse University Press, 2008).
Tomorrow, Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani will deliver
the Friday sermon in Tehran--the most important pulpit for policy and
polemic in Iran. The former president and speaker of the parliament has
been a regular on the Friday circuit over the past 30 years, but has
been eerily absent for more than two months. More crucially, though the
reformist cleric has met with families of those arrested in recent
weeks (an important symbolic act), his words since the controversial
elections of June 12 have been characteristically ambiguous. This
Friday is his hour of reckoning. Opposition leaders Mir Hossein
Moussavi and Mohammad Khatami have both announced that they will also
attend the prayer, and have invited their supporters to do the same.
The day has the potential of becoming yet another massive show of force
by the opposition.
at least four years, Rafsanjani has been unhappy about Supreme Leader
Ali Khamenei's inordinate power, the direction of the country, and
Ahmadinejad's demagoguery--particularly spurred by his sharp attacks
against the Rafsanjani family. In the weeks before the election,
Rafsanjani clearly sided with the reformists and put his considerable
assets--financial and political--in the service of Moussavi. Rafsanjani
today must know what most Iranians know: Unless he stands up to this
most recent power grab by the triumvirate of Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and
the Revolutionary Guards, he and his family will be next on the
chopping block. Should he, on the other hand, be too defiant in his
support for the opposition, he invites the wrath of the triumvirate.
This Friday's sermon is thus shaping up as the most important in
Rafsanjani's storied career.
been involved in Iranian politics for over 50 years, and at the center
of power since the inception of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979.
He can rightly be credited--or criticized--for playing the determining
role in anointing Khamenei the successor to Khomenei. His star seemed
to have declined during the Khatami presidency, when the reformist
media attacked him for all manner of perfidy, calling him the Godfather
of Iranian politics. In spite of these attacks, Rafsanjani remained a
powerful operator in the backrooms of clerical authority...