I doubt whether any of Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s numerous Friday prayer sermons in the past has ever attracted more attention than yesterday’s speech when he tried to calm down the present unrest in Iran and stylized himself as an elder statesman in sorrow of loosing the achievements of 30 years of Islamic Revolution. However tempting it might be praising his speech at Tehran University one should never forget another Friday prayer sermon of his at exactly the same location. It was on 14 December 2001, Qods Day, when he predicted:
“If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave any thing in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.”
This was formulated only weeks after 9-11, a couple of months after ‘reformist’ President Mohammad Khatami had been re-elected, and only days before former US President G. W. Bush would put Iran on his notorious Axis of Evil. In essence, this threat towards Israel was much more frightening than any of those the incumbent and now, under questionable circumstances, re-elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had ever made, his alleged “wiping Israel off the map” statement included.
Now, Rafsanjani’s speech yesterday had a completely different tone. When reading through the transcript, I noted several interesting issues. He is remarkably clear in blaming the Guardian Council in missing a chance of re-gaining the public’s trust after doubt had raised that the election results were rigged, which has eventually led to the deep split in the clerical establishment:
“We have to provide the ground to return this trust to the people. Unfortunately, good use was not made of the opportunity that the Supreme Leader (Ali Khamene’i) gave the Guardian Council in which an extra five days was given to them to talk to the ulema. I do not of course want to blame anyone for this lost opportunity, but, nonetheless, it did not happen. (Crowd chanting) We have passed that stage. We are going through another stage now.
“Why should our Sources (of Emulation, meaning senior clerics), who have always been supportive, and our seminary schools, which have never had any expectations for their efforts, be upset today. We should keep their support and rely on them.”
He might in fact refer here to Grand Ayatollah Hosein-Ali Montazeri, one of the “sources of emulation”, who had recently issued a fatwa on request of Dr. Mohsen Kadivar, Visiting Associate Professor at Duke University, Durham, NC. Montazeri, for years under house arrest in Qom, is considered one of the most dangerous figures for the ruling establishment in Iran. In his fatwa of July 6, he more or less concludes that, if Ahmadinejad had stolen the election, the present regime was illegitimate.
The next interesting point in Rafsanjani’s sermon is his mentioning of Ali, the first Shi’a Imam, who had been advised by the Prophet that even he, Ali, has to seek support from the people.
“Ali Ibn-Abi-Talib himself says that when the prophet (Mohammad) was (indistinct words) rather worried in the last year of his life. He said this to Abi-Talib; (reads a short verse from Koran) This is after Eid-e Ghadir. He said that you are the Guardian of this Ummah (nation) this is a Guardianship that belongs to you, and is something that God has given you.
“If you felt that these people are satisfied (with you) and they accept you, and felt that you are a worthy person (ruler) and there was consensus, of course consensus is always relative it can never be absolute; if the majority coalesced around you, then have to accept it. You will become the Guardian and see to their day to day affairs and resolve their problems.
“If you saw that they opposed you, and that they do not come along with you, then you have to leave them. Let them do what they want to; they know themselves what they need to do with their lives.
“God will find a way for you to realize your goals.”
Imam Ali is mentioned a second time:
“The title of Islamic Republic is not just a formality. This is a reality passed on to us on the basis of Koran, as well as the religious sayings of the (Shiite) Imams and prophet. We believe in them. We should have them at the same time. Rest assured if one of those two aspects are damaged we will loose our revolution. If it looses its Islamic aspect, we will go astray. If it loses its republican aspect, it (The Islamic Republic) will not be realized. Based on the reasons that I have offered, without people and their vote there would be no Islamic system. Ali bin Abi-Talib (the first Shiite Imam) stayed at home for 19 years for the same reason. When the people came forward (word indistinct), Ali bin Abi-Talib accepted to come to power after people’s insistence, despite the difficulties he faced.”
Rafsanjani is presently chairman of the Assembly of Experts which, at least theoretically, can even dismiss Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The above sentences may in fact directly address Ali Khamenei, advising him to better seek the people’s support, to establish a true republic. It is about legitimacy, too, without any doubt.
One should not forget that Rafsanjani has been an active part of the system of the Islamic Republic since its beginning. The supposedly richest man in the country, a two-term former president, has much to loose if Iran, what many expect, will be drifting towards a military dictatorship. So, his sermon yesterday was an extremely clever maneuver of somebody who has understood that Iran is at a watershed.
As far as we have come to know, no further fatalities had occurred in the streets of Tehran despite thousands of protesters.