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A Call to Prayer, More Protests

13 Jul 2009 19:2212 Comments

g98502-01Rallying around Rafsanjani. A victory for the reformists?

By MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles | 13 July 2009

The leader of Tehran's Friday prayers is selected on a rotating basis from among conservative and ultra-conservative clerics by an organization that is controlled by the office of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

One exception has been Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president, who heads two powerful Constitutional bodies. One is the Expediency Council (EC), which arbitrates over disputes between the Majles (parliament) and the Guardian Council (GC), another constitutional body which interprets the constitution, vets candidates for most elections, and certifies the validity of those elections.

On Saturday, the EC handed a rare victory to pragmatists and reformists by declaring that no official may hold more than one position. This would force at least two ultra-conservative members of the GC, and in particular Gholamhossein Elham, the government spokesman, justice minister and GC member, to either step down from the GC, or resign from other positions. (Elham is a staunch ally of Ahmadinejad and has close links with the Basij militia as well.)

Rafsanjani also heads the Assembly of Experts, the 86-member constitutional body that appoints the Supreme Leader, monitors his performance, and also, in theory, has the power to fire him.

These two constitutional bodies give Rafsanjani considerable power. (N.B. The positions Rafsanjani holds have long been exempt from such rules.)

Rafsanjani has been known to be a pragmatic politician. He has been bitterly opposed to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and has been locked in a long ongoing dispute with him and his supporters. Furthermore, Rafsanjani has supported and defended the reformist candidates, and in particular Mir Hossein Mousavi.

After a long absence from leading Friday prayer, Rafsanjani is supposed to lead it again on July 17. Due to his support of the reformists, and in reaction to the Supreme Leader's Friday June 19 speech, in which he declared the election valid and threatened the reformists and even the public at large, the reformists have decided to turn the upcoming Friday prayer ceremony into a show of support for Mousavi and Rafsanjani.

Mousavi's official Facebook page has called for a massive turnout for the upcoming Friday prayer. (It is believed that this has been called for by Rafsanjani himself.) Supporters of Mousavi have asked people to attend the Friday prayer in large numbers -- at least a million strong. It has announced that both Mousavi and former president Mohammad Khatami, a strong supporter of Mousavi who has accused the current government of staging a "velvet coup" against the vote of the people, will attend the prayers.

Note that whenever the Supreme Leader leads the Friday prayers, it is obligatory for all the important political figures and leaders to attend the prayers. But neither Rafsanjani, Khatami, Mahdi Karroubi nor Mousavi attended Friday prayers on June 19. Thus, the presence of Khatami, Karroubi and other reformist leaders in a Friday prayer led by Rafsanjani is expected to have enormous symbolic meaning.

The reformists also hope that the Friday prayer will signal to both hard-liners and the world that the democratic movement is not dead, but very much alive and that it will seize any opportunity to express its peaceful opposition to the rigged election and the hard-liners.

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

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Note that as of yet, Moussavi has not confirmed that he will attend. Also, Mohsen Sazegara advised against attending if Moussavi does not officially invite people to attend. Several time in the past, the official website of Moussavi has announced that he would attend certain demonstrations, while he did not. We should be cautious about this.

Khorsheed Parsi / July 13, 2009 5:03 PM

When I first heard this news, I was elated that someone, anyone, remotely moderate would be given a chance to speak publicly at length.

However, I could not understand why this would be allowed. Even if there is a rotation, the Supreme Leader could simply subvert any process of equanimity by reserving his right to lead every Friday Prayers for the near future, given the current state of "unrest caused by foreign meddling". Why would Khamenei allow this?

And, here's where the mature, scarred, world-weary and pessimistic thoughts enter: What better way could there be to gather all the leadership of the reformists -- which Khamenei views as a tremendous threat to his power and legitimacy -- in one place where they could be the unfortunate victims of a horrible, senseless bombing by [insert random, inept fringe terrorist group here].

I'm not saying that this is the case, but the security situation of so many powerful but essentially unprotected leaders all gathering in one place is extremely high-risk. Khamenei would find it very difficult to send his minions to arrest these high-profile reformist/moderate/sympathetic leaders but may be more than willing to cry a few more crocodile tears for them if they are killed in a "senseless tragedy". Caution is warranted.

NT_ / July 13, 2009 6:04 PM

The question everyone seems to secretly ask is: can Rafsanjani overthrow Khamenei? If he can, will he? And moreover, when will Mousavi end this phase of rallies, since the regime has already makes its mind? Mousavi should be preparing for 2013. Obama needs a stable, whether Ahmadinehjad or not, leader to engage to. It is in the best interest of both America and Israel to engage Iran diplomaticly, as soon as possible.

Eduardo / July 13, 2009 7:00 PM

1. I know that it isn't 40 days since Neda's death, but I wonder if she will be represented somehow at this Friday's prayers?

2) Will GA Montazeri be there?

3) Does it matter who will not be there?

4) Are the Friday Prayers live on State TV?

Jim / July 13, 2009 11:29 PM

Eduardo, first off yes Rafsanjani can overthrow Khamenei he has the power to both legally and since he essentially made him the leader 20 years ago. And as far as elections I think that is past since everyone in Iran or a large amount don't believe these were legimate or stolen. Also, with Rafsanjani speaking friday we may be seeing the endgame for the gov't or at least the beginning of something else from the reformers and Rafsanjani may have some big cards to play.

Tom / July 13, 2009 11:43 PM

I share NT's fears.

Carol Dawn / July 13, 2009 11:47 PM

In case of an attack on the leaders at Friday prayers (God forbid!), I think the situation would get completely out of control. The rage of the people would be horrifying. Imagine 1 million people filled with rage in the streets of Tehran! They would tear down the ruling system with their bare hands. And Khameini knows this. He knows that he has lousy cards and is trying to postpone a call of the cards. Let us hope that the events will develop calmly as time goes by. But frankly, I can't see anything else than a major change in Iran, be it now or in the near future, concidering the cards in hand of Sea of Green.

Sea of Green devotee / July 14, 2009 5:21 AM

1. Yes. President Mousavi, Khatami, and Karrubi will all attend (Mousavi's Facebook page AND Karrubi's newspaper "Etemade Melli" report).

2. Neda and Sohrab's 40th is very near.

3. We should see who else will come, those who do will apparently be part of the opposition, but it doesnt mean those who might be absent are not with the movement since some of them are Conservatives who prefer to help off the scenes.

4. Friday prayers cannot be censored by state TV under any conditions. They know this well.

5. Tell as many ppl as you can about this. I will be the first to go there (funny, I would have never even imagined myself go to a Friday Prayer)

Green as I am / July 14, 2009 6:58 PM

Nearly sick to my stomach. Now Rafsanjani is the savior of our beloved Iran. Apparently the stupidity of '79 was not a sufficiently penetrating lesson.

(& How very old hand of you to use a young Rafsanjani pic. Couldn't you find one of him sitting at the feet of his Agha?)

observer / July 15, 2009 12:50 AM

A lot of people will be listening to Rafsanjani speaking this Friday, and praying that he will be a force for representative government in Iran.

Roger / July 15, 2009 11:00 PM

Where is this continuing protest going? In many ways it seems similar to the student led American Anti-war protests of the 1960s-70s. The movement never coalesced into a coherent political force after its objective of ending the Vietnam War was achieved. The American experience demonstrated that anger, courage, and passion were not enough. As a total outsider with only a superficial knowledge of Iranian history the future trajectory of this protest movement is totally opaque. Nevertheless as a kid of the sixties it's impossible not to have feelings of solidarity with the protesters. Is there anyone who reads this blog informed enough to comment on the probability of alternative future scenarios and rank them in order of likelihood?

Richard Kadas / July 19, 2009 9:55 AM

i am iranian tvjournalist from Denmark and europa

ramin.piramoon / July 19, 2009 9:58 AM