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Rafsanjani's Sermon, Split in the Leadership

17 Jul 2009 19:4510 Comments
_46077748_007665033-1By MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles | 17 July 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.

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

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Reasonable analysis. I think you last thought "Thus, it appears that the struggle of the people may have entered a new phase." has a lot to ponder about. I guess more Ayatollah from Qom come out supporting the protesters (PEOPLE) and it becomes very very difficult for the government to govern and there will be MORE BLOOD.

I do not think Khamenei will give in and compromise. He is a tyrant and will use MORE FORCE on people. It is very unfortunate that there are still people in IRAN who support Khemeni and A.N.

My friend in Semnan (A province in IRAN, A.N. 's birth province) are happy with the crackdown and think that the protesters are infidels. I believe we need a satellite channel and that Muhammd Sahimi should start talking on that TV channel.

Amin Mir / July 17, 2009 4:23 PM

Mr. Sahimi, thank you so very much for this excellent translation and analysis. Through your work, we non-Farsi speakers can maintain the psychic and moral solidarity with the people of Iran that feels so terribly important to millions of us. Without you and others who are helping us over the barriers of language and culture, we would be deprived of something irreplaceable.


lotus / July 17, 2009 5:47 PM

Well done both in translation and interpretation Mr. Sahimi. I just hope the Iranian people know how admired they are for standing up against tyranny. We had our own revolution in the U.S. to win our freedom, and I hope all goes well for the Iranians in their fight. If the Iranian regime uses deadly force to qwell the revolution, some of the protestors will become militant for decades after untill their goals are met. When the Iranians win their freedom, it will be an honor to have them as an ally for the whole world. FREEDOM FOR IRAN!! WITH LOVE FROM AMERICA.

Mike Hart / July 17, 2009 10:33 PM

Muchas gracias Senor M.S. You have again has given us your wise insights. Your articles here are very much anticipated by me everyday. Keep them flowing un favor. Just as everyone here are screaming - Libertad y democracia para Iran!

shetty / July 18, 2009 2:44 AM

Hopefully you are right with your analyse that the struggle of the people will go into a new phase.

Before Rafsjani's speech it looked to me that the country was becoming another dictatorship like North Korea and Myanmar in which opposition is not tolerated.

Rafsjani's speech and it being able to be broadcasted on the radio looks very promising. I hope democracy will prevail and this might give hope for those other countries.

Bart / July 18, 2009 5:41 AM

Iran to become a Taliban-like state with The House of Khamenei to act as the Khalifate ruling over the poor and deprived nation is one scenario already approved by the entire power-that-be throughout the world!

Unfortunately, the Iranian People are going to be the losers in this merciless and savage game since the entire world economy depends on that ugly and old scenario to go live on stage *at whatever the price* in Iran and that "price" is going to be the protesters' freedom even if it means to obliterate the lives of tens of millions when they are so bravely and with bare hands resisting it from happening!

Surely many people know well about the mainstream and pragmatic philosophy: "sacrifice a few so the mass can live happily" or something like that as the old saying goes ...

Now, what is twenty millions of protesting Iranians' lives against billions of people's welfare around the world? Billions who need Iran's oil and other resources to be extracted out of that part of the world in a steady and secure fashion so world economy will not suffer! If needed, The Islamic Republic (soon to be called The Islamic Sultanate!) will have no difficulty massacring all these people in a matter of weeks, days even! (Anyone remember Chile and Pinochet or Cambodia and Pol Pot in `70s of the last century? Or Bosnia in the `90s? Or some African states in the early 21st century? Or how the populist Mazdakians were massacred by the order of king Noshirvan Sassani about 16 centuries ago in Persia / Iran? How about Stalin and Hitler?)

All it takes for the oil-rich Islamic authorities in Iran and their well paid thug mercenaries would be to just go capture the protesters, take them to some desert or prison or some place and finish them off enmass! They have done this before in small scale and they are not afraid of doing it in large scale now that they not only have the international support but their own survival is at stake if not doing this crime against humanity ...

The only way Iranians may have some hope in gaining their true freedom is to fight back! To fight back (when needed; if the present government does not give in that is, and certainly not right now) just as mercilessly as these ruffians are harassing them in the name of democracy, freedom and religion.

dictator to be! / July 18, 2009 6:14 AM

Thank you for translating the sermon!

I thought the analysis far too biased, though.

Too my opinion, Rafsanjani is a hypocrite and a crook too, why give him so much credit? The people from Iran should focus on overthrowing the theocratic system, instead of overthrowing AN and his allies only. Rafsanjani has too much vested interests to let that happen. He should be dropped in the same corner as the other leaders of this inherent undemocratic system. No massive voter turn-out has suddenly made this country a democracy...

People of Iran, don't let another mollah tell you to stop chanting slogans !!

don't swallow such hypocrisies as: "the four candidates who had been vetted and approved by the Guardian Council competed, people were hopeful that the elections would be free" how can a vote be free when someone tells you who to choose from?

etc etc

keep going the fight, overthrow your whole system, not jut the governement!

jeroen vandekerckhove / July 18, 2009 5:31 PM

This analysis has what other commentary has regrettably lacked: a clear enunciation--or reading between the lines--of this most important, yet subtle speech.

Given the emotional, precarious and mortally dangerous situation in Iran, Rafsanjani had to use subtleties so as to soften the hammer that he was about to lower. In doing so, he eschewed inflammatory rhetoric and instead used language that calls upon the humane, philosophical and even religious side of his listeners. Here was an attempt to use Friday Prayers as an opportunity to articulate the opposition's stance from the kind of moral or high ground that appeals to people's spiritual sensibilities, but not without challenging some to look deep--indeed very deep--inside. As we know, looking deep inside can be excruciating and anathema for some.

The problem is that this speech casts light unto--from an Islamist perspective--the darkest corner of this entire election debacle. Rafsanjani used the Prophet, his words and actions to elucidate the egregious and deadly errors that have been committed by this regime and, therefore, its illegitimate status. In doing so, he has spoken the truth and pulled the rug from under the oppressors; or said differently, pointed out to them that they have not been standing on firm ethical and spiritual ground.

By mentioning the support he has from the two powerful bodies he heads, Rafsanjani effectively told Khamenei he has no moral basis for his actions and, unless he comes back into the fold, repent and take corrective actions, that he (Khamenei) will be a pariah. More ominously, by mentioning the support he has, Rafsanjani may signaling to Khamenei that he could be relieved of his duties if the Assembly Rafsanjani heads is willing to declare Khamenei unfit to govern.

Whether or not it comes to this, Khamenei has--at this late stage in his life--brought immense shame and embarrassment to his name. He has on his hands the blood of hundreds. It is this painful and ignoble truth that comes to fore when one carefully reads between the lines of what Rafsanjani wrote. Make no doubt, this was a hammer, albeit one lowered in a velvet glove.

marco / July 19, 2009 4:47 PM

Thank you,

This was the best interpretation I could find on Mr. Rafsanjani's sermon.

jaleh / July 19, 2009 6:56 PM

Thank you, Marco, for expressing the matter so clearly and effectively.

If you heard today's sermon, (July 24) Ahmad Khatami (not the recent candidate for president, Mohammed Khatami) attacked those seeking a referendum or other method of determining whether the June 12 election actually reflected the will of the people. His sermon also appeared to support the supreme authority of Ayatollah Khamenei, rather than the will of the people.

Of note, Ayatollah Khatami also strongly urged Mahmoud "Landslide" Ahmadenijad to set aside his choice of primary V.P., since Khamenei and other hard-liners oppose him and gave Mahmoud "Landslide" Ahmadenijad written corroboration of their views.

So far, however, Mahmoud "Landslide" Ahmadenijad has resisted the call to substitute someone else for his primary V.P., so the ball is still in play.

This lack of unity between the hardliners, including Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei, and supposed president Mahmoud "Landslide" Ahmadenijad may be one of the more hopeful signs that miss-communication, and lack of communication will contribute to sufficient embarrassment that a new election, or at least a refrendum will demonstrate how much the people of Iran want reforms, freedoms (which are STILL banned) and greater contact with the outside world.

Perhaps the degree to which the Revolutionary Guard is profiting from the huge black market in Iran is becoming better known, and greater understanding of what they has to mean, as far as their policies, techniques and ideals.

Stay tuned!

Roger / July 24, 2009 1:24 PM