Looking for Leverage
By calling for the release of imprisoned protesters, Rafsanjani is hoping that the demonstrators will see him as their backer, and therefore, that they should continue demonstrating. This is the most critical part of his strategy, to align himself with the people on the streets and to bring out as many people as possible. This is most probably why he came close to tears when he calling for their release. Everyone knows that Rafsanjani himself does not have a good human rights record. In fact, during his own presidency he was responsible for the murder of some prominent reformists in the late 90s, in what became known as the “Chain Murders.” However, the wave of arrests after the recent elections has made him look less brutal, and now he wants to use this in order to improve his bargaining position vis-a-vis Khamenei. It must be noted that this is not about regime change, but rather, about leverage to be used in a domestic balance of power politics. Rafsanjani knows very well that if the regime goes, so will his own political standing as well his multimillion dollar empire. All he is looking for is a stronger hand.
Reinforcing the Clergy
Another target audience for Rafsanjani was the clergy. “The term Islamic Republic,” noted Rafsanjani, “is not a ceremonial title. It is both a republic and Islamic.” Both “have to be together. If one is damaged, then we will no longer have a revolution and an Islamic Republic.” Rafsanjani knows that many clergy feel left out, and the fact that Khamenei has been taking economic and political power away from them has been interpreted as an assault against the very Islamic institutions which started the revolution. The clergy also feel bitter because the revolution was not brought about by the Revolutionary Guards. They came after the clergy struggled for many years in their mosques to bring Islam into Iranian politics. They feel that Iran under Khamenei is relying less and less on its Islamic institutions, especially when it comes to making important decisions. The clergy feel that after the recent elections, decision making is based less on consensus (i.e., involving them), as Khomeini had intended for the Islamic revolution.
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“The events were violent, but smaller compared to previous protests. . . . [Rafsanjani] stopped short of calling for the annulment of the poll.” — Roza Ibragimova, Al Jazeera
“Of course, he [Rafsanjani] has been flip-flopping between the reformist and conservative camps for the past twenty years, but it doesn’t mean that he’s going to go against the national interests and favor one party against the other.” — Ghanbar Naderi, Iran Daily
Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian-born and British-educated Israeli analyst and the founder of the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company. Javedanfar’s writing above is an excerpt from his blog entry in The Compass Blog section of Real Clear World (17 July 2009). See, also, “IRAN: Full Text of Rafsanjani’s Lengthy Speech,” Babylon & Beyond (17 July 2009); “Rafsanjani Sermon Summarized,” Informed Comment (17 July 2009); and Mahan Abedin, “A Leaner, Meaner Iranian Regime,” Asia Times (10 July 2009).