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Iran: the shark reappears

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Robin Lustig | 18:30 UK time, Sunday, 19 July 2009

I have written before (here and here) about Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, aka The Shark, former president of Iran and now one of the country's most influential and enigmatic clerics.

He was, behind the scenes, an important backer of the Mir Hossain Mousavi, the reformist candidate in last month's presidential elections. But since the disputed result of those elections, and the serious unrest that followed, he has lain low.

Now, with an extraordinary sermon at Friday prayers at Tehran university, he has reappeared in public and, in effect, thrown down the gauntlet to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As always when Iranian clerics speak, he spoke elliptically. But here, with thanks to Juan Cole at Informed Comment, is a flavour of what he said about the period immediately following the elections:

Doubt came down on our nation like the plague ... Why did it happen? We need unity today, more than ever ...What should we do? I have a few suggestions. Of course, I have discussed these suggestions with a few jurists and members of the Expediency Council, with whom I can intellectually connect ... Our important issue is that the trust that brought so many people to the polls, and is now harmed, will be restored. This should be our holy objective, that this trust is returned.

There was more:

We have to create an atmosphere that all sides can come and express their views. And all sides must act rationally and without quarrel ... Eventually the people will find out the truth and we can ask the people too. We have to provide the ground to return this trust to the people ... Under current circumstances, there is no need for us to have people in prisons. Allow them to return to their families.

In other words: free opposition protesters from prison. Stop censoring the media. Find some way to meet the complaints from the opposition that they were robbed of a victory that should have been theirs.

And all this weeks after the Supreme Leader had declared the election controversy over and warned people not to carry on with their protests. No wonder the reaction from pro-government clerics against Rafsanjani has been swift.

According to the Associated Press: "Hard-liners like Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi struck back at Rafsanjani on Saturday, saying his speech would endanger the country by inciting supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi to take to the streets ... 'The leader (Khamenei) removed the threat of riots, but Mr. Rafsanjani is again seeking to provoke the danger," Yazdi was quoted as saying by the semiofficial Fars news agency.

Interestingly, though, the official Iranian PressTV website reports today that Rafsanjani is now visiting the holy city of Mashhad to confer with other senior Iranian clerics to "discuss the latest political ferment in the country."

What it all boils down to, I think, is that the crisis that erupted after the elections is far from over. And that what happens when the country's senior clerics meet behind closed doors is every bit as important as what happens out on the streets.


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