Fateful Friday in Tehran

Tomorrow shapes up as a very important day for the on-going internal conflict in Iran, as Friday prayers will be delivered by none other than Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who generally has aligned himself throughout the crisis on the reformers’ side and has spent much of the period since the election on June 12 in the holy city of Qom, supposedly trying to mobilize opinion among the Assembly of Experts (of which he is the Chairman) against Ayatollah Ali Hoseyni Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader and supporter of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-nejad. Time Magazine’s Joe Klein gave us the heads-up yesterday in a post on his “Swampland” blog.

The Berlin newspaper Die Tageszeitung also released a Friday-preview piece yesterday (End-Time scenarios in Iran), which generally agrees with Klein’s evaluation, going on to provide additional supporting details. For one thing, Rafsanjani’s speech is to be televised on Iranian State Television; for another, both the main putative loser of that June 12 election, Mir-Hossein Moussavi, and another high-placed ayatollah who has been supportive of him (as well as formerly serving Iran’s president himself), Mohammad Khatami, will be sitting there in the first row, as we learn from Moussavi’s Facebook page.

Klein indulges in a bit of speculation about what Rafsanjani might say; the Tagesspiegel writer(s) (no by-line; we’ll just use “she”) rather speculates on how this rather astonishing occasion has come to be allowed in the first place. She offers two possibilities: Maybe it’s the result of a behind-the-scenes compromise whereby concessions have been made and assurances put forward so that Rafsanjani intends to make use of it, in effect, to back down and lower the heat now focused on the official government, to “save the Republic.” Or maybe, instead, Rafsanjani has used his still-considerable influence to power his way into the speaking engagement, which the reformers intend to use as an occasion to bring out into the open the very real rifts that have opened up within that official government.

Surrender or else going on the attack, then. Either way, tomorrow figures to be an important milestone of some kind. And the list of quotations which this article’s author goes on to use to round it out strongly imply that the evidence points to the latter, attacking interpretation. There are the recent comments of Ayatollah Hosein-Ali Montazeri, still influential but with no official position, who is quoted here at length, declaring among other things that “The Country belongs to the people, and not to anyone else” and comparing the behavior of the present regime to that of the Shah in 1979, earnestly hoping that they won’t imitate him in recognizing “the call to Revolution of the people” too late. Shirin Ebadi, the (female) lawyer and winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize is also quoted here, declaring that the present government has effectively lost its legitimacy through the unacceptable violence it used in suppressing the protests. Possibly most ominously, though, are the comments reproduced here from the website of one Mohsen Rezai, long-time Chief of the Revolutionary Guards, who warns that the whole System is on the brink of an “inner collapse” unless the government and opposition sides can get together to fashion some sort of compromise.

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