Even as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was using a world tour and speeches to bolster his position, even as senior Parliament figures were fighting the President over his economic plans and approaches in nuclear talks, even as the Green Waves were planning the protests of 16 Azar, there was another strategy being developed behind closed doors in Tehran, Qom, Mashaad, and Hamedan.
It is a strategy linking senior clerics and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani. And, in their vision, it is the strategy to bring Iran out of political, social, and religious disaster.
Here's the story:
Last week Habibollah Asgaroladi, the secretary-general of the Islamic Coalition Party, a member of the Expediency Council, and the head of Imam Khomeini's Committee, met former President Hashemi Rafsanjani to discuss a National Unity Plan.
Of course, this is not the first consideration of a Unity Plan since the 12 June election. Throughout the autumn, there were discussions and manoeuvres amongst conservative/principlist members of Parliament, Rafsanjani, and clerics to present a proposal that would reform the Iranian system, in particular curbing the authority of President Ahmadinejad, without risking significant changes to the Islamic Republic. At some point, however, the initiative ground to a halt, whether because of Ahmadinejad's resistance, the opposition of other factions, or the objections of the Supreme Leader.
The Asgaroladi-Rafsanjani meeting, however, marked the start of another big push for the Plan. Rafsanjani met clerics in Mashhad to discuss the possibilities. Last Friday, the leader of Mashhad's prayers, Ayatollah Alamalhuda proclaimed that Rafsanjani was part of the Islamic Revolution, having been close to Imam Khomeini and promoted Ayatollah Khamenei as a Supreme Leader. (In June, Alamalhuda, known as a supporter of Ahmadinejad, had said, "Hashemi is guilty and responsible for the Supreme Leader being oppressed.")
This was not the only clerical speech endorsing Rafsanjani. In Hamedan, Seyed Ahmad Khatami --- not to be confused with Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, the Tehran prayer leader who fervently backs the Government --- declared, "Hashemi is a brother of the Supreme Leader, and it is a falsehood to attack him."
The biggest clue, although we didn't know it at the time, came in an interview that Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi gave last Thursday. Makarem-Shirazi, known as a "conservative" cleric in Qom, has been following a middle way since June, challenging the Ahmadinejad approach while remaining distant from the Green Wave, but he went further last week. In the context of what we now know about Rafsanjani's talks with the clerics, this could not be a clearer signal of the new political effort:
When we talk about unity, we are talking about people who believe in the constitution, leadership, Islam, and the interests of the country. Those who believe in those issues can reach unity. However, the precondition is to create a calm environment and then some people, who are respected by society and are moderate thinkers, should agree on the principles of unity. I do not believe that we have reached the end of the road, there is no deadlock.
These discussions and proclamations underlay Rafsanjani's speech on Sunday, emphasizing unity while criticising the Government for its post-election measures and calling on the protesters to show restraint.
So, even though 16 Azar has occurred and continues in the form of university protests, there may be another political battlefront, one in which the protagonists are distinct from the "opposition" (indeed, the other way to look at this move is an attempt by clerics to split Rafsanjani from other Green leaders like Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi).The Government's recent threats against Rafsanjani's family, embodied in yesterday's warning by Tehran Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei of the prosecution of Rafsanjani's son Mehdi Hashemi, indicate that they take the prospect of a revived National Unity Plan very seriously.
The immediate question is whether the clerics, Rafsanjani, and other political allies (where stand you, Larijanis?) break cover and promote the Plan publicly. Alternatively, they may wait for yet another round of protests at Moharram, beginning 27 18 December, to shake the Government further.
And beyond that is the tougher nut to crack: given that it may have been the Supreme Leader who objected to the previous incarnation of the Plan, given that Ahmadinejad is a battler, given that the Revolutionary Guard is also a political actor, how does Unity emerge from confrontation?