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UPDATED Iran Analysis: The Rafsanjani "Ultimatum" to the Supreme Leader

UPDATE 2100 GMT: Another possible twist tonight. Rafsanjani’s website has published an interview in which the former President talks about his letter to the Supreme Leader just before the elections, warning of President Ahmadinejad's "lies" and calling for a "fraudless" ballot. (Rafsanjani claims that that Khamenei did not object to the contents of the letter, but would have preferred it to have been published after the elections.) Rafsanjani also speaks at length about how he gathered funds for the clergy before the Revolution and how, together with others (such as Grand Ayatollahs Montazeri or Sane'i but with no reference to Khamenei), he was trusted by Ayatollah Khomeini to manage the revolutionaries’ funds.

The title of the interview: "In 42 some people were asking, 'Who will account for the blood of the 15 Khordad?'” That is a reference to the uprising of 5 June 1963, protesting the arrest of Khomeini; the protest was put down after six days by the Iranian military.

Perhaps Rafsanjani's question is not just historical recollection but an enquiry for today?

UPDATE 10 FEBRUARY, 1500 GMT: EA is now treated this story as confirmed. A reliable source has said that the Rafsanjani-Khamenei meeting was on Monday. Normally, in his official roles, Rafsanjani sees the Supreme Leaders on Tuesday; in this case, the former President asked for a special discussion.

While the immediate cause for Rafsanjani's intervention was the detention of Mousavi advisor Alireza Beheshti and the reported search by Iranian authorities for Beheshti's wife, Rafsanjani did ask the Supreme Leader to act on all cases involving political prisoners. Our source notes perceptively the "7 Tir families", relatives of those killed in a bombing in the early days of the Revolution, had asked Rafsanjani for help with Beheshti and other cases; other families, learning of this appeal, then approached the former President.

The Rafsanjani intervention should also be connected to another important meeting, days earlier, between the Supreme Leader and Grand Ayatollah Mousavi-Ardebili, one of the most important clerics in Iran and Shi'a Islam. Mousavi-Ardebili, in his first meeting in 17 years with Khamenei, declared that he was "disappointed" in the Supreme Leader's actions and urged him to act decisively for justice in the cases of the detained.

An EA correspondent adds:
It is reported that Ardebili had told Khamenei, “I know the leaders of the protests in Qom and Tehran. I testify that they are after reforming the affairs of the state based on the constitution and are not after toppling you. Your concerns over this are misplaced."

By mentioning “Qom”, the seat of clerical learning in Iran, Ardebili is telling Khamenei that there is a substantial movement against the establishment in its heartland. The mention of “not after toppling you”: either means that Khamenei is very worried about his own position now or it is a threat from one of Shi'a Islam’s few Grand Ayatollahs. Ardebili could mean, "They are not after toppling you, but don’t do something that will force us, the marjas (senior clerics), to have to topple you."

Let’s assume that the Rah-e Sabz news about the Rafsanjani meeting with Supreme Leader, spurred by the attempt to arrest Alireza Beheshi’s wife, is accurate.

We could say that trying to arrest the daughter-in-law of Shahid Beheshti and traumatizing his grandchildren is just too much for Rafsanjani and he has finally snapped. In this case this could be the first “public” crack in the Rafsanjani-Khamenei relationship. This could create opportunities both for Ahmadinejad & Co. and for the Greens.

On the coup side, they could use this to isolate Khamenei even more and get him to agree to their strategy of further suppression and crackdown. On the Green side, they could use this to draw Rafsanjani (and those within the Iranian establishment who look up to him) away from Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. This would further undermine the legitimacy of Khamenei and the whole Islamic Republic as it stands.

There may be another explanation too....

As you recall just before 16 Azar (the protests of 7 December), Rafsanjani went to Mashhad and said that if the people do not want us, we will leave. At the time that was seen as distancing himself from Supreme Leader, and it may have encouraged more students (especially in smaller towns) to come out. One could argue that he was blowing onto the fire from a distance.

A few days ago, Ayatollah Mousavi-Ardebili went to Tehran to meet Khamenei. This was their first meeting in 17 years. Leaked details of the discussion suggest that Ardebili criticized Khamenei’s handling of the state affairs and asked for Alireza Beheshti to be freed. It is reported that the Supreme Leader dismissed the criticism and refused to help with Beheshti. This information was most probably leaked by someone close to Ardebili (as Khamenei would not want it to be known that he was criticized and is behind Beheshti’s detention).

Now a few days after that meeting and a day after the leaking of the details of the meeting, it is reported that Rafsanjani has criticized the state of affairs and the treatment of Beheshti. And again the news is leaked.

This comes soon after Mir Hossein Mousavi stated that the Revolution has failed to get rid of the roots of tyranny and dictatorship and that he is seeing signs of both in Iran today. Mehdi Karroubi has said that he does not believe in this kind of Islamic Republic. And Mohammad Khatami has indirectly accused Khamenei of being a partial arbiter. (Others like Ayatollah Dashgheib have also criticised the SL). All of these could lead to one logical conclusion: that Khamenei is not fit to lead the Islamic Republic.

Now it may be that Rafsanjani is also putting Khamenei under pressure, not just by his strong protest and “ultimatum” but by allowing the news to be leaked. If this is the case, Rafsanjani would have skilfully used the attempt to arrest Beheshti’s wife to his advantage. In this case, Khamenei should be very mad at the people behind the arrest.

This leaked news may also be an attempt by Rafsanjani to say to the protestors: go out on 22 Bahman, and we (Rafsanjani and his people) will ensure that the regime does not crack down too hard.

If so, this could be a tactic which Iranian insiders call “feshar az paeen, chaneh-zani az bala”: pressure from below, negotiations at the top. Khatami tried this during his Presidency, with limited success. At that time one could argue that there was not much pressure from below, but now it seems the pressure from below is quite strong. It remains to be seen how skilful the negotiators are.

Reader Comments (11)

Green movement is backed strongly ! and I don't say by only Raf ; all the leaders are confident instead of hiding themself in a corner , as usual ! Inshallah ! have God heard the suffering of iranian people ?

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterange paris

Great story. I was anxious to see if Raf did anything prior to 22 Bahman to further distance himself from SL. I don't know if he really wields the power he once did or not, but even if he doesn't, I always think of him as an analog or a proxy for the other practical members of the establishment who have to figure out how to survive the current situation. It is immensely fascinating to me to watch them dance. I just wish we had more intel on the movements and current power status of Sepāh when these stories come up. It would definitely give us a clearer window into the world of the establishment

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Rafsanjani is still a "big fish" -- or shark, rather -- in the establishment, and he has his own "people", or "dar o daste" ("crew"), as EA correspondent astutely points out.

Iranian factions are more mafia-like than they appear, as one ex-gov official quipped, if you have power "there are guns behind you"

Maybe not Sepah-scale guns, but muscle nonetheless. Who do you think is giving Mousavi protection?

February 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

Thats a good question, Susan, I've been wondering that myself...

February 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDion

I tend to believe the story about Rafsanjani having sent his son to London with the regime's secrets as a safety umbrella.

For now he is also keeping Mousavi, Karrubi, and Khatami under his umbrella. But the flip side is that he can apply significant influence over their tactics.

If the Greens are able to get rid of Khamenei and his coup crowd, that will change the balance of power and reduce the value of Rafsanjani's secrets (I'm assuming that he does not possess anything nearly as damning on the Green Leaders).

To follow that logic, Rafsanjani's ideal scenario would be to keep Khamenei in power but in a more powerful position to pull his strings.

While the Green protesters can't do much about Rafsanjani's actions, they do control the streets...and that's where the real power resides!

February 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBahman

Many months ago, a poster on Why We Protest forum, also a twitter user (@sp4rrowh4wk) suggested Rasanjani's protection of the Green Movement 3. For some months, Sparrowhawk posts only once every month or two.

His ideas stated that Rasanjani was working toward a reform of the current system, with free press, free association, freedom of religion, freeing of political prisoners, abiding by the constitutional laws -- because he didn't want to see the destruction of Iran that a civil war would include.

Mousavi, Karroubi, Khatami all state they wish the system to remain with perhaps changes to the constitution.

Who can say whether any of these men possess a deep religious belief that supports maintaining the system? If not, perhaps they're all seeking a gradual process of getting a foot in the door to make some critical changes that would open the door wide to all Iranians, who could then make their own changes with full freedom.

Obviously, protesting while supporting the overthrow of the system is political/physical suicide, but one wonders what, if any beliefs, do drive the above leaders. Of course, have heard/read about the shortcomings, past performance of these men, too. Would enjoy reading others' take on this question.

Of course, many or all decisions may be 'out of their hands' and firmly in the grasp of the protestors themselves. Here's wishing all involved well and free and unharmed.

February 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterObserver

I take Mousavi/Karrubi/Khatami at their words that they want to retain the Islamic system with some changes to its constitution (along with their other demands such as democratic elections for ALL key positions, freedom of speech and press, etc.). Looking at their life experiences I see no reason to doubt that.

Of course once you implement their demands and depending on the changes to the constitution, we may arrive at a pretty reasonable system that offers all key aspects of a democratic system while respecting the strong Islamic traditions of the vast majority of its population (e.g., ban on alcohol, prostitution, etc.).

IMO another key item to keep in mind is the drastic difference between Ahmadinejad's coup regime and the traditional Shia beliefs regarding the return of the Hidden Imam.

Traditional Shia view holds that no one can know anything about the proximity of the Hidden Imam's return and if they makes such claims or claims of having any type of communication with him, they must be ex-communicated. They also believe that there's nothing that humans can do to expedite or delay his's all in the hands of god. All Shia believers can and should do is to cleanse their own spirit and behavior...self-improvement.

Khomeini's thesis on supreme-jurisprudence, probably unbeknownst to him, created a crack on that view as suddenly the top Shia cleric was to lead the community until the Hidden Imam returns.

Taking Khomeini's system quite a few steps farther, the coup gang represents a minority view that cliams that based on available signs (mostly the same stuff that the apoclyptic Christians believe in), the return is imminent and the Shia are required to expedite that return by "preparing the world"...including preparing his army for the final battle.

So what's driving Rafsanjani and the support from the top clerics probably also a philosophical to what degree, of course we don't know.

I happen to believe that this critical difference does play an important role in both what the coup regime has been doing (retaining power at any cost to prepare Iran as the Hidden's Imam's initial army) as well as in how the opposition's religious branch is sustaining its attempts to get rid of the coup gang.

Good news is that regardless of this issue, our task remains clear: support Iranian people in their pursuit of their rights. They've surprised me by their bravery and persistence and I hope that they can maintain their drive while minimizing harm to any one.

February 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBahman


"while respecting the strong Islamic traditions of the vast majority of its population (e.g., ban on alcohol, prostitution, etc.)."

IF the majority of Iranians do in fact have "strong Islamic traditions", then they will impose bans on alcohol and prostitution, etc upon their own personal lives. But perhaps many are not followers of Islam? - why should these have these restrictions and others (such as dress codes) imposed upon them??). My understanding is that Iran is a multi-racial, multi-religion country. Have you ever heard of a concept of "the tyranny of the majority?". This can be one of the weak points of Democracies - especially immature Democracies who don't deeply understand what Democracy is all about.

Now that institutionalized religion has mostly stepped out of the lives of western people and there is essentially a separation of religion and governance in Western democracies, Religion is no longer forced upon the people (either directly or indirectly) and religious practice is on the wane.

It is now the 21st Century - let those who wish to adhere to ancient practices (religious or otherwise) do so - but do not impose these practices on those who don't, especially via a Constitution which often remains in force even when the attitudes of a significant minority (or even the majority) change over time.


February 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBarry

1. It's hard to preach something when we don't practice it ourselves...The US is the biggest and strongest western democracy and separation of church and state is under constant threat...just today I read an article about a step from Obama's inter-faith group that will allow the US government to use our taxes to fund "community service programs" inside churches. I'm against that for the obvious reason that those receiving help will see that as that church's help and the church followers will no doubt use that to gain more followers.

There is still a huge difference between what goes on in the US and what's been going on in Iran for 31 years but they will use every exception to blow holes into our argument about seperation.

2. I was not arguing that such an approach is "ideal." Rather being pragmatic about what I view as a probable and, considering Iran's poulation and the brainwashing that's been going for the last three decades, a reasonable next step.

BTW, Iran is 98% muslim. Even if we assume that some of that segment is not practicing muslims or athiests, that still leaves the vast majority.

In the same way that banning guns is not a pragmatic goal in the US, not banning prostitution and other socially & religiously unacceptable freedoms are also not pragmatic goals for Iran.

If those are the only types of freedoms that the new Iran will not enjoy, the green movement will fall over itself to sign up!

February 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBahman

Yes - I agree that pragmatism must prevail almost everywhere - else we are just dreamers and idealists.

However - Democracy is Democracy. The question perhaps should be - Do the Iranians really want Democracy, or some pragmatic workaround that kind of, sort of looks like Democracy?

"BTW, Iran is 98% muslim. Even if we assume that some of that segment is not practicing muslims or athiests, that still leaves the vast majority. "

This is a bit like saying that the US or UK or New Zealand are 98% Christian. That is what the annual Censor count says -- BUT are they really??? Many western people say they are Christian - but they do not practice the religion? Do they really follow it's tenets? Similarly, I am not so sure that Iran is 98% Muslim - or whether 98% of the Iranian people want their Constitution to limit them in the so-called traditional Islamic ways. It is probably this very subject matter that has caused the situation in Iran to reach the point that it has.


February 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBarry

"Democracy is Democracy. Do Iranians really want democracy?"

No one can speak for Iranians because it is not possible to review survey results with any degree of confidence.

Speaking for myself, I'm not a follower of ANY ideology or system and that includes democracy. An irrefutable belief in any ideology closes man's mind to openly discussing other, possibly superior, ideas.

Democracy is our queen of the pigs. We all know it has many flaws (just look at how the minority has blocked everything thaat the majority voted for in electing Obama and their representatives). But we haven't come up with a better way to govern the society, yet.

Further, it is the constitution of each country as defined by people's representatives that defines the rights to which citizens are supposed to have free access. Not long ago the US had a prohibition against alcohol, women voting, blacks voting, and allowed slavery. Are those part of a democracy? They were until people changed them.

So there's nothing in the definition of democracy that requires that all people be allowed complete freedom to do anything they want.

As far as my specific examples of prostitution or alcohol, thousands of years of history has embedded certain values in people in every region of the world. Respect for those values is a part of the price we pay for an imperfect system such as democracy. I say that while I sip my glass of wine, of course!

If you were not raised in a very averge Iranian household (not northern Tehran), I can see why you would be arguing about the role of Islam in Iran. As you may know, a muslim is required to pray three times a day, so the difference between practicing versus non-practicing muslims is evident to anyone who knows them at home.

Now if I were the king of Iran for a day (an oxymoron while discussing democracy!) and if I had superior security services to suppress all expected negative reactions from large groups of Iranians, and if I thought that my kingdom was guaranteed to last for ever, then I would allow those freedoms too.

But for now I'm sticking with my day job!

February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBahman

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