Mehdi Hashemi at immigration at a Tehran airport on Sunday night
Forget the flutter around Iran's nuclear programme and a possible Israeli strike. Set aside the economic and currency crises. Move over, President Ahmadinejad --- your planned PR extravaganza in New York has just been eclipsed.
Even the "Week of Sacred Defense", in which Iran marks the 32nd anniversary of the war with Iraq and military commanders chest-thump about a showdown with enemies, has been overtaken.
The story inside Iran on Sunday was suddenly "What Next?" for former President Rafsanjani and his family.
We woke to the news that Faezeh Hashemi, prominent activist and Rafsanjani's daughter, had been arrested to serve a six-month sentence for anti-regime propaganda. We closed Sunday with the confirmation that Mehdi Hashemi, Rafsanjani's son, had returned from a three-year exile in Britain --- even though he is facing prosecution for financial and electoral fraud.
Today we will find out if Mehdi Hashemi obeys the commandment to report to prosecutors. And maybe we will start to get some answers, not only about the specific cases but about the wider political question of the regime and the position of Hashemi Rafsanjani --- President from 1989 to 1997, former head of Assembly of Experts, current head of the Expediency Council, persistent figure in the manoeuvres for power.
A few pieces from this week's events can be put together. Mehdi Hashemi's return to Iran, repeatedly predicted but a strong rumour in Iranian media last week with groups showing up at the airport to protest, was imminent when he showed up in Dubai. Probably because of this, someone within the Iranian establishment --- and that someone is either the Supreme Leader or has his approval --- decided to send a warning by summoning Faezeh Hashemi.
Yet Mehdi Hashemi still showed up at immigration in Tehran's airport last night, with press photographers ready to snap the picture.
Cue the speculation. Hashemi Rafsanjani had decided, after years of shifting fortunes, had decided on a showdown with others within the regime. Rafsanjani had cut a deal with the Supreme Leader. Rafsanjani had been caught by surprise by the persistence of his son and the regime's reaction.
I don't know. And I doubt few people --- possibly not Rafsanjani, possibly not even the Supreme Leader --- have a full idea of how the politics and intimidation played out to this point and what comes next. Instead, the key figures have to make a quick re-assessment today and calculate the benefits and costs of their next steps.
But the general picture is this. In July 2009, Rafsanjani --- weeks after he been accused by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of corruption in a nationally-televised election debate, a month after the disputed Presidential vote and the ensuring mass protests --- reached the summit of his defiance when he challenged the regime in his Tehran Friday Prayer sermon.
It was the last Friday Prayer speech he would deliver, as the establshment, all the way to the Supreme Leader's office, moved to contain him. Mehdi Hashemi, already in Britain, was named in the indictment during the show trial of more than 100 defendants in August. Threats were issued through the media. And by the autumn, Rafsanjani had stepped back: there would be no alliance with the opposition leaders or the Green Movement, no marching with the protests.
That has not stopped the containment of the former President. He was replaced as head of the Assembly of Experts. His website was briefly shut down. Faezeh Hashemi was publicly harassed, insulted, and intimidated. The Tehran Public Prosecutor announced that Mehdi Hashemi would be taken to court if he returned to Iran. The Supreme Leader rejected Rafsanjani's personal appeal to intervene in the cases of abused political prisoners, including the former President's close allies.
An accommodation appeared to have been reached, however. Rafsanjani has avoided direct criticism of the President, let alone Ayatollah Khamenei, but has offered his concerns through coded, cautious statements. He has retained public profile, in part through his leadership of the Expediency Council. There are those who speak of his attempt to reclaim more power, but they almost always speak from speculation, not from substance.
This weekend, and the days to come, could unsettle this. Rafsanjani's weakest point may always have been his family, with the Damocles Sword held over his son and daughter. If the former President says nothing about Faezeh's arrest and Mehdi's prosecution, that sword will have been publicly wielded to cut him further down to size within the system. If Rafsanjani responds, however, he has to decide whether to take this to the showdown that never occurred in 2009.
My guess --- and it is only a guess --- is that Rafsanjani will take the cautious, private route of contacting officials, sending signals, offering discussions. A renewed accommodation will be sought. Faezeh Hashemi will serve a short period in prison. The prosecution will announce its charges against Mehdi Hashemi, but the process of investigation and any court hearings will be drawn out.
Still, a loose end. None of this addresses what may have been the catalyst for a renewed Rafsanjani drama, the event that disturbed the Live and Let Live of the top members of the regime.
Why did Mehdi Hashemi insist on returning to Iran?