Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 7:04
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I got it wrong. Writing on a train to Edinburgh and relying on a shaky translation, I updated yesterday that Hashemi Rafsanjani's address at the Assembly of Experts had been clever but cautious. With an emphasis on unity, an alignment with the Supreme Leader, and a call for resolution within the system, he had not made a direct challenge to the Government.
Fortunately EA's Mr Johnson, with a thorough and incisive translation of the speech, corrected my reading in a later update and identified Rafsanjani's very direct message to President Ahmadinejad and his allies. Put not so cleverly and carefully, it is this. Mr President, it is time for you to compromise, especially with the senior clerics, in a process overseen by the Supreme Leader. Doing so, you will acknowledge where the final authority lies in the Islamic Republic: with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, backed by his clerical experts, and not with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Doing so, you will acknowledge that your direction and your officials are responsible for post-election abuses which must be punished and redressed.
Several important caveats to this message should be noted. This does not mean that Hashemi Rafsanjani is in step with the Green movement. At no point yesterday, as far as I know, did he acknowledge their presence. The Qods Day demonstrations had been of the Iranian people showing their determined defense of the cause of Palestine. Mehdi Karroubi's letter was never cited as the source of Rafsanjani's knowledge of abuses. Only the Supreme Leader and the marjas (the most senior of clerics) were identified --- Khamenei explicitly, the marjas implicitly --- as the defenders of justice. And Rafsanjani always balanced his charges of crimes and abuses with the general invocation that they had been committed by all sides in the conflict, not just by the security forces and Government officials. Rafsanjani does not walk in step with the Green movement but their paths converge when it comes to the desire to curb Ahmadinejad.
And that leads to the second caveat: although Rafsanjani never said so, the opposition opened up the space and thus made it possible for him to make his challenge. In particular, Rafsanjani needs the demonstration on Qods Day that many Iranian people were not only still angry with the President, still insistent on changes in the system, but also ready to take to the streets to give political substance to their feelings. In retrospect, that seems to be the reason why the former President laid low on Friday, watching, wating, and calculating, and then made his appearance (which, inevitably, would be in the vicinity of President Ahmadinejad but, now it is clear, not alongside him) at the Supreme Leader's end-of-Ramadan speech. Rafsanjani had some security in the criticism of the Government by senior clerics, many of whom were in the Assembly yesterday, but even those individuals might be picked off by the Ahmadinejad forces with their relatives arrested and their reputations slandered. After Friday, however, he had the security of knowing that, if the Government persisted, so would mass opposition by the Green movement. Resistance would not be broken. And he had also had the security of the Supreme Leader's Sunday address. For Khamenei had said to the President and the Revolutionary Guard, in his directive that in-court confessions could not be used against any third party, that Rafsanjani's family were immune from the charges in the Tehran trials.
A third caveat is essential, however. Rafsanjani did not call and will not call, even in code, for the dismissal of Ahmadinejad. That moment, if it ever existed, passed long ago with the affirmation of the Supreme Leader that the 12 June election result would stand.
No, Ahmadinejad can still be top political dog. But Rafsanjani is asking that he be put in the doghouse and on a firm leash.
This leads to an irony which is not an irony. The still-loose President was on his way to New York when Rafsanjani made his speech challenging that President's authority. A far from ironic moment, however, because Rafsanjani had undoubtedly made another calculation. It is not just that Ahmadinejad is out of the country but that his rhetoric will be directed at external issues such as the nuclear programme and Irna's leadership in causes such as the campaign such as Zionism.
Those issues are secondary --- although almost all in the "Western" media will have no comprehension of this --- to the internal matters put forward by Rafsanjani yesterday. So, once more as with the 17 July Friday Prayer address, he has the initiative.
Here is the question. Will the Supreme Leader, who opened up the door to Rafsanjani's political re-entry, now accompany him in that initiative?