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Iran: Ex-President Hashemi-Rafsanjani Draws Right-Wing Ire

(RFE/RL) February 8, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Former Iranian President and current Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani has faced verbal attacks from conservative elements in the country in the past. But a recent spate of criticism has some observers convinced that there is a bid afoot to undermine his influence and, increasingly, his status as an alternative to radicalism associated with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

A recent attack on Hashemi-Rafsanjani came -- cited in the daily "Kargozaran" on February 3 -- at a ceremony held to commemorate the 7th-century death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Husayn, a figure venerated by Shi'a.

Such events are usually hosted by a preacher or speaker (maddah) who eloquently recreates the circumstances of Husayn's violent death, although it is not uncommon for preachers to comment on current events.

At one such ceremony, the prominent preacher Mansur Arzi -- also known as Haj Mansur -- accused Hashemi-Rafsanjani of "scaring" people with his public statements. The cleric threatened to disclose "revelations" about Hashemi-Rafsanjani's presidential terms in 1989-97, according to "Kargozaran" on February 3, a daily that is run by a party close to Hashemi-Rafsanjani. ("Kargozaran" is run by the Executives of Construction party, the Kargozaran-i Sazandegi.)

Return To Prominence

The "Kargozaran" daily said the attack follows Hashemi-Rafsanjani's return to greater public visibility. It also comes on the heels of his calls for the state to be more tolerant, hasten privatization, and demonstrate caution in foreign policy.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani (right) voting with fellow former President Mohammad Khatami in elections in December 2006 (MNA)

"Kargozaran" argued that the criticism of Hashemi-Rafsanjani appears aimed at "discrediting render useless his efforts to restore balance to the country's political sphere." The paper claimed that Haj Mansur has a reputation for using "undignified" language that has essentially excluded him from state radio and television for the past two years. Until lately, that is.

Ahmadinejad's intermittent tirades against economic liberalization and the alleged "cronies" who thrived under Rafsanjani's policies are more oblique criticisms of Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Hashemi-Rafsanjani was also heckled in Qom in June by presumed rightwingers.

Under 'Pressure'

"Kargozaran" examined reasons for the resurgent anger of what it labeled a "pressure group." The term is applied to religious or rightwing radicals who have in past years threatened, heckled, or even beaten up demonstrators -- usually students or liberals -- with seeming impunity.

The daily stated that, firstly, Hashemi-Rafsanjani won the most votes in Tehran in December's elections for the Assembly of Experts, a key clerical body, and the result was seen by many as a rejection by voters of political and religious radicalism. Secondly, "Kargozaran" noted that moderate politicians have recently been consulting with Hashemi-Rafsanjani on national affairs, and -- in its words -- "this has created the concern among extremists that the entire system is no longer prepared to tolerate their irresponsible conduct." The paper argued that radicals are attacking Hashemi-Rafsanjani for being the crux of these political consultations. Thirdly, the daily claimed that Hashemi-Rafsanjani has recently backed transparent political parties, which, it said, "the extremists hate."

A second recent attack has come from another outspoken right-winger -- Fatemeh Rajabi, the wife of government spokesman Gholamhussein Elham. Rajabi reportedly wrote recently to denounce Hashemi-Rafsanjani and parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel's calls for large-scale privatization. Rajabi alleged that "Haddad-Adel has no right as [Majlis] speaker to defend capitalism in this way." She then asserted that "one does not expect someone who had no political profile before entering the sixth [previous] parliament to be able to provide any political or economic theories outside frameworks set out by the likes of" Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami, and Hasan Rohani -- all prominent moderates or reforming clerics. She went on to claim that Hashemi-Rafsanjani has changed from fervent revolutionary to "the godfather of reformism, including...monarchists and hypocrites." She accused him of coordinating attacks on the Ahmadinejad government since 2005.

The daily "Kargozaran" said that while Rajabi carries little political weight herself, Iran is a country where fiery rhetoric can provoke some to take rash actions. The paper cited the attempted assassination in 2000 of reformist Said Hajjarian and other violent acts that reformers believe have followed verbal provocation by some clerics or hard-liners.

Defending Hashemi-Rafsanjani

Politicians have responded to these attacks -- seemingly for reasons of Hashemi-Rafsanjani's institutional standing and perhaps out of fear that such attacks, if unanswered, could become a bolder offensive that targets other politicians.

Conservative Mariam Behruzi advised Rajabi to "state her views in the most peaceful and moderate manner," "Kargozaran" reported on February 5. A member of Iran's conservative Militant Clergy Society, Gholamreza Mesbahi-Moqaddam, has said that preachers have no right to "infect" religious services with "damaging" attacks, "Kargozaran" reported on February 4, saying that "certain people" should not be allowed to insult Hashemi-Rafsanjani.

Conservative cleric Ahmad Khatami told congregational prayers in Tehran on February 2 that "we are not allowed" to insult those who have served the revolutionary cause for decades and were faithful to the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, ISNA reported. He warned that "insults and the violation of limits create discord" and went on to denounce "damaging" attacks on the three branches of government.

Common Cause

Recent attacks have prompted reformists not previously associated with Hashemi-Rafsanjani to publicly support him. Mohsen Mirdamadi, the secretary-general of the Participation Front -- whose democratizing agenda in the 1990s nearly clashed with Hashemi-Rafsanjani's brand of pragmatism -- said on February 2 that his group has had "good relations" with Hashemi-Rafsanjani "in recent years, as [they] have now, and usually consult with him on important state affairs," "Etemad" reported on February 3.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani leading Friday Prayers in Tehran on January 26 (Fars)

Students even have sought Hashemi-Rafsanjani out over their grievances. Student Ruzbeh Karimi was quoted by ILNA reported on February 3 as saying that recent statements by Hashemi-Rafsanjani indicated "moderate and progressive" views. He said students recently banned from their postgraduate courses are hoping he might intervene on their behalf.

The attacks on Hashemi-Rafsanjani might indicate an increasingly visible realignment of political forces -- radicals and revolutionaries on the one hand, and pragmatists, moderates, or reformers fearful of another plunge into the police state and revolutionary turmoil of the 1980s, on the other.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani might now be a focal point of this divide, a last-ditch defender of lawful government for some. And a symbol of detested pragmatism and the free market to others.

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