Has Rafsanjani Returned to Power?

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The common perception up until the 2013 Iranian presidential election has been that Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani has been incrementally sidelined from positions of power ever since leaving the presidency in 1997. Although Rafsanjani is often referred to as one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Republic, his public positions on the 2009 election protests brought out into the open his many disagreements with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As a result, he lost his position as head of the Assembly of Experts and temporary Tehran Friday prayer leader, and was the target of constant attacks by hard-liners in the administration and Sepah, the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Many believed that when Rafsanjani was disqualified to run for the presidency by the Guardian Council three weeks before the election, it was the nail in the coffin of one of the most powerful figures in the Islamic Republic. However, with Hassan Rouhani’s surprising election in large part due to Rafsanjani’s backing (among others, of course) and the strong relationship between the two men, Rafsanjani may yet again be in a position to influence major decisions within the Islamic Republic.

Reformist Etemaad newspaper asked several figures with close relationships to Rafsanjani about his political future. Many of these figures, just like Rafsanjani, have seen their political influence wane in the last eight years with the ascendency of hard-liners in the administration, parliament and other positions of power and influence. Many are now eager to re-establish themselves in various capacities and in the process sideline the hard-liners.

Eshag Jahangiri, who was head of the Rafsanjani’s campaign staff before the disqualification, said that “Rafsanjani is the head of one of the most important institutions in the system next to the supreme leader, which is the Expediency Council. He will not leave the scene as far as management or power is concerned and will remain within the system.” He continued, “Rafsanjani will put his efforts to increasing the power of influence of moderate reformists and Principilists, so that these forces centered around him can increase their operating efficiency.”

Parliament member Ali Motahhari said that “Cooperation between the forces of the revolution can keep the extremists at home.” Motahhari believes “The cooperation of moderate Principilists and moderate Reformists can bring about the victory of moderate discourse against extremist discourse.” He believes that “Rafsanjani is the manifestation of this fateful moderate discourse” and recommended that “Those who are currently unhappy with the current state of affairs should center their assembly on Rafsanjani.”

Seyed Reza Akrami, a member of the Society of Combatant Clergy, “emphasized the importance of giving power to the organizations and political parties, with starting a new organization between all the forces of the revolution, centered on Rafsanjani.” Many political parties and associations, particularly Reformist parties in the last four years, mostly exist in name and have seen their activities and discretions severely limited.

Tehran professor Sadegh Zibakalam said, “The disqualification of Rafsanjani and the events that took place after that has changed Rafsanjani’s political life, which happens to be close to 80 years old.” He believes that “Rafsanjani can be the string in the rosary of the Reformists and Principilists” and that “Instead of creating political parties, it’s important for Rafsanjani to share his experiences with the new generation to play a pivotal role between the moderate Reformists and Principilists.”

Majid Ansari, a member of the Association of Combatant Clerics and the Expediency Council, said that one of the requirements right now is to “secure an organic solidarity and cooperation of the authentic forces of the revolution.” According to the article, Ansari believes that a lack of solidarity has “created a vacuum that provided a scene for extremists and elements who never had any relation to Ayatollah Khomeini.”