Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani died Sunday of a heart attack and was buried Tuesday at the mausoleum of the Imam Khomeini, alongside the founder of the Islamic Republic with whom he had been a close collaborator. A huge crowd of over two million people, many of them in tears, paid tribute in the streets of Tehran to the former President of Iran and head of the Expediency Discernment Council.
Prayers were led by the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, at the University of Tehran, where the coffin was displayed before being carried into the mosque in the neighborhood of Jamaran. There the funeral ceremony was held in the presence of the highest state authorities, including President Hassan Rouhani, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani and Chief Justice Sadeq Amoli Larijani. Then the funeral procession headed to the mausoleum where tens of thousands of people gathered to pay last respects to the former president.
The massive participation of Iranians at the funeral confirms the influence Rafsanjani had on the events of the last 40 years. And not only for the role he played in the beginning of the Islamic revolution, when, in 1977, he was one of the founders of the association of clerics who two years later would be crucial to the victory of Khomeini and the end of the dictatorship of the Shah Reza Pahlevi. Rafsanjani was the first speaker of the Iranian Parliament after the revolution and the President of the Republic for two terms, until 1997.
But his widespread popularity came as head of the armed forces in the 1980s. Under his leadership, Iran repelled the attack by Saddam Hussein, who was convinced he could exploit the weakness of post-revolutionary Iran to expand the borders of Iraq. Older Iranians remember the start of an economic policy that ensured jobs and led Iran out of isolation that existed since the revolution.
Many have written that Rafsanjani was a “pragmatic conservative.” That definition, however, must be narrowed: He was a person of a great political influence, with the talents of a skilled diplomat, who promoted the rise of the Conservative Ali Khamenei to the supreme leadership of Iran after Khomeini’s death.
Many years later, he was the main advocate for the presidency of Rouhani, who was defeated at the polls in 2005 to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And behind the scenes, he was also a protagonist of the agreement on the Iranian nuclear program reached in Vienna in July 2015 between Tehran and the great world powers.
Many therefore wonder how his death will affect the upcoming presidential election and the possibility of re-election for Rouhani. The sitting president, without the support of one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Republic, is likely to be weakened further against the conservative field and of the powerful revolutionary guards.
“This scenario is possible but, it should be realized, will not necessarily be advantageous to conservatives,” Ali Hashem, an expert on Iran, told il manifesto. “On the contrary, the death of a leader long regarded like Rafsanjani could increase the sympathy of public opinion toward the moderates.”
It is important to consider, adds Hashem, “that conservatives have not found a strong and unifying presidential candidate to challenge Rouhani and the leading exponents lack charisma, therefore unable to defeat a sitting head of state. The only one that might jeopardize the reappointment of Rouhani is Ahmadinejad, but the Supreme Leader Khamenei has urged him not to run.”
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