Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Cultural Revolution to Eliminate Rafsanjani
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From amongst the events and comments on Iran since the election of Ahmadinejad as the new hardline president of Iran, it appears that there may be a movement to launch a cultural revolution of Chinese style to eliminate Rafsanjani from Iran’s political landscape. But is it possible?
Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has a long history of political leadership in Iran since the revolution of 1979 that toppled the monarchy and brought the clergy to power. He was first recognized as a man of power when he stood next to ayatollah Khomeini in Alavi School in Tehran when all the world attention was on the founder of the Islamic state. As a member of the Revolutionary Council that planned the ouster of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, he presented Khomeini’s order to Mehdi Bazargan to form a government and be the Republic’s first Prime Minister. He then again gained prominence at ayatollah Motahari’s memorial service when he announced that the clergy in Iran would not make the mistake they had made in the Constitutional Movement of 1906 by relinquishing their power to the secular groups and this time would remain in power and in political control. Until then it was believed that Khomeini’s proclamation that the clergy would return to their teaching centers after the collapse of the monarchy would be followed, and thus the importance of Rafsanjani’s announcement. He formed the Islamic Republican Party and even though he failed to win Khomeini’s approval for its first presidential candidate (Jalaleldin Farsi), the party succeeded in winning the majority of the seats of the first Islamic Majlis (i.e. Parliament).
A year into the revolution, Rafsanjani and other leaders i.e. Mohammad Beheshti, Mosavi Ardebili, Mohammad Javad Bahonar and Ali Khamenei together warned Khomeini who was ill in hospital through a letter of the impending assault by secular forces to oust the clerics from power. The letter was never delivered to Khomeini, but it indicated their frustrations due to lack of Khomeini’s support for extending the role of the Islamic Republican Party and its workings.
Working as the speaker and leader of the Majlis whose majority belonged to the Islamic Republican Party (i.e. IRP) led by Rafsanjani, he weakened then President Bani Sadr’s (who was a non cleric) selection of a uniform cabinet and widened its attacks on him. While continuing to promote the party despite Khomeini’s disinclination to strengthen and expand it. When the time for another round of elections came up, Khomeini again did not support the IRP, and thus Rafsanjani, in its choice for a Prime Minister. So Mohammad Ali Rajai was overwhelmingly voted by the Majlis which was led by him and thus imposed on to him. Rafsanjani demonstrated his powers in his opposition to Bani Sadr and through the same Majlis that he ran soon impeached Bani Sadr, bringing on a difficult period of conflict and civil war with the Mojahedin Khalq Organization. After Bani Sadr’s departure, Rafsanjani acquired was given the additional powers of overseeing the war with Iraq, something he directed till its end.
Political observers have said that a group of Khomeini’s advisers led by his son Ahmad were against the consolidation of political power in the hands of the IRP, contrary to Rafsanjani’s wishes. The party was eventually dismantled but the struggle for its growth and then life explains the support this group around Khomeini gave to the split within the powerful cleric association Jame Rohaniyate Mobarez to form the Majmae Rohaniyate Mobarez, the opposition to the Anjmane Hojatiye, an established right-wing cleric association, the opposition to Ali Akbar Velayati becoming Prime Minister (presented to the Majlis by Khamenei) and the selection of Mir Hossein Mousavi as the Prime Minister, all against Rafsanjani’s wishes.
The seven years that ended with Khomeini’s death brought and kept Rafsanjani as the number two man in the Islamic Republic. He made Khomeini accept the termination of the eight-year war with Iraq and accept responsibility for it, despite calls by others to continue fighting. But more importantly was the removal of ayatollah Montazeri as Khomeini’s successor, once dubbed by Khomeini as the fruit of all his life. Montazeri had been criticizing the management of the country’s affairs for a while – management that was essentially in the hands of Khamenei and Rafsanjani - specifically the executions and the policies of the hardliners. Right-wing politicians rejoiced at Monazeri’s removal from power, while Rafsanjani, Khamenei and Mousavi Ardebili kept their silence over the issue. This despite the fact that Montezeri blames Rafsanjani and Ahmad Khomeini for his downfall in his memoirs.
Scanty reports indicate that as Khomeini’s health deteriorated, Ahmad Khomeini and Rafsanjani had agreed on Khamenei succeeding Khomeini. Khomeini, who was conscious only a few hours a day during his last days, had called in both Hashemi and Khamenei repeatedly and stressed to both to stay together and not allow others to instill discord between them. Ahmad, Khomeini’s only surviving son before his death is said to have expressed his father’s concern about difference between Khamenei and Rafsanjani, pointing out that if that takes ground then all will be lost, meaning the republic they had created.
After Khomeini’s death, the meeting of the Experts Council to decide on a successor to Khomeini was lead and guided by Rafsanjani, who also got his nominee Khamenei into the leadership position even though others had been proposed as well, i.e. grand ayatollah Golpaygani, Mosavi Ardebili and Ahmad Khomeini, among them, and despite the fact that Khamenei did not have the religious qualifications to take that position as the constitution had specified. Soon, the assembly that was working on amending the constitution concluded its sessions by eliminating the position of Prime Minister, giving all his powers to the President and strengthening the powers of the President and the Leader. Khamenei resigned as President to take up the position of Leader and fresh elections were called for a new President. In short, Rafsanjani was already there.
Observers have said that in Khomeini’s absence, with Khamenei as Leader and Rafsanjani as President, the best solution was found for the post-Khomeini years, i.e. the second decade of the revolution. Soon, Rafsanjani found himself disengaged and in opposing with the hardliners in the country and in practical terms confronting their powers and activities. During Khatami’s presidency, Rafsanjani more or less maintained his power as the number two man in the Islamic Republic, despite his near defeat and subsequent resignation to the Majlis. But he prepared himself for a post Khatami period. He formed a new coalition and banked on the middle class that he had help create, along with the technocrats who had always supported him, to cast him their votes in the seventh presidential elections in June 2005. It was believed, and not unjustly, that the votes of the 16 million pro-reformists, versus the 11 million who had voted for Ahmadinejad, would cast their ballots for Rafsanjani in the runoff elections. But politics is full of surprises. Ahmadinejad the unfamiliar face of the hardliners and revolutionary Islam, beat the powerful and seasoned leader of the revolution.
This defeat for Rafsanjani was different from the one he had suffered 4 years ago during his run for the Majlis. This time the volume of criticism and misinformation about him was carried out by precisely the people whom he had nurtured and on whose vote he depended: the middle class, the technocrats, clergy in Qom, the second generation Passdaran guards, and even the para-military Baseej. But why had the second generation of the Revolution turned its back to its first generation leaders?
Several theories circulate.
One is that he himself did not heed to the calls to refrain from taking part in the elections and chose to challenge it, even when he discovered that his friend of fifty years had someone else set to get into the presidential saddle.
Another is that this is in fact a Chinese style cultural revolution aimed at wiping out the accomplishments of the last 16 years. It has no other means than to incite public sentiment. So any means is used to wipe Rafsanjani out to clear the way for the cultural revolution. Will Hashemi be the Teng Xiaoping of Iran? And like him, will Rafsanjani rise to power again and then take his revenge?
The third theory has it that because of Khamenei’s serious illness, hardliners are busy laying the foundation for their next Leader, and Rafsanjani is not on their list.
Still another view believes that because of the widespread dissatisfaction among the public, the regime is in search of someone who it can dump so as to keep the hope of reform alive for the future.
And there are those who believe that the hardliners have generally succeeded in driving out all the moderates from power (Bazargan, Bani Sadr, and Montazeri) and now it is merely Rafsanjani’s turn.
Rafsanjani’s strategy was similar to the Shah’s in promoting economic development while keeping the lid on political reforms and freedoms. In this regard, Ahmadinejad is right in proclaiming this to be a new revolution. But this time it was against Rafsanjani.
To sort out through these views and make meaningful conclusions, perhaps one may look at the events since the elections. Majlis deputy Elias Naderan, the man who had in the past opened a case against Rafsanjani has again asked the Ministry of Intelligence to investigate the comments of a manager of an oil company who has stated that he had heard Rafsanjani’s son Mehdi Hashemi say that he must provide the expenses for his father’s presidential campaigning. He has also opened up another file involving a bribery suit against a Danish oil company that had received bribes from an Iranian source to win an oil contract. In this regard, a manager of a company in London claims that he was asked to collect monies from the Danish company for Mehdi Hashemi. These accusations and claims were refuted by the government of the time. Naderan is a colleague of Ahmadinejad and a former Passdaran Revolutionary Guard chief so these talks these days acquire a different meaning. And it is no accident that Keyhan newspaper writes on Rafsanjani that it appears that the number two man of the Islamic Republic has been exercising more influence than his due right, so that power and influence have gone wherever he has gone.
Those opposing Rafsanjani have plenty to point to in their drive to eliminate him from the political arena. But Rafsanjani remains the first politician to write on the dealings behind the scenes while being still in power. And what he has written puts him in the center of all the major events in the country, ranging from executions to assassinations, and to economic miseries. He himself sees his role as such, and thus remains polluted with wealth and power.
And it is because of his position, power and history that those who wish to remove him may only succeed if they embark something as grand as a cultural revolution. After all, Rafsanjani is publicly held responsible for much of where we are in today. In this sense, removing his is not more difficult than removing Montazeri, but the question then is this: who will remain for the Islamic Republic after Rafsanjani?