The issue of whether or not Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, former President (two terms) and Head of the Expediency Council will throw his hat into the ring of presidential candidates took center stage in Iran’s domestic arena.
Rafsanjani, for his part, emphasized at the end of a week of speculation that he would run for president if and only if the Supreme Leader approved it and that “If the circumstances (his decision to run for president) will lead to differences of opinion and disputes between me and the leadership, everyone will lose (and this needs to be avoided), and the results would be undesirable.” He added that he is checking the political situation in Iran before he makes his final decision. Candidates from the reformist camp, including Mohammad Reza Aref, announced that if at the end of the day Rafsanjani or Mohammad Khatami decide to run in the elections, they would withdraw from the race. In a survey conducted on the popular website, Asr-e Iran, 51% expressed support for Rafsanjani as a candidate.
The issue of Rafsanjani entering the race has generated a great deal of noise on the Iranian domestic scene. His detractors argued that he was a partner in the protests that followed the June 2009 presidential elections and is thus actually part of the sedition, making him unfit to run again. Others, including Ali Motahhari, one of Ahmadinejad’s loudest critics, lashed out against such talk and said that there is no reason why Rafsanjani shouldn’t submit his candidacy if that is what he wants. Ali Akbar Velyati, the Supreme Leader’s Advisor on International Affairs and a potential candidate, noted in this regard that any candidate who is approved by the Guardian Council is fit to run in the elections.
Rafsanjani, president of Iran from 1989-1997, continues to serve as head of the Expediency Discernment Council of the System. In March 2011, he withdrew his candidacy for the position of Chairman of the Assembly of Experts, a position he had held, due to concern that he would be defeated. Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani was elected instead, and while Rafsanjani lost some of his power, he remained a key figure in Iran.
Rafsanjani is at times perceived in the West as the “good principlist” – the person who can effect real change. This is based on his efforts since the end of the Iran-Iraq War throughout all of his political activity to contain and limit the growing influence of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), as he recognized their growing power. Since the June 2009 elections, Rafsanjani has given his hesitant support to the reformist camp, and in a Friday sermon (on July 17, 2009) even called for the release of prisoners. This was also his last Friday sermon. The fact that he stopped giving Friday sermons in Tehran weakened Rafsanjani’s influence significantly, although he continued from time to time to publish items on his website. Since that time, the rift between him and the regime has deepened. Rafsanjani’s family, including his daughter Faezeh, are under surveillance. Faezeh, who is a member of the Green Movement, has even been arrested several times and served time in prison. His son is slated to go on trial.
Rafsanjani is perceived as being an enemy of the IRGC and as being the person who suggested that Khamenei to stop the war against Iraq. Article 150 of the Iranian Constitution states, “The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, organized in the early days of the triumph of the Revolution, is to be maintained so that it may continue in its role of guarding the Revolution and its achievements.” The “Guards” took a broad, even very broad, interpretation of this article.
The changes now taking place in the Middle East provide the IRGC with fertile ground for its extensive operations among Islamic elements in Arab countries that are in the midst of historic change. Now the IRGC can more easily activate its sleeper cells in the Arab countries and increase aid to Islamic (particularly Shiite) insurgents. This is being done while the brakes ¾ such as Rafsanjani ¾ on this policy are wearing ever thinner. The various operations the IRGC has undertaken since the Revolution have changed it and its position in Iranian society beyond recognition. From disjointed groups in the various Iranian cities on the eve of the Revolution, the organization has amassed great economic and military strength and, in fact, become the most influential and powerful player in Iran from the military, economic and political perspectives. In fact, it is the IRGC that is spearheading the terror policy and export of the Revolution through the Quds Force that works through a “proxy” (Hamas and Hezbollah) against Israel in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Egypt and North Africa to promote Iran’s agenda.
Today the IRGC is gradually completing its takeover of Iran, while other groups considered more moderate that have operated until this time on the domestic scene, including Rafsanjani and other senior officials from the first generation of the Revolution ¾ including among the religious establishment ¾ are being pushed out of their positions of power and being replaced by the IRGC.
Should Rafsanjani decide to join the presidential race and provided that the elections are fair (unlike the June 2009 elections), this will mark his final attempt to change the current collision course Iran is on with the West, and it may already be too late.