Domestic atmosphere in Iran has been tense over the past month following the unsolicited demise of heavyweight Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani and the threatening prospects of the inauguration of radical Donald Trump as US president.
Ever since the Ayatollah’s death, ongoing debates on the question of refilling the vacuum he left as a balancing weight in the country’s domestic sphere has been the talk of local and international media. Doubtlessly, the side more directly affected is the coalition of moderates and reformists with whom Hashemi Rafsanjani aligned more closely in his declining years. Now, and in the face of ominous prospects overcasting Iran’s foreign policy after Donald Trump takes office, many political activists in Iran seems to have itchy feet to arrive at a quick-response plan to unite the country.
In an interview with Khabar Online published on Saturday, deputy chairman of the pro-reform parliamentary bloc Mohammad-reza Tabesh said the Reformists should try to establish close contact with the Supreme Leader because the lack thereof is a weakness for the camp and results in abuse by the rival front. When asked if certain individuals are supposed to establish such ties or there is a specific plan to do so, Tabesh said requests have been submitted from various Reformist groups and spectra, expressing hope that it will be accepted and the Supreme Leader will determine the mechanism. In response to a question on the possibility of a shift in the camp’s strategy for the upcoming presidential race in the wake of Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani’s death, he said the front would strongly pursue the plans it had. Elsewhere in his remarks, Tabesh said the Supreme Leader knows and trusts many pro-reform figures who are in touch with him, but the ties in between are not close [enough].
The initiative that is now receiving publicity appears to be supported by several Reformist factions, as well. Tabesh’s remarks actually come as an endorsement for earlier comments made by the Executives of Construction Party’s spokesman, Hossein Mar’ashi, who had, in interview with Arman daily, called for direct contact between the Reformists and the Supreme Leader after Hashemi Rafsanjani’s demise. The spokesman had remarked that the Supreme Leader is now the only personality left from the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s insider circle. “Thus, if Ayatollah Hashemi was in touch with certain political groups on behalf of the establishment, playing the link between the sides, today the only person who can fill that gap is the Supreme Leader,” Arman daily quoted him as saying.
Another member of the parliament’s Reformist bloc, Behrouz Bonyadi reiterated in an interview with ISNA that at the moment, the country’s officials and political parties should move toward a national reconciliation with understanding and consensus and concentrate all efforts for the settlement of the problems and country’s progress. “It is no good sign that some remarks made by politicians from different factions are destructive and against the country’s cultural principles. We expect that officials reach a consensus to resolve the problems and stop wasting their time on political games when the country faces plenty of attacks from certain countries,” ISNA quoted him as saying.
Pro-reform activist Javad Emam has also said that the Supreme Leader does not belong to a single political camp. “Those who imply such beliefs are traitors to the establishment and the Supreme Leader, even if they consider themselves Principlists dedicated to the rule of the Leader,” he said, according to Vaght Iran website.
As Shargh daily noted in an article, efforts for such a reconciliation date back to the last year of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in office, 2012. Now Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri then told a talk show aired on state-run TV that the Supreme Leader saw Reformist and Principlist factions as two wings of the establishment. Calling the Supreme Leader a center of gravity for the establishment, he said he believed that all political factions should have sophisticated ties with the Supreme Leader to bring up their demands, elicit his views, and put them to use in practice. In 2013, a month before the presidential race, candidate Mohammad-reza Aref also told media that the relationship between the Reformists and the Supreme Leader had been improved.
While other voices in the Reformist front have also implied their support for the initiative, Principlists do not seem reluctant either. Sobhe No daily, believed to be linked with Principlist figures like Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Bagher Qalibaf and former MP Alireza Zakani, dedicated its editorial here on Monday to what it calls the way to ‘approach the leader’. The unsigned editorial wrote that the decision of the Reformist camp is ‘naturally welcome among all political factions’ and could bring about auspicious outcomes. However, it went on to argue that several issues should be taken into account in this regard, incusing the Supreme Leader’s expectations of commitment to Revolutionary ideals and demarcation with enemies.
Worth noting also comes a Telegram channel linked to IRGC’s cultural headquarters called ‘Ammar Cyberspace’, which published a post, immediately viral, claiming that Reformist leaders are drafting an open letter addressed to the leader and express remorse for their alleged role in the sedition, a series of street rallies in protest to the disputed reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. According to the post, the tone and rhetoric to be used in the letter has been agreed and it will emphasize that the international situation necessitates collaboration among all domestic parties. The mastermind behind the letter is former President Mohammad Khatami and he will be among signatories beside several other prominent pro-reform figures, the post claimed. The letter is reportedly intended to ask the Supreme Leader to permit their involvement in political and executive spheres. The Telegram channel claimed that the letter has its own opponents among ‘more radical reformist figures’ including Mostafa Tajzadeh, who served a long term in prison following the 2009 unrest. The Reform leader Mohammad Khatami reportedly believes such differences should be resolved through negotiations and the letter itself should not spark division in the camp. The channel that repeatedly calls Khatami as the rebel against the revolution claims that the former president has criticized former ally and dissident leader now under house arrest Mirhossein Mousavi in private circles, saying no vote rigging had occurred in the 2009 presidential race, as Mousavi and his supporters argued.
Here on Monday, Sobhe No retweeted a Principlist journalist whose tongue-in-cheek tweet could be a clue as to why the right is suddenly so welcoming to the suggestion. “The Reform’s reconciliation with the establishment could pave the way to bulldoze over [President Hassan] Rouhani,” quipped Sadegh Nikoo.