Rafsanjani's main message: Don't write off reformists
Within hours of the Friday sermon, grainy cellphone videos surfaced showing crowds surging away from tear-gas plumes and kicking the canisters back toward police.
Intermittent clashes between police and protesters persisted in Tehran tonight after an emotional Friday sermon by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's most powerful political opponent, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, that has prolonged Iran's political crisis.Skip to next paragraph
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The influential former president broke a month-long silence to deliver a politically ambiguous sermon drawing parallels between the popular rallies that "broke the back of the arrogant Pahlavi regime" in 1979 and the street demonstrations following the disputed election last month.
Mr. Rafsanjani, a key supporter of defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi's presidential campaign, stressed his own revolutionary credentials and called for the release of political prisoners. In a voice trembling with emotion, he called for national reconciliation, stressing respect toward the families of those killed during the protests that claimed at least 20 lives. The sermon was carried by BBC Persia, but by none of Iran's state TV channels.
"His real goal was to ensure the reformist camp can be brought into domestic political equation, that it cannot be written off as the [Communist] Tudeh or [Marxist-Islamic] MKO were at the beginning of the revolution," says Siavush Randjbar-Daemi, an Iranian political analyst based in Italy who was in Iran for the recent elections. "Rafsanjani was saying that you can't eject the reformists and discredit them as kafir [infidels], that they're all part of the regime just as much as the hard-liners."
Crowds flee tear gas outside prayer hall
Tens of thousands of reformists followed calls to flood the Friday prayer – an agenda-setting event traditionally dominated by hard-liners. Sitting in the front row was Mr. Mousavi, who, despite strong pressure to accept the election result, has maintained it was fraudulent. Mousavi was, however, unaccompanied by former reformist president and ally Mohammad Khatami – contrary to supporters' expectations – and excluded from the VIP section.
In a move interpreted as an attempt to frustrate calls for reformists to flood the front rows of the Friday prayer hall, up until an hour before the event organizers allowed only individuals who "appeared to belong to a certain political trend or who had made prior arrangements," according to a Persian-language article on the Iranian news site Aftab.
Cellphone networks were down throughout the afternoon as authorities sought to disrupt ground communications between groups of protesters.