Abbas Milani is the Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies at Stanford, where he is also a co-director of Iranian studies at Stanford. His last book is Eminent Persians: The Men and Women who Made Modern Iran (Syracuse University Press, 2008).
Tomorrow, Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani will deliver the Friday sermon in Tehran--the most important pulpit for policy and polemic in Iran. The former president and speaker of the parliament has been a regular on the Friday circuit over the past 30 years, but has been eerily absent for more than two months. More crucially, though the reformist cleric has met with families of those arrested in recent weeks (an important symbolic act), his words since the controversial elections of June 12 have been characteristically ambiguous. This Friday is his hour of reckoning. Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mohammad Khatami have both announced that they will also attend the prayer, and have invited their supporters to do the same. The day has the potential of becoming yet another massive show of force by the opposition.
For at least four years, Rafsanjani has been unhappy about Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's inordinate power, the direction of the country, and Ahmadinejad's demagoguery--particularly spurred by his sharp attacks against the Rafsanjani family. In the weeks before the election, Rafsanjani clearly sided with the reformists and put his considerable assets--financial and political--in the service of Moussavi. Rafsanjani today must know what most Iranians know: Unless he stands up to this most recent power grab by the triumvirate of Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and the Revolutionary Guards, he and his family will be next on the chopping block. Should he, on the other hand, be too defiant in his support for the opposition, he invites the wrath of the triumvirate. This Friday's sermon is thus shaping up as the most important in Rafsanjani's storied career.
Rafsanjani has been involved in Iranian politics for over 50 years, and at the center of power since the inception of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979. He can rightly be credited--or criticized--for playing the determining role in anointing Khamenei the successor to Khomenei. His star seemed to have declined during the Khatami presidency, when the reformist media attacked him for all manner of perfidy, calling him the Godfather of Iranian politics. In spite of these attacks, Rafsanjani remained a powerful operator in the backrooms of clerical authority...