Iran moderates hope Rafsanjani’s death can soften attitudes

Saeed Kamali Dehghan reports: The turnout was huge and for those who still hope that Iran’s hardline theocratic regime can be reformed, it was full of pathos. As Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the Islamic republic’s former president, was laid to rest on Tuesday in south Tehran, hundreds of thousands of Iranians gathered in and around Tehran University.

For many of those present, the scene was reminiscent of the heady days of protest during the stillborn “green revolution” of 2009. Mourners turned the funeral into a rare display of public dissent, in the biggest gathering of its kind for seven years. The volume of state loudspeakers was turned up to drown out the chants in support of the two main opposition leaders under house arrest, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, as well as former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, who has also faced growing harassment.

Rafsanjani’s sudden death has deprived moderates of a key powerbroker who retained significant influence in the regime despite his views becoming steadily less hardline in recent years.

Iran’s current president, Hassan Rouhani, a close ally of Rafsanjani, urged unity after the ceremony, tweeting “let’s make bridges, not walls”. A deputy speaker of the parliament, Ali Motahari, a rare outspoken MP, said the passion on display showed the establishment had to end the house arrests.

Though many mourners took part simply to show respect for Rafsanjani, others took the size of the crowd as grounds for hope that a campaign for greater democracy, women’s rights and personal freedoms could be revived. Leading student activist Bahareh Hedayat, who was released in September after nearly seven years in prison, was among the crowd. “Rafsanjani’s popularity was a sign that people still want change and that they’re pursuing this through legal and peaceful means,” she told the Observer from Tehran. [Continue reading…]

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