Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani

This picture is in today's New York Times and is by Ali Rafiei at Agence France-Presse. It's a picture of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who spoke at Friday prayers at Tehran University yesterday.

The Iranian election had largely dropped out of the news for the past couple of weeks, but Rafsanjani's speech yesterday is being cited as evidence that the protesters may not yet be done challenging the election results. Rafsanjani implicitly criticized Khamenei's handling of the election, saying that "Everything in our Islamic republic is based on votes." He also called for the release of opposition leaders arrested during the period of unrest.

Mir Hossein Moussavi was in the front row; this was the first time he's been seen in public in several weeks. Also attending was former president Mohammad Khatami.

At the end of the speech, when the loudspeaker called for the "Death to America" chant, some people starting chanting "Death to Russia" instead (!). Also, the Times reports, there were an "unusual proportion of women" at the prayers and many in attendance were wearing green wristbands.

David Ignatius, on yesterday's Friday News Roundup, said we shouldn't read too much into Rafsanjani's speech, since he did not explicitly criticize either Khamenei or Ahmadinejad -- in other words, Ignatius doesn't think the speech represented a true challenge to the regime.

Ignatius is definitely my go-to analyst for international affairs, but I'm not sure I agree with him here. The fact that Rafsanjani called for the release of imprisoned opposition figures seems fairly significant to me -- it's a challenge to a security decision by the regime that goes to the heart of their response to the protests.

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