A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rafsanjani's Friday Sermon

Based on the early reports it sounds as if Rafsanjani's Friday sermon in Tehran was, more or less as I suspected, more conciliatory than confrontational, but nonetheless acknowledged that something needs to be done to erase doubts about the election results. His call for freeing the prisoners from the demonstrations is clearly a sign of that. Mousavi's attendance at the Friday prayer service also seems to be his first public appearance since the crackdown.

A lot of coverage around. Nico Putney at Huffington Post is still live-blogging events, one of many good ways to keep up. Al-Jazeera's take isn't much different from the BBC's. A pro-government semi-official site here. And an interesting eyewitness account on the National Iranian-American Council site here.

My not-entirely-thought-through first reactions:
  • Pretty characteristic Rafsanjani: basically cautious but still critical, clearly aligning himself with the opposition and warning that Iran is in crisis, though, thus making clear he is not on board with the results. But not encouraging violence: calling instead for reconciliation, for restoring "one family" of Iranians.
  • The overall event was non-violent. There were arrests, and apparently Mehdi Karrubi was jostled and his turban knocked off, but none of the thuggish Basiji violence that characterized some earlier demonstrations. UPDATE: There do seem to have been some confrontations in the streets after the prayer was over.
  • Overall message: this isn't over, and the regime has some work to do to restore confidence, but on the other hand, change will come from within the system, not from revolution, at least if Rafsanjani can call the shots.
  • While characteristic, it is the first time in some years that Rafsanjani has been quite so openly outspoken, and may be a sign he is declaring himself with the opposition to work within the system. A billionaire, he knows his own future is dependent on remaining at the heart of the system, not bringing it down.
There's a lot out there on the speech and I haven't seen it all, but those are my first impressions.

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