The Death of Rafsanjani - Our Fellows' Take

Jan 10, 2017 (reposted Mar 28)

By Gregory Brew & Robert Ames

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, sometimes called "Akbar Shah" or Great King, for his political acumen and insider role, has a bit of a controversial legacy as head of the armed forces during the 1980s and President in the late 1980s and 1990s, but he was a key figure in the reformist movement of the 2000s and a major ally of current president Hassan Rouhani. His death comes as a surprise, and this is definitely a major moment, especially before this summer's election, which Rouhani is expected to win, though not by as wide a margin as previously thought. And Rafsanjani's death removes an influential voice from the backing of the moderate camp. 

For now, it appears that Rafsanjani is being eulogized as a committed revolutionary and being praised for his closeness to Khomeini. His reputation for pragmatism may have played a role in this. Our information from Iran indicates that he's being praised in the moderate press for his role in the reform movement, while regime/mainstream publications are emphasizing his closeness to Khomenei and his past as a war hero, without drawing any attention to the more controversial parts of his past. Still a question as to whether it helps or hurts Rouhani or the reform movement this year.

It is notable that the regime is choosing to highlight him as much as it is, though his death is undeniably a blow for the marginalized reformists; Rafsanjani was a figure with major clout and credentials that couldn't really be questioned, and his loss leaves the movement without an important backer. Based on the information so far, it leaves any kind of serious reformer impulse in politics weaker in the short term.