Rafsanjani Dies, Iranian Moderates Loose an Important Figure

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an Iranian ayatollah and former president of the Islamic republic died on January 8th. He was an important figure in the establishment of the current government. Rafsanjani helped Ruhollah Khomeini seize power in the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and has been involved in the government ever since.

He held office from 1989 to 1997, from immediately after the Iran-Iraq War until when he was replaced by the reformist Mohammad Khatami. Although Rafsanjani was touted in the Western media as a reformist himself, his many conservative positions (especially hardline statements on Israel) made many consider him to be a moderate at best. As an example, the AMIA bombing, a terror attack in Argentina, was done under his rule, and was quite possibly directed by his government. Later, he considered himself to be the moderate alternative to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the previous president and a well-known right-wing populist. Rafsanjani took left-wing positions on social and economic issues, and he was willing to engage in dialogue with the West.

In recent years, Rafsanjani stayed in positions of power by allying himself with the hardline Alliance of Builders of Islamic Iran. As such, his recent funeral was attended by reformist protesters who want Iran to return to the governing style of the Khatami government.

Rafsanjani was one of the last surviving major personality of the Iranian Revolution, and certainly the last surviving moderate. Because of this, he was long viewed as a source of legitimacy for the pragmatic moderates. With his death, the moderates will likely be weakened without this figure to represent them. However, it could also signal a shift in the internal politics of the moderates, possibly bringing them closer to the reformists. This is especially true because the reformists are in power right now.