Friday’s Sermon Fateful for Iran

Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s sermon at Friday prayers in Tehran on Friday will be closely watched for the signals he sends about the future of Iran. Although he is a strong backer of opposition figure Mir Hosain Mousavi, Rafsanjani has tended to work behind the scenes and to say conciliatory things. As a multi-billionaire, he has no interest in radical change. On the other hand, he clearly feels that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, responsible for nearly 30% inflation and high unemployment, is a disaster for him and persons of his social class. But he would not want angry, massive crowds in the street, since he would be fearful for his own turban. He is likely to be backing Mousavi’s plans to build a new political coalition for the next election.

AP points out that even if Rafsanjani makes no political departures, the crowds may be hard to control and that the potential for trouble is there.

The most significant thing about the recent political events in Iran may be that the Iranian public has lost its fear of the regime.

Iran may do an end-run around US and some NATO countries’ foreign policies, by turning to China in a big way.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to be signalling for the first time some willingness to compromise on policy. He just appointed as his vice president a young politician who had gotten into trouble last year for saying that Iran is a friend of the Israeli poeple. The president also appointed a new head of the civilian nuclear enrichment research program, a move unlikely to lack political significance.

Anthony Shadid at WaPo raises the question of whether Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has retained more authority than Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, by rejecting clerical rule and supporting instead clerical guidance.

On the other hand, Iraq is clearly adopting a realist policy toward the Iranian regime. Some major Iraqi parties, such as the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, actively support the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad government. Others are reluctant to interfere in domestic Iranian affairs lest the favor be returned. Iraq and Iran just signed two memoranda of understanding on energy issues, so Baghdad is not exactly boycotting Iran over the stolen election or the crackdown on peaceful protesters.

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