Former Iranian ambassador to Germany, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, described former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as a “man of peace.”
Between birthing Iran’s nuclear program, oppressing the freedom-craving Iranian people, and orchestrating international terrorist atrocities, Rafsanjani was anything but.
Rafsanjani, who served as president of Iran between 1989-1997 and one of the Islamic Republic’s founders, died of a heart attack last week at the age of 82.
He railed against Iranian dissidents but later went on to somewhat champion the cause of “reformists”; many of them were present at his funeral which drew hundreds of thousands of people:
A huge crowd line Tehran streets to say farewell to Hashemi, a politician with a complicated record who regained popularity in recent years. pic.twitter.com/joWMIrElg9
— Sadegh Ghorbani (@GhorbaniSadegh) January 10, 2017
Even in his death, the Iranian resistance against the regime was in active form:
— potkin azarmehr (@potkazar) January 10, 2017
Calls for the release of Mir-Hossein Moussavi filled the air; a call back to the 2009 Green Revolution where Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fraudulently won reelection and President Barack Obama ignored the calls of the Iranian people to help them overthrow the regime.
— مارال (@marrallv) January 10, 2017
In an obituary, the Atlantic wrote that under Rafsanjani, “Women were freer to choose their style of Islamic head covering and to wear makeup in public, young men and women could mix more freely in public, and the revolution-era ban on music was eased.” None were freer than during the time of Iran’s last Shah, when women were not required to wear head coverings and walked the streets of Tehran in the finest European couture, many even sported mini-skirts and high heels.
The media rushed to present him as the face of moderation in Iran. The New York Times mourned Rafsanjani’s “untimely” death and praised him as “eminence gris,” “a pragmatic and skilled behind-the-scenes operator,” and a “moderate” in an editorial.
The media’s attempts to whitewash his image ignore his role in coordinating the bombing of the AMIA Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aries, Argentina – the worst terrorist attack in the history of the Western Hemisphere before September, 11, 2001 – and the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia during his presidency.
Rafsanjani also repeatedly threatened Israel with nuclear weapons. In a 2001 sermon, for example, Rafsanjani stated that “the use of an atomic bomb against Israel would destroy Israel completely, while [the same] against the Islamic Republic would merely cause damages.” He added, “Such a scenario is not inconceivable.”
Later in life, Rafsanjani supported the Iran nuclear deal, a position that stood at odds with the nation’s hardliners.
Not all reporters echoed the “reformer” line on Rafsanjani. Both Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute, for example, called the Western press out for declaring Rafsanjani “‘a relative moderate, a reformist, and a pragmatist.'” He noted the world should “Make no mistake: He is none of the above.”
Reza Parchizadeh, a political theorist, analyst, and Iranian dissident, pointed to the notorious the “Chain Murders” of the 1980s and 1990s, when ” a great number of Iranian intellectuals – some would put the figure at hundreds – were systematically eliminated by the intelligence and security forces of the regime in the most brutal manner.” Rafsanjani was president during that time. “That was indeed how the moderate Hashemi intended to reform Iran,” Parchizadeh wrote. “Those who eulogize this arch-criminal in the West now must be ashamed of themselves.”
Although his power was on the decline since his time as president, his influence had not waned. During his time in power corruption became rampant, with his decision to to provide the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps with more power in the regime’s economy. With his passing, an important counterweight to the IRGC is now gone and their power remains.
One of the Islamic republic of Iran’s founders, he worked very closely with Khomeini and played a key role in the secret Iran-U.S. negotiations that led to the Iran-contra scandal one year after the fall of Iran’s last Shah. He helped shape Iran’s constitution, the document that ensure the supreme leader serves in the ways of Muhammad.
Rafsanjani also held a significant amount of sway while serving on the Assembly of Experts, the group that will choose the successor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, 77, when he passes away.
Considered President Hassan Rouhani’s right-hand man, Rafsanjani’s absence is likely to have a considerable impact on the upcoming presidential elections in May. Rouhani could face increased challenges with his absence; Rafsanjani was, arguably, the strongest person in the opposition against Khamenei and his fate could be determined based on which direction the nation’s reformists and mostly silent opposition will take. It also remains to be seen if the nation’s hard-liners will seek to consolidate their power.
Rouhani’s “chances of winning this power struggle without Rafsanjani pulling for him in the background is now reduced,” Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, wrote. NIAC is largely considered an extension of the regime. While he added, that Rafsanjani’s “death will likely be a big blow” to “those in the West hoping that Iran will move in a more moderate direction,” one thing is certain: There is nothing moderate about Iran’s direction under this regime. Iran will only be free once it is no more.
President Rouhani sent out a tweet from Rafsanjani’s funeral, which took place at A. Khomeini Shrine:
— حسن روحانی (@Rouhani_ir) January 10, 2017
He wrote, “Today all people came to bid farewell to a man who made history; Let us use this mood to build a bridge instead of a wall.”
For now, the saga continues. The rest will play itself out in May.
Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter and Periscope @AdelleNaz