Jewish Journal

Iran on the brink

by Brad A. Greenberg

June 21, 2009 | 11:00 pm

"Neda" dies in Tehran

I was in Vegas playing poker all weekend, so I’m just now catching up on all the developments in Iran. And boy is it a lot to digest.

Let’s start with the visuals: Kevin at LAObserved says that if you watch one Iran video, it should be this one from the BBC, which caught protesters throwing tear gas canisters back at police. A video you may not want to watch but that has been passed around the Internet is the so-called Neda video.

“Some sites refer to her as ‘Neda,’ Farsi for the voice or the call. Tributes that incorporate startlingly upclose footage of her dying have started to spring up on YouTube,” Robin Wright writes for Time.com. “Although it is not yet clear who shot “Neda” (a soldier? pro-government militant? an accidental misfiring?), her death may have changed everything.”

If Neda changed everything, the arrest Sunday of five relatives of one of Iran’s most powerful cleric, who happens to support the oppositional leader, further polarized the Islamic Republic:

The moves against members of [Hashemi] Rafsanjani’s family were seen as an attempt to put pressure on him to drop his challenge to Mr. Khamenei — pressure that Mr. Rafsanjani’s son, Mehdi Rafsanjani, said he would reject.

“My father was in jail for five years when we were young. We don’t care if they keep her even for a year,” Mehdi Rafsanjani said in an interview, referring to the arrest of his sister, Ms. Hashemi.

Mr. Rafsanjani was deeply critical of Mr. Ahmadinejad during the presidential campaign, and is thought to have had a strained relationship with Mr. Khamenei for many years.

But he remains a major establishment figure, and the detention of his daughter, albeit briefly, came as a surprise. In his sermon on Friday, in which he strongly backed Mr. Ahmadinejad and threatened a violent crackdown on further protests, Ayatollah Khamenei pointedly praised Mr. Rafsanjani as a pillar of the revolution, while acknowledging that the two have had “many differences of opinion.”


Mr. Rafsanjani, 75, heads two powerful institutions. One, the Assembly of Experts, is a body of clerics that have the authority to oversee and theoretically replace the country’s supreme leader. He also runs the Expediency Council, empowered to settle disagreements between the elected Parliament and the unelected Guardian Council.

The Assembly of Experts has never publicly exercised its power over Ayatollah Khamenei since he succeeded the Islamic revolution’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in 1989. But the increasingly bitter confrontation between Mr. Khamenei and Mr. Rafsanjani has raised the prospect of a contest of political wills between the two revolutionary veterans.

For photos of local protests, check out TJ Sullivan’s gallery.

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