Former president Rafsanjani to lead Friday Iran prayers

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
Image: Mesgary.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the pragmatic-conservative Iranian politician, head of Iran's Expediency Council and former president of Iran, will lead Friday prayers in Tehran on July 17, according to Mir-Hossain Mousavi's Facebook page.

Although the content of Ayatollah Rafsanjani's sermon is not yet known, the former Iranian president, a member of Iran's pragmatic-conservative faction and the richest person in Iran, is widely thought to be a "behind-the-scenes" supporter of Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Members of Rafsanjani's family have been arrested during the course of the unrest, which has been ongoing for a month.

Rafsanjani is one of five high-ranking clerics, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who lead prayers in Tehran on a rotating basis; Rafsanjani however has refused to lead prayers for two weeks running, while at the same time he has visited Iraqi Shi'ite leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf, leading to speculation as to whether and in what way Rafsanjani would move against Khamenei and the Iranian regime.

Over the past several weeks since the results of the disputed 2009 Iran election were announced, sermons during Friday prayers have been used by powerful figures in the Iranian religious government to make statements of policy. On June 19, Khamenei used Friday prayers to call for an end to protests against President Ahmadinejad; a call by Ahmad Khatami at Friday prayers one week later meanwhile called for the protesters to be dealt with "severely and ruthlessly", accusing them of being against God and saying that they deserved capital punishment.