Mir Hussein Mousavi—the leading opposition candidate in last month’s Iranian presidential election—and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who supports him, attended the high-profile Friday prayers at Tehran University today for the first time since the disputed presidential election. Security forces fired tear gas at protesters and arrested 15, according to The New York Times; a prominent Iranian women’s rights activist, Shadi Sadr, was also reportedly beaten by plainclothes militiamen and carted away before reaching the university. Rafsanjani delivered the sermon, calling for “unity” and the release of dissidents rounded up during the month-long revolutionary ferment. Why is the prominent cleric becoming such an opposition figure? Scholar Abbas Milani, who has been analyzing Iranian events for The New Republic in recent weeks, explains:
For at least four years, Rafsanjani has been unhappy about Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s inordinate power, the direction of the country, and Ahmadinejad’s demagoguery—particularly spurred by his sharp attacks against the Rafsanjani family. In the weeks before the election, Rafsanjani clearly sided with the reformists and put his considerable assets—financial and political—in the service of Moussavi. Rafsanjani today must know what most Iranians know: Unless he stands up to this most recent power grab by the triumvirate of Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and the Revolutionary Guards, he and his family will be next on the chopping block. Should he, on the other hand, be too defiant in his support for the opposition, he invites the wrath of the triumvirate. This Friday’s sermon is thus shaping up as the most important in Rafsanjani’s storied career.