Iran’s simmering opposition movement gained new momentum after two former presidents, one of them a top cleric, spoke out strongly against the ruling regime and tacitly urged protesters to keep up the pressure. Speaking to hundreds of thousands of worshipers at last week’s Friday prayers, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who served as president of Iran in the 1990s, said that because of doubts about the recent election and the imprisonment and beatings of protestors, citizens “have lost their faith in the regime.” He called for government concessions, including the release of prisoners. Outside the mosque, hundreds of demonstrators clashed with security forces, chanting, “Death to the dictator!”
Reformist former president Mohammad Khatami praised Rafsanjani’s speech this week and called for an independent referendum on the legitimacy of the government. In response to the challenges, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that “anybody who drives the society toward insecurity and disorder is a hated person in the view of the Iranian nation, whoever he is.”
Iran’s establishment is fracturing before our eyes, said Michael Slackman in The New York Times. Rafsanjani and Khamenei fought side by side under Ayatollah Khomeini in the 1979 revolution, but now each is claiming to be his legitimate heir. Rafsanjani is no reformist, but he is willing to make common cause with younger, more liberal leaders. That makes him far more appealing than Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose growing reliance on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards is starting to make the June 12 election appear more like “a military coup.”
President Obama made a “smart decision not to endorse Iranian opposition leaders,” said Trudy Rubin in The Philadelphia Inquirer. His standoffishness made it possible for the uprising to present itself as an authentic domestic movement, in the tradition of the 1979 revolution. “Ahmadinejad has been trying to distract attention from rigged elections by blaming the West for stirring up demonstrations.” That’s a charge that just won’t stick.
You’re giving Obama too much credit, said Michael Rubin in National Review. “Obama’s initial neutrality neither kept the Iranian government from calling the demonstrators foreign agents nor spared them a harsh crackdown.” His continued silence implies that he’s still willing to negotiate with the regime, once it vanquishes the opposition. But what the brave protesters long to hear is that “the Iranian and American peoples have a common foe.”