The death on Sunday of one of Iran’s last first-generation revolutionaries, who ranked among its most influential statesmen, is set to have a seismic and unpredictable impact on the internal dynamics of the country.
Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was one of the first and most famous members of the inner circle of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, who toppled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Over the past four decades, he had come to be known as an emblem of the founding fathers of the Islamic Republic.
His personal and deep friendship of 59 years with Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, was exceptional, as demonstrated by the emotional condolences issued by the leader. From Parliament Speaker to commander of the Iran-Iraq war to President from 1989 to 1997, Rafsanjani had always been intimately involved in the policy-makings and running of the republic throughout its most perilous days.
But what makes his death a potential game-changer was Rafsanjani’s role as the highest-ranking supporter of the reformist movement and moderate politicians within the Islamic Republic establishment. Once considered a scourge of anyone lacking in revolutionary zeal, Rafsanjani had in his later years, at great cost to his standing among stalwart revolutionaries, gradually reinvented himself as a champion of freedom and democracy.