Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a founding father of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution who later became a “pragmatist ayatollah” leading reform, died on January 8 aged 82.
His sudden death amounts to a major blow for President Hassan Rouhani. Hashemi Rafsanjani served as a mentor and valuable ally to the president who is readying himself for a fight with the hardliners in a campaign for re-election in May. Hashemi Rafsanjani's last role was as head of the Expediency Council, a body that endeavours to resolve disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council, the regime’s top overseeing organ.
“The soul of a giant man of revolution, politics, a symbol of patience and strength, has ascended to skies. #Hashemi-Rafsanjani,” Rouhani tweeted in response to Hashemi Rafsanjani’s death.
Hashemi Rafsanjani, the fourth president of Iran who served two consecutive terms between 1989 and 1997, passed away in hospital in north Tehran on January 8 after suffering heart complications, according to local news agencies. Doctors reportedly spent an hour trying to save him. State-run television displayed a black banner on all its official channels and Iran declared three days of national mourning. Relatives said a burial would take place after a funeral procession on January 10.
Seen as second in importance only to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the foundation of the Islamic Republic, the cleric remained a commanding figure in Iranian politics from the 1980s onwards. He was a close confidant of current supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for much of the 1980s and 1990s but he was gradually drawn to the reformists and the rift between him and Khamenei deepened during the disputed 2009 presidential elections. Nevertheless, following his death, in official comments Khamenei hailed a “companion of struggle”. “The different opinions and interpretations at time in this long period could never entirely break up the friendship between us,” Khamenei added.
Hashemi Rafsanjani’s bid to run in the 2013 presidential election as a reformist candidate was thwarted by the powerful Guardian Council, but in recent years he remained central to the reform movement. Though the death of the great political survivor will be felt keenly by the reformists, there will be some hope that it might help mobilise pro-Rouhani moderates.
After the 1979 revolution, Hashemi Rafsanjani served for nine years as the Islamist Republic’s first speaker of the parliament. During the Iran-Iraq war, he headed the supreme defence council, acting as the de facto commander-in-chief of the Iranian military. In 2009, Hashemi Rafsanjani offered moderate support to Iran’s Green protest movement while Khamenei defiantly backed then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, refuting allegations of vote rigging. He is widely credited with pushing for the 2015 nuclear deal Tehran signed with world powers in return for the West lifting sanctions against the republic.