January 31, 2010
Akbar Hashemi says that he smells a conspiracy. Mohammad Yazdi says to him, who are you to create a committee to protect the votes? Or, who are you to demand that the prisoners be released? When did this bickering, which was about to reach “sensitive stages” with Rafsanjani’s latest reaction, begin? In the report that appears below, we have examined the story of 50 years of friendship and competition between Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Yazdi.
Who Are You?
When Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was given the opportunity to speak at Tehran’s Friday prayers one month after the June 12 election, he discussed issues that made his speech among the most historic in the thirty-year life of the Islamic Republic. The jest of his speech was that a large portion of the population doubts the truth of the election results, and that legitimacy derives from the people, and if people are not satisfied the divine government of the Islamic Republic loses its legitimacy. The next morning, Mohammad Yazdi held a press conference to respond to Hashemi Rafsanjani, attended only by the Fars News Agency. In that press conference, Yazdi argued that the government’s legitimacy derives, not from the people, but from god, attacking Hashemi Rafsanjani’s claim that the public doubts the truth of the election results, adding, “Who are you?”
Hashemi did not respond to Yazdi’s remarks, but the two figures symbolized two interpretations of political Islam: one of popular legitimacy and the other of divine legitimacy.
The two figures have experienced this kind of tension before in their friendship, which perhaps exceeds 50 years. Akbar and Mohammad both were in the inner circle around ayatollah Khomeini before the revolution. Their friendship has always carried a strain of competition, apparently a characteristic of power.
Hashemi and Yazdi’s friendship continued through the revolution. Both experienced prison and exile during their struggle. After the revolution, and in the first Majlis, both were in the leadership committee; Akbar was the Majlis speaker and Mohammad the vice-Speaker.
When the immediate post-revolutionary heat subsided, sheikh Mohammad became the symbol of the conservative Islamists in the government; the very same people who were described by ayatollah Khomeini in the 1980s as the proponents of “American Islam.” After ayatollah Khomeini’s death, however, Yazdi lobbied for the selection of ayatollah Golpaigani as the supreme leader, criticizing the mid-ranking Khamenei’s lack of experience for the supreme leader post. In an explicit show of his conservative roots, Yazdi harshly criticized proceedings to amend the constitution and relax the religious qualifications of the supreme leader. He had said, “You mean to put the country in the hands of a cleric? That would cause spoiling and is not appropriate.”
After the June 12 election, however, Yazdi left the role of a conservative sheikh behind and became a steadfast supporter of Ahmadinejad. Hashemi, however, moved closer to the side of the people and acknowledged their power to legitimize the government. They both are wearing smiles, but ready to fight. So far, only the mediation of figures like Ahmad Khatami has preserved the relative calm.