AIC Statement on the Death of President Rafsanjani

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a cleric who served as president of Iran from 1989 to 1997, died on January 8, 2017, at age 82, in a hospital in northern Tehran after suffering a heart attack.  A US State Department official described Rafsanjani as a "prominent figure" and said in a statement, "We send our condolences to his family and loved ones."
Rafsanjani was a towering figure in Iranian post-revolutionary politics. In addition to serving as the Islamic Republic’s president, he was a former speaker of the Parliament, chairman of the Assembly of Experts, chairman of the Expediency Council, and head of Iran’s military forces during the Iran-Iraq war.
Only a few personalities in the Islamic Republic can match the depth and extent of the influence he wielded on the events that followed the 1979 Revolution. He helped found the Republic, commanded the 8-year war with Iraq, attempted to curb revolutionary zeal, adopted a liberal economic policy, and eliminated many of the regime’s opponents in its formative years.
An astute politician, Rafsanjani navigated the post-revolutionary Iran by weaving together an ideological commitment to the Islamic revolution, an authoritarian approach to politics, and a pragmatic policy towards international relations. While he never traveled to the US, he was inclined towards better relations.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader, issued a statement praising Rafsanjani as “a rare sample of revolutionaries,” but also noted that, while remaining “comrades,” they had developed “difference of views.” Indeed, after the 2005 presidential election, when Rafsanjani lost to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he gradually became a voice for the loyal opposition within the Islamic Republic.  
While Rafsanjani’s influence had significantly diminished after supporting the 2009 Green Movement (he was even disqualified for the 2013 presidential election), he continued to remain a bulwark for the moderates against the growing pressure from the revolutionaries. His death is particularly damaging to their hope of reelecting the moderate President Hassan Rouhani in the May 2017 presidential elections.  
The passing of Mr. Rafsanjani is also a reminder that the Islamic Republic is approaching a turning point. While many of the first-generation revolutionary leaders are advancing in age, no equivalent second generation figures have emerged. The newer generation of leaders are also disunited, and only a strong minority among them remains “revolutionary” in an increasingly “counter-revolutionary” nation.
In this environment, the theocracy has often confined the Iranian voters between “the bad” and “the worse” candidates in electing their presidents and representatives. The time has come for the Iranian people to have a “better” option as well, and the Islamic Republic needs to provide for such an alternative, which requires a more inclusive political process.
The American Iranian Council
Princeton, January 9, 2017