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City of Brass

A few weeks ago, the post-election friday sermon by Supreme Leader Khamenei gave a preview of the Iranian regime’s response to the Green Revolution. Khamanei starkly warned the protestors that they, not the regime, bore responsibility for what would happen next, a not-so-subtle threat that was subsequently carried out in force, leading to intimidation, beatings, arrests, and even murder.

Tomorrow, former Iranian president Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani will deliver a sermon of his own, one that will surely preview the fate of the Green Revolution – and perhaps, send just as blunt a message to the regime as Khamanei sent a couple weeks ago. TNR has a preview of what’s at stake:

Tomorrow, Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani will deliver the Friday sermon in Tehran–the most important pulpit for policy and polemic in Iran. The former president and speaker of the parliament has been a regular on the Friday circuit over the past 30 years, but has been eerily absent for more than two months. More crucially, though the reformist cleric has met with families of those arrested in recent weeks (an important symbolic act), his words since the controversial elections of June 12 have been characteristically ambiguous. This Friday is his hour of reckoning. Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mohammad Khatami have both announced that they will also attend the prayer, and have invited their supporters to do the same. The day has the potential of becoming yet another massive show of force by the opposition.

For at least four years, Rafsanjani has been unhappy about Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s inordinate power, the direction of the country, and Ahmadinejad’s demagoguery–particularly spurred by his sharp attacks against the Rafsanjani family. In the weeks before the election, Rafsanjani clearly sided with the reformists and put his considerable assets–financial and political–in the service of Moussavi. Rafsanjani today must know what most Iranians know: Unless he stands up to this most recent power grab by the triumvirate of Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and the Revolutionary Guards, he and his family will be next on the chopping block. Should he, on the other hand, be too defiant in his support for the opposition, he invites the wrath of the triumvirate. This Friday’s sermon is thus shaping up as the most important in Rafsanjani’s storied career.

At TIME Magazine, Joe Klein offers some prediction of what Rafsanjani might say:

There’s lots of speculation about what Rafsanjani might say. One Iranian friend said, “It’s the speech of his life, a chance to redeem his career. He must call for the rejection of the election results.” Unfortunately, that’s never been Rafsanjani’s style and is an unlikely alternative now. But he and his family are also too closely identified with the protest movement for him to just acquiese and kowtow to the Revolutionary Guard Corps-dominated government. Another Iranian friend predicts, “He’ll announce the formation of a political front that will work within the system but oppose the Ahmadinejad government.” That seems more plausible.

Finally, the New York Times talks about the anticipation building in advance of the sermon, with a notable exception:

Opposition supporters vowed on Web sites and social networking sites to show up at the prayers in force. There were reports that green prayer mats — the color green symbolizing both Islam and the opposition — were sold out across the city.

The vast hall at Tehran University where prayers are held was expected to be stacked on Friday with government supporters, and the intelligence minister, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, was quoted by the Fars News Agency as warning Iranians to not turn the sermon “into an arena for undesirable scenes.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad, who embarked Thursday on a provincial trip to the northeastern city of Mashhad under heavy security, is not expected to attend the prayers.

As these articles make clear, Rafsanjani is an unlikely hero, with a past that has not always been on the side of freedom and reform. History has given him a chance to renew his legacy, and once again play a pivotal role in Iran’s destiny. It remains to be seen, tomorrow, whether he is up to the task.

Incidentally, Nico Pitney at Huffington Post will be staying up all night to cover the speech and offer initial analysis. The speech will likely be after noon local Iranian time, which is after 3:30 am eastern time.