Iranians mourn as former leader Rafsanjani interred
TEHRAN: Hundreds of thousands mourned former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani Tuesday, wailing in grief as his body was interred at a Tehran shrine alongside the leader of the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Rafsanjani’s final resting place near the late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini reflected his legacy as one of the pillars of Iran’s religious-dominated political system, as he served in later years as a gobetween for hard-liners and reformists. But even his hourslong funeral highlighted the divisions still at play. Parts of the crowd along his funeral procession at one point chanted in support of opposition leaders under house arrest. Other politicians did not attend the memorial.
Throngs filled main thoroughfares of the capital, with many chanting, beating their chests and wailing.
The funeral for Rafsanjani, who died Sunday at age 82 after a heart attack, drew both the elite and ordinary people. Shops and schools were closed in national mourning.
Top government and religious officials first held a funeral service at Tehran University. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei prayed by Rafsanjani’s casket, as other dignitaries knelt before the coffin on which his white preacher’s turban was placed. Mourners reached out their hands toward the coffin.
Just behind Khamenei was President Hassan Rouhani, whose administration reached the recent nuclear deal with world powers. Rouhani, who is all but certain to run for reelection in May, is viewed as embodying Rafsanjani’s realist vision.
Hard-liners also took part in the ceremony Tuesday, like the head of Iran’s judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, who stood near his moderate brother, Parliament speaker Ali Larijani.
Also among them was Qassem Soleimani, a general who heads the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force, which focuses on foreign operations like the war in Syria.
Both Soleimani and Rafsanjani are from Iran’s southeastern province of Kerman and worked together during the war with Iraq in the 1980s.
“In my opinion, Mr. Hashemi remained the same person from the beginning until the end and held his line in all stages of his life,” Soleimani told state television in a rare public interview. “Nevertheless, Mr. Hashemi sometimes used different tactics.”
Apparently banned from the funeral was former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who remains popular among the young but is deeply disliked by hard-liners.
Outside, mourners carried posters bearing Rafsanjani’s image as his casket slowly made its way through the crowds in the streets.
“I rarely attend religious ceremonies, but I am here as an Iranian who cannot forget Rafsanjani’s contribution to developing the political sphere in favor of people in recent years,” said Nima Sheikhi, a computer teacher at a private school.
Officials put the number of funeral participants at over 2 million, though that figure could not be independently verified.
Iran’s internal politics also were on display. The semi-official ILNA news agency said that on the sidelines of the funeral, prominent moderate law maker Ali Mot ah ari was asked by several mourners to free opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi from the house arrest the two have been under since 2011.
“Our message is clear: The house arrest should be lifted,” some chanted. Police and security forces did not react to the chants.
Rafsanjani’s casket later arrived at the ornate, massive shrine to Khomeini, who led the revolution that toppled the American-backed shah.
Rafsanjani’s interment there marked a rare privilege in Iran’s system, where preachers dominate the levers of power. Only Khomeini’s son Ahmad, who died in 1995, had been buried next to his tomb before Tuesday.
Rafsanjani, a close aide to both Khomeini and Khamenei, served as president from 1989 to 1997. He helped launch Iran’s nuclear program and then pushed for reconciliation with the West. –
Rouhani and Khamenei touch Rafsanjani’s coffin during the funeral ceremony in Tehran.