Iran unites to bid farewell to Rafsanjani
THOUSANDS of Iranians massed in central Tehran yesterday for the funeral of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in a show of unity to honour the Islamic Republic’s polarising pragmatist.
Rafsanjani, who died on Sunday aged 82, was buried next to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the country’s Islamic revolution in 1979 and founded the country’s system of theocratic rule.
Rafsanjani’s pragmatic policies of economic liberalisation and better relations with the West attracted fierce supporters and equally fierce critics during his life, but his funeral brought both sides together in a show of solidarity and unity.
Popularly known as a “pillar of the Revolution”, he wielded wide influence in core decision-making bodies of Iran.
In a move seen at the time as power-sharing, he played a significant role in 1989 in appointing Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to succeed Khomeini as new supreme leader of Iran.
Rafsanjani was elected as new president a few months later. However, their friendship gradually turned into rivalry as the pragmatist president sided with reformists who promoted freedoms, while Khamenei followed a conservative interpretation of the core values of the Islamic Republic.
In his condolence message, Khamenei said political differences could never “entirely break up” his nearly 60 years of friendship with Rafsanjani.
Streets were filled overnight with billboards that showed a picture of the two men smiling and chatting as close friends. “No one would be like Hashemi for me,” the billboards quoted Khamenei as saying, using Rafsanjani’s first family name. Iranians usually have two family names.
“Ayatollah Hashemi tried all his life to save the Islamic Revolution… He wanted to preserve the unity of Iran,” his son Mohsen was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA at the funeral.
A witness said “some were chanting slogans asking political prisoners to be released, some hardliners were shouting ‘Death to America’. But they didn’t clash. Everyone was respectful.”
Khamenei said the final prayer over Rafsanjani’s body in the University of Tehran courtyard, where the late president delivered many of his speeches during Friday prayers.
Politicians, military commanders and religious figures from all camps stood behind him.
The president, head of parliament, head of the judiciary and senior Khamenei advisers stood in the first line at the service, while cabinet ministers and the deceased leader’s relatives filled the rows behind them.
Rafsanjani’s body, sealed in a metal coffin with his white turban on top, was then brought in procession down Revolution Street in central Tehran.
President Jacob Zuma on Monday conveyed condolences to the Iranian government after the passing of Rafsanjani, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation said.
Mourners gather during the funeral of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in Tehran, Iran, yesterday.