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Is Rafsanjani a Friend? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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There is no principled Arab position against the Iranian regime. However, the bone of contention with this regime is its hostile program and activities in the Arab countries.

In fact, there are leaders in Iran who can be regarded among friends, like the Iranian Expediency Council Chairman, Hashemi-Rafsanjani, even though he was accused of adopting a hostile position on Arabs when he was president, and of being responsible for the mistreatment of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi prisoners during the Iraq-Iran war. However, no one has proved these accusations. Rafsanjani’s image in the Arab world has greatly improved, perhaps because of the growing extremism characterizing the statements of the two current leaders in Iran – Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Rafsanjani has noticeably been careful not to be hostile to any Arab party, avoiding criticizing Egypt, preserving a reasonably good relationship with the Arabian Gulf states, and focusing his attacks on Israel and the United States.

Rafsanjani’s current visit to Iraq has met with protests, specifically from the Sunni Iraqi Vice President, Tariq al-Hashimi, who boycotted the visit, and whose political party publicly attacked Rafsanjani. The attack seems to offer two political services to Al-Hashemi: He is accused of maintaining good ties with Iran and with the Iraqis who are close to Iran. This is why he suffered major losses in the latest Iraqi local elections, and faces the threat of losing the forthcoming parliamentary elections. So it is in his interest to take a negative stand on the Iranians, particularly at this time. Besides, Al-Hashimi’s criticism of the Iranian guest, Rafsanjani, serves the latter in his country, which, in effect, is ruled by the Ahmadinejad team, which disagrees with Rafsanjani and which will be happy to see his visit to Iraq fail.

I do not know if my interpretation of this story makes it vaguer. My main point is Rafsanjani, who does not differ much from the rest of the Iranian leaders over the issue of Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons and of wielding regional influence. Still, his approach is less hostile, and he previously sought to mend relations with the Arabs but had to quit his post before he could achieve his goal. We have known him as a pragmatic politician, thanks to his background as a businessman and as a leader who was not overwhelmed by an ideological interpretation of religion.

This good image of Rafsanjani may not be of great benefit, considering that President Ahmadinejad is currently at the helm with the full backing Ali Khamenei. Many expected Rafsanjani to wield great influence in Iran in view of his standing and experience, and of the influence of his loyalists. However, this did not materialize because he has been marginalized by the opposition team.

I believe that the extremist political forces in Iran will lose their popularity as US economic sanctions build up, sanctions that have increased in the era of the moderate US President, Barack Obama. Besides, the extremist leadership’s practices in Iran will increase the number of adversaries among the Iranian people and within the regime itself. This will most likely prompt the Iranians to side with a man who takes a middle-of-the-road stand, namely Rafsanjani. The difference between Rafsanjani and the moderate former President, Mohammad Khatami, who is running again as a presidential candidate, is that Rafsanjani wields real power on the ground and is closer to succeeding Khamenei. Many Iranians wish to see Rafsanjani succeed Khamenei even if they do not currently support him.

As far as the Arab world is concerned, it is not much of a concern who will rule Iran as long as his policy refrains from going on the offensive against his Arab neighbors. What an Iranian leader may do in his country is naturally something that concerns the Iranian people alone.