In the end, Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani did not disappoint. For a man who has made a career out of mediating from the middle and playing both sides, Rafsanjani delivered an unusually pointed criticism of the Iranian regime’s handling of the election crisis. He explicitly condemned the Guardian Council’s haphazard investigation into claims of election fraud and demanded the immediate release of all the protesters who had been arrested and detained by the Revolutionary Guard. “We do not need people in prison for [demonstrating],” Rafsanjani said. “Let’s allow them to return to their families.”
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the sermon came when Rafsanjani hinted that progress has been made in his attempts to come up with some kind of compromise with the regime over the election crisis, though he remained elusive about what that could possibly entail. “I have some suggestions,” he said, in an oblique reference to his work behind the scenes with Iran’s power brokers. “I have spoken to some members of the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts about them, too.”
Protesters in front of the Interior Ministry—the ministry that oversaw the elections—shouted “Down with Dictator!” and “Our Neda isn’t dead; it is the government that’s dead!”
It was this comment that sparked the most interesting of the chants and slogans that repeatedly interrupted Rafsanjani’s sermon: “People didn’t get killed to make concessions!” the overwhelmingly pro-Mousavi crowd shouted, an indication that the opposition may no longer be in the mood for a political compromise.
Indeed, the slogans and chants of the crowd inside Tehran University were so disruptive that at one point Rafsanjani shouted “Stop chanting! I can’t make out what you are saying. I am saying what you want to hear but I am saying it better than you ( man az shoma behtar migam).”
Photos snapped of the speech clearly show Mir Hossein Mousavi in the audience, but it is the photographs outside of Tehran University that tell the real story of the day. Hundreds of thousands of green-clad protesters (at least two eyewitnesses told me that it may have been closer to one million) flooded the streets after Rafsanjani’s speech. The demonstrations engulfed the city, from Tehran University all the way to the notorious Evin Prison, where most of the arrested protesters are detained. Protesters in front of the interior ministry—the ministry that oversaw the elections—shouted “Down with Dictator!” and “‘Our Neda isn’t dead; it is the government that's dead!” Despite the widespread use of tear gas to disperse the protesters and sporadic reports of violence, it seems as though the demonstrations have overwhelmed the security forces.
Night has fallen on Tehran. The numbers of people in the streets have dwindled. For the 30th-consecutive night since the elections, the rooftop chant of “God is Great” is echoing through the city—a reminder to all that the revolution is far from over.
Reza Aslan, a contributor to the Daily Beast, is assistant professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside and senior fellow at the Orfalea Center on Global and International Studies at UC Santa Barbara. He is the author of the bestseller No god but God and How to Win a Cosmic War.