Iran should stay the path paved by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
Former president’s pragmatism ensured some measure of moderation in Tehran’s policies but his death, coupled with the rise of Trump, could bring back an era of strained relations and hardship for the people
Iranians have much to thank late former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani for. Without his influence and leadership, their country would be more isolated, less developed and in even greater economic difficulties. His pragmatism navigated between political and religious hardliners and moderates, at times enabling freedoms and changes that would otherwise not have been permitted in so rigid a system. He will not easily be replaced.
Rafsanjani’s strengths lay in history, connections, negotiating skills and vision. A founder of the Islamic republic, he was able to speak with authority to all political and religious factions. His conservative outlook moderated over time with the realisation that instilling tolerance and opening Iran to the world, particularly long-time enemy the United States, was in Iran’s’ best interests. He was instrumental in bringing an end to his country’s eight-year war with Iraq in 1988, assuring rights for women and the nuclear deal in 2015 that ended Western sanctions.
Hardliners did not agree with his thinking, preferring to stay true to the ideals of the 1979 Islamic revolution rooted in banishing the Westernisation and secularisation of society that had flourished under the US-backed shah. But he had considerable political leverage due to his charm, wealth and friendship with the late supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and successor Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. That enabled him to several times win the presidency for reformers, most recently in 2013 with present leader, moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani, whose re-election bid in May has been shaken by Rafsanjani’s passing.
US president-elect Donald Trump has called the nuclear pact a “disaster” and greater power for hardliners could herald a return to strained relations. But rolling back the clock will only bring both sides economic losses, hardship for Iranians and increase Mideast tension. Iran’s people elect moderates when given the chance in part because they want to engage with the world. Rafsanjani’s death should not mean they have lost that opportunity.