Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the most influential politicians in Iran, died Jan. 8 at the age of 82.
It was around 7 p.m. in Tehran when doctors saw that CPR wasn’t going to bring Rafsanjani, who had suffered a heart attack, back to life.
People were shocked as they heard the news, which will shake Iranian politics. The servers of many local news agencies and news sites went down as Iranians sought more information about the state of Rafsanjani’s health. Eventually, the news of his demise was announced on state television: Ayatollah Rafsanjani, a two-time president and former chairman of the Assembly of Experts who had been serving as head of the Expediency Council, had died, taking with him a treasure of untold stories of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Soon after the demise of the ayatollah, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei published a message of condolence, describing Rafsanjani as his “old friend,” “comrade” and “close colleague.”
Ayatollah Khamenei wrote, “The loss of a comrade and companion, with our background of cooperation, empathy and collaboration going back 59 years, is hard and heart-rending.”
Mentioning the beginning of his friendship with Rafsanjani in Bein-ol-Haramein in the holy Iraqi city of Karbala, the supreme leader wrote, “Differences of viewpoints and opinions at certain junctures during this long period could never sever the friendship ties, and temptations by evil ones, who in recent years tried with intensity and seriousness to take advantage of these theoretical differences, could not undermine his profound personal compassion for this humble one [Khamenei].”
President Hassan Rouhani, a protege of Rafsanjani, wrote Jan. 8, “Islam lost a valuable asset; Iran a great figure; the Islamic Revolution a brave guide; the state a wise and unparalleled figure.”
Rouhani added, “Hashemi never feared war and always sought peace; he was both a courageous commander of jihad and martyrdom, and the hero of negotiation for ending the [1980-88 Iran-Iraq] war.”
Among those expressing their condolences to Rafsanjani’s family were Seyyed Hassan Khomeini — a grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — who is considered to be a potential successor to Rafsanjani in terms of leading moderates and Reformists. Among individuals and institutions sending messages of sympathy were hard-line Ayatollah Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, ultra-conservative Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the IRGC’s foreign operations unit, the Quds Force, personally visited Rafsanjani’s house to pay his respects.
Meanwhile, Iranian state TV, which is controlled by ultraconservatives and is far from friendly with Rafsanjani, sought to provide good coverage of the demise of the former president.
Ahmad Tavakoli, a prominent conservative figure who was invited to appear on state TV on Jan. 8, repeatedly cried while praising Rafsanjani. “Nobody should be ashamed of talking about the good points of Mr. Hashemi.” In a rare move, moderate TV presenter Ali Dorost-Kar criticized attacks that had been made against Rafsanjani, saying, “I wish we were kinder to Mr. Hashemi.”
Iranian media’s unity
The main pages of Reformist, conservative and hard-line media outlets alike all featured large images of Rafsanjani.
Rafsanjani, who had sought to modernize post-revolutionary Iran, was widely described as the contemporary Amir Kabir, the grand modernizer of Persia who served as prime minister under Naser al-Din Shah. Rafsanjani’s death took place two days before the anniversary of the 1852 murder of Amir Kabir, considered to be Iran's first reformer.
On Jan. 9, the Reformist Vaghaye Etefaaqie daily ran the headline “The ascent of the general [to heaven] on the night of Amir [Kabir’s death].” Moreover, the moderate Ettelaat newspaper had the headline “The pillar of the revolution left [this world] for the kingdom of heaven,” and the government-run Iran newspaper chose the headline "Iran in sorrow." The IRGC-affiliated Javan newspaper’s front page was fully covered with a photo of Rafsanjani, with captions reading, “The man of the difficult days of the fight [against the shah] and the partner of the Imam [Khomeini] and the [Supreme] Leader [left this world] to see God.” Moreover, the moderate Entekhab news site had the following headline Jan. 8, “Rafsanjani is at the level of myths; Iran will stand to pay respect to you.” The moderate Asr-Iran used the headline “Farewell to the teacher of patience and politics.” In contrast, the hard-line Raja News decided Jan. 8 to cover Rafsanjani’s demise with a simple headline and without using the clerical title of “ayatollah” for him.