July 13, 2014 Special Dispatch No. 5794

The Rafsanjani-Khamenei Struggle Escalates Into Open, Direct Confrontation

July 13, 2014
Iran | Special Dispatch No. 5794

The struggle in Iran between the pragmatic camp, led by Hashemi Rafsanjani and Iranian President Hassan Rohani, and the ideological camp, led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – which has been escalating in intensity over the past year, particularly in recent months – has in the past few weeks ratcheted sharply upwards (see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1094, The Power Struggle Between Khamenei And His Camp And Rafsanjani And His Camp – Part X: The Political And Media Confrontation Escalates Into Reciprocal Threats, May 27, 2014).

This further exacerbation stems from the worsening of Iran's situation due to external reasons. The first of these reasons is the conquest of parts of Iraq by the Islamic State (IS, formerly the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS) and the threats to Iran's territorial integrity from both the Sunni camp, headed by Saudi Arabia. The second reason is the imminent declaration of independence by Iraq's Kurds – a move that will threaten Iran because of the impact it is expected to have on Iran's own Kurdish minority, and on its other ethnic minorities.

Also sharply increasing lately is the challenge that is being called "cultural" by the ideological camp – that is, the infiltration of Western influence via the Internet and satellite television.

These crises have struck Iran before it has had a chance to establish the nuclear hegemony towards which it has been striving, which it seeks in order to deter the Sunni world from confronting it, and at a point where it cannot muster an appropriate response to the danger posed by the IS or to the Sunni threat in general.

In its frustration, the ideological camp has been escalating its attacks on the pragmatic camp at home (see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1101, Recognizing The Limitations Of Its Regional Power, A Frustrated Iranian Regime Turns Its Wrath Towards Its Domestic RivalsRecognizing The Limitations Of Its Regional Power, A Frustrated Iranian Regime Turns Its Wrath Towards Its Domestic Rivals, June 26, 2014).

As part of this intensification, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the commanders of the IRGC, and the daily Kayhan, which is the mouthpiece of the ideological camp, attacked Rafsanjani and Rohani, naming them specifically – something which up until now they have not done. In turn, Rafsanjani and Rohani have stepped up their responses to the level of open confrontation.

It should be noted that on July 9, 2014, in an interview with the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun, Rafsanjani delivered instructions to Rohani how to act in the nuclear issue vis-à-vis the West and to view favorably Iranian cooperation with the U.S. in Iraq. This is in stark contrast to the stated position of Khamenei, who opposes such cooperation.

This paper will review the recent and unprecedentedly harsh statements by the leaders of the ideological and the pragmatic camps in Iran.

The Ideological Camp Attacks

Leader Khamenei

In a May 22, 2014 Majlis speech, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei implicitly accused Hashemi Rafsanjani and government officials calling for dialogue with the West of treason: "People who want to spread reconciliation and submission to the thugs [i.e. the West, led by the U.S.] and accuse the Islamic regime of warmongering are committing treason... All [Iranian] state officials in various fields – including economic, scientific, cultural, policy, legislative, and negotiation – should know that we are at the height of a struggle and on a path of continuing the fight for the existence and survival of the Islamic regime...

"We have no choice but to continue the struggle and to spread the idea of the struggle to all matters of state, in both domestic and foreign [policy] issues...

"The struggle and the jihad cannot end, because Satan and the Satanic front always exist; however, under various conditions it may be possible to change the style and the methods of the jihad and the struggle. This struggle will end the moment that human society redeems itself from the evil of the arrogance front headed by America, which rakes its claws over the body, mind, and thought of [all] humanity..."[1]

In a July 2, 2014 speech, Khamenei said: "Some show sensitivity regarding the repeated use of the word 'enemy.' However, the Koran reiterates the word 'Satan' again and again, and its message [in doing so] is that Satan and the enemy must not be ignored... Ignoring the external enemy is a huge strategic mistake that will harm Iran. Struggling against the enemy's plans and the hostile challenge that it sets for Iran requires jihadi administration of the scientific arena [i.e. the nuclear program]...

"There are those who give speeches from the stage in which they question the principle of Iran's scientific progress. They speak from ignorance, and they need to be given a scientific tour of certain places so that they can understand our superlative advances in medicine, nuclear [technology], and nanotechnology... and they will no longer speak out of ignorance."[2]

On July 7, 2014, Khamenei warned members of the pragmatic camp in the government: "Do not say that you are not being allowed [to work for the people], because this has been said before, and it is unacceptable... You must arrange your moves in accordance with the principles of the revolution, refrain from engaging in trivial matters, and focus on solving the peoples' problems...

"I support the government, and I will help it any way I can. I have faith in its officials... Any criticism of it must be fair... The honorable president and several officials speak, more or less, about supporting the policy of the resistance economy [as set out by Khamenei], but the practical need is for action. We cannot support the resistance economy in our statements while we drag our feet in taking action...

"[Rafsanjani's and Rohani's] slogan of moderation is a very good one, and I support it because it always condemns extremism. But] you must be careful not to use it to marginalize several pious circles in the political arena, because this pious circle [i.e. the ideological camp, particularly the IRGC] has always been quicker than anyone else to rush to the aid [of the regime] in times of danger, and it provides true assistance in [solving] problems.

"Moderation is precisely what Islam is. It means an exacting struggle against infidels [i.e. the U.S. and the West]; being cordial to the other, and permitting virtue and forbidding vice. Moderation does not mean that we prevent a pious stream [the ideological stream, particularly the IRGC] from carrying out actions that it feels duty-bound to carry out..."[3]

The Kayhan Daily

On May 25, 2014, the daily Kayhan, which is closely affiliated with the ideological camp, wrote: "We must ask those who support and spread the line of reconciliation and the ideology of surrender: What victory, calm, prosperity, and achievement do you have to show that was obtained without resisting the thugs? If you have an example, please say so – but you have none.

"What results will the line of reconciliation and surrender to the arrogant forces [the U.S. and the West] give us that will not eventually lead to disgrace, humiliation, the plundering of natural resources and national wealth, suffocation, the spread of poverty, the destabilization of security, and a life of slavery for the nations that accept [Western] rule? If you have examples – and we know that you do not – please show them...

"The undeniable truth is that those who spread the line of reconciliation and those who today promote the ideology of surrender owe their peaceful lives, jobs, and every single breath to those whom they insolently and ungratefully call 'extremists' ... Every time the enemy is on the path of bullying and extortion of the resistance line, it turns to the submissive ones who are well-known for their fear and their pursuit of a comfortable and hedonistic [life – apparently hinting at Rafsanjani] in order to combat the people's steadfast position and resistance. This creates a crack in the dam [of the steadfastness and the resistance of the people] that they face...

"We must turn to the reconcilers and those who write the prescription of surrender [i.e. Rafsanjani], and tell them: If you are decent human beings, you must kiss the hands of your benefactors a thousand times for every breath you draw and every step you take in peace and security. But because you are ingrates, you call them extremists."[4]

On June 23, 2014, Kayhan published statements made by Rafsanjani several years previously: "'Street protests when [circumstances in the country are] volatile, and when the enemy present [in the region], are very dangerous. This is because the street is not safe. Anyone can join, anyone can shout a slogan, and anyone can throw a rock, unless there is iron discipline – which there is not. How can a certain group call on the people to join it? These dishonorable people who came and caused all this damage – if we want to find their roots, we must look within ourselves and see that the main issue is selfishness and sectarianism...'

"Everything you read above... was stated by Hashemi Rafsanjani at a Friday sermon several years before the fitna [i.e. the unrest following the June 2009 presidential election] – true statements, which stem from a grasp of the necessity of preserving the revolution; these words remain chiseled in history...

"How can leaders and politicians make such major changes in their positions and contradict statements and beliefs they made previously? This is an important matter than cannot be overlooked. The fact is that in to Rafsanjani's eyes, megalomania and selfishness have so much of an impact on an individual that he perceives himself to be above the votes of the nation [i.e. levels charges of fraud at the reelection of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] – and this is not a trivial matter to be overlooked...

"Several politicians' changing of their priorities in their ideological lexicon is an important process that can be seen as a source of the 2009 fitna and the events that followed. Today, in order to preserve the sectarian interest, we can cut a deal with them [i.e. with the Western enemies of the regime], we can meet with them, and we can even receive economic aid from them... This takes place before the eyes of a people that carried out its [civic] duty and voted for a candidate [i.e. Ahmadinejad] who was not the choice of the lustful group [i.e. the pragmatic camp, which favored Mir Hossein Mousavi]...

"In any case, no one [responsible for the 2009 fitna] was punished, except for a few individuals... This [lenient] conduct [by the regime] prompted insolence in some people [i.e. Rafsanjani], who are now making demands on the people and on the regime, and are presenting positions that they held previously as [demands being made on behalf of] the people, and because of the people. They have forgotten that their friends said that there was no election fraud, and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu called [Rafsanjani and his cohorts] Israel's greatest asset in Iran.

"There are some who twist history in order to whitewash and vindicate the leaders of the fitna, and who say that the regime is unwilling to forgive the leaders of the fitna – even though the Prophet Muhammad forgave [his greatest enemy] Abu Sufian... The leaders of fitna [in Iran] and their friends are nothing but elements of the Great Satan [the U.S.]; what they really wanted was to pave the way for the return [of American] rule in Iran...

"Now let us return to Rafsanjani's statements from the beginning of the article... and ask, using the correct standard that he himself sets out, whether those who sparked the fitna and who persist on the same path and in the same Satanic method possess morality and the religion of Islam?"[5]

Furthermore, in a July 1, 2014 article, Kayhan responded to Rafsanjani's accusations: "Hashemi Rafsanjani's website recently posted statements that he made at a meeting with several students [referring to Rafsanjani's speech on 'new converts to Islam', which he addressed to the ideological camp; see below]. These statements, if he indeed made them, are surprising and bewildering...

"We must ask [Rafsanjani] to whom he refers when he says 'new converts to Islam,' and we must make several points in this context. [The nickname] 'new convert to Islam' refers to someone who recently joined Islam and was previously an infidel. It can also be used as criticism of someone who until just yesterday was not committed to Islam even though he was born Muslim, and who today is more devoted [to Islam] than other Muslims.

"If anyone believes in Islam and in [Iran's Islamic] revolution, and if he is a 'new convert to Islam,' as you [Rafsanjani] say, he is still many times better than a Muslim and revolutionary who regrets his past, turns to conflict, gladdens the enemies of the nation with his statements, and marches on a path that is contrary to the goals of the Imam [Khomeini] and the martyrs of the revolution. The fact that every day the regime and the revolution succeed in adding a new group to the ranks of its believers and supporters merits not criticism but praise to God...

"In 2009, after months in which some started the fires of chaos that crossed every line... others from among the lifelong Muslims [i.e. Rafsanjani] were silent and did not speak out against [the protestors]... If [Rafsanjani] did not use his seniority in the struggle at the last minute, when the regime itself was threatened and at risk [to defend the regime], what good is his [venerable] record? As with in dozens and hundreds of other historic examples, we deduce here that being a lifelong Muslim is in itself of no value unless it is accompanied by something more – essence.

"We cannot ignore another important point raised by Rafsanjani's statements. Rafsanjani's attack on those who seek to remain in power forever and to bequeath it to their descendants is appropriate. However, it would have been better had he also paid attention to the way of the Prophet [Muhammad], who refrained from telling a boy not to eat dates because he himself ate dates.

"In any case, what do people think when they hear such statements from someone who spent eight years as Majlis speaker and eight years as president, and who ran for president [in 2005] and lost, and ran again [in 2013] and was disqualified... If a person changes his mind and backs down from his past opinions, why should he expect the people to join him in this change of mind?

"Several years ago, in a Friday sermon, [Rafsanjani] took a harsh stance against failure to wear the hijab and other issues, and used unprecedented terms regarding these people. The question of how his revolutionary outlook morphed into his current outlook is irrelevant – but [Rafsanjani's] expectation that the people and the regime join his regret is astonishing."[6]

The Pragmatic Camp Responds

Hashemi Rafsanjani

In a June 26, 2014 speech to students, Rafsanjani said: "The 'new converts to Islam' are harming the revolution and the people. This opportunistic group, which never participated in the struggle [against Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi – apparently a reference to the IRGC] today sees power as something that it will hold onto forever, and that it will bequeath to its descendants. The power-mad, those who cannot relinquish power, those who see power as something that they will hold forever and that is bequeathed to their descendants, had better think again. How they have tried to block the Internet in the country! How many satellite dishes they have collected from the roofs of homes! I don't know how much impact this has had. Their operation did nothing to weaken awareness among the people – in fact, it only added to it...

"An additional obstacle is internal, [in the form of] the opportunists and the new converts to Islam who are now showing their lust for the revolution. [These] leading revolutionaries, who when no one had any hope that it was possible to remove the Shah's regime and America would come to the arena only perfunctorily, [once] filled only the prisons... Today, most of them have been removed from the arena [i.e. the ideological camp, following its loss in the 2013 presidential election]..."[7]

It should be noted that in his June 14 speech to activist students and political activists, Rafsanjani condemned "the illusions of the people who see power as their birthright" and called the escalation of tension in the domestic arena "an operation by those who know that they have no place among the people... [their] insults and [their] provocations are the language of boors whose ability [to handle frustration] is minimal..."[8]

On July 8, 2014, Rafsanjani said: "Hypocrisy, pretense, investigations, slander, smears, insults, accusations, lies, interference in others' affairs, disclosure of secrets, and fomenting conflict among people [accusations that Rafsanjani has directed against the ideological camp] are the soldiers of ignorance, and distance people from the religious culture. [But] the most grievous sin is oppression of human beings. God supports the oppressed and knows how to wrest their rights from the oppressor. God forgives all human sins with repentance, except for [expropriation of] the right of the public [haq al-nas]. Therefore, the right of the public is exceptionally important.

"Prior to the [presidential] election, the leader [Khamenei] defined the votes of the people as the [civic] right of the public. If this key concept is [indeed] brought into the arena of the political culture in the country, Iran will be stable and safe forever, by virtue of votes of the people in elections.

"Under the regime's constitution, all means of ruling in the Islamic Republic of Iran depend on the votes of the people, and the people plays a direct role in the elections of Majlis members and the president. [However, it plays only] an indirect role in the election of the leader."[9]


In a speech at a June 12 conference, Rohani said: "A number of people, who though few in number own many propaganda outlets, seek to weaken this hope [of moderation] that dwells in the people's heart [and that won the people's vote]. We announce to all those who choose a path and speech that oppose the people's choice [that] the people [hereby] declares... that it rejects violence and extremism... that it has one government, one nation, and one rule... and that no group and no faction can appropriate the revolution for itself...

"It appears that some people still live in the Stone Age."[10]

At a June 21, 2014 judiciary conference, Rohani said: "The entire country, from the most senior – i.e. the leader [Khamenei] – to the [least of] the people, are all equal before the law. Under the law, a judge can deal with any official bearing any responsibility who transgresses, or who has a complaint lodged [against him]... It is only the people who participate in this country's direct elections; they vote in accordance with the platforms of the candidates. The candidate with the most votes is the one who is directly chosen by the people [that is, Rohani himself – as opposed to Khamenei, who was appointed 25 years ago by the Assembly of Experts], heads the executive branch, and is in charge of implementing the constitution... Everyone [including the ideological camp] must respect this vote [by the people]."[11]

On July 10, Rohani defended his mentor Rafsanjani as the symbol of Iran's Islamic Revolution, saying that he was above factional politics and schism. He expressed "sorrow" because, he said, "some people are dealing in the destruction of figures who serve the revolution [i.e. Rafsanjani] without giving due respect to the considerations of shari'a and morality... These figures have no connection to any of the factions in the country [i.e. neither the ideological nor the pragmatic camps] – they are connected to the entire revolution and the entire regime. [Those who constitute] the great assets of the revolution are not to be slandered lightly."[12]

The Ebtekar Daily

In its July 10, 2014 editorial, the Ebtekar daily, which is identified with Rafsanjani's supporters, stated: "Since the day Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani's ruling regarding the 'new converts to Islam' was issued... several circles have been beating the drums of mudslinging... out of fear of the status and the impact in society of the words of Ayatollah Rafsanjani – words that were proven in the 2013 presidential election, and even if they disqualified him [from that race], the sun of his thought shows the way.

"Now, when the political atmosphere in the country is gradually moving towards the elections for the Majlis and for the Assembly of Experts [in 2016], the most important mission, duty, and goal of Rafsanjani's political opponents are to oppose every sentence [that he utters].

"Without a doubt, a certain stream [i.e. the ideological camp] will feel an obligation to escalate the immoral and inciting media approach until election day. This shows that in their view, Ayatollah Rafsanjani is the most important figure – because they know that if his speeches are published publicly, there will emerge another story of heroism [i.e. due to the expected win of the pragmatic camp in the upcoming election for the Assembly of Experts, which is the body which appoints the supreme leader] because of [his] reasonable persuasion. Several [circles] are not going to like this story of heroism, because if all the people go out [to the arena] there will be no room left for [these circles] in power."[13]

Kayhan: Our Paper Has Been Banned Across The Office Of The Institution Of The Presidency

On July 10, 2014, Kayhan reported: "Kayhan has been banned from circulation in the office of the institution of the Iranian presidency.

"The relevant senior officials in the institution of the presidency have banned the Kayhan daily from being circulated in this institution. These officials contacted [the Kayhan editorial board] and asked that it not send Kayhan to the institution of the presidency – after the paper has been sent to and circulated across the institution for decades...

"The relevant officials at the institution of the presidency have not clarified what concerns are prompting them to ban the circulation of Kayhan in this institution."[14]


[1], May 25, 2014.

[2], July 2, 2014.

[3], July 7, 2014.

[4] Kayhan (Iran), May 25, 2014.

[5] Kayhan (Iran), June 23, 2014.

[6] Kayhan (Iran), July 1, 2014.

[7], June 26, 2014.

[8], June 14, 2014.

[9] Jomhouri-e Eslami, (Iran), July 9, 2014.

[10], June 12, 2014.

[11] Entekhab (Iran), June 21, 2014.

[12] ISNA (Iran), July 10, 2014. Following the subsequent criticism of Rohani, two reformist activists, Ali Shakuri-Rad and Montajeb-Nia, defended Rohani and criticized the ideological camp. Shakuri-Rad, who was a member of the sixth Majlis (2000-2004), that the extremists have an opportunity to redeem themselves by supporting the government of Rohani that was established by the people's vote – but that if they continued to fight it, they will be removed from the arena by the people sooner or later. Montajeb-Nia criticized those who sought to harm President Rohani, calling them a minority that opposes the will of the people and that insults the choice that the people has made. ILNA, July 12, 2014;, July 13, 2014.

[13], July 10, 2014.

[14] Kayhan (Iran), July 10, 2014.

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