October 10, 2013 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1025

The Struggle Between Khamenei And Rafsanjani Over The Iranian Leadership – Part VI: Despite Rafsanjani's Push To Omit 'Death To America' Slogan, Demonstrators At Tehran Friday Sermon Persist In Chanting It, Wave Placards Against Obama, Rafsanjani

October 10, 2013 | By Yossi Mansharof*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1025


The continuing struggle between the ideological followers of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and supporters of his political rival, Expediency Council Chairman Hashemi Rafsanjani, who recently forced Khamenei's consent to direct nuclear talks with the U.S., was clearly reflected in events during the October 4, 2013 central Friday sermon in Tehran.

In the two weeks since President Rohani's return to Tehran from New York, the Iranian regime has tried to show the world, and particularly the Americans, that it has changed its hostile ideological approach to the U.S. In order to reinforce this change of direction, which is lead by Hashemi Rafsanjani, Rafsanjani's office on September 30 published an excerpt from his memoirs in which he claims that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Iranian regime, agreed in principle that the 'Death to America' slogan could be omitted when necessary.[1] This publication sparked extensive criticism from hard-line Khamenei loyalists who feared that it undermined the values and ideology of the Islamic Revolution regime.

The regime's attempt to justify this dialing down of overt hostility towards the U.S. also found expression in statements by Mohammad-Hossein Saffar-Harandi, an advisor to Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander, in his political address that preceded the October 4 central Friday sermon in Tehran. Harandi sought to explain the change in Iran's policy towards the U.S. to the public by claiming that it enjoyed Khamenei's approval and fell within the framework of the regime's principles. When Harandi criticized what he viewed as U.S. State Secretary John Kerry's failure to meet his obligations, the crowd began chanting 'Death to America' and Harandi hastened to silence it.[2]

Immediately after the sermon, Khamenei's ideological followers staged a protest rally against Obama and Rafsanjani. Protesters held up signs branding Obama a "terrorist" and accused Rafsanjani of misrepresenting Khomeini's directives on the appropriate attitude towards America (see images below).

Additionally, pro-Khamenei ideological circles stressed that the traditional November 4 events marking the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy would be commemorated this year with special gusto and with special emphasis on the slogan "Death to America."

Harandi Rebukes Crowd For Shouting 'Death To America'

In his October 4 political address, Saffar-Harandi stressed that the talks with the U.S. represented a merely tactical change, rather than a modification of regime principles, and that they enjoyed Khamenei's approval and were intended to secure recognition for Iran's right to enrich uranium. Criticizing American behavior in dealing with Iran, he said: "While our president [Rohani] arrived at the U.N. fully empowered by the Leader [Khamenei] to solve the problems within the framework of the Islamic Republic regime's red lines, the U.S. Secretary of State did not officially recognize Iran's right to enrich uranium in his statement to journalists and the media. This, in contradiction to previously made obligations and statements. [In fact,] he said that 'no [American] official agrees that Iran has the right to enrich uranium, and no change [in policy] has occurred in this respect.' Following this last remark, the crowd rose to its feet and called out 'Death to America,' to which Harandi responded by saying: "Did I utter a slogan that [requires] you to answer me?"[3]

Protest Against Obama, Rafsanjani On Margin Of October 4 Central Friday Sermon In Tehran[4]

Rafsanjani appears on the placard with his claim that Khomeini allowed to omit "Death to America" slogan

Officials In Khamenei Camp: The November 4 Events Will Be Held With Special Enthusiasm This Year

Statements by senior ideologues in Khamenei's camp also betrayed a concern that Rafsanjani and Rohani could successfully dampen open opposition to the U.S. They emphasized that the opposition to the U.S. would be especially prominent in this year's November 4 events marking the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Hamid-Reza Moqaddam-Far, an advisor to the IRGC commander and a former director of the Fars news agency, said in an October 2 interview with the website Tasnim: "Our people fully understands the situation, and maintains a watchful eye on the conduct of all state officials. This year's November 4 [events] will be held in a very different format, with greater enthusiasm than in previous years, due to awareness of the emerging atmosphere and in order to convey to the world that the Great Satan [i.e., the U.S.] is the same Great Satan, that it is weak and incompetent compared to Iran, and that it needs Iran."[5]

At an October 7 press conference in Tehran, Asghar Abkhezr, the head of the central headquarters for organizing the November 4 events and a senior official in Iran's Islamic Propagation Organization, said: "In light of the illogical and arrogant position that the West has taken against the Iranian people, this year's November 4 [events] will be very different and more enthusiastic than in previous years... 'Death to America' and 'Death to the Arrogance' will be the Iranian people's main slogans at [these events]."[6]

* Y. Mansharof is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] The excerpt was published under the headline "The Imam [Khomeini] agreed to omit the 'Death to America' [slogan].", September 30, 2013.

[2] Calls of "Death to America" were also heard during the sermon itself, delivered by Cleric Kazem Sedighi. Mehr (Iran), October 4, 2013.

[3] ISNA (Iran), October 4, 2013.

[4] Mehr, Fars (Iran), October 4, 2013.

[5] Tasnim (Iran), October 2, 2013.

[6] Fars (Iran), October 7, 2013.

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