Rafsanjani Sketches Vision of a Moderate, Modern Iran
By ELAINE SCIOLINO,
Published: Sunday, April 19, 1992
Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani would like to be seen as a thoroughly modern mullah.
The Iranian President studies economic issues at least two hours a day, gets CNN in his office and speaks English perhaps even better than his Berkeley-educated brother. Although he holds the title of Hojatolislam -- one rank lower than Ayatollah -- he sprinkles his speeches and sermons with statistics, not quotations from the Koran.
Like George Bush, he likes to cut through his administration's bureaucracy by picking up the phone, calling his ambassadors abroad and fellow heads of state like Turgut Ozal of Turkey and Helmut Kohl of Germany at odd hours of the day and night. The State Builder
"His ideal is to bring Iran to the highest level of its economic, industrial and cultural potential," said Mohammed Hashemi, the President's younger brother, who runs the country's official radio and television. "He's in for the struggle."
If the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was the austere revolutionary determined to smash the old regime, Mr. Rafsanjani is the state builder, just as determined to create institutions that will restore the country to a position of power in the region.
Interviews with close associates before and after parliamentary elections on April 10 made clear that Mr. Rafsanjani's most pressing goal is to convince the world that he is a mature, reliable leader of a vital nation that is ripe for foreign investment and loans -- one bent on meeting the economic needs of its people, not political expansion.
But it would be wrong to characterize Mr. Rafsanjani as a Western-style leader ready to cast off his clerical robes at the earliest opportunity.
His Government is constrained by revolutionary purists who accuse it of betrayal. The regime has long been accused in the West of sponsoring terrorists, including the kidnappers of foreigners in Lebanon, although the intercession of Mr. Rafsanjani is credited with helping to free the remaining American hostages.
Since he became President, perhaps thousands of Iranians have been executed, including drug offenders, opposition guerrillas, Communists, Kurds, Bahais, even clerics. And his Government has refused to rescind the death sentence imposed in February 1989 by Ayatollah Khomeini against the writer Salman Rushdie for supposedly blaspheming Islam in his novel "The Satanic Verses."
The tension in the Rafsanjani Government between the impulses of extremism and moderation are perhaps best illustrated by the comments of the President himself.
In a sermon in December, Mr. Rafsanjani called for "prudence" in domestic and foreign policy, "so that we can have a presence and help people without being accused of engaging in terrorism, without anyone being able to call us fanatics."
Yet just this week, in an indication of the continuing political risks of being too closely aligned with the West, Mr. Rafsanjani said in his Friday sermon: "The West is drumming up confusion and pandemonium in their newspapers by saying that after these elections, the Government of Iran will become more and more Westernized. That is a lie."
Elected to a four-year term as President in 1989 with 95 percent of the vote, Mr. Rafsanjani appears to be headed toward another major electoral victory in parliamentary voting, in which he engineered the candidate-selection process to exclude some of his most troublesome opponents.
If the results of the first round of the elections last week are echoed in next month's runoff, he will enjoy a clear majority in the legislature, a development that will present him with a strong mandate to pursue his reforms and the most important challenge of his political career.
"So many changes have occurred so far, and more major things are yet to come," said Mohsen Adeli, the American-educated director of the Central Bank and a close ally of Mr. Rafsanjani. "Of course, it depends on how society can absorb it, and the more it can, the more we will introduce our policies."
A senior official in another ministry put it more bluntly.
"The country has become corrupt and the people are losing their spirit," the official said. "They have sacrificed for too long. Rafsanjani is the last chance."
- Your Money: For Older Investors, Old Rules May Not Apply
- Shortcuts: Typing In an E-Mail Address, and Giving Up Your Friends’ as Well
- Mourning the Mayor of Seventh Street
- Well: Is Your Ab Workout Hurting Your Back?
- In Athens, Museum Is an Olympian Feat
- A Literary Legend Fights for a Local Library
- Op-Ed Columnist: A Nation of Candidates
- So Many Flat-Panel TVs. Which Is Right for You?
- Doctor and Patient: Taking Time for the Self on the Path to Becoming a Doctor
- Hard Times for New England’s 3-Deckers
- As Confrontation Deepens, Iran's Leader to Speak
- A Supreme Leader Loses His Aura as Iranians Flock to the Streets
- A Different Iranian Revolution
- Wide Support for Government-Run Health Plan
- Times Reporter Escapes Taliban After 7 Months
- Times Reporter Held by Taliban Escapes
- A Literary Legend Fights for a Library
- Fragile at the Core
- Out of the Shadows
- Unparalleled and Denied