An important day in Iran

There will be no regime change in Iran unless (a) protests continue in the face of the recent repression and (b) the regime fractures. Today brought evidence that both of these conditions (which are necessary but perhaps not sufficient) may be fulfilled.

First, protests broke out in Tehran. Second, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s former president and a key figure in the regime, criticized the government and called for the release of hundreds of protesters and democracy advocates arrested in recent weeks.

As to the first development, thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets chanting against the regime. It was easily the largest protest in week. (One rather interesting chant was “Death to Russia,” which is seen by Iranian dissidents as a key supporter of President Ahmadinejad).

Police officers and/or militia men used tear gas and truncheons to disperse large crowds of protesters, and there were reports of at least 15 arrests. Among them was Shadi Sadr, a lawyer and women’s rights activist

As to the second development, Rafsanjani used his sermon during Friday prayer services at Tehran University to express criticism of the government. Rafsanjani did not allege that the recent elections were fraudulent, but he emphasized that many Iranians view them as such, that these concerns have not adequately been addressed (here he crticiized the powerful Guardian Council), and that, in the aftermath of the election, Iran is in “crisis.”

Rafsanjani also urged Ayatollah Khamenei to be conciliatory. Specifically, he said that restrictions on the press and on free speech should be removed, and that those detained since the election should be released.

According to one report, when protesters interrupted his sermon, Rafsanjani told them, “I am saying it better than you.”

It’s an open secret that Rafsanjani is at odds with Khamenei. But, as I understand it, he has not before publicly criticized the regime (to which he belongs) to this extent. It also seems significant that Rafsanjani would do so during a sermon at the Friday prayer in Tehran, which (as one might imagine) is a very big deal. Khanenei is said generally to exercise tight control over what is said on these occasions. But today, he lacked that control, it seems.

So this is story apparently is not going away.

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