Iranian state run media has announced that the former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, died on Sunday after suffering a heart attack. He had been admitted to the Shohadaa Hospital in northern Tehran.
Mr. Rafsanjani’s death is a huge loss for both reformists and moderates, as he stood as a pillar for the two camps.
Rafsanjani’s always pushed Iranian hard right wingers to improve relations with the United States and was a known advocate of Iran’s nuclear deal with the United States, even when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad advocated taking a hard line.
While anti-American, Rafsanjani was main voice in Iran calling for an outreach to the West and the United States & supporter of nuclear deal
— Thomas Erdbrink (@ThomasErdbrink) January 8, 2017
Mr. Rafsanjani, who was 82, was a decisive figure in the set up of the Islamic Republic in 1979, along with Ayatollah Khomeini. Mr. Rafsanjani was the Speaker of Parliament for two consecutive terms until Khomeini’s death in 1989. He was then elected as Iran’s fourth President from 3 August 1989 to 3 August 1997.
His presidency offered the country a chance to recover after the destruction and chaos of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.
Mr Rafsanjani spent time focusing on economic reform and reconstruction within Iran, especially on privatising former state run institutions so that they worked better. He helped to set up a chain of affordable ‘azad’ universities which helped middle-class Iranians to get into universities. These very universities are now credited by the hardliners in creating western aspirations amongst their students. He also actively worked to improve relations with Iran’s Arab nations that had been marred during the war with Iraq.
Rafsanjani’s attempts to improve Iran’s relations with western countries was less successful due to the fatwa that was given to Salman Rushdi in 1988. Later during his realm rampant inflation led to political strife in the country and allegations of corruption led to a crackdown on dissidents and massive human rights violations in the country.
The Economist has called him a “veteran kingmaker” and after serving a maximum two consecutive terms, Mr. Rafsanjani played an important role in the election of the moderate President and reformist Mohammad Khatami, who succeeded him as President from 1997 to 2005. Who was instrumental in reaching out to the West and improving Iran’s relations with it.
He has been mourned by his compatriots and rivals. Khamenei, the second and current Supreme Leader of Iran tweeted:
His abundant wisdom & unique intimacy through years, was a confident fulcrum for everyone who was working with him, particularly myself.
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) January 8, 2017
Rafsanjani was born on August 25, 1934, in the village of Nough in southern Iran. He studied theology in the holy city of Qom before entering politics in 1963 after Shah Reza Pahlavi’s police arrested Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Iranian government has announced three days of national mourning after his death.