Page last updated at 18:15 GMT, Friday, 17 July 2009 19:15 UK

Rafsanjani fans flames of dissent

Protesters in Tehran, Iran, on 17 July 2009

By Jon Leyne
BBC News

Under the headline of a call for unity, former Iranian President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani has actually ensured that the divisions in Iran will continue and possibly increase.

Mr Rafsanjani's first public comments since the election were eagerly awaited.

It was clear the government was extremely nervous: media coverage of Friday prayers was restricted.

Some journalists and opposition supporters reported problems over being allowed access to the ceremony at Tehran University.

No doubt there was a fierce battle behind the scenes for him to be allowed to speak.

Open challenge

Since the election more moderate voices appear to have been sidelined as the rota of Friday prayer speakers was drawn up.

Even some opposition members were uncertain about whether he would offer them support.

Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani in Tehran, Iran, on 17 July 2009
Mr Rafsanjani played his trump card: his friendship with Ayatollah Khomeini

In the end they may be satisfied that he kept their grievances alive.

By calling for an open debate about the election result, Mr Rafsanjani was almost openly challenging the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Four weeks ago, from the same pulpit, Mr Khamenei called for an end to discussion about an election result which he declared had been blessed by God.

Former President Rafsanjani played his trump card, by referring to his friendship with the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini.

He quoted Ayatollah Khomeini in ways that appeared to support the opposition's right to demonstrate.

Mr Rafsanjani even called for protesters who have been arrested to be released from prison.

Ahmadinejad weakened?

Outside, the government was illustrating that it deeply disagrees with him.

Tear gas was used against opposition supporters outside Tehran University, and there was a number of arrests.

Protesters in Tehran, Iran, on 17 July 2009
Once again the opposition has shown it has not been quelled

But once again the opposition demonstrated its ability to get out supporters in large numbers.

One website claimed there were millions of opposition followers on the streets of Tehran, though with foreign media access limited, that is impossible to verify.

So the deadlock continues.

While the opposition demonstrations go on, there is no sign that they will remove President Ahmadinejad.

The president is set to move into his second term, with his inauguration on 2 August, but his authority could be severely weakened.

Deep trouble?

Former President Rafsanjani presented a five-point plan to escape from the deadlock, including the release of prisoners and media freedom.

The plan is unlikely to be welcomed by the government.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (left) and Mir Hossein Mousavi
12 June Presidential election saw incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected with 63% of vote
Main challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi called for result to be annulled, alleging poll fraud
Mass street protests saw at least 20 people killed, hundreds arrested, and foreign media restricted

One of the most interesting points is almost a footnote.

These were just his personal ideas, said Mr Rafsanjani, but they were based on consultation with senior figures in the establishment.

That is one more indication that this is not just an argument between the Iranian public and those who rule them.

It is a deep division at the heart of the Islamic Republic.

And it could be the institutions of the Iranian government that break the deadlock.

There is the assembly of experts, a body of senior clerics chaired by Mr Rafsanjani.

In theory they have the job of "monitoring the performance" of the Supreme Leader, or even dismissing him.

It is a powerful tool that so far Mr Rafsanjani has not brought into play - at least not publicly.

More immediately the parliament, the Majlis, has the job of approving Mr Ahmadinejad's new cabinet, which he must nominate after his second term begins.

Mr Ahmadinejad has hinted that he is going to shake up his administration.

If he does so by appointing only loyal members of his inner circle, he may cause himself deep trouble with parliament.

So despite the calls for unity, it is difficult to see any grounds for compromise in this crisis, the flames having once again been fanned by Mr Rafsanjani's comments.

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