Mourners from all walks of life in Iran – from the country’s president to passers-by on the street – paid their respects Monday to the late Iranian leader Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani following his death over the weekend at the age of 82.
President Hassan Rouhani and his administration visited the mosque in northern Tehran where Rafsanjani’s body was brought. Mourners, including Rafsanjani’s family members, wept at the sight of his coffin, reaching out to touch it.
The heads of state of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates sent condolences for Rafsanjani Monday, signaling appreciation for a pragmatist who sought regional detente, but there was no immediate word from Riyadh, Tehran’s main Gulf Arab adversary.
Newspapers in Iran published front-page photographs of Rafsanjani, who died Sunday after suffering a heart attack, while state television aired archival clips of his comments and speeches. The country is observing three days of mourning, and Rafsanjani’s funeral is set for Tuesday.
At the start of a Parliament session Monday, speaker Ali Larijani paid tribute to the late leader, describing Rafsanjani as “a man for hard days whose name has been always been tied to the revolution and it will always be so.”
However, political analysts believe Rafsanjani’s absence will put Rouhani under more pressures by hard-liners. Tehran-based analyst Hamid Reza Shokouhi said Rouhani and reformists in general have lost a powerful supporter in the next presidential election.
“Now, with about six months to the next presidential election, there are so many pressures on Rouhani’s administration. Rafsanjani could manage it, if he were still alive.”
A Tehran-based diplomatic analyst, Hassan Hanizadeh, told the Associated Press that Rafsanjani left a big vacuum in the Iranian field of diplomacy. During visits to Tehran, many foreign envoys met with Rafsanjani to discuss regional and internationals issues.
“Over the past 37 years, Rafsanjani always tried to pave the way for better ties with regional countries and the West,” said Hanizadeh, adding that he hopes “moderate figures will continue his policies.”
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also told Iranian media that “Rafsanjani’s viewpoints were always road-paving for us in the foreign policy field.”
Rafsanjani routinely called for improved ties with Gulf Arab states, was known to have good relations with senior Saudi officials and was seen as a key figure who could have resolved rising tensions between the regional rivals in coming years.
Writing on his Twitter account, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash described Rafsanjani as “one of the voices of political realism and moderation.”
Bahraini Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, whose country has tense relations with Iran, voiced condolences on Twitter over Rafsanjani’s death.
Condolence messages also came from pro-Iranian Arab forces including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi group.
Tehran residents also expressed their grief at the loss of Rafsanjani.
“I don’t know who is going to fill his place. He kept Iran safe from hard-liners for so long,” said Maziar Rezaei, a real estate agent.
Zahra Qorbani, a tailor, said she was worried about her children’s future. She described the late leader as a “man who always tried to fix Iran’s relations with neighbors and the world.”
The life of Rafsanjani, known as a political survivor, spanned the trials of Iran’s modern history, from serving as a close aide to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini during the 1979 Islamic Revolution to acting as a go-between in the Iran-Contra deal. He also served as president from 1989 to 1997, during a period of significant changes in Iran.