Middle East

Iran Rafsanjani funeral underscores political divisions

A banner depicting former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (10 January 2016) Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption There is a sense of loss among all Iranian political camps, despite the country's deep and bitter divisions

Tehran has seen some of the biggest crowds on the streets since the 2009 "Green Movement" opposition demonstrations, as an estimated 2.5 million people gathered to bid farewell to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the man universally known as "Hashemi".

An eyewitness told BBC Persian that the crowds were sharply divided between hardliners and moderates, but it was clear many people had responded to a call from former President Mohammad Khatami to attend the funeral as a show of support for the opposition reform movement.

Some were chanting opposition slogans, and others carried placards emphasising Mr Rafsanjani's links to the moderate and reformist camps.

"Long live Khatami, Long Live Rouhani. Hashemi, your soul is at peace!" said one banner.

"The circle became too closed for the centre," said another, using a quotation from Persian poetry to underline the growing distance in recent years between Mr Rafsanjani and Iran's hardline political establishment.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption State TV at one point played loud music over its live broadcast to drown out opposition chants from the crowd
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The funeral has been the number one topic on Iranian social media
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Such huge crowds have not been seen in Tehran since 2009

At one stage state television played loud music over its live broadcast of the event in order to drown out opposition slogans being chanted by the crowd.

As the official funeral eulogies were relayed to the crowds on the streets, they responded with calls of support for former President Khatami, and opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, and shouts of: "You have the loudspeakers, we have the voice! Shame on you, Shame on State TV!"

On Iranian social media the funeral has been the number one topic with many opposition supporters using the hashtag #weallgathered to indicate their support and sympathy.

People have been posting photos and videos emphasising the number of opposition supporters out on the streets and showing the opposition slogans which state TV has been trying to obscure.

But government supporters have also taken to Twitter to play down the opposition showing at the funeral, accusing them of political opportunism.

"A huge army came out of love of the Supreme Leader," wrote a cleric called Sheikh Reza. "While a few foot soldiers came with their cameras to show off."

Another conversation engaging many on Twitter involved the wording of the prayers used at the funeral.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Both reformists and hardliners attended the funeral in their thousands

Did the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei deliberately leave out a section praising the goodness of the deceased, some opposition supporters asked. And was this a comment on the political tensions between the two?

"No," responded another Twitter user, cleric Abbas Zolghadri. "The words of the prayer can be changed. There are no strict rules."

He followed this with a poignant photo of an empty grave - "Hashemi's final resting place" was the caption, summing up the sense of loss felt by Iranians of many different political persuasions despite the deep and bitter divisions.

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