CAIRO — One of Iran's most powerful men might be playing a key role behind closed doors in the country's escalating post-election crisis.
Former president and influential cleric Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani has made no public comment since Iran erupted into confrontation between backers of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and reformists who say he stole re-election through fraud.
But Iranian TV has shown pictures of Rafsanjani's daughter Faezeh Hashemi speaking to hundreds of opposition supporters. Hashemi and four other relatives of Rafsanjani's were briefly detained in Iran on Sunday.
And Rafsanjani, who has made no secret of his distaste for Ahmadinejad, was conspicuously absent from an address by the country's supreme leader calling for national unity and siding with the president.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Rafsanjani, 75, on Friday as one of the revolution's architects and an effective political figure for many years, but he acknowledged that the two have "many differences of opinion."
While Rafsanjani's true views, and even his whereabouts, remain unclear, any support for the opposition would place him in direct conflict with many of the most powerful clerics in Iran's highest echelons of power.
The stakes for the world are high.
The regime's militant wing, with Ahmadinejad its most visible face, takes a hard-line position on relations with Washington and is determined to push forward with the nuclear program regardless of the consequences, experts say.
A camp of pragmatic clerics and politicians led by Rafsanjani, while loyal to the revolution's principles, wants to build better ties with the West and a more friendly image of Iran.