A year and a half after the controversial re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has distanced himself from the opposition candidate he tacitly supported during the poll.
Two days after Monday's "illicit" demonstrations by thousands of opposition activists, Rafsanjani said "all activity that does not comply with the law is haram (forbidden under Islam)," a stronger term than he has been able to use to criticise the opposition previously.
Rafsanjani leads the influential Assembly of Experts, which selects the supreme leader and which used even stronger language. It "condemned" the opposition protests and said the "leaders of sedition ... best served America and the Zionist regime," a reference to Mir Hossein Mousavi and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi, who have become the figureheads of the opposition movement since the 2009 election.
Rafsanjani, who was president from 1989 to 1997, is considered a moderate and pragmatic conservative. But he has never hidden his disdain for Ahmadinejad, who defeated him in the 2005 presidential election, and indirectly supported Mousavi at the 2009 poll.
Ultra-conservatives close to the government have urged Rafsanjani to stand against the opposition after Monday's demonstration in which two people were killed, several injured and many arrested.
Sensing the impending danger, Rafsanjani, who also heads the Expediency Council, another key institution of the Islamic republic, issued an appeal to protesters on February 10.
"In the current situation, I consider that the current constitution is sufficient... Some people are dissatisfied. I advise them to come back (to the regime) because we have no present alternative," he said.
After the demonstrations triggered by Ahmadinejad's re-election, Rafsanjani, made headlines by calling for political freedoms and for the release of political prisoners.
Opposition supporters were shown to support him, but Rafsanjani seemingly sulked for several months. He has since reiterated his position, despite criticism from conservatives.
By August 2009, however, he was back, showing his loyalty to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and denying "any power struggle at the highest level of the regime".
Last January, he reiterated that his views were not "out of line with those of the Supreme Leader."
"It is natural to have disagreements and in all areas, but I consider it my duty to follow the orders" of Ayatollah Khamenei, he said.
Despite these declarations, Khamenei has repeatedly criticised "elites without vision", a veiled reference to Rafsanjani.
"It is unacceptable that the elites in the regime take convoluted positions... The elites must take a clear stand against the enemy," he declared.
Rafsanjani, who was seen as the regime's strongman in the 1980s and the early 1990s, seems to have lost his influence, especially after events in the wake of the 2009 presidential election.
For the first time, Iranian television on Wednesday showed a rally organised by the regime at which people chanted "Death to Hashemi" Rafsanjani, whose condemnation of opposition leaders was seen as too little, too late.