TEHRAN, Iran — The opposition is planning a dramatic show of strength on one of Iran's most important and resonant political stages: the main Islamic prayers today in the capital.
Their top supporter in the clerical leadership -- Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani -- is delivering the sermon this week for the first time since the disputed June 12 presidential election, and pro-reform activists intend to pack the hall to prove that their movement remains vibrant despite the government's harsh crackdown.
Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi said late Wednesday that he will attend the prayers, also for the first time since the upheaval over the elections erupted.
But hard-liners are also likely to attend, raising the prospect of a highly public confrontation during the prayers, which are broadcast live on national radio. Government supporters have been pressuring Rafsanjani to make clear his loyalty to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in his sermon.
In a sharply worded letter made public this week, hard-line university students demanded that Rafsanjani "break his silence by defending the values of the revolution and clearing up the speculation surrounding him."
The opposition hopes the prayers help prove its staying power.
Mousavi claims that he won the election and that the results showing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory were fraudulent. He insists Ahmadinejad's government will be illegitimate.
Security forces crushed massive street protests in support of Mousavi, and the supreme leader has backed Ahmadinejad. Hard-liners in the clerical leadership have since been demanding the public fall in line behind Khamenei, hoping to put behind them the biggest challenge to their rule in 30 years. They have depicted the opposition as radicals backed by foreign enemies and have kept the opposition voice out of state-run media, which reaches the widest audience around the country.
Friday prayers could poke a hole in that blackout, a prospect that clearly concerns authorities.
"The wise Iranian people must be vigilant that the Friday prayer not be turned into a stage for undesirable scenes," Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi warned Thursday, according to the Fars news agency.