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Iran's Power Struggle

16 Jun 2009 17:175 Comments
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By GARETH SMYTH in Beirut

As he surveys the aftermath of the rioting in Tehran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will be assessing the crisis he faces. Referring the complaints from defeated presidential candidates for a ten-day enquiry -- just 48 hours after detecting a divine hand in the result -- may stymie protests and gain time.

But the deeper challenge facing Iran's supreme leader is to assuage or break up a coalition against Mr Ahmadinejad that has taken shape since the first year of his presidency. The events of the past week have widened the division between the president and his opponents, making it harder for Ayatollah Khamenei to defuse the situation through finding common ground.

The anti-Ahmadinejad coalition began in 2006 as a group of reformists and pragmatic conservatives alarmed at the new president's foreign policy pronouncements, which they felt imperiled Iran's international position. The group was also concerned at the president's reflationary economics -- and the harm inflicted on businesses by tougher western sanctions they blamed in part on Mr Ahmadinejad's bellicose approach.

The three co-ordinators of this group were Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the revolutionary veteran who holds important state positions, Mohammad Khatami, the former reformist president, and Mehdi Karrubi, the former parliamentary speaker.

But the "coalition of the concerned," a term first used at the end of 2006, helped shape a wider political agenda. As June's presidential election approached, many leading political figures, including Ali Larijani, the parliamentary speaker, and Mohsen Rezaei, former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, called for a government of national unity. Mr Rezaei even challenged Mr Ahmadinejad in the presidential election. As the election approached, Iran's reformists displayed rare political acumen, agreeing to run Mir Hossein Mousavi rather than Mr Khatami, a move that made it far harder to Mr Ahmadinejad to exploit fears that the reformists masked radical, pro-western elements wanting to overthrow the Islamic system.

Harder, but not impossible.

Mr Musavi's stress on "principles" during the recent election marked his centrist convergence. But his rallies, allied by the western media's infatuation with Tehran and 20-year-old women with blonde highlights, began to resemble the radical student protests of the time of Khatami's presidency. The so-called "green revolution" had all the connotations that fundamentalists abhorred.

Relishing the challenge, Mr Ahmadinejad met it head on.

Returning to the theme of his 2005 victory, he attacked Mr Mousavi as part of the clique of Mr Rafsanjani. As a humble man of the people, the sitting president would remain steadfast against those believed to have enriched themselves at the people's expense: it was a message with resonance among parts of Iran ignored by the western media.

For Ayatollah Khamenei, events have emphasized just what a mixed blessing Ahmadinejad has been, and remains. On one hand, his victory in 2005 showed the egalitarian slogans of the 1979 revolution could still motivate the masses and rewrite an agenda dividing Iran between "reformists" and "conservatives."

But this was far from all the Ahmadinejad story. The "popular president," an outsider of humble background, has shown scant respect for Iran's clerical and political establishment. His call for class struggle, albeit with an Islamic hue, attacks on an "oil mafia" and his posture as the international leader of have-nots against big powers, all carry the danger of instability and threaten vested interests developed since the 1979 revolution.

And his international stance -- although popular with many ordinary folk throughout the Islamic world -- has brought Iran growing western pressure. Tehran's pragmatic conservatives and professional diplomats believe that cold decisions about compromise lie ahead and fear that Ahmadinejad generates far too much heat.

So where does it go from here?

The unifying factor among the "coalition of the concerned" has been a desire to see Ahmadinejad out of office, and that desire is now stronger than ever and likely to keep the coalition together at least for now.

Mr Mousavi has played a careful hand in supporting the protests in Tehran while condemning violence. He has demanded the recounting of the election, or perhaps a re-run. Mr Khatami has backed him.

The calculations facing Mr Rafsanjani are more complex. Unlike the reformists, he holds important state positions as head of the Expediency Council and the Experts Assembly. But it seems far too early for him to make a real move.

Ayatollah Khamenei and Mr Rafsanjani have worked together for nearly half a century, as revolutionaries, as leaders during the desperate war with Iraq, and as leaders of the Iranian state. But there is also rivalry between them, expressed in the belief in important places that Mr Rafsanjani, although five years the senior of the two, has not given up hope of exercising the powers of the supreme office.

Ayatollah Khamenei has always favoured a leadership style that keeps him, as far as possible, above factional politics. The coalition now facing him, including Mr Rafsanjani, is making it more and more difficult for him to do that.

A possible, and perhaps telling, move for Ayatollah Khamenei would be an attempt to woo Mr Rafsanjani and perhaps some moderate reformists away from the coalition opposing Mr Ahmadinejad.

But the election and the street rioting put Mr Ahmadinejad in a stronger position to deter any concessions, even ones designed to split his opponents. Meanwhile on the other side, the price Mr Rafsanjani and others might ask is surely rising by the day.

The situation is delicate. But of all the politicians weighing up their bottom line and their next move, Ayatollah Khamenei has the greatest onus to act -- and to act decisively.

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

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5 Comments

Shame on you Ayatollah Khamenei and your moron followers Ahmadinejad and mullahs!!!


You will all pay dearly for all these chaos you've caused in Iran.

shetty / June 17, 2009 4:06 AM

Mr Khatami,Ahmadinejad GOD WITH U , ISLAM VERY STRONG NOW / CHRISTAN AND OTHER RELIGION ALL AGAINT OF ISLAM < ALL MUSLAM SHII PROUD OF U , IAM DIED FOR ISLAM AND UP TO DEAD I AM SEPORT U Ahmadinejad. WITH NAME GOD ALLAH U ARE SAFE ALL SHII MUST UP TO DEAD WITH AMMAM KHAMINE WHICH BRINGH ISLAMIC SHII IN WORLD . THESE ARE ALL AGAINTS ISLAM THEY WANTS TO REMOVE ISLAMIC COUNTRY . BUT PLEASE BE STRONGH . GOD WITH ALL AND U Ahmadinejad

FROM INDIA DR HALIM ESHRAT M

ESHRAT / June 18, 2009 6:57 AM

I think the regimes in Iran and turkey have many similarities only Turkish republic is 85 years and Islamic republic just 30 years but both regimes are illegal and dictatorships!.


Both Turkey and the Islamic Republic have a young history.

Turkey is being created after annihilating the majority of Non Turks ( Assyrians, Pontian Greeks and Armenians.. ) but the Islamic Republic has not such a criminal/ bloody past because the Islamic Republic of Iran is the outcome of a real revolution and poll.


BUT STILL

I think the both regimes in Iran and Turkey have many similarities only Turkish republic is 85 years and Islamic republic just 30 years but both regimes are illegal, dictatorship and failed .

- "holy" Ataturk which for the Turkish nationalists the same Imam Khomeini for his followers in Iran

- Turkish Armed Forces General (TSK) which is acting like the Guardian Council of the Constitution in Iran

Chief of the Turkish General Staff (TSK) which has almost the same power as Ayatollah Kahmenie in Iran


- In Turkey many groups like to have more Islam less Ataturk, which Turkish Armed Forces and criminal and ultra nationalists around military do not like


- In Iran is the opposite people like less Islam more freedom which is being opposite by the strong Guardian Council


Bothe regimes in Iran and Turkey have different legal and illegal armed groups


Still Turkey is regarded by the west as "democratic" and a "model" for other Islamic countries!! Which is not the case?


Iran should choose its own way to build a free and democratic society!


I wish the best fro the heroic Iranian people!

Thomas / June 18, 2009 9:14 AM

Dear ayatullah sayed ali hosseini KHAMINE'I,

please know that all the Shiias in the world are with you.

I call upon all Shiias of Iran to assist you in the cause. I urge everyone to believe in Imam Hussain and give him all the support thats needed.

Being an Iranian living in India, I respect my Islamic culture and will faithfully and ardently follow it till my death. Shiia country of Iran. I, as a part of your community, and as an Iranian, advice you to not allow any Chritian, Jews, Bahai etc to interfere in our religion and our country, as I believe that these are the enemies of Iran.

Please remain united and committed to protection of Iran.

I can only plead to all of you to come together for this noble cause. Respect your President, Hon'ble Imam, your religion, your community, your elders, and your leaders. We have for generations, given our blood to Iran's causes and it's time once again to show our allegiance.

Dr ( Miss) Halim Eshrat Mohamman ali hussain Iranian National

Deptt Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences ( AIIMS ) New delhi India

Dr Eshrat Halim Ali Hussain / July 29, 2009 2:11 AM

Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei Iam suppirting you, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I will continue woth my culture and education . Our community and all shiia community with you for our whole life . Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei From my side -our community will show unity to words you . I am part of your community will remain there forever. GOD IS WITH YOU

DR MISS ESHRAT HALIM MOHAMMAD


Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in month of Ramadan as Quds Day Iam part and support the Islamic Republic of iran Movement
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Persian: محمود احمدی‌نژاد Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei

DR ESHRAT HALIM M

ESHRAT HALIM / September 4, 2010 7:18 PM