Can the Khomeinis challenge Khamenei?
by MEIR JAVEDANFAR in Tel Aviv
04 Jan 2010 17:48
According to the report, the Khomeini family has been troubled by the hardliners' attack during former president Mohammad Khatami's Ashura sermon.
There are two reasons why this was particularly painful for Ayatollah Khomeini's family. First and foremost, Khatami is related to the Khomeini family. His brother is married to Zahra Eshraghi, one of Khomeini's grand daughters.
The other is that the attack took place in Ayatollah Khomeini's former neighborhood of Jamaraan, in northern Tehran. The fact that the attackers did not respect the sanctity of the place was doubly painful for the Khomeini family.
Even if the move to Najaf does not materialize, one can not ignore the recent assaults against the family of the former Supreme Leader of Iran. There were already reports that the offices of Hojatoleslam Val Moslemin Seyed Hassan Khomeini, the former Supreme Leader's grandson, were attacked and its windows smashed after the Ashura demonstrations by the opposition.
Attacking the offices of Khomeini's grandson in Iran would be similar to pro Fidel Castro militia attacking the property of Che Guevara's family in Cuba. Not only would it be highly disrespectful, it would also show a clear split in the identity of the revolution, where those who associate themselves with the founder of the Islamic Republic are no longer seen as allies. It can also be taken as a sign that the original views of the revolution are now frowned upon.
And they are right. When it comes to the role of the military in politics, Khamenei's view of the revolution is different from that of Khomeini. The Islamic revolution's founder tried to keep the military away from politics and not to give them too much of a say.
Khamenei, on the other hand, believes and encourages the opposite. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is now present more than ever in politics. This is witnessed by the fact that so many of the members of Ahmadinejad's cabinet are former members of this force, or its people militia branch, known as the Basij. There is also the recent slow takeover of the Iranian economy by the IRGC.
The question is: can the Khomeini family pose a real challenge to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad?
The answer here goes back to the all-important issue of Khamenei's succession.
The fact remains that no one has a clear idea as to who will replace Khamenei. During Khomeini's term, his succession was decided in 1985, four years before he actually died. Even if the issue had not been decided, if you had asked any Iran observer about possible replacements, they could mention with some degree of certainty that it would be either Montazeri, Khamenei or Rafsanjani.
However, these days, the answer is much less clear. First and foremost the Assembly of Experts whose job is to select the next Supreme Leader has still not voted on this important issue. Secondly, today, in comparison to Khomeini's time, the possible choices are far less obvious. Some experts believe that Khamenei's son, Mojtaba, could be the successor. Others say Ayatollah Shahroudi. However the degree of confidence felt about predicting such an important question is far less than at Khomeini's time.
The fact that Khamenei has not allowed the Assembly of Experts to choose his successor could be because he is sure about his health and the fact that he is going to be in charge for a number of years to come.
However one cannot rule out the possibility that merely addressing this question could lead to more infighting within the regime. With domestic instability and opposition against him at its highest, the last thing he needs is more infighting at the top political echelons.
Or, it is possible that Khamenei has made his choice, and it is the Revolutionary Guards itself.
Although this may sound controversial, it is still a logical choice. Since the 1979 revolution, no Supreme Leader has ever been against the political interests of the clergy in Qom the way Khamenei has. So why give the reins to the people whose power he has tried to trim?
Also, allowing the IRGC to take over would protect the interests of his family more than allowing the clergy to continue to fill the role of Supreme Leader. His son Mojtaba is far closer to the IRGC than the clergy in Qom. Such protection will mean that once he dies, Khamenei's family won't suffer the same fate as the Khomeinis.
Should the Khomeini family move to Najaf, it would be a severe embarrassment for Khamenei and his regime. However it's unlikely to change his succession plans.
When the future of the Khamenei dynasty is so intricately intertwined with the military, there is little that the Khomeini family can in fact do. This is because he doesn't see the current battle as only against himself. He also sees it as against his immediate family and their fortunes after his death.
With Ahmadinejad's election in 2009, Seyyed Ali Khamenei decided to put all his eggs in the military's basket. Moving them does not seem like an option that the Supreme Leader will pursue.
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