[Marxism] New fractures in Iran’s power structure

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 17 06:46:28 MDT 2011


New fractures in Iran’s power structure

Kasama received the following from A World to Win, a news service 
based in Britain.

August 15 2011. A World to Win News Service. Further fissures and 
cracks have appeared among Iran’s top rulers, Ayatollah Ali 
Khamenei, the spiritual leader of the Islamic regime, and 
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his close circle in charge of 
the government.

Given the love affair between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad over the 
last six years and specially Khamenei’s support for Ahmadinejad 
during the 2009 election that sparked an uprising, this difference 
between the two factions was not taken very seriously by masses at 
the beginning.

But now the sudden intensification of this row and the aggressive 
approach of both sides has left little doubt about the depth and 
gravity of the differences. These developments have also proved an 
explanation for previous contradictory statements made by 
Ahmadinejad and high-ranking conservative clergy.

This new round of quarrels broke out in April of this year when 
Ahmadinejad tried to fire Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi. 
This was strongly opposed by Khamenei, who reinstated Moslehi. In 
protest, Ahmadinejad did not turn up at his office for 11 days, 
until finally Khamenei threatened to dismiss him.

Upon his return Ahmadinejad faced a flood of criticism and threats 
from different sections of the power structure, especially his 
chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a former director of the 
Cultural Heritage and Tourism Foundation whom the pro-Khamenei 
forces are now attacking as the main figure behind what they call 
the “deviant current” formed by Ahmadinejad, Mashaei and their circle.

Some members of Parliament moved to impeach Ahmadinejad for 
defying parliamentary resolutions. He was accused of vote buying 
(at $80 a vote) during the 2009 election. In late May Parliament 
voted to investigate the matter.

The groups of thugs whom the dominant factions of the regime, 
including Ahmadinejad, had used to disrupt meetings and speeches 
of reformist and other opposition leaders, were assigned to abort 
the president’s speech marking the anniversary of the death of the 
Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on 4 June.

Since the rift has become public, around 30 people close to 
Mashaei and Ahmadinejad have been arrested. Among them are deputy 
foreign minister Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh, Ahmadinejad associate 
Abbas Amirifar and journalists at the newspaper Hafte Sobh 
believed to belong to Mashaei.

Several Web sites close to Ahmadinejad and Mashaei were shut down. 
Although Ahmadinejad had to retreat in most cases, he persisted in 
  trying to merge six ministries into three despite parliamentary 
opposition.  Further, he issued a circular to the relevant 
ministries taking a stand against the proposed  separation of 
women and men students into different classes in the universities 
and the early retirement of university lecturers that is meant to 
purge not considered politically and religiously correct, both 
measures supported by Khamenei.

Ahmadinejad is also trying to take control of the religious 
foundations known as the Oqaf organisations currently under the 
control of Khamenei’s office. If he succeeded, this would mean 
that Khamenei would lose the control of very strong financial 
institutions with billions of dollars in annual income. 
Consequently, this will be a hard fight for Ahmadinejad and his gang.

These are not the only spheres of contention between Khamenei’s 
supporters in the regime and Ahmadinejad’s group. Despite the 
president’s retreat, he continues to hit back here and there. One 
of the most important conflicts has involved the Pasdaran Corps 
(the so-called Revolutionary Guards), the Islamic Republic’s 
strongest military force. Mohammad Ali Jaffari, the Pasdaran chief 
commander, said on 4July, “The Pasdaran have been assigned by the 
judiciary system to deal with those who are currently related to 
the deviant current.”

This was the Pasdaran’s clear support for Velayat-e Faqih (the 
religious doctrine of “Rule by the Supreme Jurist”, the source of 
Khamenei’s authority), and at the same time an open threat against 
the Ahmadinejad-Mashaei gang. Ahmadinejad hit back only a day 
later when he indirectly accused the Pasdaran of smuggling. 
Speaking at a conference against contraband goods and currency, he 
said “The  55-60 billion cigarettes consumed annually in Iran are 
worth 2 billion dollars. This figure would incite the greed of the 
world’s biggest smugglers, so it would easily tempt our brothers 
who are smugglers.” Jaffari’s quick denial – “This kind of talk is 
a deviation” – left no doubt that Ahmadinejad had targeted the 

The row also involved the Oil Ministry. Ahmadinejad had fired this 
minister and  taken charge of this key ministry himself. This was 
opposed by the Council of Guardians, a key body whose members are 
appointed by Khamenei, which called his move illegal. Ahmadinejad 
tried to ignore this ruling but finally had to retreat. He 
nominated another man to head the ministry, but failed to win 
parliamentary approval. Finally, after a month of negotiations, he 
named Pasdaran general Rostam Qasemi Oil Minister, and parliament 
gave its approval 3 August.

The nature and importance of the differences

Contention among different factions has been a permanent feature 
of the Islamic Republic of Iran since its foundation in 1979. With 
the election of Mohammad Khatami as president in 1997, the Islamic 
regime broke into two main factions, on the one side the 
conservative clerics and on the other those who wanted some 
reforms in the political system in order to save the Islamic 
Republic. This division defined the conflicts within the Iranian 
ruling class until recently.

Ahmadinejad has been aligned with Khamenei and other conservative 
sections of the regime against the reformists. His victory in the 
2005 presidential race and especially his 2009 re-election were 
disputed by his opponents; many observers believe these victories 
would not have been possible without the support of Khamenei, the 
Pasdaran and the Basij militia led by the Pasdaran. It is claimed 
that those who engineered his victory in 2009 had to boost the 9 
millions ballots cast for him to more than 23 million votes 
overnight. When Khamenei stepped in to express strong support for 
Ahmadinejad even before any formal decision, that ruled out any 
serious investigation of possible fraud.

Thus the present contention is unusual. Until recently these 
regime factions had to unite against the reformists and more 
importantly against the masses and their uprising. Khamenei helped 
Ahmadinejad achieve power in order to control him, but Ahmadinejad 
wants to be independent. He believes, or at least pretends to 
believe, that he owes his appointment not to Khamenei and the 
Pasdaran but the twelfth Imam. (Shia Islam holds that the twelfth 
and final successor to Mohammed, or Imam, known as the Mahdi or 
redeemer, did not die but is hidden; when the situation is ripe he 
will reappear to cleanse the world of corruption).

What has forced these two factions to continue to coexist, despite 
the harsh accusations against each other?

Khamenei probably could have impeached Ahmadinejad and eliminate 
him and his circle, but it would not be easy because there are 
many contradiction in his way. The Islamic regime has just gone 
through an uprising that strongly shook its pillars. The regime 
may have suppressed the uprising, but the people’s retreat doesn’t 
mean a decisive defeat. A great many people are determined to find 
another opportunity to fight back. The participation of hundred 
thousands of people chanting anti-regime slogans in February 
demonstrations in Tehran and many other cities in support of the 
people’s movements in North Africa and the Middle East was a clear 
indication of that spirit. It is fair to say that the regime has 
come out of this battle not stronger but weaker. Thus Khamenei 
cannot risk recklessly destabilising the regime.

However there are other aspects to this. Every new conflict within 
the regime has cost it a part of its social base and core 
supporters. It would not be easy for many Khamenei supporters to 
digest a new split with a faction that until recently was a close 
ally. At the least, that would be dispiriting to its followers. 
This makes it especially hard for Khamenei to go ahead with 
impeaching Ahmadinejad. Many observers believe that Khamenei wants 
to keep Ahmadinejad until the end of his term, but under close 
control and supervision. It is also believed that the clergy will 
disqualify Ahmadinejad’s candidates for parliament and especially 
the next presidential election in 2013.  (Under law, he is not 
allowed to run for a third term.)

What makes this conflict different from the previous ones is that 
the two ruling gangs have lined up against each other in the 
ideological, political, economic and military spheres. Along with 
policy disputes, there is also conflict over the control of 
massive sources of income, such as oil and gas exports and the 
import and export of other commodities.

Ahmadinejad’s efforts to keep key government posts exclusively in 
the hands of his circle was a source of conflict even during his 
first term as president. Mashaei has been another bone of 
contention. In 2008, when he was Iran’s First Vice President, 
parliamentarians and conservative clergy forced him to resign for 
making allegedly pro-US and pro-Israeli remarks on several 
occasions. Among other things, he said that “It is the Israeli 
government that is our enemy and we have no enmity against the 
Israeli people.” Ahmadinejad defiantly responded to this dismissal 
by making Mashaei his chief of staff.

Ideological differences

What makes Ahmadinejad’s habit of removing clergy from 
governmental posts all the more irritating to Khamenei and his 
gang is the way the president has been distancing himself from the 
idea of Velayat-e faqih without explicitly admitting it. In fact 
the concept of the imminent reign of the Mahdi – which Mashei is 
accused of concocting – is in the service of such approach.

Ahmadinejad’s fascination with the twelfth Imam is well known. His 
implication that he has the Madhi’s backing is interpreted as 
trying to work around Khamenei’s position as the Supreme Jurist 
and in fact make his existence meaningless. The clergy was 
outraged by a recent documentary claiming that the twelfth Imam 
will reappear soon. They blamed Mashaei and “deviant current” for 
this film. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly announced that he is 
answerable only to the twelfth Imam. This is laying the bases for 
the elimination of the clergy from the state apparatus.

Further, Mashaei and Ahmadinejad apparently believe that Islam has 
begun to lose its grip and are increasingly appealing Iranian 
nationalism instead. Mashaei has emphasised that Shia Islam 
(Iran’s majority religion) represents the highest understanding of 
Islam and that Iran has added to Islam’s richness. Ahmadinejad, in 
a speech at the National Museum of Iran, praised Cyrus the Great, 
the pre-Islamic founder of the Persian Empire, as one of the 
greatest moral leaders in human history. He continues to praise 
Iran and its past in his speeches and interviews. Such remarks 
have infuriated the conservative clergy. Even Mesbah Yazdi, the 
ayatollah Ahmadinejad claims to follow, called the idea of an 
“Iranian Islam” a shameful deviation.

Combining Islam with nationalism has caused some contention in the 
moral and cultural sphere as well. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly 
remarked that hijab (the covering of women’s hair, a core issue in 
Islamic fundamentalism) “is not the most important problem of our 
society”. He has argued in favour of permitting women into 
football stadiums, another extremely contentious question. Like 
his intervention against the proposed separation of women and men 
into different classrooms in the universities, this is a move to 
win over the reformists’ social base. It also reflects an effort 
to “modernise” Islam, though lvery slightly.

The economic and military spheres

What makes this conflict all the more alarming for the ruling 
power structure is that these policy differences are being 
accompanied by economic and possibly military jockeying.

Ahmadinejad and his circle have been attempting to use their 
positions in government to build a financial base that could 
enable them to withstand the rival faction. Kayhan, a newspaper 
that strongly supports the most conservative clergy, including 
Ayatollah Khamenei, followed its remarks regarding the political 
differences by expressing deep concern about the economic measures 
sought by this faction. Kayhan says that the “deviant current” and 
Ahmadinejad “have crossed the line of justice by appointing 
unjustified persons to the government and also by making 
suspicious moves in relation to financial resources in the oil and 
industrial sectors (acts which, according to reports, have 
increased greatly in the last two years).”

Preparing for a possible conflict, Ahmadinejad has worked to 
reinforce relations with the Pasdaran both economically (by giving 
them massive construction contracts) and politically (by giving 
important governmental posts to Pasdaran commanders). His 
government has also enhanced the financial powers of provincial 
governors, who are appointed by the president. The struggle over 
the oil ministry is vital because petroleum is the country’s most 
important source of income. But control over the import and export 
of other commodities is also an important issue.

Observers believe that Ahmadinejad and Mashaei have been trying to 
establish some sort of relations with the US, despite major 
obstacles on both sides. There are  unconfirmed reports of several 
meetings between the Iranian government and US officials, 
including one between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and 
Mashaei in the United Arab Emirates. That would be consistent with 
Ahmadinejad’s general efforts to gain room to manoeuvre. 
Voluntarily complying  with World Bank and IMF conditions and 
further integrating Iran into the global economy would help the 
Ahmadinejad circle increase their role and influence in the 
economic structure and gain the upper hand politically. It is 
worth mentioning that imports of the most basic necessities for 
the masses have increased tremendously during the last six years 
of Ahmadinejad’s presidency.

Ahmadinejad’s proposal to shift control of the religious 
endowments  from the Khamenei to the provincial governors can be 
considered another move in this direction.

The clear support of Pasdaran commanders for Ayatollah Khamenei 
and the row between Ahmadinejad and Pasdaran head Jaffari has led 
many people to believe that the Pasdaran are part of the Khamenei 
faction and Ahmadinejad cannot count on its support. But 
Ahmadinejad’s contradictory and complex relationship with the 
Pasdaran and vice versa indicates that the situation is still 
highly fluid. At least it can be said that there are unclear and 
blind points in this relationship that need thorough 
investigation. For example, his naming of Pasdaran commander 
Rostam Qasemi to be Oil Minster, the presence of several 
ex-Pasdaran commanders in his cabinet and the many ex-Pasdaran 
occupying high governmental posts all seem to indicate some kind 
of trust between the two groupings. Perhaps events in the near 
future will shed light on this relationship.

Some sources of this conflict

Given the history of contradictions and contention within the 
Islamic Republic of Iran, it is hard to believe that such fissures 
and divisions will come to an end. As far as the recent rift is 
concerned, more than anything else it represents an ideological 
crisis. Islam has lost some of its ability to provide the regime 
with legitimacy and stability. People are tired of a theocratic 
regime and looking for a way out. Many of the regime’s founders 
and the hard core of its managers, including the regime 
reformists, have pointed out the ineffectiveness of the Islamic 
Republic as it is and have called for reform. The 2009 uprising 
revealed a deep ideological crisis within the system. Recent 
developments, including the revolt in the Arab countries, have 
added to the worries of some factions of the regime.

In such a situation different factions want to put forward their 
programme to save the system, even if that means sacrificing and 
replacing some of the most important pillars holding up the 
regime. Ahmadinejad and Mashaei have understood that necessity and 
want to reform the regime in their way. But their success is not 
guaranteed, and they have to fight other factions, some operating 
openly and others not now taking a public position (for example, 
the Pasdaran).

What is certain is that even if Ahamdinejad and Mashaei were 
eliminated or silenced, these kinds of splits would not come to an 
end because the system itself is their source. They are all part 
of the problem.

But the destructiveness of the crisis will not itself lead to the 
overthrow of the Islamic regime, or at least will not 
automatically lead to its replacement with a system that is 
desired by the people. In fact, in any foreseeable situation, one 
or other faction will try to save the regime and restructure it 
more efficiently within the global imperialist system, and will 
continue to oppress, suppress and exploit the masses of people in 
the service of world capitalism.

At the same time these new developments also have the potential to 
push the people to tail one or another ruling class faction. The 
hatred for Ayatollah Khamenei, who has monopolised the key 
positions in the Islamic power structure and is the symbol of a 
theocratic system, could give rise to a pragmatic approach that 
would mean, this time, supporting the Ahmadinejad-Mashaei gang, 
even though they were key targets in the recent people’s uprising. 
Such an approach would will take the people into a useless cycle 
and neutralise their years of struggle and sacrifices.

However, such fractures could weaken the system even more and 
provide the opportunity for the revolutionary forces to advance 
and organise their ranks and the masses for a radical change in 
the country.

More information about the Marxism mailing list