[Marxism] In Iran, Ahmadinejad-Khamenei fight heats up
ffeldman at verizon.net
Fri Aug 19 17:29:50 MDT 2011
Power Struggle in Iran Pits President Against Supreme Leader (excerpt)
August 19, 2011
The fierce battle of wills between Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei
and his former loyalist, President.Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that has had
Tehran on edge for months appears to be coming to a head.
The conflict dates back at least to June 19, 2009, when Khamenei
delivered a sermon that aroused the ire of his protégé, Ahmadinejad, who
had just been re-elected amid accusations of massive vote fraud. In the
sermon, Khamenei praised Ahmadinejad’s nemesis, former president Hashemi
Rafsanjani, and ventured only mild criticism of Reformist leader
Mir-Hossein Moussavi, who was at the time aggressively challenging the
legitimacy of Ahmadinejad’s victory.
Ironically, Ahmadinejad’s win had been engineered by an ad hoc coalition
presided over by Khamenei himself and composed of a few archconservative
clerics and members and high command of the Revolutionary Guards. In the
face of the spectacular street protests staged by the Green Movement in
the wake of the election, Khamenei had evidently concluded that the
coalition had to abandon many of its goals, including the permanent
removal of the republic's Old Guard—symbolized by Rafsanjani—from all
levers of power.
For Ahmadinejad, Khamenei's sermon was an outright act of betrayal, an
abandonment of their joint mission to institute a radical rightist
militaristic regime. According to one media leak, reported on the
Iranian website Alef, a disgruntled Ahmadinejad openly defied Khamenei’s
authority in an August 2009 one-on-one meeting, in which he told the
leader that most Iranians loved their president and not him, adding that
he had lost six million votes in the election because of his association
with Khamenei. From that point on, Ahmadinejad apparently decided to go
it alone—culminating in an unprecedented showdown with the Supreme
Leader this past April and June.
On April 17, Ahmadinejad abruptly fired intelligence minister Heydar
Moslehi—Khamenei’s most powerful remaining ally in government—without
first clearing the dismissal with Khamenei. This wasn’t the first time
Ahmadinejad had made such a move. Earlier, he had fired ministers of
interior, culture and foreign affairs without authorization from
Khamenei. In each case, Khamenei had confined himself to expressing
This time, though, the Supreme Leader decided to fight for his man. In a
private letter to the president, he reinstated the sacked minister to
his former position. But Ahmadinejad continued to exclude Moslehi from
cabinet meetings. Finally, in a publicized letter to the minister,
Khamenei urged him to stay at his post no matter the pressure from
Furious, Ahmadinejad sequestered himself at his residence for eleven
days, all the while refusing to attend government functions and openly
defying Khamenei’s orders. To appreciate the import of Ahmadinejad’s
actions, one must realize that for millions of followers in Iran and
elsewhere, Khamenei is not an ordinary mortal or an ordinary politician:
he is a man endowed with mystical powers. At least that’s the image
presented to world by Khamenei loyalists. It is therefore unthinkable
for a radical Shiite fundamentalist to disregard the Supreme Leader in
such a brusque manner.
In the wake of this standoff, twenty-six top individuals around
Ahmadinejad were arrested. The arrests stopped only after Ahmadinejad
declared, in a statement on June 29, “There is a red line drawn around
my cabinet…. If they continue with [the arrests]…I am duty bound to
speak to the people.” This statement was widely seen as an attempt to
present himself as anti-clerical to the average voter, while ensuring
that any physical harm done to him would be placed at the Supreme
For now, it appears unlikely that Khamenei will seek Ahmadinejad’s
impeachment, for a number of reasons. First, such a move would call into
question Khamenei’s own judgment in placing such trust in the president
to begin with. Second, there are signs that the low-level recession of
the past six years is entering a traumatic stage. Things are apparently
so bad that the government has stopped publishing figures for the growth
rate for the past two years. For its part, the IMF has predicted zero
growth for the current year and an inflation rate of 22.5 percent.
(Given the positive growth rate for the population, this means Iran has
an actual negative growth rate.) Many economists believe the IMF's
predictions are optimistic given that they do not take into account the
lifting of price freezes that began last June. In short, if Ahmadinejad
is dismissed, Khamenei could well be held responsible for the abysmal
economic performance by most voters.
Aside from Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, four other factions are preparing
for the decisive battles ahead. These include the Green Movement, the
various forces belonging to the Old Guard of the Islamic Republic,
former hardline allies of Ahmadinejad in and out of government, and the
Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran.
Contrary to public perceptions outside Iran, Iran’s Green Movement is
alive and well and more popular than ever, even as mass repression has
forced movement activists to assume a largely underground existence.
From the winter of 2010, when it became too dangerous to demonstrate
publicly, to this past winter, when the movement again made a large
showing in the streets, its considerable energies were redeployed in the
cyber sphere—mostly in internal debates about strategy and tactics—and
in individual acts of defiance, like graffiti-writing and campus activism.
Iran’s peculiar form of repression has proved both more efficient and
more insidious than the tactics employed by other repressive Middle
Eastern states. Unlike their counterparts in Yemen or in Syria, where
the armed enforcers of the status quo are just out to protect their
wealth and privilege, in Iran the enforcers actually believe they are
doing God’s work on earth. And although Iran’s model of “soft
repression” is quite different in nature from, say, Basher al-Assad’s
crude indiscriminate murderousness, it is more efficient. Harsh torture
techniques, solitary confinement and rape of activists, both male and
female, have had a deeply chilling effect. Based on tallied numbers of
detainees published by opposition websites, 15,000 to 18,000 people have
been arrested, ranging from a few hours to two years, with a large
percentage having been brutalized in detention.
Until February, the mantra of the Iranian regime was that the Green
Movement was dead and buried. Khamenei himself had said so on October
11, 2010. Using the Koranic term "fetna"—meaning sedition—he told a
crowd of several thousand supporters that the protest movement had
expired. "After the election, the nation has become immunized against
political and social microbes," he told his supporters. "Fetna has
increased the people's sagaciousness."
On February 14, the leaders of the Green Movement, Mir-Hossein Moussavi
and Mehdi Karroubi, called for a day of solidarity with the Arab masses.
To everyone’s surprise, an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 people went into
the streets, protesting peacefully and calling for their democratic
rights. (These figures reflect a compilation of tallies from several
parts of the capital where people take informal estimates.) In
retrospect, calling the protest was a highly risky decision by Moussavi
and Karroubi. Had the government opted for a bloody crackdown, it would
have strengthened the hand of radicals within the opposition who
advocate armed and violent forms of struggle—as opposed to the
nonviolent forms favored by the movement so far. On the other hand, had
there been no sizable showing of demonstrators protesting that day, it
would have badly demoralized the remaining activists.
As it turned out, fear of being branded as the likes of a Mubarak or
Saleh forced the government to show considerable restraint. Still, the
move cost the two Green leaders their freedom. Since then, they have
been held under house arrest. They are also under constant threat of
execution or murder: For weeks after February 14, speaker after speaker
in the Parliament and Friday Prayers called for the execution of the
Green leaders. This alone has brought them grudging respect from the
radical wing of the movement.
The next major player on the Iranian political scene is the so-called
Old Guard—the forces that range from pragmatic conservative to
conservative traditionalist to technocratic in orientation, but have in
common their opposition to the hardline clerical-military bloc that was
behind the 2009 electoral coup. They are naturally not very happy with
Khamenei’s plans to purge them from the polity. At one end of the
spectrum are former clerical leaders of the revolution like Rafsanjani
and members of Ayatollah Khomeini's household. At another end are
top-tier technocrats like Parliament speaker Ali Larijani.
The fourth major sector is composed of the various hardline and
far-right groups, many of whom are war veterans or members of the
security and military establishments, who have parted ways from
Ahmadinejad in the past few months. They are after Ahmadinejadism
Finally, there are the Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran. The RGCI has
used the conflict between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to amass enormous
power and resources at the expense of the other power centers and has
grown quite independent of Khamenei. Although in public the Guards show
fealty to the Supreme Leader, few doubt their growing distance from him.
Khamenei's diminished status can be seen in the fact that top personnel
appointments in the Guards are now dictated exclusively by RGCI.
All these factions and groupings are devising strategy for the upcoming
Majlis (Parliament) elections set for next March 2.
[The rest of the article, worth reading in itself, describes a tactical
debate among the Greens stemming from offers by Ahmadinejad to let the
Greens participate in the elections and even win some representation in
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