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The Stakes in Iran By: Frank Nikbakht and Roozbeh Farahanipour
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, July 23, 2009


The rapidly changing events in Iran have taken almost everybody by surprise. The life expectancy of the mostly misleading analyses by the highest paid Iran analysts has been no more than a few days or weeks. Before the June 12th “elections” show, those Western powers who had placed heavy bets in favor of Moussavi and had even encouraged censorship of all anti-regime opinions on their government controlled media. They did this in order to guarantee an exclusive international coverage for the “reformist” camp, expecting a close race resulting in a second contest in which the “reformist” candidate among the four selected by the Guardian Council would win.

Many “reformist” voters within Iran displayed so much trust in the electoral system of the Islamic Republic that they became a victim of their own propaganda, believing without a doubt that they were going to be the victors. They were counting on an easy victory.

The hardliners, being more in control of the elections outcome and electoral procedures (fraud, pre-filling of ballot boxes, Supreme Leader support, etc.) warned that the “reformists” were preparing for massive “disruptions” in Iran if their candidate lost. They prepared their ranks for a crackdown in defense of IRI law and order and in the name of “fairness,” since they also knew that no loyal IRI candidate, including the “reformists,” would question the 30-year-old anti-democratic electoral system, which they themselves had helped establish and had lived by, sharing power periodically with other factions of the theocratic regime, excluding others just as they were going to be excluded this time around. They were counting on a short lived protest.

The facts, as we all witnessed on TV and computer screens, and the details witnessed by and reported to some of us, suggest that all calculations were either wrong, simplistic or off the mark.

As we see it, there are three parallel fundamental conflicts that have caused the situation and which have not been resolved yet. Until such time that these conflicts have been resolved or some of the parties have run out of fuel or decisively suppressed, the situation will be intensified, the country will continue along the path of regime disintegration, altering regional equations.

The long-declared US and Western  resolve (albeit shaky and weak) to change the IRI behavior in relation to the Middle East peace, Iraq, terrorism and the Nukes, which were based on a hope for the changing of the guard in Iran, has not been satisfied or eased at all. The Ahmadinejad/IRGC camp has been reinstated and the Supreme Leader who had been openly marked by the West as the ultimate person to negotiate with has been wounded because of his loss of legitimacy within the country. But he has stood his ground.

 

Khamenei has been further angered by the perception of Western involvement in this “Colored Revolution” (Green) and more recently by perceived Western encouragement of rival Iranian personalities to replace him in short order. In the meantime, the vastly televised events in Iran will make it impossible for Western leaders to negotiate with Ahmadinejad or delay it for a relatively long time.

The powerful supporters of the “reform” camp, called the “Bureaucratic Aristocracy” by the hardliners, have lost their chance to regain their positions and take back control over the oil income from the Ahmadinejad/IRGC camp and are losing their hopes to become the bridgehead for US-IRI relations. These powerful figureheads are not only worried about these fundamental issues of conflict but increasingly more about a possible impending revenge by the wounded and angered camp of hungry, fanatical forces who will enjoy four more years of “legal” tyranny aimed at them and the loot of their super rich family members - a revenge backed by the Supreme Leader. This conflict therefore, has not been resolved either and is deepening literally every day.

Finally, millions of Iranians, mostly the “modern middle class” (the professionals, the educated, the businessmen, students, intellectuals, women seeking legal and social equality, youth seeking personal freedoms and others) who hoped their vote for reform would be respected and reform would begin to happen, have not only lost their hopes in the system but have been humiliated by the Supreme Leader. The young who are the majority have witnessed perhaps for the first time in their lives, the brutality of a regime whose parents and older brothers and sisters had warned them about.

 

The massive energy they spent on the elections campaign and then during the protests, is turning into some sort of organized dissident movement flavored by anger and distrust of the regime. These are manifested in the continued and radicalized demonstrations of July 9th, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the student uprisings as well as in the most recent and unprecedented protests and irreverent mockeries around the Friday prayers on July 17th. This huge gap between the country’s educated modern elite and the regime, whose existence is openly admitted to by regime leaders, is widening and shows no sign of being resolved either.

In the meantime, the country’s working class, rural populations and traditional communities who are said to have been won over by populist promises of Ahmadinejad, have by no means entered the scene in his favor; they have been observing that their interests have not been addressed by either side convincingly and their dire economic situation has taken precedence over the fight for democracy.

As the people are getting ready for their next round of protests in late July and in particular in early August against the inauguration of Ahmadinejad, and as the West is providing partial support for the freedom movements in Iran, the most noteworthy events of the past few days has been the development of the factional rivalries within the regime.

The powerful cleric Rafsanjani made it clear during his recent Friday sermons that the elections dispute is over and that he wants the people to respect the laws and to stay off the streets. He stresses that he is in favor of “legal” ways to deal with the issues. Following his month-long unsuccessful activities to convince the high ranking clergy to consider removing the Supreme Leader through the legal authority of the “Assembly of Islamic Experts” which he heads, and the ongoing statements of few but powerful supportive Mullahs, Rafsanjani emphasized in his sermons on Friday July 17th that not only all positions in the Islamic Republic are “elected” (referring to the selection and removal powers of the Assembly of Experts regarding the Supreme Leader) but any leader who loses popular support, must step aside.

Rafsanjani’s  historical comparisons left little doubt that people like Ayatollah Montazari, who was denied his leadership after Khomeini by none other than Rafsanjani himself (who played  king maker by promoting Khamenei- the present day Supreme leader) are being considered for replacing the Supreme Leader. The next day, Rafsanjani travelled to the city of Mashad, where several key clerics are also visiting on “pilgrimage” and where his ally Ayatollah Tabassi refused to honor Ahmadinejad arriving in the city. Tabassi is possibly the third richest and most powerful Mullah in Iran. He is another major aristocrat controlling vast riches of eastern Iran with religious, military and political power over much of Eastern Iran and Afghanistan.

It is clear that despite several arrests of “disloyal” Revolutionary Guards commanders and the IRGC’s declared takeover of the country’s security, the IRGC  and their junior clone, the Baseej Militia, have not had the power or the resolve to clean up the situation, ending the chaos. Neither the Supreme Leader nor Rafsanjani have had the power to remove the other one, nor have they been able to compromise. The Supreme Leader who had been originally a compromise figurehead selected to unify powerful factions, has as of late allied himself with the most fanatic factions such as Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guards who have gradually replaced others in centers of power and pushed aside the old Islamic aristocracy.

 

Naturally such a fundamental conflict cannot go on for a long time and may well cause a bloody civil war if it is not ended soon, since besides the contested wealth and power, the issue infringes upon deeply religious loyalties of some very fanatic and ruthless people on both sides. In addition, replacing a Supreme Leader will revive major personal and factional rivalries inherent within the Shiite Clergy of Iran that may not be possible to control during times of turmoil.

 

This is another reason why Rafsanjani wants the people out of the picture, which is another impossible demand at this time. In the meantime, Moussavi, quiet as a mouse, refuses to stop his supporters from protesting, as well known “reformist” figures are preparing to form one or more political parties and inquiry committees. One is asking for a referendum on the legitimacy of Ahmadinejad, from the same authorities who have even refused to recount the votes.


Frank Nikbakht is currently an advisor to the Marze Por Gohar Party (MPG). Roozbeh Farahanipour, founder and leader of MPG, has just returned from Iran after a clandestine trip to his country.


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