Greening Iran

Crossposted at The Motley Moose

The pending election in Iran, far more than just a personality quest between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, is a sign of potentially serious ructions in the ruling oligarchy:

Mr Ahmadinejad suddenly looks vulnerable. He is being widely criticised, even ridiculed in public, in a manner the regime would normally not tolerate. Yesterday he even accused his opponents of behaving like Hitler's propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels -- quite an allegation from a man who denies that the Holocaust happened.

Opposition to him is growing among the ruling clergy after he publicly maligned Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful head of the Expediency Council. Hojatoleslam Rafsanjani has demanded an apology. His case has received support in an open letter from 50 clerics in the holy city of Qom.

Richard Beeston - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad goes from favourite to shaky contender The Times 11 Jun 09

Things started to go wrong for Ahmadinejad in his debate with Moussavi recently when he stepped all over his privates by accusing the past two presidents, and their cliques, of corruption.  Interestingly these included current and powerful members of Iran's ruling oligarchy.  It would seem that there is more going on than meets the eye in an otherwise largely ceremonial election for Iran's presidency.

The mainstream media is getting wind of Ahmadinejad's changing fortunes and rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of his defeat, but it seems the events of the last few days, exposing slightly the internal tectonics, may be an indication the theocracy is in tension or transition:

Powerful reformists and conservatives within Iran's elite have joined forces to wage an unprecedented behind-the-scenes campaign to unseat President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, worried that he is driving the country to the brink of collapse with populist economic policies and a confrontational stance toward the West.

The prominent figures have put their considerable efforts behind the candidacy of reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who they believe has the best chance of defeating the hard-line Ahmadinejad in the presidential election Friday and charting a new course for the country.

They have used the levers of government to foil attempts by Ahmadinejad to secure funds for populist giveaways and to permit freewheeling campaigning that has benefited Mousavi. State-controlled television agreed to an unheard-of series of live debates, and the powerful Council of Guardians, which thwarted the reformist wave of the late 1990s, rejected a ballot box maneuver by the president that some saw as a prelude to attempted fraud.

Some called it a realignment of Iranian domestic politics from its longtime rift between reformists and conservatives to one that pits pragmatists on both sides against radicals such as Ahmadinejad.

Borzou Daragahi - In Iran, disparate, powerful forces ally against Ahmadinejad LA Times 7 Jun 09

This realignment of pragmatists vs radicals apparently creates new divisions, with Rafsanjani's surprising public letter to Supreme Leader Ayotallah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday:

In an unprecedented complaint letter to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Hashemi Rafsanjani references the accusations that Ahmadinejad made during his televised presidential debate earlier this month with the reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi in which he attacked a number of senior leaders of the Islamic regime, and said, "It is expected that you will take any effective measures that you deem appropriate to solve this problem and to remove dangerous ploys and prevent the inflammation of the fire that has been ignited in the process of the elections."

Rafsanjani complained to the state-run national television organization for not being given the opportunity to respond to the accusations raised by Ahmadinejad. In another part of his letter, he compared the president to the administration of Bani-Sadr (the first president of the Islamic Republic who was removed from office because of his differences with ruling clerics and forced to flee the country) and wrote, "I do not intend to equate the current administration with that of Bani-Sadr's, or call for a similar outcome for it, but the goal is to prevent the country from being dragged into the same quagmire as then."

Omid Memarian - Rafsanjani Complains to Leader against Ahmadinejad 11 Jun 09

Rafsanjani is chairman of both the powerful Expediency Discernment Council that mediates differences between the various political institutions of the Islamic state and the Assembly of Experts.  Rafsanjani's letter is highly unusual and would not have been well received:

In his letter, Mr. Rafsanjani noted that Ayatollah Khamenei had "deemed it best to remain silent" instead of censuring the president for his vitriolic attacks during the debate. Mr. Rafsanjani said he wrote the letter only after the rejection of his demands for an apology and for an opportunity to rebut the charges against him on state television.

Ayatollah Khamenei is unlikely to respond because "he is not pleased with correspondence like this from anyone," Mr. Abtahi said. Although Mr. Khamenei has the final say on affairs of state, he prefers to rule by consensus, steering clear of divisive issues.

Mr. Rafsanjani's letter is especially significant because he leads the Assembly of Experts, an 86-member body of senior clerics that has the power to remove the supreme leader, Mr. Abtahi said. It included a veiled threat: Mr. Rafsanjani implicitly compared Mr. Ahmadinejad to a former president whom Mr. Rafsanjani helped depose in 1981.

Robert F Worth In Iran Race, Ex-Leader Works to Oust President NYT 10 Jun 09

There are other signs of fault lines appearing among 'fundamentalist' non-reformers who would normally be assumed to be backing Ahmadinejad:

Hamid-Reza Katoozian, a member of the conservative faction in the Majlis told ILNA labor news agency, "The group of individuals known as the Principalists that I know of are fed up with Mr. Ahmadinejad's posture. It is predicted that a large group of Ahmadinejad supporters will switch sides to Mir-Hossein Mousavi, while another group will go to Mohsen Rezaei," another presidential hopeful."

The group Followers of the Imam and the Leadership's Path, a coalition of a number of right-wing groups who had announced their support of Ahmadinejad in the past also took a critical stance at the issues that were raised at the televised presidential debate and while stressing the candidacy of Ahmadinejad said, "The Front for the Followers of the Imam and the Leadership Path views the unfortunate campaign propaganda in this elections by disloyally attacking the record of officials belonging to earlier and current administrations."

Maryam Kashani - Split among Ahmadinejad's Supporters 10 Jun 09

There have even been dueling fatwas from clerics on the Islamic principles of election fraud:

In an open letter, a group of employees of Iran's Interior Ministry (which supervises the elections) warned the nation that a hard-line ayatollah, who supports President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has issued a Fatwa authorizing changing votes in the incumbent's favor.

They warned that the same thing happened in the elections for the 8th Majles (parliament), in March 2008, in order to change the vote in favor of the principlists (fundamentalists) allied with the president; but, fearing for their jobs, they had kept silent then.

Open Letter: Fatwa Issued for Changing the Vote in Favor of Ahmadinejad 7 Jun 09

This was met with a quartet of fatwas from Qom, Iran's clerical heartland:

In related news, 50 prominent clerics from the Qom Theological Center (Hoze Elmie Qom) issued a statement protesting the campaign activities of Mahmud Ahmadinejad. This news was widely quoted in domestic websites. The statement comes soon after four senior ayatollahs in Qom issued fatwas last week that any violations in elections were haram [i.e. a religious sin]. Ayatollahs Makarem Shirazi, Mousavi Ardebili, Javadi Amoli, and Sanei issued these fatwas which were published on websites affiliated to them.

Omid Memarian - Rafsanjani Complains to Leader against Ahmadinejad 11 Jun 09

The respective candidates have also been dueling over state run television time, with Ahmadinejad winning the final round and gaining an extra twenty minute spot.  Just today it was reported that Rafsanjani met recently with Khamenei for three hours:

One day after Rafsanjani's open letter was published in the media, the Chairman of Iran's Expediency Council met with the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on Wednesday afternoon, the reformist Etemad-e-Melli daily reported on Thursday.

In his letter Rafsanjani, who -- along with a number of other senior officials -- was accused by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of serious financial corruption, asked the Leader to take the necessary measures to promote national unity ahead of the elections.

Once news of Rafsanjani's three-hour meeting with the Leader was released, sources close to him described the outcome of the meeting as 'positive', according to Etemad-e-Melli.

Rafsanjani meets Leader ahead of polls PressTV (Iran) 11 Jun 09

Three hours is a long time.  It would seem that the division of 'fundamentalist' and reformer is now not so clear, insofar as we have any visibility into the insider politics of Iranian leadership.  Rafsanjani, whom Ahmadinejad defeated in 2005, is indeed wealthy and dynastic and is likely benefiting from 'influence' of one kind or another.  Perhaps the monied classes have had enough of Ahmadinejad's isolation, economic mismanagement and profligate generosity with the nation's oil revenues.  Ahmadinejad's surprise victory in 2005 has always been considered suspect in some quarters on grounds of vote-rigging and electoral fraud.  Whether Mousavi's 'green revolution' votes will be counted fairly is a matter of some conjecture but has been the most discussed topic as electioneering ends prior to Friday's poll.

As much as one enjoys this spectacle one wonders what possibly could have motivated Ahmadinejad's accusation, which basically challenges the first generation of post-revolutionary leadership, unless he thought he had a plurality of support among the ruling clerics.  He has always pitched his appeal to the rural and pious constituencies and the 'hard-liners' within the oligarchy but he's seemingly dragged Khamenei unwillingly into this brawl.  Not to be underestimated for cunning he must suppose that a spill against his enemies within the leadership is likely or possible.  Perhaps it was just a self-destructive blunder.  In any case it makes for a very interesting election.

And Obama's Cairo speech was certainly timely.  It's hard to say what impact it has had or whether it has affected Mousavi's late change in fortune but it is looking like it might have been an intermediate range ballistic oration.

Tags: ali khamenei, hashemi rafsanjani, hossein mousavi, Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, US Foreign Policy (all tags)



Re: Greening Iran

Compared to Ahmadenijad's rhetoric against Israel, in 2003 a moderate Iranian PM (no link available) actually proposed or signed onto the 2002 Arab League offer of a peace plan between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and between the Israel and the entire Arab world. This offer was allegedly made through the Swiss Embassy. Like the Arab League offer, it was ignored by Israel, which merely continued the colonization of areas that would be necessary to accomodate a Palestinian state.

by MainStreet 2009-06-11 08:22AM | 0 recs
Re: Greening Iran

Frankly with a win for Mousavi and an agreement to return to the NPT and IAEA inspections I wouldn't be surprised that Iran would become much more pliable on the Arab League proposals.  Hezbollah and Hamas have been election issues against Ahmadenijad.  And the Russians have just halted the Bushehr nuclear plant again, haggling over money.  Iran needs Western oilfield and electrical power transmission technology badly.  A whole range of possibilities could emerge.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-11 08:34AM | 0 recs
Or Israel doesn't buy into

letting people who are not their nationals and have no business in Israel flood the country, with the bogus "right of return."

by Lakrosse 2009-06-11 10:23AM | 0 recs
Re: ?????

Do you mean the bogus UN Resolution 194, 1948?

I suppose then that when the same thing happened to the Korsovian Muslims, who were ethnically cleansed by the Serbs in the 90s, right before our eyes, you would assert that they have no right to return to their homes and lands, that is is bogus?

Sometimes Lak, your views make you sound positively rediculous, if not out of touch on a liberal blog.

by MainStreet 2009-06-12 04:22AM | 0 recs
lets talk about

how the text is

.Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date
First off, it does not say "must," but should, which indicates we can have disputes on this. The dispute is largely on a few grounds. We have seen too much evidence they do not wish to live at peace with their neighbors, thru the actions of their elected representatives like Hamas and Fatah, and thru their previous leadership under the PLO, which carried numerous acts of war and jihad against Israel. And yes, this is a collective of the Palestinians, and can be seen as such. Therefore, it is not practical. Also, speaking of practicality, even if they have "keys" to their old homes, their old homes ARE GONE. They are fucking gone. Why would they want to move back to a land they don't know anymore. Also, why should all of their generations be given this right? After the 1948 war, Israel even offered 100000 refugees the chance to come back, and the Arab states rejected this offer. Not to mention in previous refugee situations, they typically did not move back to their lands, as we did see in Kosovo, India, Pakistan. Also, where is the right of return for the million Jews from the exodus from Arab lands? Why cannot Israel, the Jewish Homeland and State, demand that? Why don't the exodus Jews and their descendants even want that? For the same reason the Palestinians shouldn't want it, unless they just want to be the Trojan Horse which destroys israel.

And stop speaking for "liberals." Most liberals support Israel, and do not necessarily support a bogus return for 4 million people. Most liberals are not doctrinaire, or any kind of Israel haters, as shown thru the fact nearly all Dems support Israel as strongly as I do.

by Lakrosse 2009-06-12 06:08AM | 0 recs
Re: lets talk about

You are a liberal? I'm really glad to hear it.

As I said before, most propaganda intended to justify or should I say hide the colonization that has been going on for over 40 years has one theme,

the Palestinians (or Arabs) are guilty, at fault for their plight, for the confiscations of their lands, or their ethnic cleansing, and so forth.

People are not stupid, nor are they mesmerized any longer by Israeli propaganda. Nor apparently is this administration.

by MainStreet 2009-06-12 03:00PM | 0 recs
so tell me about the Palestinians

undisputed collaboration with Al-Husseini, and his undisputed collaboration with the Third Reich, and against the Jews, such as the numerous massacres he organized, like the Hebron one. And even pro-Palestinian historians like Edward Said admit Husseini was indeed the Palestinian Arabs supported leader. So YES there is guilt. They are also guilty of rejecting the 1948 partition, in addition to the 1938 Peel Commission, which would have made Israel far smaller than it was in 1948. And the 2000 plan, which Dennis Ross says Arafat ruined. unlike Arafat, Ross never had anyone murdered, as Arafat did thousands of times. Even Abu Mazen admits the Arab leaders are responsible for the "Nakba." The Palestinians are very guilty. The truth is not liberal or conservative: it is the truth.

Why is Protocols of the Elders of Zion one of the most popular books in Gaza and Judea/Samaria? Why do they teach their kids hate, like with Farfour the Mouse? Why do they attack civilians?

by Lakrosse 2009-06-12 05:15PM | 0 recs
You mean people

from Russia and Brooklyn?  I agree.  Such people have no business "returning" to the Middle East and should stay where they are.

by JJE 2009-06-12 09:52AM | 0 recs
What has Iran got to do with Israel-Palestinian

conflict? I can see Syria, Egypt, Jordan who has significant Palestinian refugees in their midst, and/or have border issues with Israel and/or have a significant stake in the creation of the Palestinian state. But I cannot possibly see what Iran's role is other than supplying arms and training to Hezbollah and Syria.

by louisprandtl 2009-06-11 11:08AM | 0 recs
Re: What has Iran got to do with Israel-Pal

Iran's role has always been that of a red herring, an excuse or a distraction so that Israel can proceed with its colonization of the Palestinian territories.

Do you know of a better role?

by MainStreet 2009-06-12 03:03PM | 0 recs
Re: Greening Iran

These are tremendously exciting events.  Thanks for sharing this information and analysis.

by markjay 2009-06-11 08:29AM | 0 recs
Re: Greening Iran

You bet.  We'll know the results by bedtime Saturday.  If no candidate gains a majority there will be a runoff election on the 19th, with Mousavi even more heavily favoured in theory, with the absence of other candidates draining off the protest vote.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-11 01:54PM | 0 recs
Time to wipe Ahmadinejad off the face

of the political map! Once the results come in, and his sorry Islamist anti-semite ass is voted out of office, the world will cheer! Except of course Hamas and Hezbollah, and other such crazies!

If Ahmad loses, its a double win, for both Israel, and the Palestinians, as Israel will likely face an Iranian President who will not be as bellicose as Iran, and the Palestinians will win because they will be more likely to get a state in what is currently Judea and Samaria, because Hamas' diminished influence will allow whatever Palestinian moderates exist in the Territories to shine. Unless of course they want to pull and Arafat on us, as he did in 2000.

by Lakrosse 2009-06-11 02:52PM | 0 recs
Re: Time to wipe Ahmadinejad off the face

Well, my only thoughts on that is it would not be a win for Netanyahu and Likud, politically, as it would knock one of the major props out from under their intransigence.  And as for Hamas you might have noticed them making the transitin into political validity courtesy of the Obama administrations tacit acceptance of their role in the future of a settlement.  Whether that, and the cessation of funds from Iran, is a good move or not remains to be seen but it could co-opt them into a more responsible role in the process overall.

As a win for the Obama administration it would be significant.  But I'm not calling this election, it's like trying to pick a winner at a crooked track, if you don't know the stable gossip you're a mug which was rather the point of the diary, really.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-11 03:48PM | 0 recs
Re: Greening Iran

Shaun, a couple of points.  Ahmadenijad remains quite popular with the masses especially the more religious working class and among the rural population. I'd have to go back and look at the data but my impression is that Ahmadenijad swept rural areas last time around.

The other point I'd make is that Iran has a two week election period. In a country where censorship is the norm, these campaigns are akin to popping the cork after shaking the bottle. Iran tends to explode with zeal and energy during its election periods.

In attacking Rafsanjani, Ahmadenijad is really appealing to his base. Rafsanjani is widely perceived as rather corrupt. It's an interesting development no doubt.

As with most elections, it appears turnout will be crucial but the divide in Iran is increasingly an urban versus rural one. I am optimistic that Ahmadenijad may lose in a close vote. But I also suspect that the regime will close ranks quickly post the election. A Mousavi win will change much but Iran will continue to be the protector of minority Shia populations across the Islamic world.

by Charles Lemos 2009-06-11 04:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Greening Iran

Agree in all respects, Ahmadinejad retains the rural and working class urban vote and has solidified it with gratuitous generosity with Iran's oil incomes in those demographics.  Your point about the two week election period reinforces the timeliness of Obama's address but I would suggest that the enthusiasm exceeds that of previous elections, especially 2005 where reformists basically boycotted the vote.  On the scene observers with experience of previous elections have noted a difference.

And sure Ahmadenijad is appealing to his base but my reading is that he has gone a step further and challenged the first-generation leaders of the revolution.  This is unprecedented and arguably unnecessary from an electoral point of view, I'm suggesting that it represents either a finely tuned sense of demagoguery that rattles the cage of the established oligarchy and borders on a palace revolt, assuming he has carefully calibrated the influence of his allies within, or a gross miscalculation.  This seems to shift the political fault line from 'fundamentalist' vs reformer to pragmatist vs radical, dividing both the clerics and the elites.

I am inclined to think that the outcome of the election, given Ahmadinejad's past performance, is not merely a matter of counting ballots.  And no doubt the regime will close ranks, this green genie needs to be quickly put back in the bottle from their perspective.  I am basically suggesting it is no longer clear whom the oligarchy actually favours or where the real power to make this particular decision now rests in the heirarchy.  The Interior Ministry counts the votes and they apparently have plenty of spare ballots.

I'm not calling this election, though Mousavi has got to be the favourite at the moment, for a variety of reasons few of which relate merely to how the ballots are cast, nor suggesting a Mousavi win would change much but the superficial rhetoric of engagement and how revenue was invested.  But the monied classes, the security establishment and the clerical elite seem to be having a bit of a food-fight over it which makes the outcome more interesting than it might otherwise have been.  Even Ahmadinejad admits inflation is at 15% which is a shocker by any measure.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-11 06:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Greening Iran

Your last paragraph may be the key to the election.

I am pretty sure that the timing of Obama's address had much to do with the timing of the Lebanese and Iranian elections. This Administration (even when I disagree with their decision) is nothing but savvy and shrewd in their decision-making process. The level of analysis is such a marked departure from the last 8 years. The world isn't black and white but so many shades of gray.  

Thanks for this post by the way. Really great stuff. Always a pleasure to read.

by Charles Lemos 2009-06-11 08:05PM | 0 recs
Re: Greening Iran

Yes, shrewd and bold too.  Obama's decision making process, from his decision to run, has been marked by an understanding that the conventional wisdom of US politics and policy, and the narratives surrounding them, were so wrong that the savvy application of reason created an opportunity for them to consistently outperform expectations.  It is a strategic advantage they are now apparently turning to domestic policy and our international adversaries.  It's better than watching West Wing, frankly.

Thanks for the kind words, it's a privilege to have the opportunity to post here and I particularly appreciate the well-informed and thorough attention to international policy and foreign affairs evidenced in your front-page work and your willingness to engage in discussions on these subjects.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-11 08:30PM | 0 recs


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