March 27, 2006


In Iran, Even Some On Right Warning Against Extremes: Conservative Faction Fears Radicalism (Karl Vick, 3/27/06, Washington Post)

Nine months after the election of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president, Iranian politics has shifted so sharply to the right that some traditional conservatives are warning of the dangers of radicalism. [...]

"Ayatollah Mesbah is an extremist," said one Iranian official close to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the soft-spoken cleric who has been Iran's supreme leader since the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989.

"Ayatollah Khomeini warned the people lots of times not to allow these people, the Shia Talibans, to come to power in Iran and have space," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, noting that Khamenei has judged it prudent to accommodate even extremists within the system and accord them respect. "Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei feel these people can do a lot of damage. They can damage Iran. They can damage Islam. They are like the Taliban. They are like al-Qaeda. They say they know what Allah expects from us -- that we should do what he wants from us without paying attention to the consequences.

"And it's a very dangerous belief."

The tension highlights significant divisions within Iran's conservative camp, often viewed from outside the country as a turbaned monolith. In reality, 27 years after the 1979 revolution that brought Shiite clerics to power, Iranian politics is a nuanced landscape defined largely by the lessons taken from the previous quarter-century.

Traditional conservatives describe themselves as firm but flexible. While remaining committed to the precept that clerics should hold ultimate authority, they were chastened in the 1990s when reformists -- determined to lessen the intrusion of the state into private lives and show greater tolerance for dissent -- won landslide electoral victories.

Kind of sad, but we're actually impressed that it only took the media nine months to figure out that Khamenei opposes Ahmedinijad. Of course, the neocons will never figure it out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 27, 2006 7:46 AM

If Khamanei has invited them into power and accorded them respect, it is not clear how much he opposes them. Opposing them in thought and whispers, while helping them in deed, is not going to help us much.

The alternative hypothesis is that Khamanei is dedicated to brokering compromise among the various factions. If the extremists grow in power, he'll be more and more accommodating to them.

Posted by: pj at March 27, 2006 11:34 AM


He didn't. They won an election.

Posted by: oj at March 27, 2006 12:44 PM

The source for the article says he "judged it prudent to accommodate extremists within the system and accord them respect."

In Iran, you don't get on the ballot unless Khamenei approves. He not only let Ahmadinejad on the ballot, he let him count the votes.

Posted by: pj at March 27, 2006 1:08 PM

Yes, the ballot had a range of choices and he misunderstood how deeply he'd alienated his reformist allies. No one said he was terribly adept at politics.

Posted by: oj at March 27, 2006 1:11 PM

His maneuvering against the extremists dates from the election. I think the extremists cheated on the vote counting to bring one of their own to the presidency, just as most Iranians believe. Ahmadinejad's first act was to use the power of the presidency to remove Khamenei/Khatami loyalists from powerful positions and replace them with extremists. Then Khamenei reconciled with Rafsanjani and appointed Rafsanjani to a newly-created rival authority. All this looks like maneuverings between regime factions for power. The power-grab by the extremists in the "election" caused the non-extremists to unite to resist what could be a silent, bloodless coup.

But how far apart are these factions? Considered against the whole Iranian political spectrum, it's more Clinton v Kennedy than Bush v Gore in my view. Khamenei didn't mind the rise of the extremists until they threatened his own power, and he did more to aid the extremists than he ever did for the "reformist allies" who boycotted the election.

Posted by: pj at March 27, 2006 1:32 PM

Of course it's since the election against Ahmedinijad--he wasn't supposed to win. But against the extremists is a long time battle, including making Moin a candidate.

Posted by: oj at March 27, 2006 1:48 PM

Well, again, Khamanei first blocked Moin from becoming a candidate, then after that exclusion led to a public groundswell for an election boycott, he reversed himself and let Moin come in as a candidate. But Moin was never going to be allowed to win. Khamenei's reversal on Moin's candidacy was not seen by Iranians as a significant move.

Posted by: pj at March 27, 2006 2:20 PM

Again your chronology and facts are faulty. The Council blocked him and Khamenei immediately added him. it was thought the finalists would be Moin and Rafsanajani, either of whom were good for Khamenei, but the reformist boycott squelched that.

Posted by: oj at March 27, 2006 2:52 PM

They're doing it again.

Just as they did during the going-under of THE FORMER SOVIET UNION, they are using the words "right" and "conservative" as synomyms for "bad."

Who can forget how the Communist bitter-enders were described over and over as "right-wingers?"

Posted by: Lou Gots at March 27, 2006 2:55 PM

Technically, the Guardian Council excluded Moin and then restored him -- not "immediately" but a week later, and, as Wikipedia notes, after the exclusion "raised many objections among the general public and the political parties, including student protests in the Tehran University, among other universities ... and the objections of some of the approved candidates." Why attribute one act of the Council to Khamenei and not the other? He is the head of the Council, he appointed all the others, and is its most influential member. It's unlikely the initial exclusion of Moin was contrary to his wishes.

The principal difference between us seems to be that you believe the election results were accurate and I don't. The reported turnout was 63% of all eligible voters, despite the boycott by democrats and first-hand reports of sparse attendance at polling stations. Pre-voting polls showed Moin and Rafsanjani as most popular, Ahmadinejad barely registering. There were major discrepancies between early vote counts released by the Interior Ministry and the Guardian Council. One candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, who was first when results were first published but third when "final" results were published, has alleged that the Revolutionary Guards with the Basij militia and friendly mosques fixed the vote. Rafsanjani also accused Ahmadinejad & the Revolutionary Guards of organized and unjust vote "guiding," all this according to Wikipedia.

Posted by: pj at March 27, 2006 6:06 PM

Sure, but voting irregularities are hardly unusual.

Posted by: oj at March 27, 2006 6:10 PM