September 16, 2008


Iran ill-prepared for reformists (Sami Moubayed, 9/17/08, Asia Times)

It is more likely that [Khatami] would prefer to stand back, and support the reformers as something of a "godfather" figure or chief ideologue for Iranian change-seekers.

His camp includes:

Mohammad Reza Aref (67), currently a professor at the Engineering Department at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran. A veteran academic who served as chancellor of the University of Tehran in the 1990s, he was chosen as vice president by Khatami during his second term - 2001 to 2005.

A Stanford-trained electrical engineer, he also served as minister of communications in 1997-2000. A cosmopolitan man with strong exposure to the Western world, he teaches cryptography and coding theory at Sharif, and pledges to right all the wrongs done to the Iranian people as a result of Ahmadinejad's confrontational approach to the US since 2005.

Mehdi Karroubi (71), a cleric and hardliner turned reformist statesman produced by the Iranian revolution of 1979. He served as speaker of parliament from 1989 to 1992, and then again, under Khatami in 2000-2004. He ran for parliament in 2004 and withdrew his candidacy, and nominated himself for president in 2005, losing to Ahmadinejad.

Karroubi walks a fine rope and stands a much higher chance than Aref, since he is close to both Khatami and the Khamenei. He is also marketing himself as a loyal disciple of the founder of the republic, grand ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He served as an advisor to Khamenei, who appointed him a member of the Expediency Discernment Council.

After he lost the elections of 2005, Karroubi accused a network of mosques, members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and paid agents of conservative politicians of orchestrating Ahmadinejad's victory.

His words were echoed by ex-president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was also defeated for presidential office in 2005. In a fit of fury, Karroubi explicitly named Mojtaba Khamenei, the son of the supreme leader, as involved in a conspiracy. Showing just how close he actually was to Khamenei, despite the tension on the surface, he was neither dismissed nor persecuted for his views.

Rather, the grand ayatollah wrote him a letter, saying that such accusations were "below his dignity". Still enraged, Karroubi resigned from all posts to which he was appointed by Khamenei, in a public letter, run in all reformist newspapers in Iran. The move was seen as going beyond acceptable red lines.

The state responded by shutting down the newspaper that originally ran his letter, and halting the distribution of others that reprinted it. Orders were given by the prosecutor-general of Tehran, Said Mortazavi. But Karroubi is a respected man who carries weight in Iranian society, which explains why nobody has vetoed his candidacy today, and why it is none other than Khatami who is supporting him for president.

Considered by many to be a fine and true Iranian patriot, Karroubi advocates the most pragmatic approach to relations with the US, saying, "With regard to America, I must say that American statesmen should stop their current ways of intimidation and approaches vis-a-vis Iran. If this happens, then I will not oppose relations with America." His candidacy will split the reformers in half, with some voting for him and others voting for someone like Aref - which in effect will serve the interests of nobody but the conservatives.

The Grand Ayatollah considers (correctly) reforming the economy to be the key to preserving the Republic. Ahmedinejad doesn't. There's little chance, therefore, that the former will support re-election of the latter. Folks confuse anti-American posturing for political endorsement.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at September 16, 2008 7:24 AM
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