August 12, 2009


Revolution Leaders Struggle for Power in Tehran: In the wake of a bogus election, the deadly harassment of protestors and squabbling among hardliners, everything seems to have changed in Tehran. Two men could now pose a serious threat to the regime: Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri and multimillionaire Hashemi Rafsanjani. (Dieter Bednarz and Erich Follath, 8/12/09, Der Spiegel)

If there is one place where it is possible to discover what is truly happening in Iran these days, it is London. Here, in an inconspicuous single-family home halfway between Heathrow Airport and downtown London, lives a man in self-imposed exile who can offer a wealth of information about Iran today. Ataollah Mohajerani, 54, a man with a history of ties to the top echelon of power in Iran, is deeply familiar with those who currently play key roles in the embattled theocracy.

As an inquisitive student, Mohajerani discussed the correct path of action with Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a cleric revered by the faithful in Iran, and was involved in the underground movement agitating against the shah. After the successful 1979 revolution, Mohajerani, a rising political talent, worked as a parliamentary secretary for then-Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, the current opposition leader.

As a pragmatic vice-president under former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohajerani fought to improve the standard of living for all Iranians. And as an enlightened minister of culture under the reformist former President Mohammed Khatami, he brought the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas to Tehran. In dozens of debates, he argued with conservative religious leader Ali Khamenei over the independence of art and freedom of the press. In 2000, realizing that championing his causes had become pointless, he resigned. [...]

He is familiar with the circle of power in Tehran and its secrets -- the characters, the codes and the shadow play. According to Mohajerani's analysis, three figures are playing a special role in Iran today, three men who have always struggled to find the right path for their country and are now at the center of attention once again: Hossein Ali Montazeri, 87, who is reverentially referred to as "Marja-e Taglid," or "Source of Imitation," Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 74, who is respectfully but somewhat suspiciously known as "Kuseh" ("Shark"), and Ali Khamenei, who Iranians have taken to calling "the Dictator." The three men are now the three pillars of the theocracy. These big three, long partners in the revolution, are now fighting on different fronts.

This is the Persian puzzle, and the world is observing it with great anticipation. The story of Montazeri, Rafsanjani and Khamenei is one of friendship, estrangement and betrayal. It is the history of Iran, the story of its past and present, and probably of its political future. [...]

This is where the triumvirate stands today, the three men who embarked on their political careers together, intent on bringing an Islamic revolution to Tehran -- and who could now be confronted by a new revolution.

Montazeri is convinced that the concept of a theocracy has failed. He grants the religious leader, at most, the status of a constitutional monarch.

Rafsanjani would probably like to see the basic structures of the velayat preserved, but with a "sensible" religious leader like himself, and with a liberal market economy similar to China's.

"In the struggle for the country's direction," says Iran expert Mohsen Milani of the University of South Florida, Rafsanjani has "never quite forgotten that even an Islamic Republic needs popular approval to attain legitimacy." According to Milani, this explains why Rafsanjani tried to limit the term of the revolutionary leader to 10 years in his 1989 constitutional amendment. For Khamenei, on the other hand, says Milani, the country's leadership "answers primarily to God."

Khamenei is fighting to preserve the status quo, and to do so, he could very well be prepared to throw Ahmadinejad, his awkward protégé and ideological ally, to the wolves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 12, 2009 10:57 AM
blog comments powered by Disqus