June 2, 2013


An Election Foretold : As expected, Iran's regime has engineered the presidential race (ABBAS MILANI, 5/29/13, New Republic)

One of the most surprising aftershocks of the Rafsanjani elimination was an open letter to Khamenei by Zahra Mostowfi, a daughter of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the letter, she warns about the stark economic and political realities of Iran today, and goes on to claim that "the same day that I heard Imam [Khomeini] approve your name as" a possible successor, "I also heard him mention" Rafsanjani as an equally worthy candidate for the job. Hitherto, Khamenei's main claim to the mantle of Khomeini has been that the latter hand-picked him as the successor. It turns out that Rafsanjani, too, was no less a possible candidate for the job, making his disqualification to run for president appear even more absurd--and further undermining Khamenei's legitimacy. 

In response to these mounting pressures, Khamenei and his IRGC allies have taken a multi-pronged approach. On the one hand, sources representing the conservative ruling coalition deny that Rafsanjani's fitness to serve as president has been rejected. "His fitness was simply not confirmed," these sources claim. Other sources, like the daily Keyhan, the most reliable reflection of Khamenei's views, have suggested that Rafsanjani in fact owes the Guardian Council a debt of gratitude. Reformists and opponents of the regime, Keyhan claims, were planning to use Rafsanjani against the regime, and the rejection of his candidacy saved him from this fate of becoming a puppet of the opposition, and of the U.S. and Israel. (By this logic, the man who is responsible for deciding what is "expedient" for the regime is somehow incapable of deciding what is expedient for himself.) And lest there be any doubt about Khamenei's real source of power, consider his first major appearance after the Guardian Council announced its list of approved candidates: He asked the Iranian people to vote for those who will stand up to the enemy, and said that those who were not allowed to run have nothing but themselves to blame--all while surrounded by IRGC commanders and other military officials. A couple of days later, Iran's police chief--another IRGC commander--announced that 300,000 policemen will be on hand on election day to forcefully abort any attempted demonstrations.

In spite of Khamenei's show of force, there has been increasing criticism of his foreign policies. Rouhani, Rafsanjani's protégé, said that when he and his allies were in charge of nuclear negotiations with the international community, there were no sanctions, Iran's case was not referred to the Security Council, and Western as well as regional presidents and prime ministers were more than eager to negotiate with Iran. Now, he says, Iran is weak and isolated, and more than eager to negotiate with deputies, instead of ministers and heads of state. Though he makes no mention of Khamenei, and offered the criticism ostensibly of his presidential rival, chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, there is no mistaking that the real subject of Rouhani's criticism is not his opponent--a mere cypher--but the IRGC and Khamenei coalition who have controlled Iran's foreign policy for the past eight years.

Unless there is a deus ex machina, Khamenei is unlikely to get the political "epic"--massive voter turnout--he repeatedly says the regime needs and wants. Instead, Iran is more likely to take yet another step toward becoming a Praetorian despotism dominated in every domain--politics, construction, oil, media, even soccer1--by the IRGC. If criticism of Khamenei becomes more routine, the IRGC might easily find it convenient (and profitable) to jettison the clerical veneer of power altogether. Iran's history is full of examples of soldiers who were brought in to protect the Sultan, but eventually decided to become Sultans themselves. 

Posted by at June 2, 2013 8:01 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus