January 25, 2007


Ayatollah's snub pressures Iran president (Con Coughlin, 25/01/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Internal pressure on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to abandon his confrontational policies with the West has intensified after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's supreme spiritual leader, snubbed a request for a meeting on the country's controversial nuclear programme. [...]

"It is a clear indication that the cracks are starting to appear in the highest echelons of the Iranian regime," said a senior Bush administration official with responsibility for monitoring Iran. "If the country's leading religious figure is not talking to the political leadership then obviously something is going seriously wrong." [...]

[T]he country's growing international isolation, together with a dramatic decline in the economy, has seen opposition to Mr Ahmadinejad harden. Last week 150 Iranian parliamentarians took the extraordinary step of signing a letter blaming him for the country's economic woes.

The Ayatollah finally figured out he was being too subtle to get through to Westerners.

Clock may be ticking on Iran's fiery leader (DARIUSH ZAHEDI and OMID MEMARIAN, Peninsula On-line)

THE BUSH administration's decision to step up pressure against Iran by going after Iranian agents inside Iraq, coupled with the Islamic Republic's increasing economic and diplomatic isolation, have pushed conservatives inside Iran to further distance themselves from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Many pragmatic and traditional conservatives, such as former President Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ayatollah Ahmad Janati, who is the secretary of the Council of Guardians, were critical of Ahmadinejad's management of Iran's economic and foreign policies before US military forces recently detained members of the Revolutionary Guard and Iranian intelligence agents in Irbil, Iraq.

This incident, coupled with the UN Security Council's imposition of sanctions on Iran because of its refusal to abandon its nuclear program, has reportedly prompted 50 parliamentary members to sign a letter calling on Ahmadinejad to appear before parliament to explain himself.

There have also been reports that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has given a green light to parliament to criticise the president's performance. Coupled with the country's deteriorating economy, these developments could push Ahmadinejad's opponents to replace him with a less doctrinaire politician.

Recent elections throw a spotlight on rumbles against the regime (Christine Spolar, 1/24/07, Chicago Tribune)
Even as Tehran ignores threats from the U.S. and other foreign powers, shouts and murmurs from within may begin to take a toll on the conservative mullahs running Iran. The Islamic Republic's version of Generation Next, eager for wider economic and educational horizons, is finding its voice.

The challenge was heard a few days before local elections late last year. Students at prestigious Amir Kabir University in Tehran rallied against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a speech. In a nation where "Death to the United States" is a routine chant during Friday prayers, student protesters - angered in part by the regime's renewed purges of professors - unleashed a loud and stunning rebuke: "Death to the dictator."

The elections themselves presented an apparent backlash against the ruling class. Moderately conservative candidates opposed to Ahmadinejad - a leader who seems to revel in bombast designed to isolate Iran from Western values and allies - made unexpected gains. In polls where voter turnout topped 60 percent, the shift was widely seen as a comeuppance to the hard-line conservatives and military guard who engineered Ahmadinejad's rise two years ago.[...]

In dozens of interviews in Tehran and other cities last year, Iranians from all walks of life - shop owners, homemakers, university professors and the vast student class - pointed out Iran's failings. The government, a ruling theocracy that controls all horizons, has fallen short. It is hard to find a good job, difficult to pay the bills and, for a population where the median age is just a shade under 25, the future seems bleak.

The nuclear standoff has, again, left Iran battling the world.

"The government doesn't care what we want. If they want (nuclear power) for agriculture and industry, then it's good. But if they want to start a Hiroshima, we don't want it," 20-year-old Arman Azizi, who ran a small jeans shop in Tehran, said a few months ago.

Iran: Moving Toward Negotiations (Statfor, January 25, 2007)
[I]t appears Iran is using Saudi Arabia as a conduit to send messages to the United States, especially since the Iranians are well aware of the close relationship between Bandar and the Bush administration. Just last week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Saudi Arabia, after which she traveled to Kuwait for a meeting with representatives from the Gulf Cooperation Council states, Egypt and Jordan to discuss Iran and Iraq.

This is not just the Iranians warming up to the Saudis. On Tuesday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry, National Security Council and executive branch issued a flurry of statements saying Iran is willing to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confirmed this in a live television appearance, saying the government is trying to prevent another U.N. Security Council resolution against the Islamic republic.

In another development, Ahmadinejad told Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on Wednesday that Tehran is "fully ready for any cooperation which will lead to security and peace in Iraq." This comes after Talabani told Saudi-owned Arabic daily Al Hayat that, during a recent visit to Tehran, Iranian officials said they are ready to negotiate a settlement with the United States on issues ranging from Afghanistan to Lebanon.

The Iranians are moving toward a conciliatory approach on all fronts, which has been made possible in part by what appears to be a reining in of Ahmadinejad and his ultraconservative faction.

A World Without Ahmadinejad? (Ludwig De Braeckeleer, 1/24/07, Ohmy News)
None of the policies conducted along his "redistributive Islamic socialism" are helping the poorest people and some have clearly worsened their situation.

One of his plans to eradicate poverty was to offer discounted shares of Iran's biggest state-owned companies to the neediest people. The initiative completely failed as these people have no money to buy these shares, even at discounted prices, and anyway most of these companies fail to make a profit.

"Since the privatization process ... failed to produce the desired results, one question that arises is how the present administration intends to move forward in containing the role of the state," the Iran Daily asked.

The massive injunction of oil money into the Iranian economy has only fueled inflation and accelerated unemployment.

The cost of necessities such as bread, fruits, vegetables, poultry and meat has increased by 25 percent since the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran in late December. Rents are up 30 percent and so is the average rate of unemployment, which is even worse among young people.

As a result of the Ayatollah's pro-birth policies, the Iranian population is very young. Two-thirds of the 70 million Iranian people are less than 30 years old. In such context, the opinion and aspirations of the youth can hardly be ignored.

On Dec. 11, Ahmadinejad delivered a speech at the Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran. For the first time, he got a taste of what may be waiting for him if he does not manage to deliver on his promises.

To his surprise, students interrupted his speech. They set fire to pictures of their president while chanting "death to the dictator."

On a Web site, the students accuse him of corruption, mismanagement and discrimination. "The students showed that despite vast propaganda, the president has not been able to deceive academia," a statement said.

Some students were also angry over the International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust. "The conference was shameful and had brought to our country Nazis and racists from around the world," a student said.

On the country's annual student day, 2,000 students protested at Tehran University. They denounced the crackdown on university professors. Since Ahmadinejad was elected, many intellectuals have been forced to take an early retirement.

The 2006 elections for the Assembly of Experts and local councils were the first nationwide elections since Ahmadinejad became president. Sixty percent of the voters showed up and inflicted a humiliating defeat to his political allies. Ninety percent of them failed to retain their seats.

"The results show that voters have learned from the past and concluded that we need to support moderate figures," the daily Kargozaraan wrote.

"This is a blow for Ahmadinejad and Mesbah-Yazdi's list," an Iranian political analyst was quoted as saying.

Presidential Skeptics in Iran (Lionel Beehner, 1/23/07, CFR.org)
While most Middle East analysts have focused on the region's Sunni-Shiite divide, the main Shiite champion, Iran, is undergoing internal rifts of its own.

Iran's post-election balance: Iran's enigmatic supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is manoeuvring behind the scenes to take power from the country's maverick president (H Graham Underwood & Ali Afshari, 22 - 1 - 2007, Open Democracy)
On 15 December 2006, as the world focused on Iran's nuclear sabre-rattling and holocaust-denying president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Islamic Republic quietly held simultaneous elections for the Assembly of Experts and city councils throughout the country. The official results of the contest offer several important lessons that provide a glimpse into the complex, opaque internal politics of the regime's power-brokers.

The big winner of these two elections - even though his own seat was not up for election - was supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. [...]

What, then, are the implications of these elections for the current and future political development of Iran? First, these elections were merely a competition amongst groups inside the current regime. Independent political groups and civil society were entirely absent from this picture, and the results of the election will have little direct impact on the democratisation of Iran.

Second, the elections show that Iran's transformation from an Islamic theocracy to a military autocracy has been suspended. The paramilitary Basij forces and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that brought Ahmadinejad to power were conspicuously absent from these elections. This shows that it is not Ahmadinejad who controls these forces, but rather the supreme leader.

The most pressing question is why Khamenei did not use these forces to support and mobilise for Ahmadinejad.

Because he never supported Ahmadenijad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 25, 2007 12:12 AM

Khameini has had almost 20 years to get his message across - if he wants to walk back the cat now, it's going to be a long road. But if he sweeps Ahmadinejad aside, that will be a good start.

Of course, the reason he missed the meeting might be because he is almost dead. Or really dead. We don't know.

"Death to the dictator!"

The mullahs have ruled by the slogan since 1979. If Iran does rupture, they will see the fruit of their labors.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 25, 2007 12:03 AM

See, we knew you'd start to figure it out.

Posted by: oj at January 25, 2007 7:14 AM

I've been saying all along we should gaslight them to death.

My only real objection to your rosy scenarios is that the Iranian people have lived with the hope of better times and better leaders since the Shah fell. They have been bitterly disappointed EVERY time - by Khomeini, by Khameini, by Rafsanjani, by Khatami, and (of course) now by Ahmadinejad. It is silly to think that the thuggish nature of the powers that be over there will moderate with some minor adjustments. Their 'government' is run from bunkers and policy is enforced by tightly controlled mobs, soldiers, and informants.

Sure, Mahmoud is on the receiving end now. That usually happens to short guys with Napoleon complexes. But his replacement (whomever that is) won't be much better unless the 'system' changes. The people of Iran are exhausted. Oddly enough, one of the primary by-products of Khomeinism is that overall interest in Islam has waned. It's easy to whip up the nutjobs, but the average Persian has no use for the insanity.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 25, 2007 10:14 AM

Mahmoud was an accident. They're fixing it.

Posted by: oj at January 25, 2007 12:15 PM