Stanley's blog

Iran: the power struggle

The Guardian Council today announced that there will be a partial recount of the disputed presidential election results: this is not expected to change the outcome. It is surprising that the western media before today failed to report much beyond the public outrage and demonstrations. The two opposing sides are divided by class rather than religious belief. Mahmud Ahmadinejad is broadly supported by the poor, rural voters and the working class; Mousavi by the urban youth, the urban educated female voters, the intelligentsia and the middle class including the bazaaris.

However, behind the scenes, there is a power struggle taking place at the top, as explained at length in the Asia Times of 16 June. Ahmadinejad has the support of the Iranian Republican Guards Corps (IRGC), the intelligence services, the Interior Ministry and, most important of all, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, the Supreme Leader.

Mousavi’s most powerful supporter is Hashemi Rafsanjani, the de facto number two in the régime for more than 20 years. He controls the Expediency Council and the Council of Experts, which has power to dismiss the Supreme Leader.

Mohsen Rezai, a conservative presidential candidate and former head of the IRGC, wrote to the Council of Guardians (which oversees affairs of state and therefore the election), saying that the election was illegitimate. Even Ayatollah Mohajerani, former Minister of Culture & Islamic Guidance, stated that the Supreme Leader was not infallible and should be replaced in case of “dishonesty”. Grand Ayatollah Sanei of Qom declared that the Ahmadinejad presidency is illegitimate.

Thus, even Ayatollah Khameini’s position is being called into play. All the signs point to the result of the election being rigged. If it was, did the Supreme Leader know this? Why was the law broken by not waiting the statutory three days to receive complaints, before the official declaration?

There is, among millions of Iranians, a sense of betrayal and the election has brought to ahead the lack of trust in the fairness and efficiency of the governing régime.

It appears that Ahmadinejad and his supporters did not anticipate that a questionable electoral victory would put at risk the very system. The establishment is in disarray and clearly does not know what to do to handle these unforeseen events. The political and religious environment is very complex. Thus Rafsanjani, the number two, supports Mousavi; Ahmadinejad is disliked by many of the clergy.

Fortunately, western reactions have been muted and diplomatic because an outside enemy is always needed in Iran to ensure a sense of unity and strong denunciations would have been a present to Ahmadinejad.

While the removal of Ahmadinejad would be welcomed in the west, serious instability would be dangerous.

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