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An Emerging Rupture in Iran

Tehran's Milad Tower (photo: Hamed Saber via flickr)

With the predominantly foreign fantasy regarding a ‘Green’ Iranian revolution basically over, it is easier to focus attention on divisions within Iran’s dominant political factions. A rupture appears to be manifesting itself more and more between the followers of President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Khamenei.

While Ahmadinejad has the disadvantage of being a temporary, elected office holder, he nevertheless appears to be holding his ground with determination. He acts like he enjoys a stronger support base than one would have expected. Most commentators see the Revolutionary Guards as his main base of support. But this would normally not be quite enough unless there was a plan for establishing military rule. So far there is little sign of the military rising to challenge the clerics led by Khamenei.

In fact, Khamenei is officially the Supreme Commander of all the armed forces, and appoints the top leaders within the latter as well as the judiciary. So far, there is little indication that the military is about to throw the baby out with the water.

Regardless, Ahmadinejad’s trump card may be none other than demographics. He appears to enjoy the support of a rising younger generation of non-clerical, future leaders organizing on the sidelines in order to grab power at the expense of the older generation of clerical or pro-clerical revolutionaries.

Signs of this power struggle are evident in Iran’s media, especially with the most recent debates surrounding the President’s Chief of Staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.


Ahmadinejad has come under much fire recently for his rhetoric and street talk. Khamenei himself gave indirect warnings over the President’s use of language. But the real divisions can be seen in a couple of foreign policy announcement of late.

In an interview with Al Jazeera on 22 August, Ahmadinejad made a direct offer of friendship to the US though with a typically taunting style that spoke from a position of strength.

However, Press TV reports that Khamenei is opposed to talks with the US:

“Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei is opposed to talks with the US because they want to push any negotiation to the way they want and they halt it unilaterally if it is not favorable to them, deputy head of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of Iran’s Parliament (Majlis) Hossein Ebrahimi said on Monday.”

Concurrently, the head of Iran’s judiciary, Sadeq Larijani, launched a direct attack against those lobbying for rapprochement with USA: “Resuming diplomatic ties with the U.S. is not something that anybody in different branches of government could decide about,” he noted.

Meanwhile, “In a decree issued on Sunday President Ahmadinejad appointed Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as his special envoy for the Middle East affairs…The move came despite widespread criticism against Mashaei for his controversial remarks about the Iranian and Islamic ideology.”

But leave it to one of the most divisive figures to call for unity: “Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has said it is essential to maintain unity in the face of outside threats… Now, the people and authorities are facing difficult tests, thus they should show patience and make efforts to pass these tests, Rafsanjani told a gathering of clerics in Tehran on Sunday.”

And Khamenei made another appeal to the younger generation:

“Students should analyze and adopt a clear stance on issues that are linked to the country’s destiny, such as the Tehran declaration, the UN Security Council resolution, and the unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union,” the Leader said at a meeting with thousands of university students in Tehran on Sunday… Commenting on the 2009 Tehran University dormitory incident, the Leader said the issue has not been pursued seriously enough… Ayatollah Khamenei stated that lack of motivation in certain relevant organizations has hindered efforts to follow up the matter and added that the issue should be investigated more thoroughly.

And so a power struggle for hearts and minds continues while a distinct fissure is evident in who exactly determines foreign policy.

What would become of the Islamic Republic without an imminent foreign threat?

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