Posts Tagged 'Mousavi'

The Next Presidential Election and Conservative Anxiety in Iran

By Yadullah Shahibzadeh

When asked about his political future after the next year presidential election, in his recent interview with Iran’s state TV, Mohmoud Ahmadinezhad kicked off a new political controversy in Iran. He responded by saying that; “Who says that my government will end after the next year presidential election?”  According to the Iranian election laws, two terms presidents can stand as presidential candidates after a four year pause. Ahmadinezhad’s statement indicates his hopes for the victory of a members of his government in the next year election. Iranian Politicians and analyst in Iran have compared Ahmadinezhad’s style of government to Vladimir Putin and his tendency to copy the Putin-Medvedev model, with Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaiy, his chief of staff as the Iranian Medvedev. There are several other candidates for the Iranian Medvedev in the Ahmadinezhad’s government, if Rahim-Mashaiy is disqualified by the Guardian Council.  Hypothetically, if one of  Ahmadinezhad’s close allies wins the presidency in the next year presidential election he will continue his  control of the government until he regains presidential power in the 2017 presidential election. But with regard to the fate of previous political alliances, the Putin-Medvedev model will hardly work in the Islamic Republic.

It began with Abolhasan Banisadr’s alliance, an Islamist social democrat with the radical Islamist left to marginalize the liberal forces that led the provisional government in 1979. Less than two years later Banisadr was ousted from office by a parliament that was dominated by the Islamist left. In order to establish its extended dominance on political power in Iran the Islamist left took side with the Islamist conservatives against president Banisadr in 1981 and against Ayatollah Montazari in 1988. Montazeri was supposed to become Iran’s next leader after Ayatollah Khomeini. The Islamist left was sidelined by the alliance of Hashemi Rafsanjani and the conservatives in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. Again, in the late 1990s, after the Islamist left became reform oriented and took power 1979-2005, it tried to force Hashemi Rafsanjani out of Iranian politics because of his previous alliance with the conservatives in the late 1980s and the early 1990s against the Islamist left. As a result, Rafsanjani entered in a new alliance with the conservatives to contain democratic reforms in the system. The anti-reform alliance served neither Rafsanjani nor the leaders of the conservative establishment. It, surprisingly, gave birth to young neo-conservative forces that did not follow a clear ideological line but claimed total obedience to Iran’s leader, Ayatllah Khamenei.  In fact, Ahmadinezhad was an accidental product of the competition between the newly emerged pragmatist and hardliner neo-conservative forces that grew on the margin of the reformist-conservative disputes in 1997-2005. The hardliner neo-conservative forces received support from the Revolutionary Guard, the archconservative Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi and Iran’s leader. What Ahmadinezhad shared with Mesbah Yazdi and the Revolutionary Guard was their total obedience to the leader’s authority that as they claimed had no constitutional limits. Ahmadinezhad said during his first presidential election campaign that as Iran’s president he would leave all political decisions to the leader in order to have enough time to carry on an effective executive role. Now, seven years later, Ahmadinezhad is blamed by Mesbah Yazdi and the Revolutionary Guard for his disobedience to the leader. He is hated by the majority of the neo-conservatives in the parliament. He has no reliable connection to the Revolutionary Guard and several members of his government are accused of economic corruption by the Iranian judiciary. According to the estimates released by his former conservative and neoconservative allies, Iran’s oil earnings during his government equates to the total oil revenue that Iran had gained since the discovery of Oil in 1907 to 2005, the year Ahmadinezhad became Iran’s president. Ahamadninezhad is accused, by the same people who supported him by all institutional, legal and illegal means in the 2009 presidential election against the reform oriented candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, to have destroyed the Iranian economy in a way that no government has never done before.

In April 2011, Ahmadinezhad fired his intelligent minister. The decision was reversed by Iran’s leader. He ordered the intelligent minister to remain in his position. Believing that the leader’s action was an illegal action that questioned the president’s constitutional authority, Ahmadinezhad refused to go to work and stayed away from cabinet meetings for 11 days. Ahamadinezhad expected that his action instigate a popular response. When 11 days passed and not a single sole in Iran bothered about the president’s situation and nobody outside the tiny circle around him took his side he became an easy target for Khameni’s supporters. Disappointed with the people and disconnected with the leader, Ahmadinezhad has become, according to many politicians in the conservative camp, a pain in the system that must be tolerated until the end of his term.

While many of Ahmadinezhad’s former allies share the view that he has no political future, he has started to raise political issues for which the reform oriented forces and the Green Movement activists have been prosecuted, imprisoned and deprived from the political rights that they enjoyed in the past. In Ahmadinezhad’s new terminology the country’s president is the expression of the general will of the nation and the guardian of the constitution and the protector of people’s constitutional political and civil rights. Ahamdinezhad’s relationship with his former conservative allies in the last two years proves that the ones who start a political game to gain a bigger share of political power and those who win the political power at the end of the game in the Islamic Republic are not necessarily the same people. Ahmadinezhad’s ascendance to power was a result of the political dispute between the reform oriented and the conservatives. While leading figures in the conservative including Iran’s leader did not did not consider Ahmadinezhad as more than a footsoldier in their fight against the reform oriented political forces, it was Ahmadinezhad who used every accessible means to the conservatives for his own personal gains and then refused to share his power with the conservative establishment. Now, with regard to the ways Ahmadinezhad has treated the people who assisted him in his ascendance to power, he cannot be sure that the person he helps to become the next president will remain loyal to him as president. But what is at stake in the next presidential election is not Ahmadinezhad’s political future, but the role of Iran’s leader in presidential elections. Ali Motahari, an outspoken Iranian parliament member said recently that Ahmadinezhad’s presidency was a political and economic disaster but the disaster would not have occurred if the conservatives did not misjudge the relation and support of the leader to Ahmadinezhad. According to this parliament member almost 90 % of the conservatives knew that Ahmadinezhad would bring nothing but economic and political failure. Yet they supported him because they believed he was the leader’s preferred presidential candidate. The conservatives should have, according to this view, thought independently and select and support a presidential candidate who could have eased political tensions instead of inflaming them by his every word and action. The explicit message of this view to the leader is clear; please stay away from the next year presidential election.

The Implications of the New Election Law in Iran

By: Yadullah Shahibzadeh

A few weeks ago the Iranian parliament passed a new election law on simultaneous presidential and local elections. This new law has two obvious outcomes. The first outcome of the new law is postponement of the expected local elections in the early 2011 for two years. The second outcome of the election law is that the current members of the local councils keep their seat until June 2013.[1]

The main argument supporting the parliament decision concerning the new election law was that frequent elections in Iran generate unnecessary political excitement and extreme politicization in the Iranian society and the political system. According to this argument the ‘over-politicization’ of the political system has been the main cause of the underperformance of the executive branch.

Despite the serious political dispute which started since the 2009 presidential elections neither the reform oriented minority in the parliament nor did the leaders of the opposition such as Mousavi and Karubi oppose the suspension of the 2011 local elections. In fact the new election law had little to do with the political crisis that followed the last presidential election. The silence of the reform oriented political forces on the issue seems to indicate their indifference to the elections or their distrust in any election that the current government might hold.

One expects that Ahamdinezhad’s government supports the new election law and its consequence namely the delay in the local elections which could give his government more space to continue its work without unexpected political excitements which could pose a threat to his government. But, surprisingly he opposed the new election law.[2] Why did Ahmadinezhad oppose a law which seemed to have deprived his opponents another opportunity to assemble their forces and challenge his government in every single community throughout Iran?

In fact Ahamdinezhad had no problem with the simultaneous presidential and local elections.[3] His main problem was with the continuation of the current councils for two more years. He hoped to get rid of the rest of his opponents in the local councils. Ahamdinezhad is well aware that the absolute majority of the members of the local councils in Iran are not his supporters. The current members of the councils belong either to the reform oriented forces or to the major moderate or pragmatic tendencies within the conservative faction. And now with the new election arrangement he has to live with them until his turn in office is over.

The disagreement between the Ahmadinezhad government on one side and the parliament and the Expediency Council on other side on the new election law is another expression of the political conflict which is going on within the conservative faction. While according to the new law the term of current councils is extended to 2013, Ahmadinezhad insisted on holding local elections as planned in the early 2011 even though the elected members of the councils had only two years to sit in the councils.

The decision to pass the new election law which includes postponing of the 201l local elections implies the distrust of the parliament and the Expediency Council in Ahmadinezhad’s government to hold a fair and free election by the accepted standards of electoral competition in the Islamic Republic. It seems that after the dispute over the 2009 presidential election results these institutions of the Islamic Republic cannot trust the Ahmadinezhad government to hold another election since they are afraid that instead of competitive local elections his government delivers an election with a surprising result in favor of his own government.

It seems that Ahmadinezhad has several reasons for his dissatisfaction with the local councils. He may consider these new institutions a threat to his authoritarian politics since the local councils remind him of the little support he has among the local population in general and among the local elite in particular. There are various concrete reasons for Ahmadinezhd’s lack of support in the local communities.

His government has a total disregard for local opinion and the expectations of the local elite. For instance, after his presidency in 2005, his government appointed a provincial governor for the southern province of Bushehr. Though the governor was conservative by orientation he received the support of the local elite. But this governor was not considered a loyal supporter of Ahmadinezhad, so he was replaced by a commander of the revolutionary guard in the summer of 2008.[4]

The reason for the replacement of a governor who received solid support of the local elite with a commander of the revolutionary guard seems to have become clear after the 2009 presidential election results. Here is a symptomatic question which can be applicable to any other province or region in Iran: Can we find a connection between the results of the 2009 presidential election in the pro-reform region of Bushehr and the replacement of a conservative but seemingly disloyal governor with a commander of the revolutionary guard?

[1] Khaney-e Melat, Khabar Gozariy-e Majles Shoray-e Eslami, 04.08.2010




Framing the conflict

By Kjetil Selvik

One year after the June 12. 2009 Presidential election, the battle over its significance for the Islamic Republic of Iran is far from over. Inside the country’s political class that historically agreed on the authority of Ayatollah Khomeini, two diametrically opposed narratives about the current stalemate have emerged. On the one hand stands the Green movement which importance lies in the fact that it is the first broad-based oppositional movement in Iran since the 1979 revolution. It strongly criticizes the Ahmadinejad government and demands full democratic rights. The government and the Leader have however developed their own narrative about the 2009 election and its aftermath to discredit and refute the claims of the opposition. They have their own interpretations about the current events and use their own labels. The following is a short introduction to how “the Greens” and the Ahmadinejad camp are framing the conflict.

The 2009 election

When representatives of the Green movement refer to the 2009 election they speak about a “coup d’Etat”. Ahmadinejad is the leader of a “coup d’Etat government” that has stolen the people’s vote. For hardline cleric Ahmad Janati, on the other hand, the 2009 presidential election was “one of the healthiest ever” and a model for other countries.[1] He follows Leader Ali Khamenei’s who on several occasions has praised the Iranian people for demonstrating the “profound meaning of religious democracy” to the world.[2]

Conflict line

There is an equally divided opinion of what constitutes the main conflict line in Iran today. For Mir Husayn Mousavi the presidential election was proof of a widening rift between the people and the ruling establishment that contradicts the essence of the Islamic Republic. A system that was made to bring freedom to Iran has ended up negating the rights of the people. For Ali Khamenei’s, however, the Islamic Republic is still the embodiment of the Islamic revolution, and the battle stands between the revolution and its enemies.

Threat perception

Defenders of the Green movement warn that Iran is in danger of becoming a dictatorship. As Grand Ayatollah Montazeri exclaimed in a September 14. letter to Islamic scholars, “what we see now is the government of a military guardianship, not the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists (i.e. velayat-e faqih)”.[3] In the rhetoric of the ruling segment, however, the most acute threat facing Iran is that of a ‘velvet revolution’. This refers to a plot where foreign powers’ subversive agents collude with “internal enemies” to seek regime change from within. When members of the reform movement were prosecuted in the August 2009 show trials, the main accusation held against them was their supposed affiliation with this velvet revolution.

State of the system

The gap is equally great between how the government and the opposition characterize the state of the system. For the Green movement (and in fact also many conservative figures) the regime is in the middle of a deep political crisis. The opposition argues that the government will not be able to govern normally until it accommodates the wishes of the people. President Ahmadinejad and his associates, on the other hand, deny as baseless the idea of a crisis. For them, it is still “business as usual” in Iran and the Islamic Republic is stronger than ever.

Popular protest

For the Green movement, popular protests are a sign of hope. They imply that the people refuses to resign to government repression and continues its fight for self-determination. The Green movement’s organizational body is named “the green path of hope”. In government rhetoric, by contrast, popular protests are associated with chaos, or fitna which is the Arabic word used to denounce a breakdown of the Islamic order. Websites affiliated with the president consequently use the expression saran-e fitna, i.e. “leaders of sedition”, when speaking about Khatami, Karubi, and Mousavi.

Action needed

The way to end the current crisis is according to the Green movement to reconnect the Islamic republic with the people. As Mousavi says in his 11th statement, “a restoration of public trust is not possible without the acceptance of the right of the people to govern itself”.[4] For government forces, however, the question is one of punishing “troublemakers” (eghteshashgar). Following the December 2009 Ashura protests Interior minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar warned that “anyone who takes part in riots will be considered as mohareb (waging war on God) and an opponent of national security”.[5]

Ultimate authority

The bottom line is that the government and the opposition have different ideas of what constitutes the ultimate authority in the Islamic Republic. The Green movement points to the 1979 Constitution as the embodiment of the “national will” and the guideline for all political interactions. They quote the late Ayatollah Khomeini saying that “the criterion is the vote of the people” (mizan ray-e mardom ast). The neo-conservatives, by contrast, place Ali Khamenei above the law as the Islamic Republic’s ultimate authority.






The Meaning of Political Crisis in Iran

By: Yadullah Shahibzadeh

Despite their uncertainty about the nature and trajectory of the post-presidential election events, many analysts consider these events as the most challenging political crisis the Islamic Republic has faced since its establishment in 1979. It seems that the players on the Iranian political scene pay similar attention to the notion of political crisis. A glance at the released statements and speeches by politicians and political activists would verify this observation. These statements and speeches reveal the same eagerness for understanding of the nature of the crisis and show the same uncertainty towards the course of these events as the analysts. While the faction supporting Ahmadinezhad and the supreme leader denies the existence of any crisis in Iran and claims that every thing is normal, the reform oriented faction represented by Moussavi and Karubi claims that the rigged presidential election has brought the Islamic Republic into a deep internal political crisis which may destroy the entire system. But it is not only the reform oriented politicians who are concerned with the political crisis. For many others who have never been connected to the reform movement in any way the question is not whether there is a crisis or not but the real meaning of the current crisis. They ask about the depth, the main causes, and the extent to which it threats the current political system and discuss the measures that should be taken for passing through this political crisis.  The political movement known as the Green Movement seems to have delegitimized Ahmadinezhads presidency not only among millions of Iranians but also among a great number his former allies. For many this very movement is the convincing evidence that there is a deep political crisis in the system.  The denial of the political crisis seemed to have justified the oppressive masseurs taken by the government for a while. Now, these same oppressive measures have produced evidences proving the actuality of the crisis and the inability of the government and security forces to control the crisis. This is why the acknowledgement of the political crisis in Iran has become the red line for conservative politicians supporting Ahmadinezhad and the supreme leader as it has become the main goal of the reform oriented to force the former to declare such acknowledgement.

The dispute on the existence of the political crisis is not confined to Ahmadinezhad supporters and the reform oriented. The issue has engaged political players in the system whose political vision does not accord with democratic reforms by any standard and whose politics remains within a conservative politics. In this regard, senior religious leaders are a case in point. Recently, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, one of these religious leaders, acknowledged that the political system is in a deep crisis and encouraged opposing political forces to announce truce as a precondition for future talks and compromises to find a common ground towards a viable political solution based on written principles authored by moderates of both sides. The acknowledgement of this senior conservative religious leader of the political crisis and the solution he offers indicate that acknowledgement of the political crisis requires a solution to cope with the crisis.

One of the most influential political figures in Iran is Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who is reluctant to be identified either with the reform oriented or with the conservatives and  he is considered as one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Republic and without his support Ali Khamenei’s leadership would have been unthinkable.  In the only Friday prayer he held in July Rafsanjani acknowledged the deep political crisis in Iran and offered his own solution for dealing with the crisis. He called upon the leader for release of political prisoners, and recognition of the oppositional forces questioning the results of the election and defended their freedom of speech and their rights of assembly and demonstration. In a recent statement, he blamed Ahmadinezhad’s government and the leader for their failure to persuade the people who doubted the election results as well as for their use of Basij militia and the Revolutionary Guards against the people. He asks those who deny the political crisis in Iran; if there is no political crisis in the country, why is not a minister of the current government capable of visiting a university, any university, and holding a speech, something members of previous governments did at daily bases, without being interrupted and even chased by angry students? He concludes that the fact of the angry protesters indicates that something unusual has happened in the universities and by extension throughout the entire country, which may jeopardise the entire system. In order to deal with the crisis Rafsanjani repeats his previous suggestions such as release of all political prisoners and giving the oppositional forces the same opportunity in the state media that the government supporters have to talk to people and argue their case and let people choose between different political alternatives. According to Rafsanjani if the people choose to oust the current system the defenders of the system including him and the leader must accept people’s decision. For Rafsanjani demonstrations in the streets are a natural reaction of a people whose government prevents them from making their voices heard.

The fact that acknowledgement of the political crisis reveals the urgency of a solution which considers political opposition as an equal part to Ahamdinezhad’s government, the Guardian Council and the Leader has prevented the hard-line conservatives from acknowledging the realness of the political crisis so far. Furthermore, the acknowledgement of the political crisis necessitates recognition of the reform-oriented faction within the political system and the popular political movement it represents. This means the recognition of the current political movement in Iran known as the Green Movement and the demands it puts forward is the rational conclusion of the argument for realness of a political crisis in Iran.
Rafsanjani considers himself the most qualified within the system to understand the nature of the current political crisis in Iran. Rafsanjani’s belief in his capability lies partly in his exceptional experiences of all sorts of crises in Iran since the revolution and partly in his attempt to make sense of the past crises recorded in his published diary of many volumes entitled passing through crisis (Obour Az Bohran). Rafsanjani is confident that based on his lessons from the past crises his understanding of the depth of the current crisis is the most realistic one. This is why he expects the supreme leader to join him in his acknowledgement of the political crisis and in his recognition of the Green Movement and its legitimate rights. However, Rafsanjani’s invitation of his lifetime friend Khamenei, the supreme leader, has not produced a tangible result so far. The reason for Khameni’s reluctance to listen to Rafsanjani might be that he thinks of the current crisis in the same manner Rafsanjani was thinking in the early 1980s. Rafsanjani, Khamenei and many current reform oriented politicians were part of this same political system that its repressive machinery sent thousands of political activists into the graveyards without paying attention to the former Prime-Minister Mehdi Bazargan and his friends in the parliament who called for more restraint and tolerance vis-à-vis oppositional forces. Rafsanjani and his allies did not want to make the same mistake that the Shah made during the revolution that is giving oppositional forces a free space for propaganda, and then recognise them as a legitimate political alternative to topple the political system. Nevertheless, Rafsanjani may justify his own policy towards oppositional forces during 1980s by pointing to two significant empirical facts. First, what challenged the Islamic Republic in the early 1980s was not a popular political movement but isolated political organisations detached from the ordinary people. Secondly, at that time, the leader of the Islamic Republic was a strong leader to whom every body in the system listened and this prevented a major split within the system. This means that the current political crisis is the expression of the crisis of leadership within the political system as well as the expression of the challenge the system faces in its encounter with a popular political movement whose main agents are ordinary people who claim they are as equal as the supreme leader in political matters.

Report from Teheran: The election sparks popular enthusiasm

By: Yadullah Shahibzadeh

Regardless of the outcomes of the Friday presidential election in Iran, this election has revealed new aspects and potentials of Iranian politics. The cynics of Iranian politics believed until recently that every thing, to the last detail, has been arranged to show the western world yet another boring Iranian election, as a result of which nothing significant comes out in the end. To make this presidential election more interesting, Iranian TV announced open debates between presidential candidates for the first time since the presidential elections started in 1979. Now after the end of these debates, the immense impact they had on millions of decided and undecided Iranian voters is beyond question.

The absolute majority of Iranians followed these debates, and have made the main topics and the details of the debates the object of serious debates as well as funny tales and jokes transmitted through newspapers, conversations and millions of sms messages. People of every political persuasion,  from those who are very proud of boycotting all elections to show that they are smarter then those who lead the political games in Iran to those who see voting as a citizenry duty no matter what the outcomes of the election would be, to those who have already decided to vote for the first time in their lives because of the miserable economic and  political situation they believe the incumbent administration has created  for their country, and finally to those who believe that elections are the best means possible to make a change no matter how little it might be; all have followed these debates enthusiastically. The expected high turnout in the Friday election is due partly to these broadcasted debates during which the presidential candidates criticized each other relentless and sometimes exposed the opponent’s share in the economic corruption in the country.

Another new phenomenon in this election is the unprecedented occasional demonstrations of the supporters of the reform oriented Mousavi in Teheran’s streets that starts every day from the afternoon to 3 or 4 clocks of the next morning. As a response to the government’s reluctance to rent the largest  stadium in Teheran to Mossavi supporters  on Wednesday, a human chain of more than 20 kilometers in  Tehran’s Vali-ye Asr street that lasted several hours has been the most stylish and powerful demonstration of support for a candidate thus far. This human chain refreshed the memory of many side walkers and participants in the demonstration of the great times of the Iranian revolution, the time of solidarity and selflessness, something Mir Hossein Mousavi is very proud of evoking in his speeches as well as in his last TV broadcasted interview. But more importantly, this form of political activity is what Mousavi has asked for since the first day of his candidacy. Unlike Khatami, who expected the Iranians vote for him in the time of election to carry out the reforms, Moussavi asks for their active participation with a revolutionary spirit. He calls himself an eslah-talab-e osulgara, (a reformer who remains true to the principles) a term misunderstood not only by his conservative and reform oriented opponents but also by many ‘experts’ of Iranian politics. The principles Mousavi refers to are solidarity, selflessness towards transformation of a stagnant political situation for the people and by the people. When we ask to what extent  the presidential candidate`s promises are realistic we simply think of the post-election performances. But I think in Mousavi’s case we have seen that he has fulfilled, at least, two of his promises, the opening of the political sphere and the spirit of solidarity he and his supporters have created during past few days that has made politics for hundreds of thousands of people, regardless of age, gender, education and social position an enjoyable activity. And in this regard he has tried and succeeded so far to revive the forgotten solidarity that Iranians have experienced during the revolution. The Iran of the past few days has experienced this solidarity through Mousavi’s ‘green wave’ or rather ‘green movement’. Now, the question is, can Mousavi’s ‘green movement’ develop after the election to fulfill its various promises, or become yet another memory in the collective consciousness of a nation whose political spirituality is understood by its artists such as Mohsen Makhmalbaf but misunderstood and hated by its philosophers such as Abdolkarim Soroush.