Thursday, June 30, 2011

Iran: The Battle Between The “Guide” And The President

By Elias Harfoush
 It is natural for any observer of Iranian affairs to wonder whether or not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s power craze has reached the point where the president is no longer aware of the dimension of his position in the Iranian pyramid, and the extent of his ability to defy the Supreme Guide and leader of the Revolution in the Islamic Republic.
The confrontation between the Guide and the president is not new to the Iranian revolution and is one with known results. It is related to the utter prerogatives granted by the revolution to its supreme leader in terms of his supervision over the army, the Revolutionary Guard, the judiciary and the media, in exchange for temporary prerogatives granted by the constitution to the elected president of the Republic. Moreover, in principle, the Guide remains in his position for life, while the term of the president is of four years, renewable only once. Since the days of Khomeini - the founder of the Islamic Republic - it became clear that the prerogatives of the leader of the revolution had no constitutional limits on the ground, and that the president’s actual prerogatives were the ones allowed by the Guide, nothing more and nothing less. Former presidents tried to tamper with that gray area between the prerogatives of both institutions, as it was done by Abolhassan Banisadr, Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammed Khatami, who quickly found themselves outside the game and excluded from the decision-making process.
 Ahmadinejad might have believed the official political propaganda which accompanied his election for a second term in 2009. At the time, it was said that the results expressed the Iranians’ choice, in blunt disregarding of the doubts, accusations of falsification and the oppression undertaken by the Revolutionary Guard, and the slogans “Where is my voice?” raised by the demonstrators in the streets of the Iranian cities. In reality, the announcement of Ahmadinejad’s victory was the result of the religious institution’s interference, under direct supervision from Khamenei and the implementation of the Revolutionary Guard. This blocked the way toward victory before prominent opposition figure Mir-Hossein Mousavi, as it was revealed by the preliminary results of the elections before they were thrown in the trash can.
Ahmadinejad thought that his authority allowed him to appoint and isolate ministers. It started when he tried to oust Iranian Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi last April, before Khamenei ordered the reinstatement of the latter to his post. Ahmadinejad “sulked” for 11 days and retreated in his home. He did not return until he received a threat saying he will be subjected to questioning by the Shura Council if he did not go back to exercising his prerogatives. Later, the dispute with the Guide erupted over the ousting of a number of ministers and the appointment of others, while the biggest one broke out when Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi – whom Ahmadinejad appointed as the successor of Manouchehr Mottaki (who was accused of disregarding the president’s instructions) appointed Muhammad Sharif Malekzadeh as his deputy. However, the latter was forced to resign three days later when a campaign was launched against him inside the Council due to his relationship with the director of Ahmadinejad’s office and his relative Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. Now, Malekzadeh is under arrest on charges of corruption with three other people close to Ahmadinejad and Mashaei.
There are many stories in Iran about this Mashaei who is related to Ahmadinejad (and whose son is married to Mashaei’s daughter). Indeed, he is accused of leading a deviating trend that is hostile to the revolution, of seeking to undermine the authority of the religious establishment in favor of civilian politicians, of being involved – under Ahmadinejad’s cover – in corruption and of practicing witchcraft and speaking to jinns. Moreover, he is accused of having paid money to purchase votes in favor of Ahmadinejad during the 2009 presidential elections, reaching $80 per vote. This is the first time that doubts emerge in the hallways of the religious establishment in Iran over the falsification witnessed in these elections, after all the sides rallied to cover it up in the face of the “Green” opposition’s campaign.
Ahmadinejad is trying to respond to the campaign launched against him by saying he enjoys Khamenei’s support, describing their relationship is being one between a son and a father, and making sure, whenever they appear together on television screens, to kiss the Guide’s hand. However, the conservative clerics who are fearful about the circle of influence with which Ahmadinejad is trying to surround himself, criticized this filiation claim and responded to it by saying that the relationship with Khamenei should be one between a leader and his subordinate, and that any other description would be “deviant.”
The campaign on Ahmadinejad does not mean that his days in the presidency are numbered. For now, Iran cannot handle such a conflict that is not allowed by the circumstances of its external battles and those prevailing over the region. Therefore, the most that can be achieved is Ahmadinejad’s containment by the religious establishment which is the actual decision maker, and the blocking of the way before his ambitions and those of his son-in-law whether in next year’s parliamentary elections or the presidential elections the year after.
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 29/06/2011

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