[Marxism] New fractures in Iran’s power structure
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 17 06:46:28 MDT 2011
New fractures in Iran’s power structure
Kasama received the following from A World to Win, a news service
based in Britain.
August 15 2011. A World to Win News Service. Further fissures and
cracks have appeared among Iran’s top rulers, Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei, the spiritual leader of the Islamic regime, and
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his close circle in charge of
Given the love affair between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad over the
last six years and specially Khamenei’s support for Ahmadinejad
during the 2009 election that sparked an uprising, this difference
between the two factions was not taken very seriously by masses at
But now the sudden intensification of this row and the aggressive
approach of both sides has left little doubt about the depth and
gravity of the differences. These developments have also proved an
explanation for previous contradictory statements made by
Ahmadinejad and high-ranking conservative clergy.
This new round of quarrels broke out in April of this year when
Ahmadinejad tried to fire Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi.
This was strongly opposed by Khamenei, who reinstated Moslehi. In
protest, Ahmadinejad did not turn up at his office for 11 days,
until finally Khamenei threatened to dismiss him.
Upon his return Ahmadinejad faced a flood of criticism and threats
from different sections of the power structure, especially his
chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a former director of the
Cultural Heritage and Tourism Foundation whom the pro-Khamenei
forces are now attacking as the main figure behind what they call
the “deviant current” formed by Ahmadinejad, Mashaei and their circle.
Some members of Parliament moved to impeach Ahmadinejad for
defying parliamentary resolutions. He was accused of vote buying
(at $80 a vote) during the 2009 election. In late May Parliament
voted to investigate the matter.
The groups of thugs whom the dominant factions of the regime,
including Ahmadinejad, had used to disrupt meetings and speeches
of reformist and other opposition leaders, were assigned to abort
the president’s speech marking the anniversary of the death of the
Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on 4 June.
Since the rift has become public, around 30 people close to
Mashaei and Ahmadinejad have been arrested. Among them are deputy
foreign minister Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh, Ahmadinejad associate
Abbas Amirifar and journalists at the newspaper Hafte Sobh
believed to belong to Mashaei.
Several Web sites close to Ahmadinejad and Mashaei were shut down.
Although Ahmadinejad had to retreat in most cases, he persisted in
trying to merge six ministries into three despite parliamentary
opposition. Further, he issued a circular to the relevant
ministries taking a stand against the proposed separation of
women and men students into different classes in the universities
and the early retirement of university lecturers that is meant to
purge not considered politically and religiously correct, both
measures supported by Khamenei.
Ahmadinejad is also trying to take control of the religious
foundations known as the Oqaf organisations currently under the
control of Khamenei’s office. If he succeeded, this would mean
that Khamenei would lose the control of very strong financial
institutions with billions of dollars in annual income.
Consequently, this will be a hard fight for Ahmadinejad and his gang.
These are not the only spheres of contention between Khamenei’s
supporters in the regime and Ahmadinejad’s group. Despite the
president’s retreat, he continues to hit back here and there. One
of the most important conflicts has involved the Pasdaran Corps
(the so-called Revolutionary Guards), the Islamic Republic’s
strongest military force. Mohammad Ali Jaffari, the Pasdaran chief
commander, said on 4July, “The Pasdaran have been assigned by the
judiciary system to deal with those who are currently related to
the deviant current.”
This was the Pasdaran’s clear support for Velayat-e Faqih (the
religious doctrine of “Rule by the Supreme Jurist”, the source of
Khamenei’s authority), and at the same time an open threat against
the Ahmadinejad-Mashaei gang. Ahmadinejad hit back only a day
later when he indirectly accused the Pasdaran of smuggling.
Speaking at a conference against contraband goods and currency, he
said “The 55-60 billion cigarettes consumed annually in Iran are
worth 2 billion dollars. This figure would incite the greed of the
world’s biggest smugglers, so it would easily tempt our brothers
who are smugglers.” Jaffari’s quick denial – “This kind of talk is
a deviation” – left no doubt that Ahmadinejad had targeted the
The row also involved the Oil Ministry. Ahmadinejad had fired this
minister and taken charge of this key ministry himself. This was
opposed by the Council of Guardians, a key body whose members are
appointed by Khamenei, which called his move illegal. Ahmadinejad
tried to ignore this ruling but finally had to retreat. He
nominated another man to head the ministry, but failed to win
parliamentary approval. Finally, after a month of negotiations, he
named Pasdaran general Rostam Qasemi Oil Minister, and parliament
gave its approval 3 August.
The nature and importance of the differences
Contention among different factions has been a permanent feature
of the Islamic Republic of Iran since its foundation in 1979. With
the election of Mohammad Khatami as president in 1997, the Islamic
regime broke into two main factions, on the one side the
conservative clerics and on the other those who wanted some
reforms in the political system in order to save the Islamic
Republic. This division defined the conflicts within the Iranian
ruling class until recently.
Ahmadinejad has been aligned with Khamenei and other conservative
sections of the regime against the reformists. His victory in the
2005 presidential race and especially his 2009 re-election were
disputed by his opponents; many observers believe these victories
would not have been possible without the support of Khamenei, the
Pasdaran and the Basij militia led by the Pasdaran. It is claimed
that those who engineered his victory in 2009 had to boost the 9
millions ballots cast for him to more than 23 million votes
overnight. When Khamenei stepped in to express strong support for
Ahmadinejad even before any formal decision, that ruled out any
serious investigation of possible fraud.
Thus the present contention is unusual. Until recently these
regime factions had to unite against the reformists and more
importantly against the masses and their uprising. Khamenei helped
Ahmadinejad achieve power in order to control him, but Ahmadinejad
wants to be independent. He believes, or at least pretends to
believe, that he owes his appointment not to Khamenei and the
Pasdaran but the twelfth Imam. (Shia Islam holds that the twelfth
and final successor to Mohammed, or Imam, known as the Mahdi or
redeemer, did not die but is hidden; when the situation is ripe he
will reappear to cleanse the world of corruption).
What has forced these two factions to continue to coexist, despite
the harsh accusations against each other?
Khamenei probably could have impeached Ahmadinejad and eliminate
him and his circle, but it would not be easy because there are
many contradiction in his way. The Islamic regime has just gone
through an uprising that strongly shook its pillars. The regime
may have suppressed the uprising, but the people’s retreat doesn’t
mean a decisive defeat. A great many people are determined to find
another opportunity to fight back. The participation of hundred
thousands of people chanting anti-regime slogans in February
demonstrations in Tehran and many other cities in support of the
people’s movements in North Africa and the Middle East was a clear
indication of that spirit. It is fair to say that the regime has
come out of this battle not stronger but weaker. Thus Khamenei
cannot risk recklessly destabilising the regime.
However there are other aspects to this. Every new conflict within
the regime has cost it a part of its social base and core
supporters. It would not be easy for many Khamenei supporters to
digest a new split with a faction that until recently was a close
ally. At the least, that would be dispiriting to its followers.
This makes it especially hard for Khamenei to go ahead with
impeaching Ahmadinejad. Many observers believe that Khamenei wants
to keep Ahmadinejad until the end of his term, but under close
control and supervision. It is also believed that the clergy will
disqualify Ahmadinejad’s candidates for parliament and especially
the next presidential election in 2013. (Under law, he is not
allowed to run for a third term.)
What makes this conflict different from the previous ones is that
the two ruling gangs have lined up against each other in the
ideological, political, economic and military spheres. Along with
policy disputes, there is also conflict over the control of
massive sources of income, such as oil and gas exports and the
import and export of other commodities.
Ahmadinejad’s efforts to keep key government posts exclusively in
the hands of his circle was a source of conflict even during his
first term as president. Mashaei has been another bone of
contention. In 2008, when he was Iran’s First Vice President,
parliamentarians and conservative clergy forced him to resign for
making allegedly pro-US and pro-Israeli remarks on several
occasions. Among other things, he said that “It is the Israeli
government that is our enemy and we have no enmity against the
Israeli people.” Ahmadinejad defiantly responded to this dismissal
by making Mashaei his chief of staff.
What makes Ahmadinejad’s habit of removing clergy from
governmental posts all the more irritating to Khamenei and his
gang is the way the president has been distancing himself from the
idea of Velayat-e faqih without explicitly admitting it. In fact
the concept of the imminent reign of the Mahdi – which Mashei is
accused of concocting – is in the service of such approach.
Ahmadinejad’s fascination with the twelfth Imam is well known. His
implication that he has the Madhi’s backing is interpreted as
trying to work around Khamenei’s position as the Supreme Jurist
and in fact make his existence meaningless. The clergy was
outraged by a recent documentary claiming that the twelfth Imam
will reappear soon. They blamed Mashaei and “deviant current” for
this film. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly announced that he is
answerable only to the twelfth Imam. This is laying the bases for
the elimination of the clergy from the state apparatus.
Further, Mashaei and Ahmadinejad apparently believe that Islam has
begun to lose its grip and are increasingly appealing Iranian
nationalism instead. Mashaei has emphasised that Shia Islam
(Iran’s majority religion) represents the highest understanding of
Islam and that Iran has added to Islam’s richness. Ahmadinejad, in
a speech at the National Museum of Iran, praised Cyrus the Great,
the pre-Islamic founder of the Persian Empire, as one of the
greatest moral leaders in human history. He continues to praise
Iran and its past in his speeches and interviews. Such remarks
have infuriated the conservative clergy. Even Mesbah Yazdi, the
ayatollah Ahmadinejad claims to follow, called the idea of an
“Iranian Islam” a shameful deviation.
Combining Islam with nationalism has caused some contention in the
moral and cultural sphere as well. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly
remarked that hijab (the covering of women’s hair, a core issue in
Islamic fundamentalism) “is not the most important problem of our
society”. He has argued in favour of permitting women into
football stadiums, another extremely contentious question. Like
his intervention against the proposed separation of women and men
into different classrooms in the universities, this is a move to
win over the reformists’ social base. It also reflects an effort
to “modernise” Islam, though lvery slightly.
The economic and military spheres
What makes this conflict all the more alarming for the ruling
power structure is that these policy differences are being
accompanied by economic and possibly military jockeying.
Ahmadinejad and his circle have been attempting to use their
positions in government to build a financial base that could
enable them to withstand the rival faction. Kayhan, a newspaper
that strongly supports the most conservative clergy, including
Ayatollah Khamenei, followed its remarks regarding the political
differences by expressing deep concern about the economic measures
sought by this faction. Kayhan says that the “deviant current” and
Ahmadinejad “have crossed the line of justice by appointing
unjustified persons to the government and also by making
suspicious moves in relation to financial resources in the oil and
industrial sectors (acts which, according to reports, have
increased greatly in the last two years).”
Preparing for a possible conflict, Ahmadinejad has worked to
reinforce relations with the Pasdaran both economically (by giving
them massive construction contracts) and politically (by giving
important governmental posts to Pasdaran commanders). His
government has also enhanced the financial powers of provincial
governors, who are appointed by the president. The struggle over
the oil ministry is vital because petroleum is the country’s most
important source of income. But control over the import and export
of other commodities is also an important issue.
Observers believe that Ahmadinejad and Mashaei have been trying to
establish some sort of relations with the US, despite major
obstacles on both sides. There are unconfirmed reports of several
meetings between the Iranian government and US officials,
including one between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and
Mashaei in the United Arab Emirates. That would be consistent with
Ahmadinejad’s general efforts to gain room to manoeuvre.
Voluntarily complying with World Bank and IMF conditions and
further integrating Iran into the global economy would help the
Ahmadinejad circle increase their role and influence in the
economic structure and gain the upper hand politically. It is
worth mentioning that imports of the most basic necessities for
the masses have increased tremendously during the last six years
of Ahmadinejad’s presidency.
Ahmadinejad’s proposal to shift control of the religious
endowments from the Khamenei to the provincial governors can be
considered another move in this direction.
The clear support of Pasdaran commanders for Ayatollah Khamenei
and the row between Ahmadinejad and Pasdaran head Jaffari has led
many people to believe that the Pasdaran are part of the Khamenei
faction and Ahmadinejad cannot count on its support. But
Ahmadinejad’s contradictory and complex relationship with the
Pasdaran and vice versa indicates that the situation is still
highly fluid. At least it can be said that there are unclear and
blind points in this relationship that need thorough
investigation. For example, his naming of Pasdaran commander
Rostam Qasemi to be Oil Minster, the presence of several
ex-Pasdaran commanders in his cabinet and the many ex-Pasdaran
occupying high governmental posts all seem to indicate some kind
of trust between the two groupings. Perhaps events in the near
future will shed light on this relationship.
Some sources of this conflict
Given the history of contradictions and contention within the
Islamic Republic of Iran, it is hard to believe that such fissures
and divisions will come to an end. As far as the recent rift is
concerned, more than anything else it represents an ideological
crisis. Islam has lost some of its ability to provide the regime
with legitimacy and stability. People are tired of a theocratic
regime and looking for a way out. Many of the regime’s founders
and the hard core of its managers, including the regime
reformists, have pointed out the ineffectiveness of the Islamic
Republic as it is and have called for reform. The 2009 uprising
revealed a deep ideological crisis within the system. Recent
developments, including the revolt in the Arab countries, have
added to the worries of some factions of the regime.
In such a situation different factions want to put forward their
programme to save the system, even if that means sacrificing and
replacing some of the most important pillars holding up the
regime. Ahmadinejad and Mashaei have understood that necessity and
want to reform the regime in their way. But their success is not
guaranteed, and they have to fight other factions, some operating
openly and others not now taking a public position (for example,
What is certain is that even if Ahamdinejad and Mashaei were
eliminated or silenced, these kinds of splits would not come to an
end because the system itself is their source. They are all part
of the problem.
But the destructiveness of the crisis will not itself lead to the
overthrow of the Islamic regime, or at least will not
automatically lead to its replacement with a system that is
desired by the people. In fact, in any foreseeable situation, one
or other faction will try to save the regime and restructure it
more efficiently within the global imperialist system, and will
continue to oppress, suppress and exploit the masses of people in
the service of world capitalism.
At the same time these new developments also have the potential to
push the people to tail one or another ruling class faction. The
hatred for Ayatollah Khamenei, who has monopolised the key
positions in the Islamic power structure and is the symbol of a
theocratic system, could give rise to a pragmatic approach that
would mean, this time, supporting the Ahmadinejad-Mashaei gang,
even though they were key targets in the recent people’s uprising.
Such an approach would will take the people into a useless cycle
and neutralise their years of struggle and sacrifices.
However, such fractures could weaken the system even more and
provide the opportunity for the revolutionary forces to advance
and organise their ranks and the masses for a radical change in
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