What the West is seeing as an uprising for regime change is really just a power struggle between factions of the ‘Old Guard’ clergy. By Alastair Crooke July 12, 2009 Writing From Beirut — The troubles that have followed the Iranian presidential elections have been generally misread by the Western media and policymakers. What we are witnessing is not a frustrated East European-style “color revolution”; nor is presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s movement an uprising of liberal, Westernized sympathizers against the principles of the Iranian Revolution — although there are surely some who are hostile to the revolution among his supporters. Rather, what we have been seeing is a power struggle — between factions of the “Old Guard” clergy who all initially assumed power in 1979 — that erupted into public view in the recent presidential election campaign. As that dispute is settled over the coming months, we can expect big changes in the top ranks of the power elite. But the revolution is not about to implode. * Iran’s prisons: where protest turns into rage Iran’s prisons: where protest turns into… Ads by Google Iran Election Protests Infos for Truth & Freedom Link it & Tell your friends !
The essential dispute centers around prominent clerics — mainly former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani — who have sought to weaken President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ability to pursue his populist attack on their privileged position. These clerics also have sought to diminish the political weight of the Revolutionary Guard, which they see as increasingly at odds with their interests. This faction of the elite is deeply threatened by Ahmadinejad’s assault on their personal wealth, and by his claims that it was these senior clerics’ pursuit of their own narrow self-interest, at the expense of ordinary people, that is the root cause of Iran’s economic woes. It was this group of powerful clerics that stood behind the Mousavi challenge to Ahmadinejad. It was Khatami who was designated by this faction to propose to Mousavi that he stand for election; it was Khatami who initially offered the opposition leader the umbrella of their powerful political standing at the center of Iran’s elite. Thanks in no small part to this blessing, Mousavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, could credibly campaign on the platform of their revolutionary credentials: They were “children of the revolution”; they both participated in it, were shaped by it; and they remained disciples of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Their quarrel, they made clear, was with Ahmadinejad and his conduct of government. Mousavi’s casting of his mission as one of restoring the revolution to its original ideals was not only an internal message; it was also replayed widely in the Arab media. But the West seemed to be hearing and hoping for something else: that he was challenging the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and would seek to flout the institutions of the revolution. In other words, that he was seeking to ignite a “color revolution” — such as Ukraine’s Orange Revolution — to change the system. The extent to which Mousavi intended to send this signal and benefit by leveraging Western support is unclear. But that perception has opened Mousavi and his prominent backers to the risk of severe repercussions internally in the wake of the postelection turmoil. Indeed, it is on the basis of such allegations that Hossein Shariatmadari, the influential editor of the conservative Kayhan newspaper, has called for both Mousavi and Khatami to face trial for “frightful crimes and overt acts of treason.” Paradoxically, the Western understanding that Ahmadinejad is a tool of the clerical leadership who stands with the repressive Revolutionary Guard and Basij (the popular militia) against reform could not be more wrong. It was Ahmadinejad who campaigned against the wealth and self-interest of some of the clerical elite. Mousavi was more closely allied to those interests. The West should also understand that there are clerics in both Qom and Tehran, some of whom despise Ahmadinejad, who nonetheless share his view that some senior clerics have failed to actualize the spirit of the revolution in their lifestyles.
The Revolutionary Guard too is probably much more radical in wanting genuine reform than is generally understood. What we are dealing with is a complex struggle over the future course of the revolution. It is a struggle for the future vision of Iran that is overlaid by deep personality differences that in turn arouse deep passions. For now, it is clear that a powerful determination has emerged in the wake of the election to exorcise the Rafsanjani-Khatami circles from the establishment, fueled by a growing popular anger as the evidence of their external links to the West is being carefully examined. Rafsanjani, who is well aware of the dangers of becoming isolated and excluded from the circles of power, is now walking a tightrope. On July 4, he was quoted as saying that the election crisis reflected a power struggle at the “highest levels of the system.” In a carefully worded statement, he warned that any “awakened consciousness” could not be ignored, but he also spoke of the need to safeguard revolutionary institutions. Though one step removed, his Kargozaran party has gone further, calling the election results “unacceptable” as a result of “massive election fraud.” The impact of these recent events on Iranian foreign policy is likely to be the opposite of what Western commentators have foreseen. It is not likely that the Revolutionary Guard, which is under the control of Khamenei, will be paralyzed, but rather the reverse. In many respects, the regional situation works to Iran’s advantage: Iraq remains at a crucial juncture; Afghanistan and Pakistan seem to be on the slide; Turkey has distanced itself from the European stance on the elections; and China has never before expressed such staunch solidarity with the Iranian regime. Neither Syria nor Hezbollah nor Hamas are poised to disengage with Iran. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem questioned the legitimacy of the street protests in Tehran and warned: “Anyone betting on the fall of the Iranian regime will be a loser. The Islamic Revolution is a reality, deeply rooted in Iran, and the international community must live with that.” As for Iran’s relations with the West, Ahmadinejad left hardly anything to interpretation when he stated at the end of June: “Without doubt, Iran’s new government will have a more decisive and firmer approach toward the West. This time, the Iranian nation’s reply will be harsh and more decisive.” Similarly, Khamenei has made it clear that Iran will not easily forget the disparagement and condescension displayed toward the Islamic Republic in recent weeks. From the perspective of many in Iran, a “red line” was crossed as Western leaders seemed to be trying to fan the dissent of Mousavi’s supporters into an instrument to delegitimize the revolution and execute “soft regime change.” Despite such hopes in the West, however, an end to the revolution is not in sight. More likely is a counter-reaction that will lead to the isolation of Mousavi and his associates as popular forces allied with Ahmadinejad seek to inject new stimulus into the revolution by cleansing it of the corrupted elements of its Old Guard. Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence agent, was advisor to European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Middle East issues from 1997 to 2003. He also advised the Mitchell commission looking into the causes of the Palestinian intifada and has been involved in negotiating with Hamas and other Islamist movements. He heads the Conflicts Forum in Beirut.