by Shaun Appleby, Thu Jun 11, 2009 at 05:47:05 AM EDT
Crossposted at The Motley Moose
The pending election in Iran, far more than just a personality quest between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, is a sign of potentially serious ructions in the ruling oligarchy:
Mr Ahmadinejad suddenly looks vulnerable. He is being widely criticised, even ridiculed in public, in a manner the regime would normally not tolerate. Yesterday he even accused his opponents of behaving like Hitler's propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels -- quite an allegation from a man who denies that the Holocaust happened.
Opposition to him is growing among the ruling clergy after he publicly maligned Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful head of the Expediency Council. Hojatoleslam Rafsanjani has demanded an apology. His case has received support in an open letter from 50 clerics in the holy city of Qom.
Richard Beeston - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad goes from favourite to shaky contender The Times 11 Jun 09
Things started to go wrong for Ahmadinejad in his debate with Moussavi recently when he stepped all over his privates by accusing the past two presidents, and their cliques, of corruption. Interestingly these included current and powerful members of Iran's ruling oligarchy. It would seem that there is more going on than meets the eye in an otherwise largely ceremonial election for Iran's presidency.
The mainstream media is getting wind of Ahmadinejad's changing fortunes and rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of his defeat, but it seems the events of the last few days, exposing slightly the internal tectonics, may be an indication the theocracy is in tension or transition:
Powerful reformists and conservatives within Iran's elite have joined forces to wage an unprecedented behind-the-scenes campaign to unseat President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, worried that he is driving the country to the brink of collapse with populist economic policies and a confrontational stance toward the West.
The prominent figures have put their considerable efforts behind the candidacy of reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who they believe has the best chance of defeating the hard-line Ahmadinejad in the presidential election Friday and charting a new course for the country.
They have used the levers of government to foil attempts by Ahmadinejad to secure funds for populist giveaways and to permit freewheeling campaigning that has benefited Mousavi. State-controlled television agreed to an unheard-of series of live debates, and the powerful Council of Guardians, which thwarted the reformist wave of the late 1990s, rejected a ballot box maneuver by the president that some saw as a prelude to attempted fraud.
Some called it a realignment of Iranian domestic politics from its longtime rift between reformists and conservatives to one that pits pragmatists on both sides against radicals such as Ahmadinejad.
Borzou Daragahi - In Iran, disparate, powerful forces ally against Ahmadinejad LA Times 7 Jun 09
This realignment of pragmatists vs radicals apparently creates new divisions, with Rafsanjani's surprising public letter to Supreme Leader Ayotallah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday:
In an unprecedented complaint letter to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Hashemi Rafsanjani references the accusations that Ahmadinejad made during his televised presidential debate earlier this month with the reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi in which he attacked a number of senior leaders of the Islamic regime, and said, "It is expected that you will take any effective measures that you deem appropriate to solve this problem and to remove dangerous ploys and prevent the inflammation of the fire that has been ignited in the process of the elections."
Rafsanjani complained to the state-run national television organization for not being given the opportunity to respond to the accusations raised by Ahmadinejad. In another part of his letter, he compared the president to the administration of Bani-Sadr (the first president of the Islamic Republic who was removed from office because of his differences with ruling clerics and forced to flee the country) and wrote, "I do not intend to equate the current administration with that of Bani-Sadr's, or call for a similar outcome for it, but the goal is to prevent the country from being dragged into the same quagmire as then."
Omid Memarian - Rafsanjani Complains to Leader against Ahmadinejad www.roozonline.com 11 Jun 09
Rafsanjani is chairman of both the powerful Expediency Discernment Council that mediates differences between the various political institutions of the Islamic state and the Assembly of Experts. Rafsanjani's letter is highly unusual and would not have been well received:
In his letter, Mr. Rafsanjani noted that Ayatollah Khamenei had "deemed it best to remain silent" instead of censuring the president for his vitriolic attacks during the debate. Mr. Rafsanjani said he wrote the letter only after the rejection of his demands for an apology and for an opportunity to rebut the charges against him on state television.
Ayatollah Khamenei is unlikely to respond because "he is not pleased with correspondence like this from anyone," Mr. Abtahi said. Although Mr. Khamenei has the final say on affairs of state, he prefers to rule by consensus, steering clear of divisive issues.
Mr. Rafsanjani's letter is especially significant because he leads the Assembly of Experts, an 86-member body of senior clerics that has the power to remove the supreme leader, Mr. Abtahi said. It included a veiled threat: Mr. Rafsanjani implicitly compared Mr. Ahmadinejad to a former president whom Mr. Rafsanjani helped depose in 1981.
Robert F Worth In Iran Race, Ex-Leader Works to Oust President NYT 10 Jun 09
There are other signs of fault lines appearing among 'fundamentalist' non-reformers who would normally be assumed to be backing Ahmadinejad:
Hamid-Reza Katoozian, a member of the conservative faction in the Majlis told ILNA labor news agency, "The group of individuals known as the Principalists that I know of are fed up with Mr. Ahmadinejad's posture. It is predicted that a large group of Ahmadinejad supporters will switch sides to Mir-Hossein Mousavi, while another group will go to Mohsen Rezaei," another presidential hopeful."
The group Followers of the Imam and the Leadership's Path, a coalition of a number of right-wing groups who had announced their support of Ahmadinejad in the past also took a critical stance at the issues that were raised at the televised presidential debate and while stressing the candidacy of Ahmadinejad said, "The Front for the Followers of the Imam and the Leadership Path views the unfortunate campaign propaganda in this elections by disloyally attacking the record of officials belonging to earlier and current administrations."
Maryam Kashani - Split among Ahmadinejad's Supporters www.roozonline.com 10 Jun 09
There have even been dueling fatwas from clerics on the Islamic principles of election fraud:
In an open letter, a group of employees of Iran's Interior Ministry (which supervises the elections) warned the nation that a hard-line ayatollah, who supports President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has issued a Fatwa authorizing changing votes in the incumbent's favor.
They warned that the same thing happened in the elections for the 8th Majles (parliament), in March 2008, in order to change the vote in favor of the principlists (fundamentalists) allied with the president; but, fearing for their jobs, they had kept silent then.
Open Letter: Fatwa Issued for Changing the Vote in Favor of Ahmadinejad www.tehranbureau.com 7 Jun 09
This was met with a quartet of fatwas from Qom, Iran's clerical heartland:
In related news, 50 prominent clerics from the Qom Theological Center (Hoze Elmie Qom) issued a statement protesting the campaign activities of Mahmud Ahmadinejad. This news was widely quoted in domestic websites. The statement comes soon after four senior ayatollahs in Qom issued fatwas last week that any violations in elections were haram [i.e. a religious sin]. Ayatollahs Makarem Shirazi, Mousavi Ardebili, Javadi Amoli, and Sanei issued these fatwas which were published on websites affiliated to them.
Omid Memarian - Rafsanjani Complains to Leader against Ahmadinejad www.roozonline.com 11 Jun 09
The respective candidates have also been dueling over state run television time, with Ahmadinejad winning the final round and gaining an extra twenty minute spot. Just today it was reported that Rafsanjani met recently with Khamenei for three hours:
One day after Rafsanjani's open letter was published in the media, the Chairman of Iran's Expediency Council met with the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on Wednesday afternoon, the reformist Etemad-e-Melli daily reported on Thursday.
In his letter Rafsanjani, who -- along with a number of other senior officials -- was accused by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of serious financial corruption, asked the Leader to take the necessary measures to promote national unity ahead of the elections.
Once news of Rafsanjani's three-hour meeting with the Leader was released, sources close to him described the outcome of the meeting as 'positive', according to Etemad-e-Melli.
Rafsanjani meets Leader ahead of polls PressTV (Iran) 11 Jun 09
Three hours is a long time. It would seem that the division of 'fundamentalist' and reformer is now not so clear, insofar as we have any visibility into the insider politics of Iranian leadership. Rafsanjani, whom Ahmadinejad defeated in 2005, is indeed wealthy and dynastic and is likely benefiting from 'influence' of one kind or another. Perhaps the monied classes have had enough of Ahmadinejad's isolation, economic mismanagement and profligate generosity with the nation's oil revenues. Ahmadinejad's surprise victory in 2005 has always been considered suspect in some quarters on grounds of vote-rigging and electoral fraud. Whether Mousavi's 'green revolution' votes will be counted fairly is a matter of some conjecture but has been the most discussed topic as electioneering ends prior to Friday's poll.
As much as one enjoys this spectacle one wonders what possibly could have motivated Ahmadinejad's accusation, which basically challenges the first generation of post-revolutionary leadership, unless he thought he had a plurality of support among the ruling clerics. He has always pitched his appeal to the rural and pious constituencies and the 'hard-liners' within the oligarchy but he's seemingly dragged Khamenei unwillingly into this brawl. Not to be underestimated for cunning he must suppose that a spill against his enemies within the leadership is likely or possible. Perhaps it was just a self-destructive blunder. In any case it makes for a very interesting election.
And Obama's Cairo speech was certainly timely. It's hard to say what impact it has had or whether it has affected Mousavi's late change in fortune but it is looking like it might have been an intermediate range ballistic oration.