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|The Power Struggle between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei
By Muhammad Sahimi
One of the most controversial political figures in contemporary Iran has been President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As man who seemingly came out of nowhere in 2002 to be elected Mayor of Tehran and then the President of the Islamic Republic in 2005, Ahmadinejad has been making giants political waves, not because his two administrations have been successful in steering Iran on a constructive path toward a better future, but due to his bombastic proclamations, unpredictable behavior, exaggerations, grandiosity and, most importantly, the daring confrontation that he has waged against Iran’s Supreme Leader (SL) Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei, whose power and authority had remained unquestioned and unchecked from 1989, when he was appointed the SL, to 2005 when Ahmadinejad was first elected the President. The confrontation may be heating up as Iran’s 11th presidential elections, to be held in June, are approached. Khamenei and his cohorts are truly worried about what Ahmadinejad and his supporters may do.
What are the roots of the confrontation between the two camps? Before addressing the question, it may be useful to learn about Ahmadinejad’s background.
Who is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
Everything associated with Ahmadinejad is complex, contradictory, and shrouded in secrecy. He was born on October 28, 1956, in Aradan, a village near Garmsar, a town about 80 km southeast of Tehran. His father was a blacksmith with seven children. Ahmadinezhad was the 4th child. His family moved to Tehran when he was very young, reportedly around one. He attended Sa’di and and Daneshmand schools and after finishing high school in 1975, he took Iran's national university entrance examinations. He claims to have ranked 132nd out of 400,000 participants that year, but he enrolled in what is now the Iran University of Science and Technology (IUST) as an undergraduate student of civil engineering.
That is strange because in the mid-1970s, the school did not even have university status. It was a daaneshkadeh -- roughly, "college." Someone ranked as high as Ahmadinejad would have easily gained admittance to one of the three premier engineering schools in Iran: the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Tehran and Aryamehr University (now Sharif University) at the top, followed by Tehran Polytechnic (now Amir Kabir University of Technology). The IUST was considered among the country's second or even third tier of engineering schools, as it still is. At the time, participants in the national entrance examinations had to identify their top ten choices before taking the test. Almost all those who wished to study engineering – including the author - would place the three premier schools at the top of their list, and then less distinguished institutions lower down as their "plan B." One of Ahmadinejad's hallmarks has been his utter confidence in his own ability, mixed with extreme arrogance. There is thus every reason to believe that he would have identified his desired schools in just such an order. Given his supposed examination rank, he should therefore have been accepted to a first-tier school. The evidence clearly indicates that he ranked nowhere close to the position he claims.
After Islamic leftist students overran the United States embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, the Basij militia was formed on November 27, 1979 on the orders of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, because he was worried that the U.S. might attack Iran. After Ahmadinejad was elected the President in 2005, some of the former American hostages claimed that he was one of the hostage takers, but as I have
explained elsewhere, not only was Ahmadinejad not one of the hostage takers, but that he was in fact opposed to overrunning the embassy. He had said at that time that if any foreign embassy was to be taken over by the students, it should be the Soviet Union’s, as he considered communism the most important threat to Iran’s national security.
On September 22, 1980, Iraq's army invaded Iran. It is believed that after the invasion Ahmadinejad joined the Basij militia and later worked in the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) that controls the militia. At the same time, he held a number of administrative posts in the province of West Azerbaijan in northwestern Iran, including the posts of deputy governor-general and governorships of the towns of Maku and Khoy. Later, for two years he was an advisor to the governor-general of Kurdistan province in western Iran. But he was also accepted to the Master of Science program at the IUST in 1986 and received his degree three years later. How did he manage to attain this degree while he was employed far from Tehran?
Ahmadinejad held various posts between 1993 and 1997. He was the cultural adviser to minister of culture and higher education. At the same time, in 1993 he was appointed as the governor-general of the newly-formed province of Ardabil, which used to be part of the province of East Azerbaijan. He served in that capacity until 1997, when the second administration of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani ended. But, while working in Ardabil, Ahmadinejad was also a Ph.D. student in transportation and planning at the IUST. He always claimed that he was working 18 hours a day for the people of the province. Perhaps he did, but then when did he find the time to work on his doctoral dissertation? After Khatami was elected president in 1997, his first interior minister, the prominent reformist cleric Abdollah Nouri, immediately removed Ahmadinejad from his post. That same year, Ahmadinejad received his Ph.D. It has been reported that on the day he was supposed to defend his dissertation, his thesis advisor, Hamid Behbahani , told the dissertation committee, "You all know Mr. Ahmadinejad and how pious he is. Thus, say salavaat [salutation to Prophet Muhammad and his family] and accept his thesis." If the story is true, Ahmadinejad never actually defended his dissertation. In July 2008, he returned the favor and appointed Behbahani as his minister of road and transportation, a post in which he served until February 2011, when he was impeached by the Majles [parliament] and sacked. In any case, "Dr." Ahmadinejad joined the faculty of the IUST.
During spring of 1999 the Majles, which at that time was controlled by the conservatives, tried to pass a draconian press law, which was opposed by the minority reformist faction, as well as the Khatami administration. The popular Islamic leftist newspaper Salaam, which was published by Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha, a leftist cleric and ally of Khatami, revealed that the proposed press law had in fact been written by Saeed Emami (Eslami), the infamous leader of a gang of Ministry of Intelligence’s agents that had murdered tens of intellectual and dissidents between 1988 and 1998. The ministry of intelligence took Salaam to court, and the newspaper was closed. But, while the ministry withdrew its lawsuit against Salaam, four conservatives filed a lawsuit against the newspaper. The four were Ahmadinejad, his current minister of science, research and technology Kamran Daneshjoo, Hamid Reza Taraghi, a prominent member of the conservative Islamic Coalition Party, and Ali Darvishzadeh, a Majles deputy. Closure of Salaam led to an uprising by the students at the dormitory of the University of Tehran in July 1999, which shook the nation and the foundation of the Islamic Republic, but was put down violently.
Mayor of Tehran
In early 2002, the Khatami administration held perhaps the most democratic elections in Iran's history. They were for the city councils around the country. Unlike the presidential and parliamentary elections, city council candidates are not vetted by the ultra-reactionary Guardian Council. Practically anyone who wanted to run was allowed. With many members of the Nationalist-Religious Coalition and the Liberation Movement of Iran, two groups that are fiercely opposed by the hardliners, running for the Tehran council, Khamenei left the city so that he would not have to vote. He grew angry enough about the participation of the two groups to imply that he would order the cancellation of the elections.
As it turned out, Khamenei did not have to cancel any elections. Frustrated by the slow pace of reform under Khatami -- who later said that during his two terms the hardliners created a crisis for the country every nine days -- and particularly by the infighting among the members of Tehran’s first city council that was dominated by the reformists, large numbers of people in Iran's large cities boycotted the elections. In Tehran, only 12 percent of eligible voters took part, mos of them supporters of the Islamic fundamentalists who refer to themselves as Osoolgaraa [Principlists].
A heretofore unknown fundamentalist group, Abaadgaraan-e Iran-e Eslami [Developers of Islamic Iran (DII)], swept the Tehran elections and all 15 seats on its city council. The 16th highest vote getter was outspoken reformist and former deputy Interior Minister Mostafa Tajzadeh. He has been jailed since immediately after Iran’s 2009 rigged presidential election.
The DII was actually a front for Jameiyat-e Isaargaraan-e Eslami [the Society of Islamic Revolution Devotees (SIRD)]. Its members began their political activities in March 1995, and the group was formally founded in February 1997. In Iran, the SIRD is known simply as the Isaargaraan. Isaar is an Arabic word for altruism, and an isaargar is someone willing to selflessly sacrifice for a sacred cause. The SIRD consists mainly of former Basij members and the IRGC veterans of the Iran-Iraq war. Its secretary-general is Hossein Fadai, who was jailed during the Shah's reign for his political activities and worked with the IRGC during the war as a combat engineer. He has repeatedly accused the reformists of being supported by the United States. Ahmadinejad himself was a founding member of SIRD. The organization was fiercely opposed to Khatami and issued many statements against him and his administration, criticizing practically every one of his policies. It supported Ahmadinejad’s rise to power, but after the power struggle between him and Khamenei became public, it became a critic of the President.
The DII was led by Mehdi Chamran, the ultraconservative brother of the Berkeley-educated Dr. Mostafa Chamran (1932‒1981), Iran's first minister of defense after the Revolution, who was killed in the war with Iraq. The group nominated Ahmadinejad, then an obscure politician, for the position of Tehran's mayor. Such appointments must be approved by the minister of interior. But Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari, the reformist cleric who then held the office under Khatami, refused to approve the nomination for several weeks, due to Ahmadinehjad's record as Ardabil governor-general. Eventually, due to intense pressure by Khamenei, Mousavi Lari relented and approved the appointment, starting Ahmadinejad's rise in the Iranian political galaxy.
As Tehran's mayor, Ahmadinejad reversed changes made by the previous reformist mayors, Morteza Alviri and Mohammad Hassan Malekmadani. He transformed the city's cultural centers, founded by Alviri and Malekmadani, into religious ones, demanded separate elevators for men and women in municipal offices, and ordered the remains of those killed in the Iran-Iraq War to be buried in the city's major squares. He also brought with him a little-known man named Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei and put him in charge of the city's cultural affairs.
Born in 1960 in the town of Ramsar by the Caspian Sea, Mashaei was an intelligence agent in the 1980s and later an interrogator of political prisoners (his professional name was Morteza Moheb ol-Olya). The friendship between the two men goes back to the 1980s, when they both were working in Iran's Azerbaijan region. Ahmadinejad did not accomplish much as Mayor, despite claims to the contrary by his supporters, to put him on the path to even higher office. Rahim Mashaei is now one of the most important allies of Ahmadinejad and a most controversial figure.
A Man of Fraud, Electoral and Otherwise
As Tehran's mayor, Ahmadinejad put together a coalition of some of the IRGC and Basij commanders, ultra-reactionary clerics led by Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, commonly referred to as Mesbah in Iran, and his allies in the DII, and announced his candidacy for the presidential elections of 2005. He was given very little chance of winning. It was widely believed that Khamenei's initial choice was Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Tehran’s current Mayor and a brigadier general, pilot, and former commander of the Revolutionary Guards' air force, who was much more polished than Ahmadinejad. Most people believed that Rafsanjani and Mehdi Karroubi, the reformist candidates, would make it to the second round of the elections (Iran's presidential election system requires a runoff if no candidate wins over 50 percent of the vote in the initial round).
Khamenei apparently changed his mind at the last moment and switched his support to Ahmadinejad. A source in Tehran told me that Khamenei was presented with evidence that Qalibaf’s brother was involved in highly illegal activities, and that Khamenei’s son Mojtaba strongly supported Ahmadinejad. Both men were close to Mesbah. Despite such support, it is widely believed that a large number of votes were changed to allow Ahmadinejad to make it to the runoff with Rafsanjani.
During the campaign second round, Ahmadinejad's humble background and lifestyle, along with his promises to root out corruption and maximize oil revenues, attracted many poor and lower-class people. In contrast, Rafsanjani was considered by many as a symbol of corruption. There is also credible evidence that Khamenei directed the IRGC and the Basij commanders to order their members to vote for Ahmadinejad, and to take with them to the voting stations as many family members and friends as possible. As a result, Ahmadinejad was elected. Complaining about the irregularities in the vote, Rafsanjani said, "I will leave it to God to judge what has happened."
Once in office, Ahmadinejad began a sweeping purge of the bureaucracy. He installed many allies in positions of authority, indicating the extent of his secret network around the country. As then a key ally, Brigadier General Mohammad Bagher Zolghadr -- a hardliner in the IRGC and currently a senior adviser to the judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani – declared, Ahmadinejad's election "was not an accident. It was a result of two years of complex, multifaceted planning." It has been reported that even Ayatollah Khamenei was surprised by the extent and depth of Ahmadinejed's network.
In 2006, simultaneous elections were supposed to be held for the city councils, as well as for the Assembly of Experts, the constitutional body that appoints the Supreme Leader and is supposed to monitor his performance. The reformists forged an alliance and put up 16 credible candidates for Tehran's city council. Ahmadinejad's sister, Parvin Ahmadinejad, also ran for a seat on the council. For months, she accompanied her brother everywhere. Ahmadinejad claimed that she would receive the highest number of votes because he was highly popular and the people wanted another Ahmadinejad.
By then, Ahmadinejad had formed a new political group, the Sweet Scent (SS) of Service. (There is no entirely satisfactory English translation for the group's name. Although it might make little sense in English, it is an unexceptional phrase in Persian.) Most of its members were former IRGC officers and commanders. Its secretary-general was Mohammad Ali Ramin, a close ally of Ahmadinejad who used to work at Kayhan, the daily that serves as the mouthpiece of the hardliners. He lived in Germany for many years and is rumored to have associated with the neo-Nazis and the far right there. He is believed to be the prime mover behind Ahmadinejad's rhetoric about Israel and the Holocaust, and was the secretary of the Holocaust conference that was held in Tehran in 2006.
Despite its use of public resources, the SS of Service was defeated badly in the elections for the city council, with its candidates receiving only 4 percent of the votes. The Tehran election results were not announced by Ahmadinejad's Interior Ministry for quite some time. All indications were that at least ten reformists had been elected, and that Parvin Ahmadinejad was not even among the top 30 vote getters. It was widely reported that Khamenei had said that no more than four seats should be given to the reformists and so, after considerable alterations of the votes, it came to pass. Parvin Ahmadinejad was declared the 15th-place vote getter and was thus "elected." Even then, only three of the SS of Service candidates for Tehran made it onto the council. Around the country, the reformists received 60 percent of the votes cast in city council elections.
The same thing happened in the elections for the Assembly of Experts. Mesbah and the hardline clerics around him nominated many younger, relatively unknown clerics. Mesbah himself ran for a seat as a representative of Tehran province, and it was claimed by the hardline clerics that he would receive the largest number of votes. But the pragmatists and relatively moderate clerics allied with Rafsanjani, who was also running for a Tehran seat in the Assembly. Once again, the results were not announced by Ahmadinejad's Interior Ministry for several days, as Mesbah did extremely poorly, while Rafsanjani led the balloting. Once again, the votes were altered. For example, Gholamreza Mesbahi Moghaddam, a relatively moderate conservative cleric, was also running for a seat as a representative of Tehran province. It was reported widely, and implicitly confirmed by Mesbahi Moghaddam himself, that all his votes were counted for Mesbah. Rafsanjani was ultimately declared the largest vote getter -- though with a reduced number of votes -- and Mesbah was announced as the eighth-ranked candidate.
Then came the 2008 elections for the 8th Majles, the Iranian parliament. The reformists lined up a strong slate of candidates, particularly for Tehran. They nominated many former ministers and high-ranking officials that had served in the government for years, believing that the Guardian Council would not dare disqualify them. However, the local councils, which carry out the preliminary review of candidates' qualifications and had been appointed by Ahmadinejad's Interior Ministry, eliminated the vast majority of reformist candidates. Only about 100 reformists, most of them little known, were allowed to run for about 100 seats, out of a total of 290. Even then, they did well -- 50 of them won their elections, along with 25 "independents" who were, in fact, also quietly reformist.
Finally, the presidential elections were held in June 2009. There is no need to detail here what happened in those elections, as too many articles have been written about them. In the author’s opinion, the elections were completely rigged.
The vast extent of corruption in the Ahmadinejad administration has been described elsewhere. The role of his administration and in particular the roles of his close confidantes Rahim Mashaei and Hamid Baghaei, who is currently Vice President for executive affairs, have been well-documented. No one knows for sure, for example, what happened to $400 million that Ahmadinejad spent as Tehran’s Mayor, although it is widely believed that he spent it on his presidential campaign of 2005.
The Power Struggle
Unlike what many believe, the power struggle between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei did not begin in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election, on in the Spring 2011 when Ahmadinejad fired his Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi, but was overruled by Khamenei, but in fact much earlier (see below). When the author first discussed the rift between the two men (see here, here, and here), most people rejected the notion of a rift between them. After all, Ahmadinejad had been "reelected" due only to Khamenei's strong support. But, when the rift between the two men and their supporters deepened, it became impossible to hide from the public view. To understand to root cause of the rift, one must address two key questions:
(1) What is Ahmadinejad's goal in confronting Khamenei?
(2) Ahmadinejad is surely aware of the balance of power in Iran's ruling hierarchy. He understands Khamenei’s base of support among the reactionary clerics, and the security/intelligence forces. He also knows well that the high command of the IRGC is loyal to Khamenei, even though I believe that in the long run the Guards would like to end the role of the clerics in the government. So, what is his social base of support that gives him the confidence to confront Khamenei and his supporters? To answer such questions, we need to recognize that Ahmadinejad and his supporters understand well, (i) that the public is tired of the reactionary clerics, their suffocating rule, and their interference in even the most private aspects of their lives; (ii) the people’s hatred of the clerics’ attempt to deny Iran’s pre-Islam historical heritage that Iranians are absolutely proud of, and (iii) the vast corruption and the plundering of the national resources by the top clerics and their supporters, while the economy has been deteriorating, poverty has spread, and the gap between haves and have nots has widened.
At the same time, through the ministry of intelligence files, Ahmadinejad and his team have had access to the secrets about the scale of the corruption, and the most important culprits involved. Ahmadinejad recently said that 60 percent of the total wealth in Iran is controlled by 300 people. Although he may have intentionally put the figure at a much smaller number than the true number, he does have a point in claiming that the national wealth is controlled by a very small number of people. He does, of course, mention his own role in worsening an already corrupt system of government.
So, let us first take a brief look at what has happened between the two men since 2005.
Beginning of the Rift
The rift between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei goes back to 2006, when nationwide elections were held for the city council. As discussed earlier, Ahmadinejad and his supporters formed a group, the SS of Service, and refused to form a coalition with any of the other conservative and hardline organizations around Khamenei. Their refusal alarmed Khamenei. But, the split between the two camps did not attract much attention. Then, in October of 2007 Ahmadinejad forced out Ali Larijani, the current Majles speaker, who was then secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator. The significance of the move was not that Ahmadinejad had forced out someone who had run against him in the 2005 presidential election, but rather that Larijani has always been very close to Khamenei and has carried water for him for decades. More importantly, this was apparently done without prior consultation with Khamenei. In his place, the president appointed Saeed Jalili, a hardline ideologue and a close friend at the time.
We must first consider the important forces within Iran's current power hierarchy. The Green Movement and the Reformists are in the opposition and, therefore, are not part of this analysis.
The Important Players
To understand the current situation and in particular the confrontation between the two camps, we must first take a look at the most important players and groups.
Currently, the most important force -- militarily, economically, and in intelligence and security matters -- is the IRGC and its affiliated organizations, such as the Basij militia. Various analyses indicate that up to 60 percent of Iran’s official economy and an even higher percentage of the unofficial economy – black market, underground activities, and illegal imports – are controlled by the IRGC and its proxies. Their role has grown so much that the IRGC commanders have said that its companies will not participate in any project that is worth less than $100 million. And Brigadier General Rostam Ghasemi, who was the head of Khatam-olanbia, the engineering arm of the IRGC, is now Minister of Oil. As many analysts have observed, "this IRGC is not the one that bravely fought Iraqi forces in the 1980s." Mir Hossein Mousavi, the leading opposition leader who leads the Green Movement, once said, "A fighting force that worries about stock market every day is no longer a true fighting force."
Beginning in the early 1990s, the Guards began their transformation from a purely military organization to one that has economic interests and intervenes in political/security issues. It was Rafsanjani who began to open up Iran's economy during his two terms as president between 1989 and 1997, but although he allowed the Ministry of Intelligence to get involved in economic affairs, he kept the Guards largely out of the economy. To exert pressure on various political groups, the Guards first got indirectly involved in the political process by helping to found Ansaar-e Hezbollah, a vigilante group led by Hossein Allah Karam, in 1991. The Ansaar were the Islamic Republic's first unit of plainclothes security agents. They attacked gatherings of intellectuals, academics, and other groups deemed part of the opposition, set fire to many bookstores, and criticized Rafsanjani and his family relentlessly.
The first direct intervention by the Guards in political affairs came in 1996 during the elections for the 5th Majles. A group of technocrats around Rafsanjani had formed a new political party, Kaargozaaraan-e Saazandegi (Executives of Reconstruction, or EOR). The party put up its own list of candidates, independent of the traditional conservatives, which angered them. The Guards and their organs distributed the list of conservative candidates among the Basij and the military, giving the impression that they were explicitly supported by Khamenei. The EOR, together with the leftist Association of Combatant Clerics, was still relatively successful, sending about 105 deputies to the Majles, but the Guards had established precedence for their intervention in the political process.
In the presidential election of 1997, the Basij, Ansaar, and other right-wing groups played the lead role in opposing Khatami, who was accused, among various sins, of being liberal and pro-West. Regardless, he won in a landslide. During his first term, both the hardline clerics and Guard-affiliated organizations savagely attacked him and his reforms.
To the extent that he could, Khatami did not allow the Guards to get involved in the official national economy. But they were already involved in the underground economy, importing all types of commodities and breadbasket items through 63 jetties and airports that were outside the control of Iran's custom service. Moreover, the Khatami era was also when the Guards began intervening more directly in the political process. At the height of the "Tehran Spring" of 1997-2000, when Iran had a relatively free press, the Guards began threatening the reformists. Brigadier General Yahya Rahim Safavi -- then the IRGC chief and now a senior military adviser to Khamenei and a Major General -- gave a speech in which he declared that the Guards would "cut the necks and tongues of those" in the reformist media who were revealing the vast web of corruption and other politically related crimes in the country. When he was criticized in the press, he responded,
The Guards have identified many of the elements of these groups [journalists and dissidents]. We have at this time let them freely set up their groups and newspapers, but we will go after them when the time is ripe.... The fruit must be picked when it is ripe. It is not ripe yet. We will pick it when it is.... We have thrown a rock inside the nest of snakes. They have received blows from our revolution, and we are waiting for the time when they stick their heads out.
The Guards then sent a letter to Khatami that was signed by 24 top commanders (including many who currently hold important positions) in the aftermath of the July 1999 uprising by university students , in which they declared,
Your Excellency, Mr. Khatami, look at the international media and radio broadcasts. Does the sound of their merriment not reach your ear? Dear Mr. President, if you do not make a revolutionary decision today and fail to fulfill your Islamic and national duty, tomorrow will be too late and the damage will be more irreversible than can be imagined.... With all due respect, we inform you that our patience is at an end, and we do not think it is possible to tolerate any more if this is not addressed.
But the Khatami era also forced Khamenei to reevaluate the political landscape and further realign himself with the military/security/intelli gence establishment. The 1980s were dominated by groups that referred to themselves as Peyrovaan-e Khat-e Emam (Followers of the Imam's -- Ayatollah Khomeini's -- Line), named after the Islamic leftist students that took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979. After Khomeini's death and Khamenei's rise to power, the right wing became the dominant political force. Khamenei gradually purged all the Islamic leftists from the political system and appointed his conservative allies. He relied on the traditional conservatives, both clerical and non-clerical, for support. They included some reactionary clerics, but more importantly the right-wing Islamic Coalition Party (ICP), one of the oldest political organizations in Iran, and its allies such as the Islamic Association of Engineers, the Islamic Bazaar Association, and the Society of Zeinab, an organization for conservative women (Zeinab, granddaughter of the Prophet and Imam Hossein's sister, is a highly revered figure in Shiism). They formed a coalition called Jebheh Peyrovaan-e Khat-e Emam va Rahbari (Front of the Followers of the Imam's and [Supreme] Leader's Line, or FFILL), to distinguish themselves from the Islamic leftists of Peyrovaan-e Khat-e Emam who became reformists and now many of them support the Green Movement. The FFILL represents the interests of the powerful bazaaris, the merchants who have supported the traditional clerics over the past 100 years. During Rafsanjani's second term as president, the 4th and then the 5th Majles were dominated by the ICP and its allies, and they imposed most of his cabinet's ministers on him.
But, in three consecutive elections -- the presidential election of 1997, the first city council elections in the fall of 1998, and the elections for the 6th Majles in late February 2000 -- the reformists and Islamic leftists soundly defeated the conservatives and hardline supporters of Khamenei. He realized that his traditional base of support could not defeat the left if the elections were even slightly open and the left's better known figures were allowed to run. Khamenei developed a two-pronged strategy: to block Khatami's and the left's attempts to reform the system in order to frustrate the people, so that they would either stay home at election time or vote for the rightists, and to firmly support the emerging coalition of hardliners that consisted of the reactionary right and the officers and rank and file of the IRGC the Basij.
The strategy paid off in two years. As discussed earlier, in the city council elections in 2002, the people, frustrated by the slow pace of Khatami's reforms and Khamenei's efforts to thwart them at every turn, stayed home, which ultimately resulted in the appointment of Ahmadinejad as Tehran’s Mayor.
The Osoolgaraayaan (Principlists)
Another important camp within the ruling group is Jebheh Mottahed-e Osoolgarayan (JMO, or United Front of Principlists), which supposedly consists of supporters of Khamenei. It was formed ostensibly because Khamenei urged his supporters to run in the elections as a unified force. The first time that there were public discussions about the founding of the JMO was after the third nationwide city council elections in the fall of 2006. As discussed earlier, Ahmadinejad and his supporters had formed a group, the SS of Service, and refused to form a coalition with any of the other conservative and hardline organizations. But, knowing that he still needed Khamenei's favor for the 2009 presidential election, Ahmadinejad invited the representatives of various conservative and hardline factions to discuss the campaign for the 8th Majles in March 2008. But, they were unable to reach an agreement for the 2008 elections, and the JMO was dissolved.
The JMO was revived in 2011 at the urging of Khamenei, Society of Militant Clergy of Tehran led by Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, Chairman of the Assembly of Experts, and Society of Qom’s Seminary Teachers, led by reactionary and corrupt cleric Mohammad Yazdi. An important figure of the JMO is Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel, father-in-law of Khamenei's second son, Mojtaba. Interestingly, the traditional conservatives led by Jebheh Peyrovaan or the FFILL, has seen its influenced waning, whereas before Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005, the Islamic Coalition Party, the backbone of the FFILL, dominated the conservative and hardline faction. That has created friction between the JMO and FFILL. Habibollah Asgar Oladi, former Secretary-General of the Islamic Coalition Party and an influential traditional conservative, has lately been speaking against the house arrest of the leaders of the Green Movement, Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and Mousavi’s wife Dr. Zahra Rahnavard.
In the last elections for the 9th Majles, the JMO presented a list that was dominated by Guard- and Basij-linked candidates; 16 out of 30 were linked with the Guards and Basij. The JMO's list in other cities and town was dominated even more strongly by Guard and Basij members. Thus, it is almost as if the JMO is the political arm of the IRGC.
Ahmadinejad's Base of Support
Beginning in 2005, Ahmadinejad began purging the bureaucracy on a vast scale and appointing his allies. In the first year of his administration, Ahmadinejad thought that he really was supported by the common people and had his own independent social base of support. Perhaps, he did to some extent among the poor, and lower middle class in small towns and villages. But, as already discussed, just 18 months after his election, the people taught Ahmadinejad a sobering lesson in December 2006. Despite taking advantage of public resources, Ahmadinejad’s group, the SS of Service, was soundly defeated in the city council elections. Only three of their candidates in Tehran were elected -- and that, after the vote count was reportedly altered. In contrast, four reformist candidates were elected in the capital, and credible reports indicated that the number would have been eight if the vote count had not been manipulated.
So, under the guise of implementing Article 44 of the Constitution, Ahmadinejad began throwing money to create a base of support for himself. In 2004, Article 44 had been amended to allow for the privatization of the Iranian economy. Ahmadinejad began implementing the amended article, except that it was not a true privatization. Thousands of supposedly private companies sprang up that were linked one way or another to the IRGC, its mid- and in some cases high-ranking officers, elements in the Basij, and certain reactionary clerics, led by Yazdi, who were supporting him. Large state-owned enterprises were sold to this "private" sector. At the same time the Ahmadinejad administration began granting large-scale projects to the Guards' engineering arm, the Khatam ol-anbiya and its affiliated companies, worth billions of dollars, and without any formal bidding. The net result has not been a true private sector, because this is not a true capitalist system, but what is usually called crony capitalism in which success depends on close relationships between business people and government officials, exhibited by favoritism in the distribution of legal permits, government grants, special tax breaks, and so on. A new social stratum was created in the society that consisted of the people who were benefiting from Ahmadinejad's largess.
Next, the Ahmadinejad administration approved a plan to offer shares to low-income families, starting with the poorest, with villagers and nomads having priority. According to the so-called Justice Shares plan, millions of families were to receive shares in state-owned firms, the value of which was supposed to be reimbursed in 20 years from the dividends generated by those shares. The poorest were supposed to receive the Justice Shares at 50 percent discount. By February 2008, the Ministry of Economic and Financial Affairs estimated that about 15 million rural people out of 23 million are entitled to Justice Shares by the next Iranian year, and by November 2008 it was claimed that 22.5 million people had received the shares, although early 2009 labor leaders complained that workers had received hardly any shares.
There is also a political faction that consists of followers of Mesbah, and is called Jebheh Paaydaari-e Enghlelab-e Eslami (JPEE, or Durable Front of the Islamic Revolution). Mesbah was a fierce supporter of Ahmadinejad, who professed his loyalty to the cleric many times. But after the deep rift between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei came into the open -- especially after Ahmadinejad and Rahim Mashaei, his chief of staff and close confidant, spoke openly about how they were linked directly to Imam Mahdi [Shiites’ twelfth Imam who is supposedly hiding and will return sometime in the future], rather than through Khamenei whose supporters promote him as the Imam's deputy -- Mesbah publicly distanced himself from the president. The truth is that the JPEE consists entirely of Ahmadinejad supporters and its members include many who served as officials under him since he first rose to prominence as Tehran's mayor in 2002. In fact, the JPEE has made it clear that its members still support Ahmadinejad, though not Rahim Mashaei.
The JPEE was formally founded on July 26, 2011, although speculation about its formation began much earlier. Ahmadinejad's former Minister of Health Kamran Baqeri Lankarani is JPEE’s spokesman. The main financial backer of the JPEE is another of Ahmadinejad’s former ministers, Sadegh Mahsouli, known as the "billionaire" minister who has accumulated huge wealth through corruption. The JPEE claims that its members are the true Principlists. Although Mesbah has declared that he is not the leader of the JPEE, no one believes him. Other prominent JPEE members include Gholam Hossein Elham, currently Ahmadinejad's adviser for legal affairs, and hardline clerics Hamid Rasaei and Ruhollah Hosseinian, the latter of whom has been accused of involvement in the infamous Chain Murders in the 1990s.
The JPEE has been accused by many of having secret links with the "perverted [or deviationist] group" -- Rahim Mashaei and his inner circle. Maverick Majles deputy Ali Motahari has warned, "If the JPEE takes control of the country, Iran will be destroyed. The views of the JPEE are very dangerous. It is a tool in the hands of Ahmadinejad and Rahim Mashaei." Quietly, Mesbah has set up many other organizations in order to spread his influence. The Haghani Seminary in Qom used to be his base of power, and many of its graduates have held important positions within the political system and the judiciary, including five out of six intelligence ministers after the 1979 Revolution. His other power bases include the Baqir ul-Uloom Cultural Foundation, the Imam Khomeini Educational and Research Organization and its alumni organization, the Office for Cultural Research, the Toloo Society, and the Ammar Cultural Headquarters. The magazine Parto Sokhan is published by Mesbah's disciple Ghasem Ravanbakhsh.
Public Confrontation with Khamenei
Many believe that the 2009 presidential election was fraudulent, for which there is considerable evidence. The evidence revealed most recently is what Ahmadinejad reportedly told the staff of IRNA, Iran's official news agency. In a meeting with the agency's staff, he said, "Mr. Khamenei kept me as the president to preserve his own forces, because [he knew that] if Mousavi were elected, he would eliminate his office." In the same meeting, Ahmadinejad reportedly told the staff that he believed that he received 35 million, not 24 million, votes in the 2009 elections, but that his vote was undercounted. This, of course, is in contradiction with his statement regarding Khamenei's support but, regardless, he began pulling away from the Supreme Leader.
But Khamenei, in turn, had also sensed that the man he had supported was not going to be obedient. On the day he certified Ahmadinejad as president, as part of the constitutional process, he publicly qualified his support. Then he blocked the appointment of Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's close friend, adviser, and father-in-law of his son, as first vice president. Kayhan, the hardline daily that often expresses Khamenei's view, had already demanded Ahmadinejad expel Mashaei from his cabinet. He ignored the pressure and resisted Khamenei's order to remove Mashaei from the post for one week. He wrote a terse, purely formal letter to the Khamenei and fired Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Hossein Saffar Harandi, who had criticized him for not carrying out the Khamenei's order immediately. Khamenei also imposed Moslehi as intelligence minister and Mostafa Mohammad Najar, a Guard brigadier general with whom he has good relations, as the interior minister, and blocked Ahmadinejad's bid to fire then Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in Auhust 2009 [he was fired by Ahmadinejad later].
In separating themselves from Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and his inner circle have developed a multi-pronged strategy, which is as follows.
Trying to Gain the Support of the Green Movement
A little noticed fact is that Ahmadinejad and his inner circle have been essentially silent about the Green Movement. Two days after the 2009 election, at a rally of his supporters, Ahmadinejad referred to the Green Movement as khas-o khashak (dust and trash), but since then he and his inner circle have let Khamenei and his faction lead the attack on the movement, hence redirecting people's anger toward them. Mashaei was recently quoted saying to his supporters, "We want to tell the Reformists that what Khatami promised, but could not deliver, is being done by us," hence saying that the Reformists should support him and Ahmadinejad.
Invoking Iranian Nationalism
Ahmadinejad, Mashaei, and their inner circle began invoking symbols of Iranian culture's glorious history, in an effort to appeal to Iranians' fierce nationalism. The government made arrangements to bring to Tehran in September 2010, for the first time since the 1979 Revolution, the Cyrus Cylinder, which is held by the British Museum. The Cyrus Cylinder, inscribed in Akkadian cuneiform with an account by Cyrus the Great (circa 600-529 BCE), is considered by some to be the world's first human rights charter. That angered the ultra-conservatives and reactionaries, because for the first time since the 1979 Revolution a senior official was paying tribute to the history of pre-Islamic Iran. Moslehi publicly labeled Ahmadinejad's appeal to nationalism a policy perpetrated by Iran's enemies. Basij commander Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naghdi said, "Just because there have been kings in our history does not mean that we should be proud of them." He also rebuked the president's chief of staff: "Mashaei pays more attention to the Cyrus Cylinder than to the pious people."
Ever since the 1979 Revolution, the ruling clerics have been trying to eliminate Nowruz, the beginning of the Iranian New Year on March 21 -- a tradition that goes back thousands of years, as the most important historical and cultural event in Iran. In contrast, in March 2010 Ahmadinejad and Mashaei began publicly celebrating Nowruz. In 2011 they invited several heads of neighboring states to a Nowruz celebration planned for the ancient city of Persepolis. That again angered the hardliners, who likened it to what Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi did in 1971, when he hosted a lavish event in Persepolis commemorating 2,500 years of Iranian monarchy, which was attended by dozens of heads of state. Ahmadinejad was forced to move the celebration to Tehran.
Ahmadinejad and Mashaei also began talking about an "Iranian school of thought," seemingly pitting it against Islam -- or more precisely, the reactionary interpretation of Islamic teaching espoused by Khamenei, Mesbah, and their clerical support that has provided the ideological backbone of the Islamic Republic. In August 2010, at a conference of Iranian expatriates in Tehran, Mashaei said,
Some people criticize me and say why you do not speak of the Islamic school but rather the Iranian school of thought. I responded, there are many interpretations of the Islamic school, but what we understand about the truth about Iran and Islam is the Iranian school of thought that we must introduce to the world.
He was fiercely criticized by the reactionary clerics. Even Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, chief of staff of the armed forces, criticized him. Khamenei said that he did not agree with his chief of staff, but also that he believed Mashaei did not intend to pose Iran in opposition to Islam. Mashaei did not back down. He asserted, "What I said was not new, but was what the Imam [Khomeini] said. Today there are varieties of thinking about Islam. Do we accept them all? [No,] we accept the Islam that exists in Iran." The clerics who back Khamenei feel threatened by such language, which they perceive as indicating that Ahmadinejad and his supporters wish to eliminate them from the power hierarchy. Their anger was fueled when Mashaei declared, "Some people do not understand music, and therefore declare it haram [religiously forbidden]."
Discussing the great Iranian scientist Abu Ali al-usayn ibn Abd Allah ibn Sinaa, commonly referred to as Bu-Ali Sina -- in the West, Avicenna -- Mashaei said in January 2010, "Perhaps he stood tall among his contemporaries and was a source of pride. But he is not supposed to be a source of honor 1,000 years later, because that goes to show the [subsequent cultural and scientific] poverty of the nation. Noah lived for 950 years, but could not manage well. If each prophet had managed his work properly and had created a just society, there would have been no need for the next prophet. This is not what I say, but what the Holy Qur'an says." That enraged the conservative clerics, to the point that some called on him to "repent."
In August 2008, when Mashaei was a vice president and head of the Organization for Cultural Heritage and Tourism, he said, "I proudly declare that the people of Iran are not the enemy of anyone and have no enemy anywhere. Our people are friends with the people of the world, even with the people of Israel." In a political system in which a central pillar of foreign policy is opposition to Israel, talking about friendship with the Israeli people is a grave violation of taboo. Two hundred Majles deputies wrote a letter to Ahmadinejad condemning what Mashaei had said, and asked the president to take action against him. Ahmadinejad and Mashaei paid no attention to the protests and pushed forward.
Supporting Social Freedom for Women
The two men also began talking about expanding social (not political) freedom for the youth, letting women into sports arenas, and similar steps. Mashaei once said, "In Iran, the use of the hejab [Islamic cover for women] is voluntary, and the government does not pressure anyone to use it." When the commander of the national police, Brigadier General Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam -- Ahmadinejad's brother-in-law -- was asked why the police do not confront women with "bad" hejab, he responded, "Mr. President asked us not to bother the young people." Mashaei also said, "To obstruct people from happiness is insulting Islam, and use of black [clothes] is makrouh [to be avoided]." Mashaei was talking about the fact that the police often raid private parties and arrest young people, and that many conservatives wear black outfits. These statements are all meant to attract at least a part of the middle class that desires primarily more social freedom.
Rejecting Khamenei as Mahdi’s "Deputy"
Almost from the beginning, Ahmadinejad and Mashaei began invoking the Mahdi, Shiism's 12th Imam, but in a way that is not to the clerics' liking. One of Ahmadinejad's early pronouncements as President was that the Mahdi would return "within two years." Since then he has claimed that the reason the United States invaded Iraq was that it wanted to prevent Mahdi's return and that he has documents which prove his assertion. He subsequently asserted that the United States is the most important impediment to the return of the Mahdi. In a speech in Mashhad, he declared, "It is Imam Mahdi that runs the world." But, why does Ahmadinejad make such statements?
According to Khamenei's supporters, he is the Mahdi's deputy in his absence, and it is through him that people can connect with the hidden Imam. But if Ahmadinejad can constantly give people "news" about the hidden Imam, which means that he is directly "linked" with him, why would he need Khamenei or the clerics in general for that matter? Ahmadinejad once said in reference to Khamenei, "Hazrat-e Agha [His Excellency] is a good man and leader, but there are other people who are in constant and direct contact with Emam-e Zaman [Imam Mahdi]." He was clearly referring to himself and perhaps Mashaei. Ahmadinejad’s supporters even distributed a documentary film, The Appearance Is Imminent, which claims that the Mahdi will soon reemerge and that Ahmadinejad will be one of his key aides, is another facet of this effort.
By advancing such views, Ahmadinejad has separated himself from many of his formerly ardent supporters. When Mesbah criticized him for supporting Mashaei, Ahmadinejad said, "Mr. Mesbah does not remember that before we took over [the presidency], no one took him seriously." Mesbah countered that "the Freemasons have penetrated the government"; he also accused Ahmadinejad's inner circle of "betrayal" by speaking about an "Iranian Islam." In another attempt to discredit Ahmadinejad and Mashaei, Khamenei supporters such as Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari – the IRGC chief -- Mesbah and Haddad Adel accused Ahmadinejad and Mashaei of exploiting people's superstitions. They even claimed that Ahmadinejad is under a sorcerer’s spell.
Firing Khamenei’s Ministers
Although not mentioned in the Constitution, Khamenei has traditionally had the final word on the appointments of four key ministers in the national security domains, namely, ministers of interior, intelligence, foreign affairs and defense. But, another manifestation of Ahmadinejad’s independence from Khamenei has been his firing of such ministers without consulting Khamenei, and trying to appoint his own men.
Ahmadinejad fired his first Interior Minister, hardliner cleric Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, after he reported to Khamenei without the President’s knowledge on the irregularities in the Majles elections of 2008, reportedly committed by Ahmadinejad’s supporters. He fired his first Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehei [currently the country’s prosecutor and the judiciary spokesman] because he criticized him over Ahmadinejad’s attempt to appoint Mashaei as his First Vice President (Iran has eight VPs). He was never happy with his first Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, particularly because Mottaki was campaign manager for Ali Larijani during his run for presidency in 2005. Thus, he fired him while he was on an official trip to Senegal.
But, Ahmadinejad’s attempt to fire Minister of Intelligence Heidar Moslehi was the key factor in publicizing the rift between the two men. The president wanted to appoint his own men to the post, because he wanted to have full control on the intelligence apparatus. The ministry has vast amounts of information about the depth of corruption among Khamenei's supporters, political assassinations, torture in prisons, and what happened behind the scenes prior to and during the 2009 election. Ahmadinejad probably wanted to use the information at a pivotal juncture to discredit his opponents. Khamenei and his supporters also recognized the possibility, which is why they began speaking about removing the ministry from the executive branch of government and transforming it into the "Organization for Intelligence and Security," which would be controlled directly by Khamenei.
Thus, Ahmadinejad forced Moslehi to resign, but was overruled by Khamenei. To show his anger, he refused to show up in his office for 11 days. Only when a delegation of the Majles deputies warned him that unless he returns to work, he will be impeached by the parliament, he agreed to return. Ever since then, Ahmadinejad has gone out of his way to indicate his differences with Khamenei.
Making Revelations about Corruption
A key tactic that Ahmadinejad has used to confront Khamenei and his supporters has been threatening to reveal secret information on the depth of corruption by Khamenei’s supporters. After the episode over Moslehi’s firing was publicized, Ahmadinejad’s supporters in the cyberspace and in the media began threatening that they would publish documents showing wgo has plundered the nation’s resources. When his First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi was accused of leading a ring that embezzled vast sums from an insurance company and the judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani informed him that Rahimi was being investigated, Ahmadinejad reportedly told him, "I am fine with it, so long as you also investigate your own brother" Mohammad Javad Larijani, Sadegh’s deputy for human rights, who has been accused of taking illegal possession of vast agricultural lands southeast of Tehran [a friend who lives in that area has confirmed to the author control of the lands by him].
In the most recent revelation on Sunday February 3, when the Majles was debating impeachment of Ahmadinejad’s Minister of Labor, Cooperatives, and Social Security, Abdolreza Sheikholeslami, the president played a secretly-recorded tape of a conversation between Fazel Larijani, a brother of the Majles Speaker Ali Larijani and the judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani, in which Fazel Larijani was asking a key aide to Ahmadinejad, the infamous former judge Saeed Mortazavi who has been accused of involvement in many crimes, to help him obtain lucrative consulting work and projects. That created uproar in the country. The Khamenei camp responded by arresting Mortazavi, to which the Ahmadinejad camp responded by posting on YouTube two full tape records of Fazel Larijani seemingly involved in illegal activities. Abdolreza Davari, head of Center for Strategic Studies in the Ministry of Interior also claimed that "Ahmadinejad has publicized only one document out of thousands of such documents that he has regarding the corruption of various people." But, as of writing this article, it is not clear how Khamenei himself will respond. It has been reported that that he met unexpectedly with the judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani, but no details of the meeting have been publicized. During the meeting Khamenei might have ordered the Larijani brothers to keep silent, even if provoked by Ahmadinejad. Saeed Mortazavi was released from detention after the meeting.
Ahmadinejad has also stated that his administration has submitted a list of 300 corrupt officials and clerics to the judiciary, but the judiciary has not taken any action.
Accusing Khamenei of Unconstitutional Acts
Ahmadinejad has even accused Khamenei implicitly of exceeding his authority and suggesting to the Majles to undertake unconstitutional acts. In a meeting with Majles deputies in 2011, Khamenei suggested that parliament form a commission to oversee the performance of its members and even disqualify them if they act in a way that is against the interests of the nezaam [state], which was widely interpreted as an attempt by Khamenei to exert tighter control over the legislature. After extensive debate, during which some relatively independent deputies opposed the creation of such a commission -- Ali Motahari said that it would make the Majles "a branch of the office of the Supreme Leader" -- a law authorizing its establishment was approved.
Khamenei also set up a council last year with the mandate of resolving the differences between the heads of the three branches of the political system. The council is headed by former judiciary chief Ayatollah Sayyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi. In May 2012 Ahmadinejad sent a letter to Shahroudi in which he asserted that the law establishing the Majles oversight commission was unconstitutional because, according to him, it discriminates between ordinary Iranians and their parliamentary representatives, insofar as it grants sitting deputies some degree of immunity from prosecution not afforded to the common people.
Taking on the IRGC
Recognizing that the IRGC is the key backer of Khamenei, Ahmadfinejad has also taken on the military. He has spoken publicly several times against intervention of the IRGC in the economics affairs, ignoring, of course, his own role in allowing the IRGC to get involved in the national economy by granting the IRGC-owned companies projects worth tens of billions of dollars. In one speech he referred to the IRGC officers as "baraadaraan-e ghaachaaghchi ma [our brothers who import things into the country illegally]," accusing them of using jetties outside the control of the custom office. Most recently, Ahmadinejad said that the IRGC should relinquish the control of large pieces of land in and around Tehran, so that it can be used for building low-cost housing units for the poor. Such populist postures by Ahmadinejad have further alienated the IRGC. Many of the IRGC officers have made it clear that they are waiting for Ahmadinejad’s second term to finish, after which they will go after him.
The 2013 Presidential Elections
Since the constitution does not allow Ahmadinejad to run for the third time in a row, he and his supporters have been maneuvering to field a strong candidate for the June 2013 presidential elections. It is widely believed that the candidate will be Mashaei. The hardliners around Khamenei have been threatening that they will not allow any prominent supporter of the Ahmadinejad to run, declaring him disqualified through the Guardian Council. But, Ahmadinehjad has been on the offensive, and will not give up easily.
First, he has threatened that if his supporters are not allowed to have their own candidate in the upcoming election, his administration may refuse to hold the elections, or at the very least postpone them.
Second, he has been trying to increase the cash handouts that his government provides the people with, in lieu of the subsidies on basic food and energy items that the government has been phasing out. The fact is, while the amount of cash that he proposes to give the people will not make a dent in the living expense of the people living in large cities, it will make a significant difference for those living ion smaller towns and villages. In essence, Ahmadinejad has created an "army" of people who depend on the cash subsidies.
Third, he has made repeated threats that he will reveal corruption among the leading hardline supporters of Khamenei. This was already discussed.
The End Game
Can Ahmadinejad and Mashaei succeed? They have been reported as saying that they are ready to be "martyred" for their cause. Whether the two will end up dead is not clear, but what is clear is that Ahmadinejad and his inner circles along moving along a path with no return. They have damaged irreparably their relations with Khamenei and his supporters.
The two men's calculations are based on the assumption that Ahmadinejad does have his own electoral base, independent of Khamenei and his supporters, whose members they can bring out whenever necessary. But, whatever support that Ahmadinejad has among the poor and destitute has not translated directly into public expression of support. While many admit grudgingly that they admire Ahmadinejad’s guts for taking on Khamenei and his powerful supporters, they also know that the seemingly courageous acts is not meant to benefit the people, but for the survival of Ahmadinejad and his camp. The best evidence is that the President and his camp have been completely silent about the violent suppression of the peaceful demonstrations after the 2009 elections, and have not said a word to protest the arrest of thousands of people and false and illegal incarceration of hundreds of the best children of Iran.
At the same time, when during the saga over Moslehi Ahmadinejad stayed home to protest Khamenei’s order to reinstate the minister of intelligence, he was hoping that there would be street demonstrations by his supporters. But, nothing happened, which only goes to show that, although the public may consider him as a politician with guts, he has no ardent supporters, of the type that the Green Movement has, who are willing to risk everything to defend what they believe in.
All of this makes it clear that, at least as for now, the confrontation between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei and their respective supporters is not one between the people and the ruling elite. The root causes of the confrontation between the two camps are their views about governing a nation, which are the same: backward and reactionary. The confrontation is strictly between two factions of the conservatives and hardliners. In Khamenei's camp are the top leadership of the military/security/intelli gence establishment, reactionary clerics, and part of the Basij forces. They are worried about Mashaei, believing that if he ever becomes president, he will eliminate the clerics from power, which is why they refer to him and his inner circle as the "perverted" or "deviationist team," meaning that they have deviated from Khamenei’s "teachings." When a cleric close to Mashaei, Abbas Amirifar, strongly criticized supporters of Khamenei and declared that Mashaei is completely qualified to be the next president, he was arrested quickly.
Where is the confrontation between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei headed? The Supreme Leader's supporters have been arresting the inner circle of Ahmadinejad and Mashaei, just as they did to many associates of Mousavi, Khatami, Karroubi, and even Rafsanjani. They may well arrest most or all of their allies who occupy important positions, or purge them. The goal has been to isolate Ahmadinejad, weaken him, and then try to tolerate him until his term expires in August.
Khamenei the Loser
Regardless of the outcome, and no matter what happens to Ahmadinejad, Khamenei is already the major loser. He is the one who supported Ahmadinejad to the hilt, authorized the violent crackdown on the peaceful demonstrators in the wake of the 2009 election, and cut off relations with some of his oldest and most loyal friends to demonstrate his "authority." His calls for calm between Ahmadinejad and the executive branch of the government with the other two branches headed by the Larijani brothers have been ignored. He has no truly reliable supporter that can be presented as a viable candidate for the presidency and is capable of exciting people, bringing them to polling stations, and attracting a large number of votes. And, by supporting Ahmadinejad’s adventurous foreign policy and hardline toward the nuclear program, he has succeeded in isolating Iran, with the result being the imposition of the most unprecedented economic sanctions that may give rise to street riots over the next several months. The political wounds that Khamenei has taken are too numerous to count.
Most crucially, the taboo of a president standing up to the Supreme Leader has been broken. Khamenei himself tried to do this to Khomeini over Mousavi's premiership in 1985, but was quickly marginalized. Ahmadinejad has yet to be marginalized, has demonstrated that he does not like to be used as a tool by Khamenei, and that it is the Supreme Leader who may actually need him. He is well aware of all the corruption, as well as all the fraud that has been committed in past elections, and recognizes that Khamenei created too many enemies for himself in every strata of the society to keep him around as the president. He has also made it clear to Khamenei that he is not his president, but Imam Mahdi's.
Given the volatile nature of Iranian politics and the unpredictability of Ahmadinejad's decision-making process, anything is possible from now until the June elections. The confrontation between the two camps is by no means over. The democratic Green Movement and the people will benefit if they patiently watch, and let the two camps destroy each other.