Friday, February 17, 2012

Post #188 - Like it really matters...

Hooshang Amirahmadi heads a group called the American Iranian Council, one of the more pro-Islamic Republic organizations outside Iran itself.  Here is a piece he wrote recently on politics in Iran, for those who are trying to understand the dynamics within that country.

The 2012 Iranian parliamentary elections will take place in early March at a time of discords [sic] within the power elite and international pressure on the Islamic regime to suspend uranium enrichment. However, what makes these tightest elections ever held by the Islamic Republic even more uncommon is the fierce competition, for the first time, between two Islamic conservative and clerical factions who had in the past elections stood on the same side against their reformist rivals. Now that the reformists are sidelined due to the heavy clashes between them and the regime in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential elections, the conservatives are in a ferocious contest amongst themselves over legislative power as a stepping-stone towards grabbing the executive power in the next presidential elections in June 2013.

The two conservative factions are: (1) the traditional conservative Islamic alliance called the United Front of Principalists (jebheye mottahed-e osoulgarayan) led by the current chairman of the Assembly of Experts, Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani; and (2) the ultra-conservative Islamic alliance called the Islamic Constancy Front (jebheye paydari) led by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi. A third group, Supporters of the Administration (of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), has also announced its formation. Mesbah supported Ahmadinejad in 2005 and 2009 presidential elections but is now fervently opposed to him and his supporters for propagating a religious-nationalistic (Islam-e Irani) discourse and because of the discord that sparked between Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei over replacing the Minister of Intelligence.

This election also signals a new turn in the life of the Islamic Republic in that for the first time the loyal religious reformist opposition is not a participant and will not field candidates. Former President Mohammad Khatami has said that his supporters will not participate unless house-arrest condition for Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karubi, leaders of the Green Movement, is lifted and reformist political prisoners are freed. The reformists who did not join the Green Movement, including supporters of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, have a limited presence and it is expected that they win a few seats. Under this condition, the turnout in large cities, where reformists have their main base, will be low, creating an even deeper “legitimacy” problem for the elections and the regime.

The Constancy Front represents the ultra-conservative and anti-West religious elements. For at least two reasons, this Front is not in position to win a majority in the next parliament. First, its candidates are not as broadly recognized as their Principalists rivals; and second, some members of the Front seem to still support Ahmadinejad despite Mesbah’s opposition. However, the Front’s chance will hugely increase if it were to receive support from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its para-military Basij. In the 2005 presidential elections the two forces cooperated to elect Ahmadinejad. Given Mesbah’s radical views, the IRGC could through its support behind his Front. Yet, the likelihood of their cooperation is not very high given Khamanei’s neutral position between the two conservative rivals.

The United Front of Principalists is surely in a stronger position as things stand now and they can even increase their chance of dominating the next parliament if they could secure some backing from the disgruntled supporters of the Green Movement who strongly dislike both Ahmadinejad due to his role in the 2009 elections, and Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi because of his ultra-conservative views. Personalities like Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, Tehran’s popular mayor, Ali Larijani, current Speaker of the parliament, Ahmad Tavakoli, an influential MP and a relentless critic of Ahmadinejad, and Mohsen Rezaei, a former Commander of the IRGC can all help secure support from the moderate Iranians. The key problem facing this Front is personal rivalry among certain members of its leadership, particularly between Haddad Adel, a former Speaker of the Parliament and Ali Larijani.

Supporters of the Administration faction are also counting on some support from the moderate Iranians largely because they have espoused nationalistic and anti-clerical sentiments. The camp, labeled as deviators by their conservative opponents, has also support among the poor and dwellers of towns and villages. However, it faces two major problems. First, in the big cities, its candidates have been disqualified by the Guardian Council; and second, given the discord between Ahmadinejad and Khamanei, the faction have limitations to openly field candidates and undertake an organized campaign. Despite these problems, deviators will be able to elect several followers to the parliament mainly because they control the executive branch and elections at local level are personality based and the Guardian Council may not be able to vet out everyone that might be a supporter.

Iran is a land of surprises and given the current US pressures and Israeli war threat against the Islamic Republic, the chance for unexpected developments is high. In particular, if the war threat was to even slightly materialize or any regime-threatening incident was to happen, the situation can rapidly change in favor of the ultra-conservatives. Such a happening will usher in a disastrous beginning for Iran as well as its nuclear nemesis. Specifically, if the ultra-conservative Constancy Front were to dominate the next parliament, it would attempt to implement Mesbah’s special brand of theocracy, which advocates the elimination of the republican contents of the Islamic Republic in favor of an “Islamic Government” and adoption of an extreme confrontational policy toward the West, especially the US and Israel.

I have included this article simply to highlight the way we tend to separate domestic and international politics.  We don’t usually talk about the Republican primaries and what to do about Iran in the same breath, unless there happens to be a brief (usually hardline) mention in one of the debates.  Likewise, we don’t follow politics in Iran closely enough to know what difference a particular candidacy might make for relations with the West.  If the lives of thousands may depend on such factors, shouldn’t we?

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