By Nader Uskowi
The prevalent norm in otherwise rough-and-tumble politics of the Islamic Republic has always put the supreme leader above the political fray and factional politics. The executive and legislative branches, led by the president and the speaker of Majlis, were understood not to challenge the supreme authority of the leader and refrain from actions and policies that would run against the leader’s strong preferences, and the leader would in turn refrain from interfering in the business of running the government. In 1981, the first president of the Islamic Republic was impeached and forced into exile for creating a presidency independent of the supreme leader and the clerical establishment, breaking the rules of conduct at the senior levels of the regime. The old norms are being challenged again, this time by none other than Ahmadinejad who could stay in power for a second term only after the supreme leader openly sided with him during the post-election dispute.
Upon his re-election, Ahmadinejad chose his close confidant, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, to become his first vice president, a post equivalent to a prime minister. Khamenei openly objected to Mashaie’s selection and issued a rare edict, ordering Ahmadinejad to remove him from his post. Ahmadinejad did that only to name Mashaie as his chief of staff and practically giving him all the powers of the first vice presidency, openly challenging the supreme leader’s authority. The action followed by Ahmadinejad’s repeated challenges of the authority of the Majlis in approving government’s policies. The supreme leader openly requested and later ordered him to accept the constitutional prerogatives of the Majlis but to no avail.
Then came the matter of the minister of intelligence. Ahmadinejad fired him, and Khamenei reinstated him hours later. And things started getting uglier from there. Ahmadinejad’s presidential website carried the story of the minister’s resignation, but declined to publish Khamenei’s letter of reinstatement for more than two days. The official news agency IRNA, controlled by the government, likewise delayed publishing Khamenei’s letter only to publish it later after altering the content. The unprecedented action brought about fierce protest by the office of the supreme leader.
And on Saturday, Khamenei inflamed the already tense situation that exists between him and Ahmadinejad by declaring that he will intervene in government affairs anytime he feels the government’s decisions are against the interests of the Islamic Republic.
“I won't allow, as long as I'm alive, an iota of deviation of this massive movement of the nation," Khamenei said.
"In principle, I have no intention to intervene in government affairs unless I feel an expediency is being ignored as it was the case recently," Khamenei added, referring to the dismissal of the intelligence minister by Ahmadinejad. "With the help of God, I firmly stand by our right stance," he declared [IRIB, 23 April].
The established norms are being challenged by Ahmadinejad and less than a year from arguably the most important parliamentary elections in the Islamic Republic, three distinct political groupings are emerging from within the senior ranks of the regime.
- Khamenei and the clerical establishment, still the backbone of the Islamic Republic, with vast powers and control over the most critical institutions of the country.
- Ahmadinejad, Mashaie and company, challenging Khamenei’s undisputed authorities and powers, and those of the clerical establishment, and introducing a nationalistic and romantic narrative of Iran, a main source of dispute with the clerical establishment and their Islamic narrative of the country. The group also claims direct contact with the Hidden Imam without the help of the cleric intermediaries.
- Khatami, Mousavi, Karubi, Rafsanjani and company, targeting Ahmadinejad and his government, without challenging Khamenei, although the supreme leader sided with Ahmadinejad against them during the presidential election. The group will be vying for Majlis representation next year and eventually for executive powers but believes in keeping the supreme leadership of Khamenei and the powers of the clerical establishment intact.
Ironically the Green Movement who was born in support of Mousavi’s challenge to Ahmadinejad’s presidency, and other grass root movements expected to rise to compete in the upcoming parliamentary elections, will find themselves at a crossroad: either supporting Khatami, Mousavi and company, practically accepting the continuation of Khamenei’s supreme leadership and the powers of the clerical establishment, or side with Ahmadinejad, Mashaie and company in direct challenge to Khamenei and the clergy. After all, it is Ahmadinejad who is proclaiming a new normal, challenging the authority of the supreme leader and the clergy, and emphasizing a nationalistic narrative of the country, all agreeable to the youths and what is left of the Greens.
File Photo: Mehr News Agency