The Real Threat to Iran’s Clerics


iranian divide2.jpg
Afshin Molavi astutely noted yesterday in New America’s debate on the Iranian election aftermath that some of the most important events took place prior to the election – that is, during the electoral debates where Ahmadinejad took on the clerical establishment accusing them, with Rafsanjani as the symbol, of a self-interested betrayal of the revolution.
Stratfor’s George Friedman appears to concur arguing the real divide now is not between the reformers and revolutionaries but between the old guard clergy and Ahmadinejad’s new guard including major security services (but also backed by some hardline clergy like Ayatollah Yazdi), while the twittering classes are a much smaller faction and pawn in the bigger battle of elites. Friedman writes:

The clerics are divided among themselves, but many wanted to see Ahmadinejad lose to protect their own interests. Khamenei, the supreme leader, faced a difficult choice last Friday. He could demand a major recount or even new elections, or he could validate what happened. Khamenei speaks for a sizable chunk of the ruling elite, but also has had to rule by consensus among both clerical and non-clerical forces. Many powerful clerics like Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani wanted Khamenei to reverse the election, and we suspect Khamenei wished he could have found a way to do it. But as the defender of the regime, he was afraid to. Mousavi supporters’ demonstrations would have been nothing compared to the firestorm among Ahmadinejad supporters — both voters and the security forces — had their candidate been denied. Khamenei wasn’t going to flirt with disaster, so he endorsed the outcome.

I find this a bit curious as the IRGC and Basij are often depicted as loyal to and under the command of the Supreme Leader. But this account suggests that Khamenei must vie for their support and be concerned about their defection, adding another layer of palace intrigue. During the 1979 revolution, the IRGC was set up by the insurgent clerics as a parallel security force, ostensibly to safeguard them and the revolution, in part from the untrustworthy Iranian military that retained loyalties to the Shah. Now it seems the force they created has the potential to turn on them.
What’s puzzling to me then is why the clerical elites, in theory sitting atop the theocratic hierarchy, cannot rhetorically outflank and denounce Ahmadinejad and his ilk as the real threat to the Islamic republic and the revolution. Perhaps he has more artfully and successfully appropriated the mantle of the revolution or perhaps – what I think Friedman is suggesting — because they clerics are worried Ahmadinejad actually commands the backing of a committed, pious, and possibly armed plurality of Iranians. After all the IRGC is at least one-tenth the strength of the Iranian military, though with a larger share of resources, and the Basij loyalists (if not actual trained reservists) compose 20% of the Iranian population.
— Sameer Lalwani


9 comments on “The Real Threat to Iran’s Clerics

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *