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Iran Analysis: The "Opposition Within" and the Regime

Our running analysis at EA has been of a political conflict in Iran which is far more than just Green Movement v. Regime. One aspect of this has been the disputes and tensions between members of the Iranian establishment. Writing for, Arash Aramesh develops this theme:

Recent statements made by high-ranking conservatives in Iran and the reaction of ultra conservatives to those statements have lead many Iran watchers to believe that the rift within the conservative establishment s is widening. The most recent instance was the war of words between Ali Motahhari, a conservative member of parliament, and Hossein Shariatmadari, the ultra conservative editor-in-chief of Kayhan and a staunch supporter of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

There are other instances of such clashes. For example, the radical Ansar News published an article by Fatemeh Rajabi, the wife of Gholam-Hossein Elham who is now a member of the Guardian Council, accusing Ali Larijani, the speaker of parliament, of aiding the opposition.

Latest Iran News (16 January): Ripples

The resignation of Ruhollah Hosseinian, a pro-Ahmadinejad deputy in parliament, was another episode highlighting the widening cleavage among conservatives. In his letter of resignation sent to Larijani, Hosseinian accused some conservatives, including the leadership of the parliament, of assisting the reformists and isolating true conservatives like himself. [Editor's Note: Hosseinian, in a direct letter to the Supreme Leader, rescinded his resignation this week.]

There are two theories about this apparent rift. A number of observers and political activists, who spoke to on the condition of anonymity, believe that the ruling establishment is trying to trade in the reformists and the Green Movement for a moderate conservative alternative. These moderate conservatives include senior Iranian officials such as Larijani, Mohammad-Reza Bahonar, the deputy speaker of parliament, and Mohsen Rezaei, the former commander of the IRGC and candidate in the June 12 presidential election, and others.

All of those mentioned above come from a conservative political line with close ties to the bazaar and traditional clerics. They are more moderate in their criticism of the opposition and at times voiced their dissatisfaction about the government’s treatment of protestors and the handling of events following the June 12 election. Some even called for national unity suggesting that the elders of the tribe meet to discuss the current crisis. Two weeks ago, Rezaei wrote a letter supporting a statement issued by Mir Hossein Moussavi and asked the Supreme Leader to lead the country in the direction of unity and closure. Rezaei’s letter, which was written with ultimate respect to the Supreme Leader, received an angry response from the radical wing of the Islamic Republic.

According to these observers, the Islamic Republic is waging an orchestrated effort to introduce viable anti-Ahmadinejad alternatives to the public in order to diminish the influence of figures such as Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Arab governments have taken similar steps to boost the popularity of Islamists they support who then become rivals to more established Islamic groups opposed to the state.

The second theory advanced by a number of political commentators revolves around the notion of “regime survival.” Members of this group believe that some conservatives, who do not approve of Ahmadinejad’s radicalism, are genuinely worried about the survival of the Islamic Republic. Moderate conservatives also fear that their fate might soon mirror that of the reformists, who have been tortured and imprisoned.

The Ahmadinejad wing and the IRGC have dramatically expanded their sphere of influence in all three branches of government. The executive branch is now entirely in their hands, while many members of parliament have close ties to the IRGC and belong to the pro-Ahmadinejad faction. In the judiciary, the appointment of IRGC Brig Gen. Zolghadr to the post of Advisor to Chief Justice was an unprecedented move. Zolghadr, who has no legal experience, is one of IRGC’s most radical generals with close ties to Supreme Leader Khamenei.

Moderate conservatives in Iran are concerned. Their ideological differences with the reformists bars them from forming a viable coalition with them. At the same time, they fear the policies of the radicals can gravely jeopardize their political survival, and the survival of the Islamic Republic.

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