Twenty months after the ‘stolen elections’ that saw the largest nationwide protests since the 1979 revolution, Iran’s leadership is still in place. Widespread protests on 14 February showed that the opposition remains resilient and creative: capable of using technology as a channel of defiance and of mobilizing large numbers of people in the public arena.
Once again Iranian cyberspace has been abuzz for days with calls for protests on Tuesday (1 March in the Western calendar, 10 Esfand in Iran) in response to the news of the detention of opposition leaders, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Only time will tell how protesters will fare in the battle against the drenching security that will meet them.
Nonetheless within Iran’s Byzantine system other major battles are taking place behind closed doors.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s nemesis Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani chairs Iran’s two major governing bodies, the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Council. We are fast approaching a closed session of the Assembly of Experts on 8 to 9 March when Rafsanjani will be standing for re-election. This is a body that accused Ahmadinejad earlier this month of ‘undermining the system and instigating Iran’s enemies both within and outside the country’.
Rafsanjani in turn has been a target of attacks in an open campaign for his removal. This has included extensive condemnation from intimate allies of Ahmadinejad to their live televised gathering where they openly chanted for his death. Last week even saw the release of videophone footage – that went viral when released on YouTube – of Rafsanjani’s daughter being attacked while attending a family funeral.
The film shows Faezeh Hashemi while a ‘plainclothes’ assailant threatens to ‘rip her apart’. He calls her a ‘whore’, a ‘bastard’ and a ‘child of a dog’. Meanwhile her nephew, who, when confronted, introduces himself as her ‘bodyguard’, is assaulted with the electric batons that are restricted to the security forces.
Such footage highlights the brutal struggle for the direction of Iran; be it on the streets or behind closed doors. Yet allies of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad such as Ayatollah Mesabah Yazdi (Ahmadinejad’s guru and patron) constitute a minority of the 86 conservative ayatollahs that make up the Assembly of Experts. Looking at the names involved reveals this election to be largely a contest between the right and extreme right. But a Rafsanjani loss seems highly unlikely.
The inner core of the security élite that in mid-2009 chose to side with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has in the end more to contend with than the protesters taking to the streets.
1 MARCH STOP PRESS:
Iranian police have fired tear gas at opposition supporters during demonstrations in the capital Tehran, reports say.
8 MARCH STOP PRESS:
In a surprise move today – on the day of the ballot – Hashemi Rafsanjani announced that he would be withdrawing from the race in favour of Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani.
This follows the very recent surprise resignation by his son Mohsen Hashemi who had headed the construction of the Tehrans Metro for some years.