Whatever the outcome of the current power struggle in Tehran, one thing is certain: the ruling establishment is split down the middle, with little possibility of reconciliation in the near future.
One could see the split in all the constituencies that together form the Khomeinist establishment.
The politically active segment of the Shiite clergy is split, with some senior mullahs like Hussein-Ali Montazeri, Abdul-Karim Mousavi Ardebili, and Yousef Sanei, siding with the opposition.
On the other hand, other senior mullahs such as Muhammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, Ahmad Jannati, and Ahmad Khatami support the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei who has emerged as the regime’s field commander.
The military are equally split.
Some, like Defense Minister General Mostafa Muhammad Najjar and Interior Minister General Sadeq Mahsouli have sided with Khamenei’s new hard-line stance.
Others like Admiral Ali Shamkhani, a former defense minister, and General Yahya Rahim Safavi, a former Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), have indicated support for the opposition.
The split in the IRGC may be deeper than many suspect.
According to unconfirmed reports, at least 17 mid-ranking IRGC officers have been relieved of their posts. A senior commander, General Ali Fazli, who led the elite “Master of the Martyrs’ Division”, has been “reassigned” after refusing to order troops to crush the demonstrators.
The position of General Muhammad-Ali Jaafari, the IRGC’s Commander, remains an enigma. Although promoted under Ahmadinejad, he has, on occasions, indicated unhappiness with the president’s style, if not the substance of policies.
General Hassan Firuzabadi, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, and the country’s most senior military figure, has also tried to remain neutral, although some claim that his sympathies lie with the opposition.
Among senior technocrats, some like former Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Velayati, have rallied to the “Supreme Guide” without ifs and buts. Others like Gholam-Reza Aghazadeh, who heads the nuclear project, and former Foreign Minister Kamaleddin Kharrazi, have indicated support for the opposition. Deputy Oil Minister Akbar Torkan has just been dismissed because of suspected sympathies for the opposition.
Other influential figures such as General Muhammad-Baqer Qalibaf, the Mayor of Tehran, and Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Islamic Majlis, Iran’s ersatz parliament, have tried to sit on the fence, making noises in support of the opposition one day and professing loyalty to the “Supreme Guide” the next.
The current showdown has also divided Iran’s academic elite.
More than 400 university professors and faculty deans have resigned in protest against the alleged rigging of the election.
In contrast, hundreds of academics have rallied behind Ahmadinejad and condemned Mousavi for “doing the work of the enemies of the regime.”
The merchant class of the bazaars, a mainstay of the Khomeinist regime,
is also split between supporters and opponents of the regime.
In recent days, rival appeals have been published for the bazaar to shut down in protest at the election results or to celebrate Ahmadinejad’s “historic victory.”
Initially, some in the West, including some of US President Barack Hussein Obama’s advisors, claimed that the pro-Mousavi’s revolt was little more than an expression of anger by Iran’s upper middle classes and “the golden youth” of Tehran’s wealthy districts. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Today, the two camps are present throughout Iranian society, cutting across class, regional, and age boundaries. Mousavi enjoys much support among both the rural and urban poor while Ahmadinejad has partisans among the rich even in the posh districts of Tehran.
It would be interesting to see what happens when some of the key organs of the regime hold their next meetings.
Take the High Council of National Defense. Both Ahmadinejad and Mousavi are ex-officio members along with other players such as former presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. One half might side with Mousavi, the other half with Ahmadinejad.
Then we have the pompously named Council for the Discernment of the Interests of the Established Order, or the Expediency Council for short. It is headed by Rafsanjani, with General Mohsen Rezai Mir-Qaed, one of the three defeated presidential candidates, as secretary-general.
And, yet, at least half of the council’s members have expressed support for Ahmadinejad.
A similar situation exists in the Assembly of Experts, a 92-mullah organ whose task is to supervise the work of the “Supreme Guide.” Rafsanjani, now regarded as a key figure of the opposition, chairs the assembly. Legally speaking, the assembly has the power to impeach Khamenei and dismiss him as “Supreme Guide”. However, that would require a two-third majority that Rafsanjani is not able to produce at this time.
The split in the Islamic Majlis, the ersatz parliament, is even more glaring. According to some estimates, a third of the members tilt towards Mousavi with another third favoring Ahmadinejad. The remaining third belongs to the “party of the wind”, siding with whoever may seem to be winning.
Within the Council of Ministers, headed by Ahmadinejad, at least four men are believed to be sympathetic to the opposition, and thus likely to be purged in the coming reshuffle.
Many of the more charismatic figures of the Khomeinist movement broke with it long ago. Among them is former Interior Minister Abdallah Nuri, a mid-ranking cleric, who was a favorite of the late Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini. Nuri is now regarded as the most senior ex-Khomeinist to support regime change in Iran.
The split also extends into the leading families associated with Khomeinism.
One of Khomeini’s granddaughters has emerged as a passionaria for the Mousavi camp. On the other hand, a grandson of the late ayatollah is a propagandist for Ahmadinejad.
Khamenei’s eldest son Mujtaba has become an ardent advocate of Ahmadinejad, touring the country to mobilize support for him. On the other hand, Khamenei’s brother, Hadi, is a supporter of Mehdi Karroubi, one of the defeated presidential candidates, and a vocal opponent of Ahmadinejad.
The 12 June presidential election forced the various rival factions of the regime into two broad camps.
Under different circumstances, this might have evolved into a two-party system, allowing rival factions to alternate by forming the government.
Mousavi might have been allowed to win and form a new administration. Such an outcome would have provided a rather discredited regime with new legitimacy through elections. The system would have remained intact with the defeated faction preserving its chances of returning to power in future elections. Those chances would have been all the stronger because the system does not allow “outsiders” to stand for election.
Now, however, all that we could expect is a bloody showdown at the end of which the winner will launch a massive purge at all levels. In the Khomeinist system, there is no room for compromise, whether at home or in the field of foreign policy.
Amir Taheri’s new book ” The Persian Night: Iran Under the Khomeinist Revolution” is published by Encounter Books in New York and London.