Whichever way one looks at it, things are not going well for the Khomeinist regime in Tehran.
The decision-making process is paralysed more or less while the “authorities”, if one could grace the band of bozos in charge with such an appellation, are stumbling from one crisis to another.
At home, the sad saga is punctuated by one anti-regime demonstration after another. The next mass protests are scheduled for next week as the nation marks the traditional “Students Day”.
At the same time, the latest data published by the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) paint the picture of an economic meltdown with double-digit inflation and unemployment wrecking the lives of millions. One sure sign that the country is in crisis is the dramatic increase in the number of appearances by the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei.
Over the past six months, the ayatollah has burst out of the purdah on more occasions than his total appearances in the past decade or so. The idea that the “Supreme Guide”, supposed to represent the “Hidden Imam”, should remain shrouded in a minimum of mysticism is cast aside, transforming Mr. Khamenei into another wrestler engaged in the fight in a mud pit.
In the Khomeinist system, the “Supreme Guide” is supposed to be neutral, standing above factions, ready to promote healing and reconciliation. By becoming one of the fighters involved in a dirty power struggle, Khamenei has deprived the system of its principal safety mechanism.
For his part, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has remained true to his reputation as a bull-in-the-china-shop character who cannot conceive of any compromise.
Other regime grandees are caught on similarly wrong and eventually dangerous trajectories.
Hashemi Rafsanjani, the protean former president, did raise his head above the parapet in a forlorn attempt at promoting compromise. However, with arrows darting towards him from all directions, he decided to withdraw into his cocoon and protect his allegedly ill-gained wealth.
Ali Ardeshir Larijani, the speaker of the ersatz parliament, pursues an even more opportunistic strategy. His hope is that Ahmadinejad and his rivals in the opposition will end up destroying each other, pulling down Khamenei with them. That would open the way for Ali Ardeshir to become President of the Islamic Republic while his elder brother Sadeq Ardeshir, a mullah and currently head of the judiciary, captures the position of “Supreme Guide”.
Watching on the sidelines is General Muhammad-Baqer Qalibaf, the Mayor of Tehran, and one of the most ambitious commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). His game plan is to promote himself as “a national reserve”, the providential man, who would step in after politicians and mullahs have torn each other, and the country, apart.
Not surprisingly, Qalibaf’s secret hero is Reza Khan, the Cossack officer who seized power in 1921 in similar circumstances and went on to become Shah four years later.
At one level, there is nothing wrong with power hungry politicians pursuing personal ambitions. The trouble is that with all key figures of the regime engaged in self-survival or power-grabbing exercises, there is no one to captain the ship of state in these tumultuous times.
There are no negotiations between the authorities and the opposition to seek a way out of the crisis. The new Ahmadinejad administration is visibly incapable of providing a credible strategy. The so-called “Green” opposition is equally unable to offer even a glimpse of a coherent policy platform. Saying “no” does not amount to a strategy, and periodical protest marches are no substitute for policy.
Abroad, the Islamic Republic’s position is even more disastrous.
Earlier this month, President Ahmadinejad toured Brazil, Venezuela and Senegal in a bid to secure some of the legitimacy that eludes him at home. It would be an understatement to suggest that in all three countries he was treated with less deference due to being an Iranian president.
Neither the Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva nor his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez took the trouble to go the airport to welcome Ahmadinejad. Neither offered him the routine state banquet that protocol requires. Chavez, who has benefited from Iranian political and economic support, appeared to have lost much of his fraternal sentiments for his Iranian guest.
In Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, Ahmadinejad had to stand to attention while the pre-revolution Iranian national anthem was played instead of the one introduced by the mullahs in 1979.
In Senegal, President Abdullah Wade made sure that Ahmadinejad’s state visit had none of the frills that the Senegalese put on show when Empress Farah visited Dakar almost 40 years ago. However, the main problem with Ahmadinejad’s failed foreign policy is not protocolary slaps in the face. He has made the nation more isolated and vulnerable than at any time since the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1989.
Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) overwhelmingly approved a new resolution in which the Islamic Republic is accused implicitly of lying and cheating. The IAEA had never insulted any of its members in such terms before, and that in spite of efforts by its retiring Director Muhammad El-Baradei to give Tehran the benefit of a doubt.
Ahmadinejad’s adventurist foreign policy has made Iran the subject of the wildest fantasies. In world capitals, after dinner chitchat, people talk of who would attack Iran and on what scale as if they were discussing changes in the weather. It no longer matters whether or not one likes the bizarre system invented out of whole cloth by Khomeini. What matters now is that the Islamic Republic is a wayward ship in a stormy sea with no captain onboard. That is bad news for Iran, the region and the world.