Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The next made in Tehran moderate | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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What do politicians do when they cannot do much? Well, it depends on time and place. However, regardless of time and place, most political lame ducks try to snatch a bit of relevance from the teeth of ridicule by playing with words.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, remember him?, is no exception.

He has one more year to go before his second and last term as President of the Islamic Republic is up. And, yet, he is already fading into oblivion. Tehran newspapers report his few activities in their inside pages. Controlled by his rivals, the state-owned radio and television hardly mention him. The Khomeinist state is so gripped by the cult of personality built around Ali Khamenei, the mullah known as the “Supreme Guide”, that it allows no one else to shine.

Ahmadinejad is left with little room for manoeuvre. His crime was that he tried, ever so gingerly, to define himself as a leader with a base of his own.

Now all he can do is to play with words. Khamenei describes the “Arab Spring” as “Islamic Awakening” and claims that Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenis, but not Syrians, rose against their respective regimes because they loved him and wished to live under “Walayat al-Faqih”.

To counter that, Ahmadinejad has labelled the Arab revolt as “Human Awakening”, hinting that something similar could happen in Iran.

Little by little, Ahmadinejad has been shorn of his presidential powers. People he appoints are dismissed on orders from courts ran by Khamenei henchmen. His executive decisions are vetoed by the Islamic Majlis, the ersatz parliament, on orders from the “Supreme Guide”. Khamenei sends his own minions on diplomatic missions without even informing Ahmadinejad. Key decisions on the economy have been transferred to Khamenei’s office. The “Supreme Guide” is also spreading rumours that the very position of the president may be abolished. Increasingly, Ahmadinejad is looking like the little shrinking man of the cartoons.

Against such a background, one might wonder who would want to be president of a non-existent republic?

Well, the answer, surprisingly, is: many.

The reason, of course, is that one is never short of ambitious men in any system. Even if a position is not worth a bucket of lukewarm spit, one is sure to find men queuing up to win it.

But why does the system in which the “Supreme Guide” has absolute power, needs a president or even a prime minister. The answer is simple: despotic systems need to keep alive the possibility of change.

In the old times, the potentates would calm down rebellious spirits by rotating the viziers according to the mood of the moment. In modern despotic systems, such as that created by Stalin in Russia, changes in the administrative personnel were used to nurture the myths of “ hawks and doves.” For example, people inside and outside the Soviet Union thought that Malenkov was more “liberal” than Stalin and Khrushchev more lenient than Malenkov. A whole industry of Kremlin-watchers was built around that conceit.

The Khomeinist regime is using a similar tactic.

In 1979, the Carter administration believed that once the pro-American faction led by Mehdi Bazargan was in power all would be well between Tehran and Washington. After all, five of Bazargan’s ministers were US citizens while at least one was a CIA agent.

Once Bazargan was kicked out, Washington found other “moderates”-from the poor adventurer Sadeq Ghotbzadeh to the hapless Abol-Hassan Banisadr. This game has been played for 30 years with Khamenei, as president, then Hashemi Rafsanjani and Muhammad Khatami and, eventually, Ahmadinejad, being identified as potential “moderates” before being exposed as poltroons in a political version of the comedia del arte.

Remember, Ahmadinejad was initially cast as a “new generation” leader interested in good management and likely to pursue pragmatic policies.

It is no surprise that the Khomeinist regime is looking for a new “moderate pragmatic” figure to field as the next president. The idea is to fool some Iranians into believing that things might change for the better in a year’s time. At the same time, the Western powers could be hoodwinked into easing their sanctions in the hope of making a deal with the next “moderate” leader in 2013.

The new “moderate” figure is an old one. He is Ali-Akbar Walayati who served as Khomeinist Foreign Minister for 13 years. For the past decade he has been advisor to Khamenei for foreign affairs. The buzz being built around him is that he is a pragmatic who could develop a realistic foreign policy. The fact that some staunchly pro-Israel figures are lobbying for him in Washington is cited as a sign that he rejects Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust-denying postures.

However, Walayati has two problems.

The first is that he is subject to an international arrest warrant for his role in the murder in Berlin of four Iranian Kurdish leaders and their interpreter in 1992. This means that he cannot travel to most parts of the world without risking arrest by the Interpol.

Walayati’s second problem is, in fact, not his fault. He is neither a moderate nor a pragmatic because, in a system gone mad on pseudo-revolutionary radicalism, he cannot be either. Even if he wanted, Walayati could never be a moderate or a pragmatic in the mad house built by Khomeini.

And, let me let you on to a bigger secret: even if Khamenei himself wanted to become moderate and pragmatic he would not be able to pull it off. The Khomeinist system cannot be reformed except in the wrong direction, that is to say to make it even more deadly and devious.

Under Khomeinism, in Iran any positive change within the regime is but an illusion.

If some useful idiots wish to continue deceiving themselves that is their problem. They will end up missing Ahmadinejad as they ended up missing Banisadr, Rafsanjani and Khatami.