Saturday, January 30, 2010

Rafsanjani and the internal political struggle and Iran - and US intervention

From before the dramatic moment in the June pre-election debate when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that his family did not become wealthy because of his political position, unlike Mr. Heshemi it has been clear that there has been an internal factional dispute in Iranian politics, with Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on one side and the Ahmadinejad and his backers on the other.
In a makeshift campaign war room in north Tehran, two dozen young women clad in head scarves and black chadors are logging election data into desktop computers 24 hours a day, while men rush around them carrying voter surveys and district maps.

This nerve center in the campaign to unseat Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s hard-line president, is not run by any of the three candidates who are challenging him in a hotly contested election on Friday.

Instead, it is part of a bitter behind-the-scenes rivalry that has helped define the campaign, pitting Mr. Ahmadinejad against the man he beat in the last election, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a two-term former president and one of Iran’s richest and most powerful men.
If you remember, Rafsanjani wrote a letter to Khamenei asking that Khamenei repudiate Ahmadinejad's claim. Rafsanjani was already notorious as an embodiment of clerical corruption in Iran long before the debates, but it was a topic most Iranians were afraid to address directly. Ahmadinejad likely got a boost in his popularity both from being willing to say that, and from Rafsanjani's reaction.

When the results that Ahmadinejad won the election were reported, Mousavi immediately, before any evidence even could have been compiled, declared the results fraudulent and called for demonstrations in the streets to protest the result. These demonstrations, which so excited the West for reasons entirely unrelated to the factional struggle between Iranian parties are now, according to Hillary Clinton, being assisted by the United States, with many voices in the United States calling for increased, more vocal and open support for the protesters.

In the meantime, no tangible evidence of fraud has surfaced in the over six months since the election and while the US-supported opposition has not lost the ability to organize protesters, poll results show it to be outside of the mainstream of Iranian thought, much more than it was on election day.

Now Rafsanjani's faction seems to have stooped to openly asking the West to use sanctions to selectively punish its factional rivals in an Iranian political dispute. With many in the West thinking that would be a good idea.
The White House is crafting new financial sanctions specifically designed to punish the Iranian entities and individuals most directly involved in the crackdown on Iran's dissident forces, said the U.S. officials, rather than just those involved in Iran's nuclear program.

U.S. Treasury Department strategists already have been focusing on Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has emerged as the economic and military power behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In recent weeks, senior Green Movement figures -- who have been speaking at major Washington think tanks -- have made up a list of IRGC-related companies they suggest targeting, which has been forwarded to the Obama administration by third parties.
Mahan Abedin in an Asia Times Online article presents an argument that this episode marks the decline and ultimately the end of Rafsanjani as a politically potent force in Iran. This article also includes a very well written history of Rafsanjani's role in the Iranian Revolution.
While the old oligarch - he is 75 - still clings to his official positions as the chairman of the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Discernment Council, the most informed sources in Tehran expect him to be removed from the scene altogether. The impending purge of Rafsanjani may seem unthinkable to many, but it is likely nonetheless.
It is often remarked that the Iranian regime has not been able to stop the protests. The protests have never been a threat to the basic stability of the regime. It was actually a poor strategic move for Rafsanjani, Mousavi and the opposition to encourage them. Internal disputes are probably best resolved internally. Inviting college students into the dispute may have been a mistake, but once the protesters came in, Westerners eagerly decided to try to intervene, which made the entire process even more of a mistake for Rafsanjani.

New splits and new factions probably will develop in Iran over time. I think the Rafsanjani/Mousavi/Khatami faction is no longer an important part of the story of Iranian politics.

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