September 8, 2015 | The Arab Weekly

Rohani Under Fire as Iran Power Struggle Sharpens

Iranian President Hassan Ro­hani won the war, so to speak, but risks losing the peace. He managed to reach an interna­tional diplomatic solution in the confrontation over Iran’s nu­clear programme but he’s under severe political pressure in Teh­ran.

That pressure increases by the day as the Islamic Republic pre­pares for the February 25, 2016, elections to the Islamic Consul­tative Assembly, Iran’s 290-seat parliament; and the Assembly of Experts, the 86-member body of clerics that will decide who is to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as supreme leader.

With the June 14th Vienna agreement secured and crippling economic sanctions on Iran to be lifted in exchange for curtailing its nuclear project, Khamenei no longer needs Rohani, who oversaw more than two years of thorny ne­gotiations with the United States and world powers and has thus outlived his usefulness to the su­preme leader.

Rohani naturally sees things dif­ferently and is fighting back. This has forced Khamenei to give Roha­ni’s political enemies, in particular the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a free hand to attack the president.

This raises a more fundamental issue as the outcome will greatly influence Iran’s future: Should the IRGC be forbidden to participate in politics or should it act as a politi­cal party?

The latest chapter of this strug­gle began when Rohani, attending a cabinet meeting on August 19th, warned the watchdog Council of Guardians against politicised vet­ting of candidates for the parlia­mentary elections.

“The honourable Guardian Council is a supervisory body and not an executive body,” Rohani said. “All are equal in the eyes of the government… and we do not have executive bodies that can ap­prove candidates of a certain fac­tion while disqualifying another.”

His comments clearly reflected his concerns about the Guardian Council disqualifying parliamen­tary candidates who support him.

The next day, Major-General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the com­mander of the Revolutionary Guards, told Fars news agency he condemned “statements that weaken the Guardian Council… Such statements weaken the effec­tive pillars of the revolution such as the Guardian Council and harm solidarity.”

Jafari did not make a direct ref­erence to the president but his target was not lost on Rohani sup­porters, who rushed to the presi­dent’s defence.

Parliament member Ali Motahari published an open letter in which he reminded Jafari of the politi­cal testament of Grand Ayatol­lah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, in which the armed forces were prohibited from intervening in politics.

“Intervention of the Guards in the realm of politics and elections is not in the interest of the state, the armed forces or the Islamic Revolution since it will lead to fac­tionalism within the Guards,” Mo­tahari concluded.

His response provoked a new round of attacks from the IRGC, the most powerful military force in Iran and which has amassed vast economic holdings.

Abdollah Ganji, chief editor of Javan, an unofficial IRGC mouth­piece, hit back at Motahari, adding another dimension to the dispute. “Attacking the Guards, the Guard­ian Council, the judiciary, the Intelligence Ministry, the law en­forcement forces and the like is… a carbon copy of the [Western] plots to overthrow the Soviet Union.”

Ganji concluded that the IRGC is not a “classical military” formation and had a different mission than the regular army, whose primary mission is safeguarding Iran’s ter­ritorial integrity. The IRGC was created by Khomeini in 1980 to be the ideologically pure protectors of the Islamic revolution.

By August 25th, it was clear Ro­hani was losing the debate. Aya­tollah Sadeq Larijani, head of the judiciary, called the president’s speech “suitable for commoners” and “the words of someone unfa­miliar with the law” — a particu­larly offensive stab at Rohani, who is a highly qualified lawyer.

Mohammad-Hossein Moqimi, the deputy Interior minister, also pulled no punches. “One must block the path of the traitors and the counter-revolutionaries in the election,” he said.

“This is the legal duty of the Guardian Council.”

Rohani, unlike president Mo­hammad Khatami, his reform­ist predecessor, has a combative character and will fight to the bit­ter end to secure the candidacy of his supporters in the parliamen­tary polling.

So will his mentor, Ayatollah Ak­bar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who, in spite of his son Mehdi being jailed in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison for embezzlement, is waging a po­litical war against Khamenei and has announced his candidacy for the Assembly of Experts.

Rohani is also backed by Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the late ayatollah, who recently declared he “would not shy away from pub­lic responsibility” if he is needed “to serve the people and the revo­lution”.

The intensifying struggle for power in Iran signals uneasy times for a regime at odds with itself, the Iranian electorate and the en­tire region. Remarkably, the ne­gotiated solution to Iran’s nuclear programme has simply fuelled the factionalism and the struggle for power as the country stumbles to­wards a new era.

Ali Alfoneh is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @Alfoneh

Read in The Arab Weekly