In recent weeks some members of the establishment (Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, Ayatollahs Ahmad Jannati and Ahmad Khatami, the Islamic Coaltion Party's Habibollah Asgaroladi, and recently Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi) have changed tack. The clerics and politicians had been accusing the post-election protestors and their leaders, specifically Iran's reformists, of trying to overthrow the Islamic Republic in collusion with the West.
However, in the last few weeks the talk from the establishment figures is about attacks on the Supreme Leader. There is hardly any mention of “barandazi” (overthrow of regime) these days. Instead, the words are of conspiracies to limit the power of or to remove the Leader. The declarations that Khamenei is the best possible Supreme Leader give the game away --- why make such declarations if no one doubts him?
Recently Mesbah Yazdi, a strong backer of President Ahamdinejad, was the alleged source of some strange comments about the principle of “velayat-e-faqih” (clerical authority). He was quoted as saying that the “velayat-e-faqih” does not need to be the most prominent “marja” (source of emulation). He supported this with the assertation that, at the time of the 1979 Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini was not the most prominent “marja”.
Although this might be seen as an indirect attack on Khomeini’s credibility --- it is well known that Khomeini and Mebah had serious disagreements --- the comment may be an attempt to argue in favor of Khamenei as “velayat-e-faqih”. Mesbah Yazdi has some religious credentials that Khamenei lacks, and his comments were reportedly to religious scholars at the Qom Seminary.
Mesbah Yazdi supposedly said that, although the Supreme Leader is chosen by God, if the people do not accept him, he should step aside. If true, this is a reversal of Mesbah Yazdi's previous statements that the “velayat-e-faqih” is chosen by God and the people’s opinion does not matter.
Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi are now referring to Khamenei’s statements with sarcasm and challenging him directly (although they are still not naming him). Earlier this year, Khamenei likened the regime to a rescue ship and said that some insiders are being left behind and the ship is sailing. Karroubi's response was to poke fun in his Nowruz message, likening the regime not to a ship but to a small dinghy full of unsavoury characters. Mousavi later added, "They say we have left the regime’s ship, well we have not left the ship of Islam", implying that the regime is no longer on the Islamic path.
So the question arises: are the recent changes in the speeches by the establishment figures an indication that Khamenei is facing problems from regime insiders and not just Mousavi, Karroubi, and other reformists over his credentials as Supreme Leader?