Ali Afshari writes for Rooz Online:
The remarks by Iran’s Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi at last week’s [Tehran] Friday prayers demonstrate that the regime...has once again moved up the goal of containing the Green Movement to the top of its...agenda. After differences between the Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad erupted into the open two months ago, principlists (individuals who cling to what they call are the principles of the Islamic revolution of 1979 and who at one time were ardent supporters of Ahmadinejad) for a few months reduced their attacks on the Green Movement and reformers, and instead focused their attention and energy on the beleaguered president. They of course did continue to weaken and condemn the symbolic leaders of the Green Movement but this was not their main preoccupation and concern. During the same period, the main political and media circles of the principlists and the military-security leaders repeatedly warned of a second “sedition” (a label that regime supporters used for those questioning the official version of the 2009 presidential election) which they portrayed to be growing in strength through elements inside the regime.
The goal of containing the “second sedition” and curtailing the rise of Ahmadinejad’s allies had pushed the regime to ease the pressure on civil society and consequently provide reformers with an opportunity to re-enter the political scene by redefining themselves. The ultimate goal of this scheme was to preserve the current political structure of the regime and yet utilize the potential of the reformers to neutralize Ahmadinejad’s clique, and prevent the latter from joining hands with reformers.
So in reality, the regime had and has a multi-layered expectation from reformers. It wants them to adopt a positive stance towards elections and the current political structure, and at the same time not join those who call for deep constitutional and fundamental changes in the regime. At the same time it wants to allow loyal reformers --- those reformers who have demonstrated their allegiance to the regime, the supreme leader and the constitution --- to play a limited albeit controlled role in the political system.
According to this scheme devised by the ruling regime, reformed reformers would be allowed to play a peripheral political role in the body politic. Through negotiations, media operations and repeated dispatch of messages, a fake and yet optimistic picture would be presented to reformers so that they would move to a position where the regime wants it to be: away from openly challenging the regime while remaining harmless.
In fact, the Iranian regime has a successful track record of pulling reformers and the left into the political electioneering field and then checkmating them. This is what has repeatedly taken place from the election days for the second Assembly of Experts till today. The regime has lost this game only in two instances: elections that resulted in Khatami’s presidency (1997-2005) and those for the sixth Majlis (2000-2004).
But as these recent events have been unfolding and the regime has been scheming to achieve its desired goals, the traditional, clerical, and practical elements of the principlists have also been busy trying to co-opt the conservative and moderate elements of reformers into their fold. And like Mohammad Khatami and his allies who advocate reforms in the electoral system, they too view Ahmadinejad’s breakaway and disobedience as an opportunity to advance their own agenda and return the political conditions to pre-2005 days, when they enjoyed a better political position.
Their displeasure with the status quo is gravitating them towards connecting with groups and forces that are associated with Hashemi Rafsanjani and reformers inside the regime who believe in the regime, the supreme leader and the constitution.
Khatami’s recent insistence on his three conditions for returning to party politics and his warning that he would not allow himself to be used by others for the upcoming elections, along with the conditional support for elections by the majority of reformers, has changed the whole game plan.
The resultant new view among reformers, and the activities that are taking place in the political field, indicate that the Green Movement is once again becoming more active and is utilizing the differences inside the regime. As a symbol of Iran’s parliamentarians, in this light, Khatami announced that he was ready to return to party politics provided his conditions were met, while at the same time announcing that he would not condemn [Mir Hossein] Mousavi or [Mehdi] Karroubi. It should be borne in mind that it is very difficult for him to re-enter politics if no serious political changes take place and the police-state conditions are ended.
Moslehi’s warning to regime supporters last week to the effect that they had to be watchful of the Green Movement’s activities however is an indication that the regime has not succeeded in its goal of utilizing reformers through cooption to advance its own agenda. Security forces have been alarmed of the growing tension and differences between the three branches of government and the principlists and have said that these events have the potential to threaten the security of the regime.
A failure to contain these differences and keep them within acceptable levels has the potential of strengthening the Green Movement and the opponents and critics of the regime.
There are five key players in the upcoming Majlis elections slated for early 2012. The first are the principlists and those who portray an absolute obedience to the supreme leader. These individuals defend the status quo and drive to turn the majority of the future Majlis representatives in line with the extremist and military-security principlists. They not only dream of completely eliminating the reformers but even view dissenting principlists as troublemakers. Tactically however, they support an opposition to just keep the debates hot in a round of engineered elections.
The second group is made up of moderate principlist clerics. This group views the upcoming Majlis elections as an opportunity to redefine itself and change the course of the regime. Because of this they support the participation of conservative and dissident reformers inside the Green Movement and desire giving them a share of the power pie.
Third is Ahmadinejad’s group which views the elections as an opportunity to remove the threats against it, push back the inner opposition and increase its power inside the regime.
The fourth group is made up of moderate reformers and those who support Hashemi Rafsanjani who also want to use the elections to improve their position inside the regime, end the police state atmosphere and return the course of the regime to what it was during the reformist period prior to Ahmadinejad, i.e., what they call the reconstruction period.
The fifth group comprises the radical reformers and the Green Movement who have a negative view about taking part in the upcoming parliamentary elections but who want to use the elections to mobilise the Green Movement.
The first group enjoys the support of Iran’s supreme leader and is busy planning for the upcoming elections in a manner that would confront the Green Movement and Ahmadinejad in a controlled framework that would bring into its fold Rafsanjani’s group and reformers following Khatami.
But Khatami and Rafsanjani’s recent statements have surprised the ruling principlists. Because of this, attacks on Khatami have returned and become intense again. It appears that the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) have taken the lead on this. Yadollah Javani even accused Khatami of treason. IRGC General Jayazeri used the allegation that Khatami had shaken hands with the former president of Israel and issued a stern warning to the “leaders of the sedition.”
So, contrary to Khatami’s goal of reconciling the differences with the regime, his conditions to return to party politics, which revolved around both sides forgiving each other for their mistakes, did not result in improved relations between him and the regime. Attacks on him were resumed and some extremist elements inside the regime even put him in the same category as seditionists.
A look at the behaviour of the Supreme Leader...indicates that as the most important and powerful man in the regime he has no intention to reconcile with Khatami.
But Moslehi’s recent comments have gone further and actually indicate the concern of the regime over the Green Movement’s reorganization and regaining of strength and image. This is particularly important because there are still some regime key figures who have not aligned themselves with supreme leader on his views of the Green Movement or the continuation of harsh policy and attitudes against it.
Ahmadinejad’s conflicts with parts of the regime and the principlists and his attempts to carve an independent course away from the supreme leader have turned the next elections into an even more important event. The fall and weakening of dictators in the region too has created a new and greater need for the regime to demonstrate that it is popular and legitimate. So the upcoming Majlis elections gain greater importance and a challenge for the regime.
This situation raises the chances that the next Majlis may actually be not to the liking of the regime. This risk may actually gravitate the key players to advance the idea of having a less competitive election. This may result in a Majlis similar to the seventh and eighth parliaments. There may be greater tensions or the retreat of the regime and provision of a wider sphere to conservative reformists, thus reducing the pressure of the police state. But regardless of which way the regime turns, the crisis that it faces will not go away and instability will in fact increase with time. The internal conflict is the natural result of the dictatorial and ineffective political and economic management of the county that is pursued by totalitarian forces and is not, as Moslehi claims, the call of the opposition groups.