Iran Election Guide

Donate to EAWV

Or, click to learn more


« Israel-Palestine: Gideon Levy "The Time for Words is Over" | Main | The Latest from Iran (2 January): The Ripples of the Mousavi Statement »

Iran: Authority and Challenge --- Bring Out the (Multi-Sided) Chessboard 

CHESSBOARD GREEN0730 GMT: The streets in Tehran and across Iran are at their quietest in the last two weeks, but behind the scenes, the political challenge is growing, both in intensity and complexity. Bring out the multi-sided chessboard --- this is far more than a game between two players. Consider:

1. There is the "regime", as exemplified by the Supreme Leader and his offices.
2. There is President Ahmadinejad and those who are still his allies in "Government".
3. There are the factions of the "Green movement".
4. There are opposition figures like Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
5. There are the conservative/principlist factions who are pressing for some, however limited, concessions from the Government to defuse the continuing resistance to "legitimacy"

Responding to our queries over the aims and language of the Mir Hossein Mousavi statement, EA readers --- who reflected our initial claim that Mousavi's declaration had divided opinion in the Green movement --- have brought out multiple possibilities, both anticipated and unexpected. Perhaps the most intriguing came last night:

Iran: The Non-Violent “Watershed” of the Mousavi Statement (Shahryar)
Iran: A Gut Reaction to Mousavi’s “Martyrdom v. Compromise” Statement (Lucas)
Iran Document: Mousavi’s “5 Stages to Resolution” Statement (1 January)

By offering a five point compromise, even each and every point is unacceptable, [Mousavi] has started the argument for compromise amongst the cronies of the regime....The regime collapsing over night is terrible. The regime has to evolve to collapse over a period of time, and the Mousavi plan is a great path forward. It sets a simple basic agenda that if enforced will spell the end of the Islamic Republic of Iran as we know it as a dictatorial theocracy. Any one of the five points is a no-starter, no-go for the regime, however...if the current stalemate continues it is also the end of the regime.

In a sense Mousavi is masterfully acknowledging that he is losing control of the Green wave, but also masterfully turns this to a time pressure on the regime, saying deal with me or deal with the wrath of the people who will rip you apart.

That analysis, however, takes us to individuals and groups who often do not make it to the public microscope. In the last 48 hours --- returning to initiatives in the days and weeks before that --- the clerics, politicians, and members of Parliament who do not sympathise with the Green movement or Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, but who also are unsettled by the post-election and the political and economic approach of the Government, have been pressing for their own "compromise". Rule out the Green movement's challenge, even put it to the judicial sword if protests continue, but also acknowledge some errors in the detentions, the mass trials, the unwillingness to accept any mistakes were made after 12 June.

My initial reading was that this move within the establishment --- seen in the letter of Presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei, the proposals of MP Ali Motahari, the calls of clerics like Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi and possibly Ayatollah Javadi-Amoli, and possibly even in the general statements of Hashemi Rafsanjani --- was a threat to Mousavi, undermining his 5-point proposal and forcing him into either capitulation or ostracism with the Green Wave.

The EA reader's comment turns that reading around: it is Mousavi who puts pressure on a regime which is far more than the Supreme Leader and the President, exposing and widening its own fissures which persist and possibly mean more, amidst the erosion of its authority, than the supposed strength of its security forces and its punishments.

That reading in turn takes us back to earlier multi-sided chess matches, especially between June and the end of August when Ahmadinjead's inauguration for a second term was not assured, when the President was battling with other conservative/principlist factions and even the Supreme Leader for control of key ministries, and when Parliament was flirting with the idea of throwing out Ahmadinejad's proposed Cabinet.

All of that in-fighting seemed to recede by September but the resilience of protest --- it just won't go away --- may have revived the contests. Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani's daily show of his fist to the demonstrators may also be an unsubtle display of his power and ambitions; alternatively, it could be an assertion of the Supreme Leader's wishes, in which President Ahmadinejad could take on the role of cipher or scapegoat. The members of Parliament, who also have the President's proposed economic programme --- still unpassed after three months --- as a target, may choose not to bow down in acceptance, as they did at the start of September.

All or none of those possibilities may occur. They are important, however --- even as they go unnoticed by many outside Iran --- for they are the manoeuvres and the contests that occur between the public surges of the Green Wave. They are the fabric of power, a fabric that may be stitched together yet again or may now fray as a Government unravels.

Reader Comments (11)

Ahh a new year and new analyses. What better starting point then the multisided chessgame. The funny thing about this game is that every player playing this game has lost a bit but is winning to a certain extent except the Supreme Leader.

The People - Losses is casualties but MAJOR gains in more voice, more power, More Hope, etc

Hashemi and the Clerics - Well who would have ever thought they be popular again??

Reformists (Mousavi, Karoubi, Khatami and co) - They were considered powerless by some even puppets of the regime. They are powerless no more..

The Guards - After the first upcoming of the reformists they were given alot more power by S.L to counter the reformists and now are given even more. Which brings us to the S.L

Khamenei (S.L) - He has lost face, attacks on his leadership, on his religious qualifications, challenged by the people, by the opposition, by the Guards, he has heard his name be pulled in the gutter, his pictures burned, he has lost power and may lose even more. Most probably his health has suffered and the worse thing about it all is... HE PLAYS THE GAME WITHOUT ANYTHING TO GAIN, HE HAS BUT TO LOSE....

So far I would say the MAIN VICTORS of this game have been the CLERICS(HASHEMI). Untill recently many people saw the Regime same as Islam and were tired of them both. At best some believed that Islam on it's own was not bad but it was the clerics that made it bad. All clerics were "persona non grada". However is a very short period we have come to a situiation were the hero's of a nation have yet again become CLERICS. Somtimes even the same Clerics people hated(Example Hashemi). The ayatollah's are popular again and people stand behind them.. Oh how beautifully they played this game....

January 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAfshin

Sorry, the only winners in this game are people of Iran, now and in the long run. All other members of Iran regime, reformists included, have lost and will lose even bigger. People aired regime dirty laundry on the world stage. We now know them all, some for lack of backbone, some, for their brutality, some for stupidity and lack of political savvy, some for their hypocrisy, some for their past crimes and corruptions, some for their crimes against humanity, some for lack of courage, etc. Not a single member of this regime has a report card that can withstand public scrutiny.

People of Iran are the winners because they tore the curtain down and showed us all that emperor had no clothes.

Having died fighting this fascist regime is not a loss; it is a place in history. Living as these bastards do is a loss for them. And soon they will die in shame.

January 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

Do ethnic minorities in Iran occupy any particular place on the "chessboard?" I mentioned on another part of the site a few days back a claim made on NPR in the USA that difficulties in their negotiations and dealings with leaders of the Green movement -- nowhere mentioned in the media that I have seen -- have slowed progress of the latter. The idea there was that many among the ethnic minorities are sympathetic with resistance to the government and regime but are asking "what is in it for us? So far it looks simply like another switcheroo at the top." Any validity to this?

January 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPBE

@ Megan

Time will tell... Sometimes we see things the way we want them to be and not what they truely are. My opinion is that is the case now.

Mousavi, Karoubi, Khatami were part of the regime when the killings in the 80's took place. They are Hero's now. The Ayatollah's in Qom are also the same yet millions chant their names. I don't dare even get started on Hashemi.

My opinion is that the Clerics so far are the main winners of this drama, your opinion is diffrent, however I do not see the facts to show it, when i look at the situation I see the opposite in the streets.


January 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAfshin


Good point. I am not sure how much value this should be given at this point.

Thinkg out loud I think the revolution really happens in towns like Tehran, Tabriz, Isfahan, Shiraz etc where the influence of ethnic tribes are very little.

Lorestan, Baluchestan etc would be places where there is more influence and allthough their participants could help keep the Guards busy outside the major cities which would allow more breathing space for the opposition in Tehran I am not sure how significant the extra help is.

January 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAfshin

Though I know little about ethnic minority poliitcs in Iran, the country certainly is a "checkerboard" of languages and ethnicities as much as it is a "chessboard" of politics. The Kurds by themselves are an entire if overlapping world. The image of one homogenous Persian and Farsi-speaking nation is more than a little off target -- no? -- and is perhaps part of what the sizable minorities have long been chafing against. Are desires for more decentralization and regional autonomy part of the mix or one of the stakes in the present brew that the Greens have to negotiate?

January 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPBE


My hope is that the people are making use of the clerics and reformists and maybe even Raffs because they have no other choice, but they more and more have a different agenda; as Mousavi said it himself, he never called people to the streets on Ashura and yet it was one of the most determined protest! this is a proof, i think.


I have also noticed that there doesn't seem to be great affection or even interest from Tehranis for the people in the remote provinces, as if they were too different, as if they belonged to 2 different countries (of course I may be wrong, I'm not Iranian). But some videos I've seen show that the hate for the gvt is maybe even stronger in these places:

January 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterflorence achard

@florence achard

i think u are right with some people doing that but most people I think are genuinly falling back in love with the clerics.

The heroics of Sane'i, (Late Montazeri) and Karoubi etc. does not go onnoticed. I truley believe they have grown alot in popularity.

I hope to be wrong. I so hope to be wrong.

January 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAfshin


One problem with Rafsanjani has been the loss of his perceived power. He has certainly gained in popularity, but he has lost that aura of invincibility. When they insulted him, threatened his sons and he did nothing, when they threatened his second son with removal from the Metro, he did again nothing, and last when they attempted to arrest his daughter he publicly did nothing. They removed him from Friday prey and he did nothing. All this showed to the people the hollowness of his base. I think Rafsanjani has lost alot, although you are right that given when collapse starts, in the period of vacuum that pursues he will be able to gain it all back and more. Its just for him a balancing act. Can he survive on the edge long enough, or will AN / Pasdaran pull him down with themselves on their way to hell.

January 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterwhereismyvote

Mousavi understands that his five points are what will eventually happen in Iran.

Pasdaran needs to take a step back and objectively assess the situation. One cannot enjoy the pleasures of life from the grave. They, of all people, should know that overthrowing Tyrants is a Persian tradition. It is how they got to where they are.

January 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

Personally I hope the latter.

January 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAfshin

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>