UPDATED Iran Special Analysis: What Karroubi's Statement on "Mr Khamenei"/"Head of Government" Means
Mehdi Karoubi, in a meeting with a group of prominent political figures including some of the leaders of reformist parties said:
“Although today they have shut down newspapers, filtered websites, imprisoned many of our dear friends, closed down the office of [reformist] parties including the Etemade Melli office and even my personal office, although they fired shots at my car, although some are threatening everyday and are insulting Mir Hossein Mousavi, me and the great nation of Iran in every way possible and take our words out of content, but I am firmly announcing that I never compromise over people’s rights and one of the main rights of this nation is their votes that they casted in the ballot boxes while trusting the authorities; and I will be with the people till the very end and will try for holding free elections and eliminating current obstacles."
"I will announce my detailed views regarding the principles of the Islamic Revolution, defending people’s rights and the necessity for holding free elections to the noble nation of Iran soon.”
UPDATE 0900 GMT: Persian2English has published a translation of the Karroubi "clarification" carried on Rah-e-Sabz last night. This was one of the key pieces of evidence behind our analysis, as the Karroubi camp deliberately "fed" this information to a trusted reporter to ensure the widest dissemination:
"It was reported by Fars News, Iran’s official news agency, that Mehdi Karoubi has officially recognized the status of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Mr. Mojtaba Vahedi, advisor for Mehdi Karoubi responded to such claims. Talking to a JARAS reporter, he said: “I talked to Mr. Karoubi and he claims that Mr. Abu-Torabi has uttered some words that are not true.”
According to the advisor, Mr. Karoubi talked in detail about the rigged election. Following his speech, Karoubi explained, “A few reporters gathered around and asked a few questions. I told them that the government has been sworn in and has the responsibility to respond to the people’s needs. In the same interview I stressed that there has been a rigging in the election and I stand by my words. I am not so whimsy to retreat because of insults and threats. But people have daily needs that the residing government needs to respond to. I also told an English paper that they can rest assured that Ahmadinejad’s government will not last four years.”
Karoubi’s last words were: “My words are the words of the nation: where is our vote?”
EA staff had a conference late last night to go over all the information we have --- from websites and sources inside Iran --- on Mehdi Karroubi's statement, reflecting on the Presidential election and his acceptance of Mr Ahmadinejad as the "head of the government of the regime" because it had been decreed by "Mr Khamenei".
We are watching for further developments today and may revise our analysis, however, for now, here is our reading:
1. KARROUBI HAS TAKEN A STAND AGAINST THE "PRESIDENT" AND THE SUPREME LEADER
We are treating the statement put out on Karroubi's website, Saham News, as the cleric's primary line. (We note the interviews given by Hossein Karroubi to a series of reporters, including Radio Farda, BBC Persian, and Associated Press, but there are ambiguities and some confusion in how those interviews are being written up.) This is the key line:
Due to the fact that Mr Khamenei has 'confirmed/given legal validity to the decree which stated that Ahmadinejad has been elected, for this reason, I consider him [Mr Ahmadinejad] to be the 'head of the government of this regime'.
Ahmadinejad is not the President and holds his position not by the will of the voters but the pronouncement of Ayatollah Khamenei. He thus does not have legitimacy. (The most important follow-up to the Saham News statement is a story fed to Rah-e-Sabz, in which Karroubi repeated that he stood with the people and said he did not expect Ahmadinejad to last four years.)
And it's not the Supreme Leader but "Mr Khamenei". That is not a slip, because the statement has been unchanged on Saham News for hours. And that is not respect but an insult.
2. DID KARROUBI INTEND TO TAKE THIS STAND?
This is still not clear, given the chain of events. The confusing series of events started when Karroubi spoke with a group of reporters Monday morning. What he did not anticipate was that Fars News, having asked the question whether Karroubi accepted that the June Presidential election was legal, printed his answer as a recognition of Ahmadinejad as "the President". So, in one sense, Hossein Karroubi's series of interviews throughout the day and even the Saham News statement were "damage control", protecting his father against charges that he had sold out to the regime.
"Damage control", however, did not require that Karroubi take his political shots at Mr Khamenei and "the head of the government of the regime". So whether or not the cleric started the morning with a plan for a fight or whether he was bumped into it by the Fars episode, the outcome is the same.
3. THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE CHALLENGE OF THE "ESTABLISHMENT WITHIN".
My first attempt at analysis connected the Karroubi manoeuvre with the initiative by Ali Larijani-Mohsen Rezaei-Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf to curb or even topple Ahmadinejad. Just forget I wrote that --- I was wrong.
4. BUT THIS DOES DISTANCE KARROUBI FROM KHATAMI
The interesting sub-plot today has been obvious "clear blue water" between Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammad Khatami. As Saham News was putting out the right line on Karroubi v. Khamenei/Ahmadinejad this afternoon, it was also taking shots at former President Khatami. In particular, Saham News was playing up the story --- which has not been confirmed --- that Khatami had sent a letter to the Supreme Leader seeking reconcilation. What's more, Saham was pressing the point that Khatami had "recognised" the current Government, thus distinguishing his position from that of Karroubi.
Why the divergence? Well, that's a story to be considered over following days. But let's be clear: Mehdi Karroubi is out front on this political challenge.
5. AND MOUSAVI?
But is Karroubi also far ahead of Mir Hossein Mousavi? So far Mousavi has been silent on the day's events, apart from his website Kalemeh reprinting the Saham News statement.
6. COULD EVERYTHING CHANGE?
As we broke up the meeting tonight, an EA correspondent said, "You know, Karroubi may well have another statement out when we wake up in the morning." Indeed, he could, even to the point of issuing another clarification that withdraws/modifies his "Mr Khamenei" position.
But, at the least, we can't see Karroubi withdrawing his now sustained condemnation --- sometimes explicit, sometimes in a bit of coding, as today --- of President Ahmadinejad. At most, he separates Mr Khamenei from his criticism.
So pull back all those headlines that came out earlier today (and are still in some "Western" publications). This is not recognition of the President. This is, to adopt a US term, "dis-respecting".
It's not a question of if, but how far, Karroubi wants to push it.