Iran Election Guide

Donate to EAWV

Or, click to learn more


« Pakistan: Connections from Democracy to Civil War (and How to Change Them) | Main | US Special: The Anti-Capitalist Evil of Kids Giving Away Lemonade »

Iran Exclusive: The Plot to Remove Ahmadinejad, Act II

EA sources report that, within the last two weeks, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, key MP and Larijani ally Ahmad Tavakoli, Secretary of Expediency Council and 2009 Presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei, and possibly MP Ali Motahari have met to discuss limiting the authority and possibly removing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from power.

This inner circle are dissatisfied with the performance of the Supreme Leader in the post-election crisis. They are not seeking any change to his position, however; rather they want Ayatollah Khamenei to take a stronger stand against Ahmadinejad and those who support him.

LATEST Iran Special: A Response to “The Plot Against Ahmadinejad” (Verde)
Iran: The Plot Against President Ahmadinejad (January 2010)

The group has been encouraging senior clerics to come out publicly against the Government and, critically, they are reaching out to former President Hashemi Rafsanjani to join them.

How did Iran get here? And where is this heading?

The Background

Conservative/principlist dissatisfaction with the Government is now at the centre of political and economic developments in Iran. This, however, is not the first time that its leading representatives have considered making a move against the President.

In January, according to EA sources, Larijani, Rezaei, and Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf met to consider the options. The regime had been rocked by the protests of Ashura (27 December), and the three men believed that the Ahmadinejad Government --- uncertain in its handling of the country's affairs and stained by post-election abuses --- might not be able to withstand the challenge.

The approach considered by the meeting was to chip away at Ahmadinejad's inner circle, targeting advisors such as chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai and former Tehran Prosecutor General Saeed Mortazavi. The group agreed that Ahmadinejad should then be removed, although this should be done "within the framework of the law".

The public face of this effort may have been statements by Abdolhossein Ruholamini, the campaign manager of Rezaei's 2009 Presidential campaign and the father of Mohsen Ruholamini, who died in Kahrizak Prison after the election. On at least two occasions, Ruholamini declared, "We have much evidence against Mortazavi, against police, against some judges" over Kahrizak, and he called for accountability over the post-election abuses.

The initiative stalled. An approach was apparently made to key opposition figures like Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi to offer support for the effort, but there was no response. Hashemi Rafsanjani --- if he knew of the discussions --- did not move from his cautious public position. Most importantly, the events of 22 Bahman (11 February) gave the impression, perhaps misleading, that the Government had put Ashura behind it and had suppressed the opposition challenge.


This did not mean that the conservative/principlist worries over Ahmadinejad had been quelled; to the contrary, tensions have only increased in recent months. For Larijani-Rezaei-Tavakoli, the following seem to be significant:

1. The Kahrizak Case

EA sources report that the catalyst for dissatisfaction over the Government's handling of post-election conflict continues to be the Kahrizak Prison abuse case. The decision to hold a closed-door "trial", handing out two death sentences and nine prison terms to nine minor figures, has stoked the anger of many within the Iranian establishment.

Larijani-Rezaei-Tavakoli want Mortazavi, who was overseeing the detentions at the time, to be held accountable. In addition, they may also want at least one high-ranking figure from the military and intelligence services to take responsibility for Kahrizak.

2. The Battle Between Parliament and President

The struggle between the Majlis and Ahmadinejad;s forces has been developing for a long time. It is now in the open on a daily basis, however, and the stakes were raised,when demonstrations were allegedly organised against the Parliament in the conflict over control of Islamic Azad University.

For Larijani-Rezaei-Tavakoli and their allies, this may now appear to be more than a question of political influence but of the survival of Parliament as anything more than a token institution.

3. The Downward Spiral of the Economy

EA sources indicate, however, that the most significant issue may be the deterioration in Iran's economy. With signs of difficulty, if not crisis, in industry, the squeeze on the vital energy sectors --- in production, imports, and exports --- rising prices, and the resistance of protests and strikes, Larijani-Rezaei-Tavakoli are facing not only the erosion of public support for the establishment but of open dissatisfaction.

And all of this occurs before the introduction of subsidy cuts, reportedly in the autumn. The price rise in areas such as food and energy is likely to fuel more anger.

The Strategy?

Two weeks ago, Larijani went to Qom and met senior clerics, including Ayatollahs Makarem-Shirazi, Mousavi-Ardebili, and Safi Golpayegani. His message, according to EA sources, was that his role was "no longer important" in the Iranian system; Ahmadinejad and his circle were imposing themselves on Iran's institutions, suppressing legislative and judicial authority. The Supreme Leader appeared unable to check this imposition.

Larijani also noted a new development, pointing out the harassment of Seyed Hassan Khomeini at the ceremony for his grandfather on 4 June and the attacks on the houses of senior clerics such as Grand Ayatollah Sane'i and the late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri.

Larijani's appeal? Speak out, otherwise the Government would reduce all others to bystanders.

(Significantly, the Supreme Leader went to Qom a few days later to tell those same senior clerics that velayat-e-faqih, the system of ultimate clerical authority, had to be sustained. He may also have given reassurances that the attacks on clerics would not re-occur. And, since early June, they have not.)

The Larijani-Rezaei-Tavakoli meeting then appears to have agreed on a "stalking horse" initiative to test support for a move against the President. In January, the speeches came from Ruholamini over Kahrizak; last week, the direct challenge came from Tavakoli in Parliament, as he took on the Government across the spectrum of post-election conflict, corruption, and the economy. Larijani also made a series of pointed, if often coded, references to the "lawbreaking" of the Government.

The Problems

EA readers asked in January, "How exactly would Ahmadinejad be removed?", and this important question remains today. Even though Tavakoli has now publicly raised, for the first time, the process of impeachment, the challenge of getting 2/3 of Parliament's members to support the ousting of the President --- even in this political and economic environment --- may be too great.

And, behind the President, there are other institutions and groups like the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. So far, despite rumours, there has no been of IRGC figures or even senior military commanders breaking from the Government. Can Larijani-Rezaei-Tavakoli and allies afford to take the risk of challenging the might behind Ahmadinejad with their political manoeuvres?

That is why the appeals to senior clerics and to Rafsanjani are significant. Any challenge needs to have a wide base from the political and clerical establishments to present the image of a "majority" now unable to cope with the degraded if not illegitimate rule of a "minority" cluster around the President.

So far, however, Rafsanjani has made no apparent move to talk to the inner group, let alone join them, and no senior cleric has come out in public opposition. (Grand Ayatollah Sane'i and Ayatollah Dastgheib, who are both most vocal and public critics of the Government, are linked so closely to the post-election opposition that they are on the political margins of this contest.)

And there is the issue of the Supreme Leader. At times he may have wavered in his public support of Ahmadinejad but he has never withdrawn it. Barring the unlikely path of impeaching of the President, the likely scenario is that Ahmadinejad is "encouraged" to resign or at least give up much of his executive authority to other branches of the Government.

For all the drama of this news, the prosaic reality is that Ayatollah Khamenei has to come out in criticism of his President. And for that to happen, the Supreme Leader needs to be confronted with a widely-backed appeal from the politicians and clerics.

Reader Comments (5)

[...] در حال حاضر نارضايتی محافظه کاران/ اصول‌گرايان از دولت به كانون تحولات سیاسی و اقتصادی ایران بدل شده است. ولی اين اولين بار نيست كه نمایندگان برجسته‌ی اين گروه‌ها عليه ريیس‌جمهور چاره‌انديشی می‌كنند. به گزارش منابع EA ، در دی ماه گذشته لاریجانی ، رضایی و محمدباقر قالیباف (شهردار تهران) با هم دیدار کردند تا گزینه‌های گوناگون را بررسی كنند. رژیم از تظاهرات روز عاشورا به وحشت افتاده بود و اين سه نفر معتقد بودند که دولت احمدی‌نژاد – ناتوان از اداره‌ی کشور و بی‌آبرو از كژدستی‌های پس از انتخابات – نخواهد توانست در برابر اين چالش تاب بياورد. … ــــــــــــــــــ منبع [...]

As Alice exclaimed in Wonderland :
"Curiouser and curiouser!!"


July 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBaz

Circling, circling, and more circling.

The removal of AN by a bunch of equally unsavory characters will not appease the demands of the opposition. They're simply trying to save the system so they can preserve their status and privilege.

I've strained my ears to hear reformist denunciations of Sakineh's stoning, but I've only detected the trill of crickets. Oh, smiley-faced fundamentalists, where art thou?

July 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBozorg

The snake is eating its tail

July 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGloumdalclitch

[...] One report has even suggested that conservatives have met to plot a way of impeaching Ahmadinejad and remove him from office, although seasoned observers caution that such an outcome is unthinkable without Khamenei’s approval — which is thought unlikely. Khamenei has given Ahmadinejad unqualified support since his disputed victory in last year’s presidential poll, which reformist opponents say was stolen by massive ballot fraud. [...]

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>