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Iran Analyses: A Rafsanjani-Khamenei Deal on Universities Crisis? (Siavashi and Verde)

Yesterday the reformist website Rah-e-Sabz rather dramatically posted, from a source, that the Supreme Leader and former Hashemi Rafsanjani had agreed a resolution of the conflict over control of Islamic Azad University. The Supreme Leader would command the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution to not push the President/Government line against Parliament (and thus Rafsanjani, whose family are amongst the leadership of the university), and Rafsanjani would publicly praise Khamenei.

We have two contrasting analyses: Dave Siavashi of Iran News Now ponders the significance if the Rah-e-Sabz story is true, while Mr Verde --- who wrote on Saturday "a space created for Hashemi Rafsanjani to snipe at Khamenei" --- doubts there has been any resolution:

Siavashi in Iran News Now:

The Iran opposition website, Rah-e-Sabz, has reported that the dispute between Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Parliament has ended. Apparently, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani met with Ayatollah Khamenei (the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader), where an agreement was made between the two that Khamenei would asked the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution (SCCR) to stop the dispute in exchange for Rafsanjani’s praise of the Supreme Leader in public.

This is interesting because it reveals a number of things.

First, Khamenei’s narcissistic personality is very much at play in the dynamic of the power struggle that has surfaced and intensified since the rigged Presidential election of June 2009. He is clearly feeling vulnerable in the public relations department. This is not surprising considering the many street protests against his rule (chants “Death to the dictator” and even “Death to Khamenei”, once unheard of in the Islamic Republic are now very common place during the protests). He clearly also sees this as an opportunity to humble Rafsanjani for not clearly siding with him in Iran’s power struggle.

Second, the deal adds more insight to the revelations made by Muhammad Sahimi in his piece in Tehran Bureau, Who’s In Charge?, in which Sahimi highlights the internal rift in the Islamic Republic between the militant revolutionary guards and the conservative clerics (mullahs). Khamenei appears to be precariously balanced with one foot on the head of the guards and another on the head of the clerics. But it has always been my opinion, based on his background and his actions over the 31 year history of the Islamic Republic that Khamenei is a man of the guards. He is with them. And whether he likes it or not now, his post is tied to them–even more so since he has used them to crush the opposition protests. Khamenei’s offer to Rafsanjani shows that, at the very least, he believes he has influence on the matter of the dispute over the university–either that, or he thinks Rafsanjani might believe that he does.

Third, Rafsanjani probably realizes that if Khamenei calls off the dispute, then in a way Khamenei’s hand has been forced. On the one hand, if the Ahmadinejad and the guards back off, then Azad University is ’safe’ for now. On the other hand, if they don’t back off, it reveals (again) the rift between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. Either outcome is better than the status quo for Rafsanjani. He also may be calculating that some form of public praise for Khamenei will be seen by most observers as the political move that it is, and be largely disregarded by his supporters and the opposition.

Khamenei likely would not have made the deal if he did not at least have some misgivings about the beast that he has created in Ahmadinejad and the revolutionary guards. He is playing all sides against each other in a desparate bid to maintain his own position, influence and power. It is difficult to imagine that he is getting much rest these days.

Mr Verde:

There are rumours that Khamenei has ordered that the SCCR not change the management of Azad University (what Rafsanjani wants) and the university does not become a trust (what Ahmadinejad wants).

If this is the case, it may be that the situation is not resolved. Khamenei is just saying, "Keep things as they are", sitting on the fence as it were. He is not resolving the crisis (which I think is unable to resolve anyway, as he is weak and his authority is weak). And the situation is left this way, Azad University will become another festering wound, ready to cause problems at any time in the future.

Gooya has another version of the rumours about Khamenei’s intervention. This version says that Rafsanjani told Khamenei that overturning the courts and Majles must have happened with the Supreme Leader's help. He asked Khamenei to set up a meeting Rafsanjani and the three heads of regime branches --- Ali Larijani, Sadegh Larijanis,and Ahmadinejad --- to discuss Azad University.

In response Khamenei said that he would not wish to enter the arguments about the university. Rafsanjani replied that "we in Azad University" see no reason to give in to the Government's demands. Subsequently he called a meeting (reported last week) of the old university board, invited Mir Hossein Mousavi to it, and did not allow Ahamdinejad’s representatives to attend.

After this, Khamenei asked Ayatollah Mahdavi-Kani to intervene. In response Mahdavi-Kani is supposed to have told Khamenei that, as far as he knows, Rafsanjani would not back down and that also that in his experience Ahmadinejad would not listen to him. He is also reported to have told Khamenei that he even doubts if Ahmadinejad would listen to the Supreme Leader and therefore mediation will not work in this case.

As far as I am concerned these are different rumours. The fact remains that there is, so far, no proper resolution to the Azad University crisis.

Reader Comments (7)

Mr Verde's interpretation of the rumours, facts and fictions appears much more plausible to me:
First, the caption of the Jaras article, Dave Siavashi alludes to has a big question mark, i.e. it is merely a guess.
Second, the crisis is obviously not resolved, because Raffers initial demand to transfer the Free Universities' fund to a foundation has been rejected. AN's subsequent demand was rejected too, as Mr Verde already mentioned. The actual situation is nothing more than a fragile ceasefire.
Third, Mr Siavashi's interpretation of Raffers' advantages (third point) appears somewhat misleading to me. Inviting Mousavi to the meeting of the old university board and excluding AN's representatives was a dramatic act and a harsh warning against the SL. After all Mousavi is the regime's bete noire since June 2009, being under some sort of curfew order since then. Given his popularity among the younger generation, especially students, the SL conceding to AN's demand would have caused a new uprising among the academics of at least 300 universities throughout Iran.
Closing down universities on the eve of 18 Tir already proves the regime's fear of continous protests.

One might argue that the SL has decided to postpone his decision to the time after 18 Tir, but I wonder, if the IRGC would be able to control 300 universities at the same time, especially now that "the ennemy" is waiting at the frontiers.
As already remarked by Mr Verde the SL is not resolving the crisis, to which I would add that he hasn't been able to resolve any crisis during the past 12 months. Playing off different factions against each other has worked well during the lifetime of this Holy Republic, but it is of no avail when they do not represent the people's majority.

You may not see them protesting on the streets any longer, but the iceberg which sunk the Titanic wasn't visible either.


July 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterArshama

"You may not see them protesting on the streets any longer, but the iceberg which sunk the Titanic wasn't visible either."


July 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterObserver

I agree with Observer, perfecto dear Arshama !

July 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnge-Paris

Hi Arshama,

My piece was an analysis of the "what if" scenario of the Rahesabz report being true.

I agree that even if some kind of deal was struck between Raf and Kham that the outcome of the dispute is not settled, since neither Rafsanjani nor Khamenei wield as much authority as they have in the past. What was interesting for me was the dynamic at play between the two, and what it might reveal about their mindsets.

It is interesting that today, indeed Rafsanjani did "praise" the leader, which fits with the narrative of some kind of deal between them. I was not aware prior to writing the piece that Rafsanjani had invited Mousavi to the Azad University board meeting. This would illustrate that both Kham and Raffers are working at odds with one and other, while trying to present at least a facade of some form of unity (or at least "respect" between each other), and it also suggests that they are siding together in at least one respect--they are both "Ayatollahs" afterall. One particular president-select is not.

July 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterirannewsnow

"working at odds with one and other"
There is no one and other; there is only, AN, Sepah and KH supporting them, from the beginning, just after the elections when KH took his decision ! and it continues; the circle of people leading Iran becomes lesser; only with few ones inside; the other ones , like Raf, Larijani will be thrown out; and they will join GM, which will become bigger and bigger, day after day; it's for the sake of our movement !

July 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnge-Paris

[...] Universitätskrise: Ein Deal zwischen Khamenei und Rafsandjani? [...]

Hi Dave,

Your point on a deal between Raffers and Kham was certainly right, but the interesting question is: for how long?
The same goes for the apparent "unity" or "respect" between both of them, which becomes more and more fragile. Being an Ayatollah is not as important as you suggest, otherwise we wouldn't have seen the attacks on maraje houses and offices in Qom. To me it is a mere powerplay between the technocrat faction, represented by Raffers, and the fundamentalist-paramilitary faction, represented by Kham.
Obviously there are much more, i.e. the Bassiji faction (AN) and of course the Larijani gang, to mention only the most important (or visible) players.
Excluding Raffers from the 7 Tir ceremonies and arresting Yasser Hashemi's office chief are rather a proof for the provisional nature of this "deal" and the fact that Kham has not much control over his mad dog AN.
If ever he decides to back him against Raffers and the Majlis, the provisional ceasefire between these rivalling factions will be blown off.


July 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterArshama

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