The news stories in recent days might appear unrelated, but all of them point to behind-the-scenes manoeuvres and disagreements within the regime. It is too early, given the limited information, to understand exactly what is going on within the Islamic Republic, but it is well worth watching for emerging significance.
1. The Release of Mostafa Tajzadeh
During the week, Mostafa Tajzadeh, leading member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front and former Deputy Interior Minister, was released without bail for the Iranian New Year.
It is an unusual move. The Iranian judiciary has been setting very high bails for post-election detainees. In some instances, even after posting the required bail, detainees have been held for several days. Tajzadeh had refused to pay the bail, saying that he does not own any property to put up as collateral, and now he has been freed temporarily.
Tajzadeh has been a bitter critic of the Guardian Council and its head Ahmad Jannati. He has in the past accused Jannati by name of taking part in fraud during Parliament elections. Given this, who has taken the decision to released Tajzadeh without bail? Why give this small, but very symbolic victory (Tajzadeh has received a hero's welcome, with visits by high-profile political figures) to the reformists at this time?
2. The Parliament Vote Against Ahmadinejad's Subsidy Reform Proposal
To pressure the Majlis to accept his proposal for control of $40 billion from reductions in subsidies, President Ahmadinejad asked the Supreme Leader for help. Khamenei in turn summoned the Majlis Speaker, Ali Larijani, and asked that the Parliament consider the Government's proposal carefully. t
Ahmadinejad then went to the Majlis on the day of the vote and spoke at length in defence of his proposal. He even stayed during the voting to lobby MPs. (Both of these actions are considered illegal.) Despite the Leader’s personal intervention and Ahmadinejad’s appearance, the Majles voted against the President, allowing him to control only $20 billion of the revenue.
Because of the way elections are held in Iran, with the filtering of candidates by the Guardian Council, MPs usually take very seriously what the Supreme Leader says. Many of the current MPs are ex-military, with close links to the Revolutionary Guard and the intelligence services.
So why did 111 MPs vote against the Supreme Leader’s wishes? Has someone else managed to influence the Majles in order to embarrass both Khamenei and Ahamadinejad? Has the Supreme Leader said one thing in public but privately given the go-ahead for the negative vote?
3. The Altered Khamenei Speech
Two weeks after his speech to the Assembly of Experts, the Supreme Leader's website has publisedh a verson of the address with new sections, including references to the Expediency Council’s moves to change the election laws. Khamenei says that he will only approve parts of the Council’s proposals with which he agrees.
Why the two-week delay? Was this section added to the “speech” after the meeting? Was it originally omitted not to upset certain people or groups? Is the new version intended to reassure the Guardian Council and its supporters that the Supreme Leader is backing them?
4. Ahmadinejad's Nuclear Story
On Saturday, Fars News quoted Ahmadinejad as saying that, after the 2005 election, he met with the Supreme Leader and asked that the International Atomic Energy Agency's seals be taken off Iran’s nuclear facilities before the President took office.
This directly contradicts Khamenei’s version, as the Supreme Leader has said that he had himself decided for the seals to be removed and uranium enrichment to be resumed.
Is Ahmadinejad deliberately trying to undermine Khamenei? Is he just trying to talk himself up without considering the consequences?
5. Rafsanjani's Moves
Recently Hassan Rohani and Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, both said to be close to Hashemi Rafsanjani, have taken direct aim at Ahmadinejad’s government. Rouhani said that some people want to run the country with one gang. Qalibaf said that for the past 14 months no serious work has been done in the country.
Rafsanjani has recently said that he does not want students to be quiet, but he has warned students against talk and actions that would provide excuses for people who want crackdowns on Iranian society.
So what is "The Shark" up to? Is he, working with or through Rohani and Qalibaf, pushing against Ahmadinejad? Is he sanctioning protest or trying to hold it back?
Too early to answer any of these questions, but more than enough here to question where All is Well within the Islamic Republic.