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Entries in Guardian Council (6)


The Latest from Iran (24 March): Regime Confidence, Regime Fear?

2210 GMT: Neda Propaganda Overkill. You might think it would be enough for Iranian state media that Caspian Makan, the reported fiancé of Neda Agha Soltan, had met Israeli President Shimon Peres (see separate entry). But, no, Press TV has to go much, much farther:

One of the suspects believed to be involved in the killing of a young woman during Tehran's post-election violence last year has visited Israel.
Caspian Makan, who claims to be Neda Agha Soltan's fiancé, has met with Israeli President Shimon Peres, during his stay in Israel.

Makan was also interviewed as a guest on an Israeli TV channel.

Agha Soltan was shot dead far away from the riot scene on June 20. Western media accused Iranian security forces of killing her, but police rejected the allegations and said Neda was shot with a small caliber pistol which is not used by the Iranian police.

They have described the killing as a premeditated act of murder "organized by US and Israeli intelligence services."

NEW Iran: The Controversy over Neda’s “Fiance”
NEW Iran: An Internet Strategy to Support the Greens? (Memarian)
The Latest from Iran (23 March): Inside and Outside the Country

2140 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Gooya reports that more than 900 Iranians have signed a petition calling for the release of imprisoned student Omid Montazeri.

Montazeri was arrested in January after he approached the Ministry of Intelligence following the detention of his mother and guests at the Montazeri house.

2015 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. On a slow news day, Parleman News has not one but two features around Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The top story on Rafsanjani's latest declaration is not that earth-shaking: the former President issues another fence-sitting declaration that "the majority of protesters are loyal to the regime", which allows him to back some public pressure on the Government while maintaining his own position of backing the Supreme Leader. No real change there.

More intriguing is the appearance of Faezeh Hashemi, Rafsanjani's daughter. The content of the interview is not very subversive. Hashemi talks about her education and passion 4 women's sports as well as making the far-from-controversial assertion that her father wants the common good of society. It's the timing that matters: the interview comes a few days after the regime tried to shut Hashemi up by arresting her son, Hassan Lahouti.

1440 GMT: Sanctions Rebuff. Turkey, a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has added to the obstacles for tougher international sanctions on Iran. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "There is still an opportunity ahead of us and we believe that this opportunity should be used effectively. Not less, but more diplomacy (is needed)."

(I am beginning to suspect that these moves might be political theatre, accepted if not directed by Washington. The Obama Administration's approach seems to be a public posture of the international route, primarily as a response to Congressional pressure, while carrying out the meaningful initiatives in bilateral talks with other countries and even with individual companies.)

1420 GMT: Today's Obama-Bashing. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of Parliament's National Security Committee, takes on the daily duty of slapping down the US Government's approach to Iran:
[President Obama's Nowruz] comments were nothing but a deception. They (Americans) have sent several messages during the last year calling for talks with Iran, but at the same time passed more than 60 anti-Iranian bills in their Congress. As long as there is no sense of balance between their comments and actions, offering talks could be only a trick....Obama has lost his prestige among the world's public opinion, therefore his new year message has no value.

1400 GMT: On the Economic Front. This could be significant: The Russian energy firm LUKoil has announced its withdrawal from an oil project in Iran "due to the impossibility of carrying out further work at the field because of the economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. government".

LUKoil has a 25 percent stake in the Anaran project; a Norwegian company, Hydro, has the other 75 percent. We'll see if this withdrawal sticks: LUKoil also announced in October 2007 that it was pulling out of the project, which encompasses Azar, Changuleh-West, Dehloran and Musian oilfields with reserves at the project sites estimated at 2 billion barrels, but it resumed work two months later.

1200 GMT: We've posted an editorial from prominent reformist journalist Masih Alinejad criticising Caspian Makan, the "fiancé" of Neda Agha Soltan.

0925 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Iran Human Rights Voice reports that writer and women's rights activist Laleh Hasanpour was detained by Intelligence agents on 16 March and taken to an undisclosed location.

0745 GMT: Iran and Afghanistan. Readers have noted the latest wave of allegations, spurred by The Sunday Times of London that the Iranian Government is providing support, including funding and training, to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

I have been cautious in reporting the allegations, in part because The Sunday Times has been a handy channel in the past for those spreading "information" to discredit Tehran. Far more importantly, key US Government officials and military leaders are also playing down the accusation. General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, has said any Iranian Government role in assistance is limited. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates echoes, "There is some [training], but it, to this point, I think, has been considered to be pretty low-level."

Lieutenant Colonel Edward Sholtis said on Monday, "We've known for some time that Iran has been a source for both materiel and trained fighters for Taliban elements in Afghanistan"; however, he added that US officials do not know if the training is "simply something that is happening beyond the government's control".

(hat-tip to an EA reader for raising the story and providing sources)

0730 GMT: With the Green Movement in a quiet phase (defeated, intimidated, or just lying low?), attention is on the continuing battle between elements of the regime and Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Iranian authorities released Rafsanjani's grandson Hasan Lahouti yesterday, albeit on $70,000 bail, and they had to let go the former President's ally Hassan Marashi after a short detention. The anti-Rafsanjani campaign is far from over, however.

The latest assault comes from Gholam-Hossein Elham, a member of the Guardian Council. In a lengthy "unpublished interview" which somehow is published on Fars, Elham details post-election subversion. Specifically, he targets Rafsanjani for Friday Prayers addresses which did not support the Government and thus opened the way for illegal protest and manoeuvres to undermine the Islamic Republic.

So a question: is the sustained assault on Rafsanjani a sign of regime confidence that, having vanquished the opposition outside the system, it can move aggressively against challengers within? Or is it an indication that this is a Government which will never feel secure in its supposed legitimacy?

The Latest from Iran (14 March): False Strategies, Real Conflicts

1910 GMT: More on the Universities Purge (see 1145 GMT). The Revolutionary Guards get in on the act, with Yahya Rahim-Safavi, the former commander and current advisor to the Supreme Leader, declaring, "The universities aren't in good shape today, missing from them are revolutionary forces and experts who are beholden to the Imam, the Supreme Leader, and the Constitution."

Rahim-Safavi, speaking at a conference organized for the "cultural experts" of the IRGC, said, "The goal of soft war is to change the culture, values and beliefs of the youth....Our weakness is in this very issue of culture, which our enemies have identified before we did. Therefore we must battle against and overcome the attacking culture with our soft and cultural power."

NEW Iran: The Opposition’s Campaign in the US — Sequel With Revelations and A Lesson
NEW Iran: Connecting the Dots — 5 Signs of Regime Trouble
NEW Iran Letter: “I Am Still Alive to Tell the Story” (Shams)
Iran Special: Zahra Rahnavard on Women’s Rights and The Green Movement
Iran: The Opposition’s New PR Campaign in the US
Iran Analysis: Rafsanjani’s “Finger in the Dike” Strategy
The Latest from Iran (13 March): Settling In

1830 GMT: Let's Make Up a Cyber-War. More regime propaganda --- the Revolutionary Guard has briefed the Parliament on the nefarious cyber-plot of the opposition around Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, bringing in names like the filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf and human rights activist Ahmad Batebi. (There's a video as well.)

After the briefing, the head of Parliament's National Security Committee said Human Rights Activists in Iran had fabricated a list of killed protesters and passed it to Mir Hossein Mousavi.

1725 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch --- One Who Did Not Remain Silent. Emad Bahavar, head of the youth branch of the Freedom Movement of Iran, has been re-arrested.

Bahavar was arrested earlier this year and released after a short period. However, instead of refraining from criticism of the regime, he wrote a long, incisive analysis of "The Hardliners' Project".

On Wednesday, after Bahavar had appeared in court to defend his case, security forces raided his house without a warrant, threatened his family, and confiscated personal possessions. Bahavar was re-arrested when he went to court to protest the illegal behaviour.

1705 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. The former Chief Executive Officer and founder of Persian Blog, Mehdi Boutorabi has been arrested.

1700 GMT: We've posted an update and an analysis of this weekend's "opposition campaign", which proved to be far less than a campaign, in the US.

1530 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi has confirmed that Iranian-American academic Kian Tajbakhsh has been released for 15 days on $800,000 bail.

1525 GMT: Really, They Are All US-Sponsored "Cyber-Terrorists". Fars continues the propaganda overload attacking human rights activists with an "analysis" claiming that the Bush Administration and the CIA launched a $400 million campaign in 2006 for a cyber-battle against Iran.

This is a convenient pretext for Fars to lump together all the "bad guys" --- the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, monarchists, Baha'is, and human rights activists --- as traitors. Named groups includes Human Rights Activists in Iran, Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi's Center for Defense of Human Rights, and the Human Rights Committee and the One Million Signatures campaign for women's equality.

1515 GMT: Stopping the Fire Festival. As our readers have noted, the Supreme Leader has turned on one of Iran's national ceremonies, Chaharshanbeh Souri, as an event “void of religious roots and cause of great harm and corruption".

Chaharshanbeh Souri, which takes place on the eve of Iranian New Year, is an ancient Iranian pagan festival with the building of bonfires and symbolic gestures and chants. These summon the fire to burn all sickness and lend its energy to a healthy new year.

1500 GMT: Back from a family break (Happy Mother's Day to all those celebrating in Britain) to go on Rafsanjani Watch.

Looks like the former President Hashemi Rafsanjani has continued his careful prodding of the Government, this time with attention to state media. He urged Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (Seda va Sima) not to operate as “a gang”, warning that it would lose the trust of the public if it did so. He added that IRIB needs to assume a more “national” approach and pay more attention to people.

1145 GMT: Purge the Universities!

Press TV, from Islamic Republic News Agency, reports that up to 130 Iranian members of Parliament have written the Minister responsible for higher education, Kamran Daneshjoo, calling for strict action to be taken against proponents of secularism in universities throughout Iran.

The legislators warned Daneshjou of the activities that were carried out in universities by "certain individuals who are hostile toward the Islamic system". They insisted, "The cultural message of the [1979] Islamic Revolution is the most important topic that university professors and the elite must seek to promote....Activities of individuals, who feel enmity toward the Islamic establishment, are unacceptable. What is more, nowhere in the world are resources and opportunities generously handed out to those who seek to bring down the establishment and the principles that society is governed by."

Of course, the demand of the MPs for "serious and decisive" action against "the enemies of the Islamic establishment," "proponents of secularism," and "those who work to weaken the government" is a political set-up for the regime to get rid of unacceptable professors and limit scholarships and overseas education to only "proper" students. Last week Daneshjoo used a speech to denounce "deviant" academics.

0920 GMT:~Khomeini in the Cold. Looks like the regime is going to continue treating the family of the late Ayatollah Khomeini as too dangerous to acknowledge, given their criticisms of the Government. The memorial service for Khomeini's son Ahmad has been cancelled due to "mausoleum repairs". Most ceremonies at the Khomeini site since June 2009 have been postponed.

0915 GMT: Two Sunday Specials for You. We feature a defiant weblog from released detainee Foad Shams, "I Am Still Alive to Tell the Story", and Mr Verde has an analysis of 5 Signs of Regime Trouble.

0910 GMT: A Lament for the Election. Eshagh Jahangiri, the Minister of Industries and Mines in the Khatami Government, has declared that, after the Presidential vote on June 12, the chances of progress were lost for Iran.

OK, he would say that as he's a reformist, right? Yes, but the location of the criticism...the not-so-reformist Khabar Online.

0900 GMT: No More Satire --- Iran's Changing Flag. Remember a couple of months ago that we posted a comedy story about the apparent changing of the colours in Iran's flag, removing Green for Blue?

Well, look likes we might have to replace our satire warning for a label that this is Very Serious. From Khabar Online:
At the last session of Iran's Guardian Council in the current Iranian year (ends on March 20) held today, the speaker of the entity, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, answered the questions raised by the journalists.
He said that if a trustable evidence is provided on the national flag color change at the recent state ceremonies, the council will probe the issue."

"The rules are transparent on this case and must be abided by all executive bodies. If it's true, those organizations which have committed such act should be questioned," he maintained.

Recently at some ceremonies held by the government, the green stripe on the Iranian flag had changed to blue or black, including one attended by the President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad staged a in Tehran for the head of the state-funded Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). At the ceremony in a graphic design behind Ahmadinejad, the green stripe of the country's national flag had turned to blue.

0650 GMT: I thought at one point on Saturday that the main story might be an opposition initiative to sway American opinion, with a purported spokesman for Mehdi Karroubi holding forth to US journalists in a press conference and private talks.

That proved a fizzle, however, as the "former senior aide" primarily offered a distracting thesis of an Ahmadinejad-Khamenei split and got little coverage from a nuclear-focused (obsessed?) US media. The New York Times, for example, prefers a tangential thinkpiece by David Sanger, and The Washington Post is also off on a Tehran and the Bomb story.

Still there's an important lesson for the Green Movement here in the diversion and possibly damage of those claiming to be "spokesmen" for the opposition, when they are in fact expressing primarily personal opinions, and how they could built up as Green representatives by a media started of significant information from inside Iran. We'll have an update later today.

So what were the real stories? Well, there is what appears to be a regime strategy to break the opposition through the "revolving door" of releasing some detainees --- with the threat that they go back to prison if they step out of line --- and taking new prisoners with declarations of terrorists front groups and agents for the US.

On Saturday, a number of high-profile prisoners, notably journalists and the Iranian-American academic Kian Tajbakhsh, were reportedly freed. At the same time, the campaign to break human rights organisations was declared with the propaganda of media like Fars and Kayhan, with their announcements of dozens of arrests of campaigners linked to the "terrorist" Mujahedin-e-Khalq and Washington, and the attack on the websites of Human Rights Activists in Iran.

The latest statement from the Revolutionary Court declares that those arrested belong to a group called “Iran Proxy,” which is accused of
“downloading national databases, infiltrating and sabotaging internet sites, resisting government filtering efforts, creating secure spaces for users of internet networks, creating secure telephone lines and data for interviews with Radio Farda, Radio Zamaneh and television networks of Voice of America”. The Court alleges, in a reference to a campaign to distribute anti-filtering software so Iranians can access the Internet, “Members of Iran Proxy in Iran were in receipt of significant salaries in Iran in order to distribute over 70 thousand proxies through the internet.”

Then, however, there is the news of pressure on the Government, not through manufactured rings of secret US-backed agents but through members of Parliament. The  story of the battle between the Majlis and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over the President's budget and subsidy reform plan seems to have attracted little notice. But, after the President appealed to the Supreme Leader and then gate-crashed the Parliament and still lost the vote on his proposal, it is a sign of Ahmadinejad's authority in jeopardy.

Iran: Connecting the Dots --- 5 Signs of Regime Trouble

Mr Verde drops by EA to offer this analysis

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.

Iran Analysis: Rafsanjani's "Finger in the Dike" Strategy 

Masoud Shafaee writes at The Newest Deal:

As the Persian Nowruz New Year fast approaches and Iran's post-election crisis enters its ninth month, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani remains as mercurial a figure as ever in Iranian politics. True to his nickname of Kooseh, or "The Shark", Rafsanjani has been paying lip-service to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei while simultaneously signaling (if only tacitly) solidarity with Iran's Green opposition movement. With his reputation as an incredibly calculating figure, it is hard to believe that this contradiction is coincidental. In fact, Rafsanjani's high level of influence in the system may be paradoxically inhibiting him from more closely aligning with the Green Movement.

In many ways, Rafsanjani's position resembles that of the boy who stuck his finger in the leaking dike in Hans Brinker's classic tale.

In the story, the boy's plugging of the hole with his finger was not an attempt to solve the problem at hand, but rather, to prevent an immediate and far more dangerous outcome from occurring. Had the boy gone to fetch help to repair the dike, the levee would have broken and the city would have been flooded. By staying at the dike all night -- not fixing the problem, but preventing it from worsening -- the boy bought time until others discovered him the next morning and were able to make necessary, lasting repairs.

Rafsanjani may find himself in similar circumstances and equally incapable of making a significant move. Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guard have shown no intention of curbing their quest to completely control the Islamic Republic. What started out as a President hand-in-hand with the Supreme Leader (with his undoubted blessing of plans to rig the June election) has grown into something far greater. Only one month after the election, Ahmadinejad publicly disobeyed Khamenei by failing to immediately withdraw Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai as his top deputy after the Supreme Leader voiced his disapproval. A month later, he showed up unannounced in the Majlis parliament flanked by his armed bodyguards. Constitutional rights have been discarded in countless instances. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement that "Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship" appears troublingly accurate.

One factor that has arguably prevented a complete takeover of the regime from already occurring is the enormous weight that Rafsanjani carries inside of Iran. A father-figure of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, head of two constitutional branches of government, and a man of considerable wealth and influence, Rafsanjani has in many ways served as a buffer to Ahmadinejad's megalomaniacal ambitions. And while by no means himself a democratizing figure, Rafsanjani's perceived loyalty to the Supreme Leader (and the ruling theocracy) has gone to ensure that he remains a formidable presence in the country's politics, thereby creating space for the Green Movement to breathe, evolve, and grow. Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani's recent remarks labeling "those who want to exclude Rafsanjani" from the system as "irrelevant" speaks of just this clout.

This public backing of Khamenei came as recently as two weeks ago, when Rafsanjani reaffirmed his support for the doctrine of Velayat-e Faqih. “Our focal point is clear and that is the constitution, Islam, the principle of the office of the jurisprudent and supreme leadership,” he said. Statements such as this are far more calculated than simply supporting the Supreme Leader for the sake of winning political capital. Indeed, Rafsanjani is essentially forcing Khamenei to own the very mess that he created. This was just the case when he stated back in December and again earlier this month that the Supreme Leader is “the only one” capable of unifying the country out of the current crisis. While elevating the position of the Supreme Leader with false praise, Rafsanjani’s words actually directly clash with the regime’s official line that there is in fact “no crisis in the country" to begin with.

This obviously does not mean that the Supreme Leader will lead the country out of crisis, nor would it excuse his actions were he to do the unthinkable and actually reverse course and unify the country. Rather, it points to Rafsanjani’s maneuvering within the system. He is not with the Greens per se, but he is taking steps that ultimately help their cause. He is not fixing or replacing the dike; he is plugging the hole until help arrives.

But just as Rafsanjani has been cautious to not stray too far from the conservative camp, he has also been equally cognizant of the need to reassure the Greens that he shares many of their same concerns. His daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, has phrased it less ambiguously,claiming that her father's demands "are the same as the Green Movement." When asked of the possibility of political reconciliation, she went even further, stating that any compromise would be "out of the question" if it did not take into account the gross violation of people's rights. The fact that the Iranian judiciary has now filed charges against Faezeh Hashemi (and her brother Mehdi) for "fomenting riots" in Tehran only adds to the credibility of the Rafsanjani name within Green circles.

Whether Rafsanjani is technically a 'Green' or not, comments posted on his website following his Khobregan [Assembly of Experts] address are unmistakably similar to some of the criticisms coming from the leaders of the Green Movement. Comparing the current crisis to the events surrounding the 1906-1911 Constitutional Revolution, Rafsanjani said that certain individuals, while conspiring against the regime, pretend to be supporting the ideals of the Islamic Revolution. With the proper historical context, his message is less veiled: much like how the country's very first National Assembly collapsed, leading to the coup d'etat of Reza Shah in 1921, the regime faces similar dangers today from those who carry the regime's banner but stray from its ideals. Mir-Hossein Mousavi made a similar assessment when he told Kalemeh in a post-22 Bahman interview that the refusal to listen to the people's demands "is a sign of tyranny and a distortion of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution."

And while "the Shark" has kept a relatively low profile during the last few months  -- at least when compared to the increasingly pointed rhetoric of both Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi -- his maneuvering within the Islamic Republic's framework points to a strategy to align with some of the more immediate goals of the Green Movement. Just as Mousavi called for the reform of electoral laws in his 17th statement, the Expediency Council  -- a constitutional body which Rafsanjani chairs -- began considering a proposal that would take away the Guardian Council's vetting role, and instead give it to a new "National Election Committee." The committee, not coincidentally, would be under Rafsanjani's supervision at the Expediency Council. It should also be noted that Rafsanjani himself alleged election fraud following his defeat in the 2005 presidential election to none other than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Yet it would be remiss to neglect mentioning that Khamenei ordered the new election plans to be drawn up two years ago. The plans, in other words, outdate post-election developments. Irrespective of their origin, there is no chance that the regime, facing its greatest crisis since its inception, will suddenly decide to make itself more democratic, and inevitably, more vulnerable.

Rafsanjani's intentions should not be seen in an altruistic or nationalist light. If he is indeed scheming to help the Greens, then he is surely being driven in part by his own political ambitions. For this was Ayatollah Khomenei's right-hand man, a two-term (and almost three-term) president, and still the head of two powerful constitutional bodies. He is Iran's de facto number-two. Helping the Green Movement's cause ultimately helps his cause: more power.

While Rafsanjani's current primary concern may be preventing Ahmadinejad from tearing Iran's already-polarized political landscape asunder, that may in time prove to be lead to his grander scheme: he was the boy who saved the city from ruin.

UPDATED Iran Document: The Hardliners' Project --- Full Text (Bahavar)

Pedestrian posts the thoughts of Emad Bahavar, a political activist in the Freedom Movement of Iran, writer, and the head of “Supporters of Khatami and Mousavi” in the 2009 Presidential campaign. He was arrested shortly after the election, and released after two months. He was detained last week but released on Tuesday.

Bahavar's recent article in Rooz Online, “The destination was to begin the journey”, was the reason for his latest arrest. This is Part 1 of 3, with the following parts coming out in the next few days:

The Latest from Iran (11 March): Marathon

The destination was to begin the journey
Rooz Online, 6 March 2010

It is now quite obvious that what happened before and after the presidential election was a result of a very clumsy solution devised by security and military forces, to solve the “crisis of leadership” in the future system of the Islamic Republic. A solution that did not solve the crisis, and in fact, inflicted irreversible injury and damage to the very structure and legitimacy of the political system.

The ruling elite try to deny the existence of any political crisis, and to show that indeed it is the reformists who have reached a dead end. But analyzing their behavior and their responses to the aftermath of the election and the “green movement”, proves the opposite. A “political crisis”, in its most urgent form presents itself as a “crisis of legitimacy”, and a “crisis of legitimacy”, at its worse, becomes a “crisis of leadership”. Thus, not only is the system in a political crisis right now, this crisis is no ordinary quandary and is the worst of its kind.

“Who will be the next leader?” “What sort of mechanism will be used to choose the next leader?” “Is the current system of Leadership of the Jurist, in the current context of the constitution, sustainable?” These are questions which reformists, principalists and conservatives have been grappling with. The events of the recent election are in a way the product of different groups thinking of these questions. The events are in fact, a direct result of “serious measures” taken by the most hardline base of the establishment, in response to those questions. The result of the explosive, destructive actions following the election brought to light the very fact that a solution to these questions is not possible by “simple minded solutions” and the “crisis” and “dead end” argued here is much more serious to be solved by an adventurous wing of the establishment on its own.

What was this all about?

These events first seriously began when the most hardline wings of the system, composed of military groups, quasi-miliatry groups and extremist clerics, devised a strategy for “the transfer of leadership”. When Ayatollah Khamenei began his leadership of the country, most groups in the ruling establishment formed a consensus on his appointment and by acting above and beyond any faction or group, he was able to give the system relative stability and solidity. The election of a reformist president during his time, also gave many groups the belief that there is a chance to be active in the system and to reform it, without jeopardizing the stability of the entire system. But there was no guarantee that this stability would continue on forever.

There was no guarantee that when it came time to transfer the leadership to a “new leadership”, the same political stability would remain. By all accounts and all analysis, the system would experience great tension during this period and this tension might undermine its very existence. That is why all political factions within the system, from reformist to conservative to hardline, attempted to put forth a solution to this quandary in the frameworks of their own beliefs. For reasons of which I can not write about, it was the hardliners who were given the opportunity to carry out their solution. They were appointed to establish a “military rule”, a homogeneous ruling system empty and silent of dissent, to create an appropriate circumstance for the period of the transfer of leadership. This is how in 2005, “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad” was chosen to serve as president and to prepare suitable conditions for this period.

What was the hardliners’ solution?

The worst kind of political stability is when the future of an entire system is put to depend on the future of one person, because the smallest change in the top of the hierarchy will influence the entire system. In a monarchy, this quandary has been relatively solved by hereditary rule and the selection of the children or kin of the monarch as the next rulers. In this system, the death of the king and the succession of his son is seen as a legitimate, natural process, and does not undermine the entirety of the system.

But in the current ruling system of the Islamic Republic, the mechanisms are neither monarchical or democratic. From one angle, it seems that the Assembly of Experts is chosen by the nation to elect a leader, from another angle, the approbation supervision of the Guardian Council over the members of the assembly means that a substantial number of the nation’s real representatives never make their way through and thus have no say in the selection of the leader. Thus, the very principle of legitimacy and admissibility of the leader by the people [in the tradition of democratic systems] is undermined with the role of “approbation supervision” of the the Guardian Council.

So what was the solution the hardliners put forth? As we know, the hardliners follow extremist clerics like Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, who never believed in the selection of the leader by the Assembly of Experts, and has always disapproved of this article of the constitution. The emphasis of Ayatollah Yazdi on the appointment of the leader is based on a theory of “seeking and appointing” --- not electing.

Thus, the solution of the hardliners for the transition process is something like a hereditary monarchy, with the different that the new leader does not necessarily have to be next of kin. In the view of Ayatollah Yazdi, the current leader has ways to seek the opinion of the twelfth Imam [who will return from occultation one day], and when notified of the Imam’s choice, inform the Assembly of Experts. The Assembly of Experts will in turn swear allegiance to the new leader on behalf of the nation and through this mechanism, the people’s approval will be satisfied. Thus, the new leader will be appointed by the old one (he will be “sought and appointed”), will have holy legitimacy, and through the approval of the Assembly of Experts (an indirect swearing of allegiance by the people) also have the people’s approval.

The belief of the hardliners is nothing but a recreation of theory of the caliphate. The Assembly of Experts and Parliament are nothing but a seal of approval for the caliphate. Hardline Shi’as in this way are very similar to hardline Sunnis. They believe that by implementing these theories, the tensions during the transition period will reach a minimum, and these tensions will be limited to insignificant political dissent and disapproval. In this way, the old leader will appoint the new one, and the Assembly of Experts will approve.

But the real quandary for the hardliners was implementing these plans, not writing them, as they had been written long ago, from the time of Sheykh Fazlollah. How can it ever be brought to fruition in the time of reformist publications, numerous newspapers, well known intellectuals, and clerics deeply opposed to such views? Is the implementation of such a project possible in such a pluralistic, politicized environment?

How did the hardliners’ project begin?

The hardliners were appointed to create a military government, homogeneous and clear of dissent, to pave the way for the new leadership. For this purpose, Ahmadinejad was chosen as president in 2005 and most of the positions on his cabinets were taken by former military officials. The hardliners’ plan was written out in “two parts”, for two presidential terms. In his first term, Ahmadinejad was appointed to either control or destroy the potentials created in civil society during the reformist era. The aim of this period was to “return to square one”. In this period, student associations, NGOs, political parties and the press were put under excruciating pressure, to attempt to return to the pre-1997 era [before Khatami].

The most important part of the project however, was to do with Ahmadnejad’s second term. The second term was a “period of elimination”. Two groups of political players had to be eliminated. One group which was a “barrier”, and one group which was the “goal”. The reformists were a barrier to the hardline project. It could be predicted that they would be vocal in their opposition to election fraud. So a scenario was written to widely arrest and eliminate the reformists, by accusing them of a “velvet revolution” and “soft overthrow”.

A second group which was to be eliminated consisted of moderate conservative politicians who had traditional been an ally to Rafsanjani. The goal was to eliminate Rafsanjani and his allies, because, in the view of hardliners, this group would have a big role in determining the next leader. Before the election, and in Ahmadinejad’s first term, there was great effort to take many of Rafsanjani’s close allies to court, people like [Hassan] Rowhani, [Housein] Mousavian, and Mehdi Hashemi. And that attempt was not very successful. The process of eliminating Rafsanjani was to begin with Ahmadinejad’s televised debate, and by firing up the nation, it was to be carried out swiftly.

Thus, by imprisoning more than 500 political and civil activists, and eliminating conservatives from the top of the ruling establishment’s hierarchy, a suitable environment for the period of transition was to be prepared. In such an environment, there would even be an appropriate chance for changing to constitution to be more inline with the principle of “seeking and appointing”. But as we saw, all did not go according to the hardliners plan. The green movement was born.

What really Happened?

The discussion about how the Green Movement was born requires a lot more space, and will  not be the focus of this article. But what is quite obvious is that this movement was a blow to the hardliner project which they had been planning for years. Not only did they not achieve an appropriate environment for transferring leadership, but rather, the political landscape of the country was badly shaken. The hardliners expected to see hopelessness and silence from political activists and the public, after a brief period of protest following the election. But just the opposite happened. The protests saw no end and they became louder and louder every day. Even those people who had previously been apolitical and disinterested, got involved. Thus, not only were the political not silenced,the apolitical became active as well.

The hardliners project was defeated. The reformists stood their ground and did not back down. Imprisoning the reformists was not a victorious strategy, and did not have the desired result. The resilience of some reformists actually gave more life to their cause. Rafsanjani with his insightful brilliance, deterred any attempts by the hardliners to be eliminated. Not only did he not lose his position, he wisely kept his distance with the leadership.

The hardliners solution for this period of transfer was a simple minded “the use of brute force”. They assumed that technology and money would be enough. But the result was just the opposite of what they had planned for. The legitimacy of the system was greatly tarnished, and over night, its national and international appeal was damaged. Many of the system’s previous supporters became doubtful. The stability of the system was greatly undermined and the fracture between the people and the political elite became wider.

Thus, the effort of the hardliners was to return things to the way they were before the election. They tried to substitute their betrayal of the nation with violence. But whatever they did, it created a worse situation.

The blow that the hardliners forced on the system was worse than what any opposition could do. The damage and destruction brought on the system after the  election was the sole responsibility of military and quasi military forces which were the masterminds of the project. Only relying on their might and financial backing, they jeopardized the very existence of the system.

What was the role of pragmatic conservatives?

Last year, a group of conservatives had sent a message to reformists, asking them not to announce a candidate for the presidential election, and instead to back the conservative candidates (someone like [Mohammad-Baqer] Qalibaf, [Ali] Larijani, etc). The argument was that if the reformists have no candidate, there will less of a consensus on Ahmadinejad, and the moderate conservative would win. In the view of these pragmatic conservatives, that was the only way to unseat Ahmadinejad. The reformists of course turned down this offer. In their view there was no way to be sure that a consensus around Ahmadinejad could be broken. The conservatives took orders after all, and the harliners were bent on keeping Ahmadinejad in power. The only power that could unseat Ahmadinejad would be a nation wide momentum, like that of the 2nd Khordaad [when Mohammad Khatami was elected in 1997], not backroom deals between political factions. Thus, the reformists put their efforts in nominating Khatami again, and recreating 2nd of Khordaad.

Now, after nearly a year, individuals like Ali Motahari send letters to Mousavi and ask him to back down, and leave the job to moderate conservatives. The likes of Motahari argue that so long as the reformists are active, the hardliner and conservative consensus around  Ahmadinejad will not be broken. But if the reformists back down, the conservatives themselves will take care of Ahmadinejad.

This time too, the reformists and Mousavi’s response was negative. If Karoubi and Mousavi back down, not only will this not weaken Ahmadinejad, it will allow for a swift move on the part of hardliners to eliminate conservatives as well. The only reason that Rafsanjani’s allies and moderate conservatives have gone unscathed is that the hardliners have been busy with the repression and silencing of the green movement. The pragmatic conservatives underestimate the hardliners. If the hardliners remove the “barrier” that is the green movement, they will go straight for the conservatives. We must not forget that the actual aim was Rafsanjani and his allies, and the project remains unfinished. If the hardliners are not deterred, the pragmatic conservatives will not fare any better than the reformists.

During the months following the birth of the green movement, pragmatic conservatives tried to steer clear of the fights so that the two reformist and hardline factions would wear each other down. So that once both these factions were completely weakened, they could emerge as “the third force” or “saviors” and take control of government. But what happened was that the conflict between reformists and hardliners grew worse by the day and the political landscape was becoming ever more polarized and radicalized to a point where the entire system was at risk and there was no place for the conservatives.  That is why these conservatives decided to play a role in the events, after seven months of silence. A mediating role. The letter Mohsen Rezaie wrote to the leader, their attempts to reform election laws and to take Saeed Mortazavi [former Tehran Prosecutor General] to court, an attempt at changing the head of the police forces and the IRGC, parliament’s reports on government’s violations of law, their efforts to free imprisoned reformists and their numerous interviews in criticizing the government were all efforts on the part of pragmatic conservatives to end the conflict. Their efforts became more apparent after 22 Bahman [31st anniversary of the revolution].

What is waiting ahead?

The events of 2009 were a result of the deadlock in the reformist movement between 2002-2006. Who can clearly guess the repercussions of eliminating the reformists all together? The silencing of the symbols of the green movement has not destroyed that movement, but taken it to the inner layers of society. The green movement was beyond just “street protests” to be killed off when protests were no longer possible. The demands of this movement are very serious and the lack of a response to them leads the way for possible future political crises and more tension. Right in that moment when the hardliners think everything has come to an end and everything is calm, everything will start anew.

Two groups have always offered a wrong analysis of the Green Movement: an opposition which wants to overthrow the system, who interpreted the street protests as a “last action before the fall of the system” [a reference to Mohsen Sazegara] and the other group is conservatives who thought the Green Movement is the only obstacle towards a final stability of the system. (a writer in the conservative magazine Panjereh [Window] had declared the “end of history” right before a “final sin”; a sin that was the greatest sin of all and was the product of the devil).

The Green Movement however is a reformist, peaceful civil rights movement with clear demands, which is stubbornly trying to create better living conditions for all citizens. Thus, this movement will continue to live beyond the frameworks of those two groups, and will continue to speak out of its demands to the rulers, in whichever way possible, – and not just street protests. With the eruption of every national or international crisis, there is the chance that more street protests will take place. Even though Ahmadinejad has spent a great budget giving charity to the impoverished populations, with growing inflation and unemployment, this group too has much to protest. Amir Mohebian was right when he said: “Mousavi couldn’t tie the struggle of the lower classes to that of the middle class” but certainly, Ahmadinejad is up to the task.

2- Reformists and their leaders will not stop protesting. But the protests of the pragmatic conservatives will be much more effective and useful when they stand with the green movement, and not when they are alone. One of the reasons the reform movement was defeated was that Saeed Hajjarian’s strategy of “pressure from below, bargaining from above” never materialized. There was no pressure from below, and those around President Khatami had no ability to bargain.

The Green Movement is the restructuring and the reforming of the reform movement. When[Saeed] Hajjarian was in prison and was preparing for his televised interview, his strategies were being implemented outside prison. In an unwritten agreement, the people and the leaders of the Green Movement were pressuring [the ruling establishment] from below, and the bargaining was being done by the conservatives from above. This was an effective, realistic dividing of the responsibilities.

3- Up to this point, the hardliners have been defeated in their project. They have not been able to unseat Rafsanjani, and they have not been able to imprison Khatami, Mousavi and Karoubi. Even if Tehran does not see any other street protests, the political environment is so tense and inflamed that it will not allow them to carry out any other projects.

But we must remember that the hardliners are so determined to take the next leadership of the country that they are willing to put the country under any pressure. In order to create extreme circumstances, they are even willing to go to take the country to war with neighboring countries. We know that a war is a good excuse to carry out certain political decisions inside the country. (Faridedin Adel, the son of [Gholam-Ali] Hadad Adel [hardline ex-speaker of parliament] has predicated in an article that Iran will be going to war with Turkey in the next few months.)

4 – It has become quite obvious to the ruling establishment that the hardliners’ solution for the transfer of leadership is very very costly, and full of risk. And that even if this project was to succeed, sustaining it (in terms of its national and international legitimacy, economic difficulties, etc) would be near impossible. That is why we can be hopeful that in the future, the reformists and the pragmatic conservatives will also have the chance to put forth their  solution. These solutions include democratizing the parliament and the Assembly of Experts, eliminating the approbation supervision of the Guardian Council and creating a “Council of Leaders”.

The destination, was to begin the journey.

We can clearly witness two defeats for the contemporary  hardline Shi’a movement: the executions of Sheykh Fazlollah and Navab Safavi. Ayatollah Khomeini too left them dissappointed when establishing the Islamic Republic, by incorporating modern democratic institutions within the frameworks of the system. After the ayatollah’s death, the hardliners spent years trying to reclaim their century long pursuits. But in the last instant, with the rise of the “Imam’s prime minister” [Mousavi], a great movement took shape. The birth of the green movement was an end to the hardliner project, and marked another disappointment for them in history. The family of Ayatollah Khomeini raised their voice in protest and many of the marjas [grand ayatollahs], even some of the most conservative, spoke out in criticism.

If there is any group that is guilty of attempting to overthrow the system, it is the hardliners who wanted to overthrow the “Islamic Republic” and replace it with a “Shia Caliphate”. Mousavi had no choice but to disagree with such a move, even though it had a heavy price for him and the people. Mousavi consciously paid this  price to steer the reformists out of deadlock, because the reform movement is the only way of saving the democratic aspects of the system, and saving the Islamic Republic.

The hardliner project for eliminating the democratic aspects of the system was defeated with the birth of the green movement. The green movement reached its aim right at the start; whatever it might gain hereafter, are all added achievements. The destination was to begin the journey.