While the Iranian masses are hitting the streets to protest 30 years of oppression, the ongoing trampling of human rights, and a grave economic situation, behind the scenes we see a ferocious power struggle among different government factions, and particularly between two ayatollahs: Ali Khamenei and Ali Akbar Rafsanjani.
The two, who are among the most veteran figures in the Islamic regime in Iran, were among the protégés of ayatollah Khomeini, and since the Islamic republic’s establishment assumed the most senior posts there.
During the Khomeini era, Khamenei served as president, while Rafsanjani was the parliament speaker; after the leader of the revolution died, Khamenei became the supreme leader and Rafsanjani became president and the head of two of the regime’s most important councils.
Over the years, the two figures have distanced from each other, and although both belong to the conservative camp, Khamenei adopted a stricter line, while Rafsanjani adopted a more pragmatic approach.
Up until the recent elections, Khamenei attempted to portray himself as a leader who is above disagreements and rivalries among different factions, yet it appears that during the presidential term of the reformist Khatami he felt his regime was in jeopardy, while during Ahmadinejad’s era he felt more secure.
This was a period of reinforcing the conservative approach, a courageous and uncompromising stance on the nuclear front, and success stories by Iran’s regional satellites (Hizbullah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.)
When Khamenei realized that the reformists are expected to win the elections, he decided to go for the safer choice – Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guards. By doing that, Khamenei became the leader of the neo-conservative faction, minimized his support base, and now is no longer seen as a leader accepted by all factions.
Rafsanjani, who did not forget his stinging defeat to Ahmadinejad in the second round of the 2005 elections, took advantage of the opportunity and endorsed a candidate on his behalf (Mohsen Rezaee) in order to take his revenge on the serving president. However, he has not yet revealed all his cards, as befits a man nicknamed “The Shark.”
He may be attempting to reach an agreement with the various factions within the regime in order to marginalize the neo-conservatives, while at the same time preserving the existing Islamic regime and pledging to undertake broad reforms.
However, there should be no mistake about it: What bothers Rafsanjani most of all is not the future of the ayatollah regime, but rather, his own personal interests.
The writer heads the Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies at University of Haifa