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The Looming Battle for Iran

Iran’s politicians are engaged in an epic squabble that threatens to turn the country upside down just a couple weeks before national elections. Over at Foreign Policy, Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar does a great job summarizing what’s happening:

During an unprecedented debate at the parliament, which ended in mayhem and the dismissal of the labor minister, Ahmadinejad played a video that implicated the powerful Larijani brothers, two of whom head the judiciary and legislative bodies, of corruption and nepotism. Sunday’s impeachment put Ahmadinejad’s remaining presidency in danger since many of his allies in the cabinet have had similar fates. At this fiery session that was being broadcast live on state radio, he threatened and eventually played the video to prove a backroom deal that involved the Larijani family. In response, the speaker of the parliament accused Ahmadinejad of mafia type activities and did not allow him to continue. Ahmadinejad angrily left the parliament and moments later 192 out of 272 members of parliament voted in favor of the impeachment. […]

Ahmadinejad told the parliament that he came to “tell the people that the president you have selected is under the power of the speaker of the parliament [Ali Larijani].” A few months ago, in another showdown with the establishment, he attacked Larijani for claiming that international sanctions have had no effect on Iran’s shamble of an economy (Iran’s currency has plummeted by about 50 percent in the past year), condemned the security and military apparatus for “entering the political arena,” and slammed the state-controlled TV for blaming him for the all country’s problems. […]

With the next election just around the corner, the supreme leader [Ali Khamenei] fears that these public exchanges may once again dangerously polarize the polity and the country. During a meeting to resolve the tensions between the president and the speaker of the parliament just a few weeks ago, Khamenei frustratingly asked them not to publicize their differences. In October 2012, he even warned: “From today until the election day, whoever uses people’s emotions to create conflicts, has definitely betrayed the country.” In a country where political campaigns have turned into massive social movements, normal elections are seen by the government as unusual security threats. Khamenei recalls the 1997 and 2009 presidential elections that gave rise to the Reform and Green Movements, respectively. Looking at the increasing intensity of the past upheavals, he has good reason to worry that the next election could lead to turmoil and obliterate his office.

The last time Iran was this divided in election season was in 2009, and the protests and riots that followed the election were not pretty.

The dispute this time is different, of course, and arguments of this nature between warring political factions in Iran are hardly uncommon. Iranian presidents often cause headaches for the supreme leader. Khamenei did, when he was president. “Now Khamenei has to deal with a loose canon,” writes Tabaar, “and he has only himself to blame.”

Iran’s fractious political landscape heightens the potential for post-election turmoil and, perhaps, violence once again. But maybe, in order to settle this most recent spat, Ayatollah Khamenei might choose to honor Ahmadinejad’s recent request to be Iran’s first astronaut. At least in space he can’t cause political problems.

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