Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Armchair activists and the struggle in Iran

I feel sorry for all the good natured armchair activist types. They rarely know what fight they are really fighting. Take the recent protests in Iran, for example. A lot of armchair activists around the world joined in support. They wrote Twitter messages and Facebook status updates, and some even went so far as to send forwards! They probably had the best of intentions, mostly, but it is quite likely that they were actually supporting one bunch of radical Shia against another.

In a report released today, the US think tank Stratfor has analysed the causes of the present unrest in Iran. Their analysis is that it is primarily a fight between the class of clergy that came to power after the Iranian revolution of 1979 and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who wants his own appointees in the ruling clergy. George Friedman writes that the focus of the current power struggle was not Mir Mousavi, a founding member of the Islamic Republican Party who was prime minister of Iran during its disastrous war with Iraq, but Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Here is part of what Startfor wrote:

Rafsanjani represents the class of clergy that came to power in 1979. He served as president from 1989-1997, but Ahmadinejad defeated him in 2005. Rafsanjani carries enormous clout within the system as head of the regime’s two most powerful institutions — the Expediency Council, which arbitrates between the Guardian Council and parliament, and the Assembly of Experts, whose powers include oversight of the supreme leader. Forbes has called him one of the wealthiest men in the world. Rafsanjani, in other words, remains at the heart of the post-1979 Iranian establishment.

Ahmadinejad expressly ran his recent presidential campaign against Rafsanjani, using the latter’s family’s vast wealth to discredit Rafsanjani along with many of the senior clerics who dominate the Iranian political scene. It was not the regime as such that he opposed, but the individuals who currently dominate it. Ahmadinejad wants to retain the regime, but he wants to repopulate the leadership councils with clerics who share his populist values and want to revive the ascetic foundations of the regime. The Iranian president constantly contrasts his own modest lifestyle with the opulence of the current religious leadership.

Recognizing the threat Ahmadinejad represented to him personally and to the clerical class he belongs to, Rafsanjani fired back at Ahmadinejad, accusing him of having wrecked the economy. At his side were other powerful members of the regime, including Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, who has made no secret of his antipathy toward Ahmadinejad and whose family links to the Shiite holy city of Qom give him substantial leverage. The underlying issue was about the kind of people who ought to be leading the clerical establishment. The battlefield was economic: Ahmadinejad’s charges of financial corruption versus charges of economic mismanagement leveled by Rafsanjani and others.

When Ahmadinejad defeated Mir Hossein Mousavi on the night of the election, the clerical elite saw themselves in serious danger. The margin of victory Ahmadinejad claimed might have given him the political clout to challenge their position. Mousavi immediately claimed fraud, and Rafsanjani backed him up. Whatever the motives of those in the streets, the real action was a knife fight between Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani.

This may not be the whole truth either, but since Startfor (www.stratfor.com) is not known as the ‘shadow CIA’ for nothing, presumably they know a little more than the rest of us.

So next time before you jump on to a bandwagon, look before you leap.

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