Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is pulling out all the stops to prevent any repetition of the protests that surrounded the presidential vote in 2009. There may be signals that unrest is in the offing ahead of the election scheduled for June 14.
Thousands attended the funeral of a senior dissident cleric who died on Sunday, where shouts of “death to the dictator” were heard.
The protests continued in the streets of the city of Isfahan after the funeral of Ayatollah Jalaluddin Taheri. The protest could be a signal that the Green Movement that formed following the 2009 elections may return after the elections this year, which is less than two weeks away.
The Green Movement protested what was seen as a fraudulent election.
In this year’s elections, Iran’s Guardian Council has already ruled out 678 of 686 candidates.
Prof. Ze’ev Maghen, head of the department of Middle East Studies at Bar-Ilan University and a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, who also lectures at the Shalem Center, told The Jerusalem Post
, “On the foreign policy or international-relations front, Iran has entered the unprecedentedly vicious Sunni-Shi’a guerre a mort that it was itself so instrumental in igniting with both barrels blazing, and has staked a great deal on victory in this contest."
“At home, whatever semblance of democracy the regime of the Ayatollahs had managed to preserve since the revolution has now given way to unabashed, full-fledged Stalino-Fascism, in which even the most stalwart ‘pillars of the revolution’ [such as Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former president and right-hand-man to 1979 revolution cleric Ruhollah Khomeini] are all but erased from the political scene."
The move by Khamenei to disqualify Rafsanjani – one of the main figures behind the 1979 Iranian Revolution – is particularly astounding as Maghen mentioned. He is distrusted especially because he backed the Green Movement in 2009.
Despite being regularly referred to as a “moderate,” Rasfajani was involved in various acts of terrorism during his presidency (1989-1997).
Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations listed the acts of Iranian terrorism that occurred under his watch: the 1992 Israeli embassy bombing in Argentina that killed 29 and injured 242, the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center building in Buenos Aires that killed 85 and injured approximately 300, and the 1992 assassination of four Kurdish dissidents in a restaurant in Berlin.
Argentina issued an arrest warrant for Rafsanjani, and German prosecutors said the restaurant attack was approved by him.
His removal from the presidential running indicates that no dissent whatsoever is being tolerated.
Khamenei also removed Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a close ally of the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mashaei currently serves as his chief of staff.
Ahmadinejad appointed him to be vice president in 2009, but he was removed from his post after the supreme leader objected to the appointment.
Patrick Clawson, director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Post that “while we have no good direct evidence about public attitudes in Iran, many indirect indicators suggest the prevailing mood is a mixture of cynicism and anger.”
Clawson said that it seems Khamenei has decided that “he can’t risk a real election because it might rekindle popular protests, and so he has settled for a complete mockery.” Clawson sees Iran’s leadership putting its support behind one candidate at the last minute, and if it ends up being presidential candidate and top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, he said, popular cynicism would be enormous.
Prof. Ali Ansari of St. Andrews University in Scotland, the founding director of the Institute for Iranian Studies, stated to the Post that recent events show the fragility of the political situation insofar as the regime has been unable after four years to completely crush the opposition.
However, he is cautious about predicting a repeat of the protest movement of 2009 at this point because “the organization that existed then has largely been suppressed and dismantled and the authorities are more sensitive to trouble.”
“We can see this in the careful management of the election process so far, albeit with the occasional outburst when a significant ayatollah dies. But it does suggest that discontent is not far from the surface,” added Ansari.
Maghen thinks that despite the recent chants of “death to the dictator,” the chances are “very slim” that any counterrevolution could succeed. He noted that the liberals and communists were easily pushed aside during the Islamic Revolution for a religious ideal.
What can the would-be counterrevolutionaries offer to win over the Iranian public, asks Maghen.
“Genuine democracy? For reasons that would take more than a few sentences to explain, democracy as an ideal is not sufficiently potent to go up against religious tradition. Jefferson is not going to upstage Husayn,” he said, referring to the key seventh-century Shi'ite Muslim figure.
“So even if the ‘death to the dictator’ protest snowballs and reaches ‘green movement’ proportions, it won’t achieve anything more than the green movement did – i.e., next to nothing.”
On Tuesday, Khamenei said that foreign and domestic sources were trying to undermine the upcoming elections. He seems to be setting the stage in case any unrest develops, making it clear that protesters would be viewed as traitors.