Magazine critique of Ahmadinejad exposes internal rifts

Iran president accused of amassing too much power at allies' expense; harshly worded editorial appears in Revolutionary Guards' magazine.

By DAVID ROSENBERG / THE MEDIA LINE
November 9, 2010 13:41
4 minute read.
Ahmadinejad in Beirut, Thursday

Ahmadinejad cool headphones 311 AP. (photo credit: Associated Press)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who smothered his reformist opposition in the wake of last year’s elections, faces a new and potentially dangerous threat from the people and groups he once relied on as his closest allies.

The opposition to what many in Iran regard as Ahmadinejad’s increasingly centralized rule had been largely conducted behind the scenes. But it has suddenly emerging in a harshly worded editorial in the Iran Revolutionary Guards' monthly magazine Payam-e Enghelab (Message of the Revolution) on a seemingly obscure subject on the role of the country’s parliament.

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“You have an independent president for the first time since the revolution. Ahmadinejad is undermining the leadership and this could lead to an [unraveling] of the current system," Ali Alfoneh, a resident fellow, at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, told The Media Line.

Outside of Iran, Ahmadinejad is seen as a powerful figure who is resisting Western pressure to abandon the country’s controversial nuclear program, challenging America in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, and crushing his reformists’ opponents after he won the 2009 presidential elections. At home, however, the president’s growing power has alienated everyone from his one-time patron, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, too many in the Guards.

Ahmadinejad exposed the fissure in Iran’s ruling circles in an interview with the Iran daily. He asserted that the executive branch of government is superior to parliament and should be responsible for running the country. Parliament’s job, he said, is to support presidential rule.

“Now the executive branch has to run the country and other branches have to support it,” wrote Ahmadinejad.



Payam-e Enghelab countered with an editorial last week by accusing the president of upsetting the balance of power in Iran’s political system and of employing “Persianism” rather than “Islamism” as the ideological basis of government. This was a serious accusation in a state that disdains nationalism over religion. "Does being on top justify whatever action the government thinks is right, disregarding the law?" the magazine asked.

Parliament is the bastion of Iran’s conservative establishment and an attack on it by the president was bound to elicit a response, Alireza Nader, an international policy analyst at the RAND Corp., wrote in a commentary for the online news magazine Tehranbureau.com. They view Ahmadinejad's claim as an attempt to undermine their authority.

But for Ahmadinejad the more painful accusation is that his efforts to put presidential rule at the top of the power apex contradicted the political principles of the Islamic state as established by the Ayatollah Khomeini, the deeply revered founder of Iran’s Islamic state. Although he died in 1989, Khomieni’s philosophy officially continues to guide it. Indeed, the conservatives are known as “principalists” for their self-proclaimed strict adherence to Khomeini’s views. 

Nader said the Guards are by no means all aligned against Ahmadinejad, who himself is a veteran of the organization and has vastly expanded its political power since he was first elected to office in 2005. But many in the Guards’ leadership are pleased to see the president being cut down to size, he said.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supported Ahmadinejad in both presidential elections, but now the ayatollah fears the president has grown too strong and so he is trying to create a counter power, said Alfoneh in a telephone interview from Washington D.C...

“For the Revolutionary Guards, a policy of ‘resistance’ against the U.S. is ideal even if it entails costs, but it has to produce tangible benefits for the regime's military elite,” Nader wrote on Tehran.com.  “United Nations sanctions and Iran's loss of support from key partners such as Russia have been interpreted as failures.”

The Guards’ political ascendency began during the years Iran was ruled by reformist President Mohammad Khatami. But their power may have peaked during Ahmadinejad's first term, beginning in 2005.

Meanwhile, the Iranian Green Movement, whose supporters took to the street in the summer of 2009 to protest what they alleged was a fraudulent election, isn’t a player in the power struggle, according to Alfoneh.

Yet Nader said Ahmadinejad's disregard of parliament has pushed some hardliners in the principalist faction closer together with the more moderate reformists.


The rifts have prompted Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to call for all branches of government to support the president whose government he has hailed as extremely successful.

“National unity is very important and must be strengthened with every passing day... and by that I am addressing both officials and ordinary people," Khamenei said during his recent visit to the holy city of Qom.

Kalindi O’Brien contributed to this report


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