Iranian voters go to the polls on March 2 to choose their next parliament (Majlis) amid mounting political chaos within the Islamic regime and a potential war.
Their two top figures, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are venting their mutual antipathy with mounting stridency. Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) officers are branching out to establish a religious center to challenge the supreme authority of the Qom-based clerical establishment and find a replacement for Khamenei who would place paramount rule of the country into Guards hands.
These violent fluctuations in the destiny of the Islamic Republic’s 80 million inhabitants take place under the potential threat of an attack by Israel – alone or with the United States – to destroy their vaunted nuclear achievements.
Tehran’s counter-threat of a preemptive strike against its “enemies” is a measure of its misgivings, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian sources.
Khamenei’s axe-men are using all their wiles to thwart the election of contenders from the rival Ahmadinejad’s faction. They accuse the president of diverting vast amounts of state funds valued at millions of dollars to buy votes, sending his supporters on canvassing expeditions to weddings and funerals and staging his own performances on “national” stages attended prominently by his favorite candidates.
Ahmadinejad is “a heretic” – Khamenei, infallible
Ahmadinejad is now accused of propagating – under the influence of his closest adviser Esfandyar Rahim Mashaee – a heretical brand of “Iranian Islam” versus the Supreme Leader’s’ “Arabic Islam.”
This charge has a bizarre ring against the sound and fury of the uprising against the rule of Bashar Assad, Iran’s closest ally.
The president hit back by calling for Ayatollah Khamenei to submit to the oversight of state institutions and jurisdiction of elected bodies.
Khamenei’s backers fought off this demand by declaring the Supreme Leader (Valy-e Faqih – Custodian and Religious Prodigy) above the law and outside any lay jurisdiction.
In the heat of the debate, the extreme fundamentalist cleric Seyyed Abbas Nabavi quoted the Supreme Leader as emphasizing at a closed meeting that on no account would he expose himself to criticism. He cited the words of Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, who limited the authority of the Council of Experts to examining the legality of a Supreme Leader’s election but certainly not sit in judgment on his performance.
His followers are trying to drag Ahmadinejad and his friends into the multi-billion corruption trial which opened last week. The 32 defendants in the dock face death sentences if found guilty. The charge sheet, said by informed sources to run to 12,000 pages, lists some of the president’s closest cronies among the accused.
Ahmadinejad threatened in the past that if his colleagues were incriminated, he would publish the dossiers of scores of senior regime officials guilty of embezzling and robbing state coffers. Khamenei was not deterred from ordering the prosecution to refer two of the president’s closest aides for trial.
Two-thirds of Iran’s factories shut down, enrichment continues regardless
The feud between the two men is exacerbated by Iran’s plunging economy and the shortage of foreign currency in consequence of international sanctions.
Two big industrialists, Reza Qasri and Mehdi Mir-Abdolahyan, disclosed this week that only 38 percent of Iran’s industrial plants are still working; 25 percent have shut down and 17 percent are on their last legs. The factories are perishing for lack of foreign currency to purchase raw materials, the cancellation of state subsidies and the cheap Chinese products flooding the markets.
Not long ago, Ahmadinejad promised five million new jobs within a year. This promise has become farcical in the light of Iran’s empty state treasury.
His unpopularity is such that some circles are demanding not just to keep his supporters out of the new Majlis but to abolish the presidency altogether. They prefer a prime minister appointed by the Supreme Leader instead of an elected president. Khamenei is said to quite fancy the idea.
At the same time, the two rivals agree that even extreme economic deprivation is an acceptable price to pay for the sake of Iran’s national nuclear program. No slowdown is therefore to be expected in response to sanctions. Indeed, Iran continues to expand highly enriched uranium production apace heedless of the damage sanctions are causing its economy.