28 Jul
2009
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New developments in Iran might show a possible break between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad.

The firing of Intelligence Minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei and the forced resignation of Culture Minister Mohammed Hossein Saffar Harandi by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday has caused a lot of speculation about the possibility of growing divisions within Iran’s leadership.

The situation has become even more confused as reports came in today that Ahmadinejad had rejected Harandi’s resignation in order to avoid a Constitutionally-mandated Parliamentary vote of confidence in his government if more than 50% of the Presidential cabinet is changed.

Both of the Minister’s were close allies of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and their removal a day after Ahmadinejad was pressured into withdrawing his nominee for Vice-President Esfandiar Rahim Mashai by Khamenei and other Conservative members of the regime, including Mohseni-Ejei. This could indicate that relations between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad may be worsening.

Ahmadinejad also named Mashai, whose daughter is also married to Ahmadinejad’s son, his Chief of Staff after withdrawing his nomination, showing that he has not abandoned his support for his relative and that a rift may be forming between the President and his erstwhile patron Khamenei.

These events could indicate several possible scenarios. Mashai’s selection could have been an attempt to reach out to and reconcile with more moderate elements in the Clergy and the Opposition and cause a split between their rivals, in which case Ahmadinejad is still acting as Khamenei’s puppet. This would mean both the selection of Mashai and the removal of Mohseni-Ejei and Harandi were done with the support of the Supreme Leader as an unacknowledged concession to moderate opinion, or for other unknown reasons.

Likewise it could be that the choice of Mashai was Ahmadinejad’s alone and made by the President for his own reasons, and that the removal of Khamenei’s favorites is a sign of worsening tensions between the two and possibly retaliation for the Supreme Leader forcing Ahmadinejad to retract Mashai‘s nomination. The fact that Ahmadinejad waited a full week to withdraw Mashai as his nominee and forced out Mohseni-Ejei and Harandi the next day would appear to support this theory.

 However it would seem to be unwise for Ahmadinejad to be so insolent and rebellious towards his patron by forcing out Khamenei’s allies against The Supreme Leader’s wishes. This could either mean that Khamenei gave his blessing to their replacement to in order to compensate Ahmadinejad for rejecting Mashai, to appease the political Center after the attempt to use Mashai to reach out to the moderates was foiled by hard-line elements within the regime or both.

A more unlikely option is that Mashai was chosen by both Ahmadinejad and Khamenei but following some kind of tension between the two, with Mashai’s nomination possibly contributing to this fraying of ties, Khamenei also had a falling out with Harandi and Mohseni-Ejei and compelled their removal. This could only have come about because Khamenei possibly feared they were becoming too close to the President or even for their perceived, or lack of it as it might be, support for Mashai or that for some other reason the Supreme Leader began to doubt their loyalty.

On the other hand it could be that Khamenei is setting the stage for something considerably more intricate and ruthless to co-opt the rising opposition to his rule by offering an even more unpopular reactionary figure than himself as a victim to serve as a scapegoat for the current unrest. Only Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can rival Khamenei as a symbol of the regime’s numerous failings.

The Supreme Leader may have privately feigned support for Ahmadinejad’s choice of Mashai in order to weaken the President’s standing with the radicals in the regime, and perhaps even proposed Mashai’s nomination to his underling and then double-crossed him. This raises the question of whether the sackings of Harandi and Mohseni-Ejei were also instigated by Khamenei to further damage his now hopelessly-compromised choice for President and help discredit Ahmadinejad with the regime’s hardliners to help prepare the way for his removal. There is a strong possibility that the Supreme Leader has betrayed his protégé and is preparing to sacrifice Ahmadinejad to his enemies in a desperate attempt to save the ruling theocracy and his own power, if not his life.

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