Who controls whom? Is Khamenei in control of the Revolutionary Guards or are the Guards dictating policy and Khamenei is simply their front man? Who is the puppeteer and who is the puppet? As the 2009 Coup d’état enters its third week, this question is becoming of ever greater importance.
If Khamenei is still at the helm, then one have to ask why he has chosen to keep Ahmadinejad as president and why he has blatantly alienated half of the inner circle? What are his gains and what are his losses? Indeed, putting the pros and cons from his perspective on a scale, one begins to wonder.
Pros may be:
- Having a president who truly believes in an Islamic jurisprudence embodied by Khamenei.
- Preparing the way for his son, Mojtaba (and there is so much rumours doing the rounds that there has to be some truth there) to succeed him.
Cons have proved to be far more numerous
- Regime has lost its legitimacy both in and outside of Iran (and I am not getting into the debate if it ever has been legitimate)
- The tension and infighting within the ruling establishment has got to unprecedented levels, threatening the very existence of the regime from inside.
- The ensuing street protests on a level never seen since the Islamic revolution of 1979. Khamenei have managed singlehandedly to morph the election results protests into a genuine call for a complete overhaul of the regime. Effectively demanding its demise, a revolution has landed on Khamenei’s doorstep.
- The infallibility of Khamenei and the office he holds is seriously in question. Even if it would survive the current turmoil, the genie is out of the bottle and Khamenei is never going to be taken seriously nor is it likely that there is going to be a singular supreme leader in the future.
It should have been apparent even to Khamenei; that the stakes are truly high and I am frankly not convinced that he actually is grooming his son to succeed him. Iran is not North Korea. It remains then to believe that Khamenei chose to risk everything only to retain a president who is ideologically close to him instead of accepting a president who opposes his views on some major issues but that instead would probably guarantee, at least for the near future, the survival of the Islamic republic.
Hence, in comes the second scenario. The Revolutionary Guards, once an undisciplined group of volunteers with political views as broad as there are Iranians and with not much more weaponry than Kalashnikovs, have steadily gained power in Iran during the past thirty years. The young revolutionaries, who survived the internal cleansings of the corps, have climbed the proverbial ladder; spread their influence in every imaginable institution, governmental, economical or else in Iran. This has happened with not so little help from Khamenei himself who, specially at the beginning of his rein was a weak figure, a compromise to fill the void of shunned Ayatollah Montazeri; and who needed all the help he could get to establish himself as the supreme leader. So he bought the support of the Revolutionary Guards by simply agreeing to all their demands. Four years ago he went one step further, fiddled strongly with the election results back then, ousted the reformist Karroubi from the race and humiliated his former ally Rafsanjani, who because he embodied all that was wrong with the regime never stood a chance anyways, and handed the presidency to Ahmadinejad. With Ahmadinejad as president, the revolutionary corps was effectively running the country.
Four years on and the commanders of this mighty military, economic and political force were not too happy to lose their privileges by the hands of a former prime minister. One they helped to get rid of some 20 odd years earlier by simply abolishing his office all together. This time around Khamenei, as argued above, had much to lose if he would decide to meddle with the result just as he did last time. So the revolutionary guards staged a sort of a palace coup d’état, effectively forcing Khamenei to follow their lead. The pros and cons for the guards?
- They maintain their power.
- Khamenei becomes a weak figure with not much authority, letting the Guards to expand their influence by directly dictating the state policies
- They can continue to do all this in the background with little direct attention to their affairs.
- There would be internal disputes in the highest echelons of power in Iran. But that suits the Revolutionary Guards just fine, offering them a golden opportunity to eliminate dissent within the ruling elite.
- They would risk a revolution. The Revolutionary Guards expected that and unleashed the Basij militia on the people. Force, they assumed, will solve this problem
I conclude therefore by asserting that what we have witnessed so far is a coup d’état by the Revolutionary Guards. Unless the new Iranian revolution manages to keep up its momentum, we’ll witness much bloodshed inside and outside of the inner circles. This would indeed be the worst possible outcome for the Iranian nation, one that certainly this most sophisticated people do not deserve.
United we stand, divided we’ll be ruled by the Revolutionary Guards.
*Pasdar = guard, a member of the Revolutionary Guards