Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Factional politics in Iran

In some countries, political competition is spread across a wide spectrum. In Iran the scope of political competition seems to have shrunk to tiny proportions (especially since 2009).

When the president, once the hero of defenders of the faith, becomes the moderate opposition, we have to begin discussing factional politics: competition for power among groups without major policy differences. China is a good example. Iran appears to be another. Can your students identify other similarities between Chinese and Iranian politics? Differences?

Power Struggle Is Gripping Iran Ahead of June Election
With only three months to go in his second and last presidential term, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has raised a series of controversies intended, experts say, to reshape his public image and secure the support of dissatisfied urban Iranians for his handpicked successor, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. It is all part of a power struggle ahead of the June election between Mr. Ahmadinejad’s faction and a coalition of traditionalists, including many Revolutionary Guards commanders and hard-line clerics…

Mashaei and Ahmadinejad
Mr. Ahmadinejad and his supporters have emerged in the unlikely role of the opposition. They are now fighting the traditionalists who, among other things, take a tougher line in negotiations with the West on Iran’s nuclear program and would like to abolish the presidency — a locus of opposition to their power…

Despite his early advocacy of Islam’s role in daily affairs, the president is now positioning himself as a champion of citizens’ rights… In speeches, he favors the “nation” and the “people” over the “ummah,” or community of believers, a term preferred by Iran’s clerics, who constantly guard against any revival of pre-Islamic nationalism…

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s maneuvering is all about his legacy, experts say, an effort to preserve both his political power and his allies…

“In effect, the president has created a new current in Iran’s political establishment,” said Reza Kaviani, an analyst at the Porsesh Institute, which is aligned with Iran’s former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate opponent of Mr. Ahmadinejad…

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s support of Mr. Mashaei… is a particular stick in the eye for the conservatives, as well as a subtle appeal to more progressive Iranians. In messages filled with poetic language, Mr. Mashaei repeatedly propagates the importance of the nation of Iran over that of Islam.

Leading ayatollahs and commanders say that Mr. Ahmadinejad has been “bewitched” by the tall, beardless 52-year old, whom they have called a “Freemason,” a “foreign spy” and a “heretic.” They accuse Mr. Mashaei of plotting to oust the generation of clerics who have ruled Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and of promoting direct relations with God, instead of through clerical intermediaries…

The factional wrangling may well be a preview of what could unfold in Iran over the coming months…

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