Iran: The Hardliners Circle the Wagons

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on March 8, 2011

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is no one’s idea of an Iranian George Washington, but as a powerful and savvy politician, and as a political figure who is significantly less crazy than are the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamene’i, he has the potential to help bring about positive political change, and greater liberalization in Iran.

Which, I guess, was the reason why the hardliners believed that he had to go:

Reporting from Tehran and Beirut The Iranian opposition’s most powerful sympathizer lost his post Tuesday as chief of an important clerical council that oversees the country’s supreme leader.

Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president, was defeated in his bid to continue as head of the Assembly of Experts in what is widely considered a victory for his conservative rivals, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, described as a more traditional conservative cleric, became leader of the clerical body, getting 63 of 86 votes.

Rafsanjani’s loss is the latest blow to an opposition movement that sent millions of protesters into the streets in 2009 but was struggling to regain momentum after being battered by Iranian security forces in the last 20 months. He withdrew his candidacy for reelection as head of the assembly after an intense media campaign against him by Ahmadinejad and his hard-line allies in government.

The Assembly of Experts has the power — in theory, at least — to appoint Iran’s supreme leader and oversee his performance. Assembly members are popularly elected but must be vetted by the ultra-conservative Council of Guardians before they are allowed to run for office. Hard-liners have been pushing for Rafsanjani’s removal as the assembly chief for some time.

“It shows the determination on an institutional level to marginalize him totally,” said Mahjoob Zweiri, an Iran expert at Qatar University. “It is an indication of the level of tension on the political scene in Iran. It’s a continual process of marginalizing, limiting the powers of others, trying to force them to leave.”

In the long run, the regime in Iran is doomed. But this was a step back for the opposition, and a sign that the regime will not go quietly. It made sure to deprive Rafsanjani of his job, and it will make sure to deprive protesters on the streets of their lives, if that is what it takes to keep the regime in power.

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