The proposed questioning of the president is the hot topic in Iranian politics these days, especially among Members of the Islamic Parliament.
It all started when the anti-government Principalists, led by Ali Motahari, presented the Presiding Board of the Parliament with a motion to question Mahmoud Ahamdinejad on 10 topics related to suspected wrongdoings. But there are rumours that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, does not approve of the motion. Those rumours have already compelled a number of MPs to withdraw their signatures from the motion summoning the president to Parliament.
I discussed the topic with Ahmad Ghabel, a political analyst and religious researcher in Iran.
How do you evaluate the showdown between the two Principalist (conservative) factions in the Islamic Republic, including the latest chapter in this confrontation, namely summoning the president to Parliament? Would you say the critics have been dissuaded from questioning the president?
Ahmad Ghabel: Certainly not. However, they do not wish to act against the will of the leader. Their main objection to the administration goes back to the fact that Ahmadinejad and his team have not been compliant to the will of the leader; therefore, they cannot cross the leader themselves in their attempts to question the president. If they become certain that the leader is against the motion, they will surely abandon it.
In essence it is hard to imagine that the establishment’s treatment of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his allies was not given a green light by the Supreme Leader, especially the arrests and media attacks against the administration and the use of the term “deviant current” in the Friday Mass Prayers and by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander. How do you evaluate the role of the Supreme Leader in all this?
Ahmad Ghabel: In terms of the statement expressed by IRGC commanders and a number of political figures, I feel that Mr. Khamenei would like Ahmadinejad to appear as a weakened and subdued figure until the end of his term. He does not want any extraordinary events to ensue such as the removal of the president. Ayatollah Khamenei wants to keep Ahmadinejad under his thumb until the end of his presidential term and does not want the affair to become any more critical.
What kind of leverage does Ahmadinejad have to resist the majority of the Parliament and his Principalist critics? Does he have any media resources or the power to rally street protests?
Ahmad Ghabel: I think his only leverage lies in his knowledge of a collection of classified information. He is the second top figure in the country and is privy to nuclear, military, political and economic information that he could use as leverage by threatening to blow the whistle in various cases. This is something that he has touched on a bit in some of his interviews. But I do not think that Ahmadinejad has any other source of power to stand against the leader and his team or to fight against them.
Earlier, Mr. Ahmadinejad spoke of a red line around his administration, indicating that if the arrests extend to his cabinet, he will take action. Do you think that Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, the president’s chief of staff, and Hamid Baghai, his executive deputy, may be arrested?
Ahmad Ghabel: This whole issue of arrests begins with the judicial files against Mashai, Baghai and other Ahmadinejad allies. The judiciary was apparently given the green light by the leader to pursue some of these cases. It appears that Ayatollah Khamenei is more inclined to allow the judiciary to follow up on these issues, rather than address them through the special powers of Parliament or the Supreme Leader. Now it appears, though, that Ayatollah Khamenei does not want to rock even that boat.
I would like to add that they are also fearful of the possibility that Ahmadinejad might defect during one of his international trips because of the weakened and humiliated state he has been reduced to. In view of all the information he possesses, this could be very problematic for them.
In this conflict between the majority Principalists in Parliament (which the Leader of the Islamic Republic appears to back) and the president, do you feel that the opposition movement, that is Ayatollah Rafsanjani and the reformists, have found breathing space, or is their situation unaltered?
Ahmad Ghabel: The protest movement that has come to be known as the “Green Movement” has its issues with both of these currents in the conservative faction; therefore, conservative disputes do not really create any opportunities for the reformists. What minimal benefit there may be comes mostly from growing international pressure around upheavals in the region, and how the fate of regional despots may reflect on the Islamic Republic establishment.
In terms of the lively confrontation to come during the parliamentary elections in March, how do you feel the country’s political forces will array themselves at this juncture? Do you feel that the establishment will show some flexibility and allow reformists outside their own circle to run in the elections?
Ahmad Ghabel: I believe we will not see such inclusiveness in these elections because we see no indication of such softening in the other branches of government, such as the judiciary. Arrests still continue. People are treated harshly, homes are raided and verbal attacks against reformists have even intensified.
Ayatollah Khamenei views the protesters of 2009 as the forces of the enemy. So long as they are his opponents, it is fair game, as in the case of Haleh Sahabi, to destroy her even at her father’s funeral, or as in the case of Hoda Saber and all those who went on hunger strike in the prisons, to let them die from their efforts.
I believe that if the conditions do not change, the reformists should not participate in the elections. As a reformist myself, I state with certainty that I will not participate in the elections unless an extraordinary development opens the way to include the will of the people in government.
Inset picture: Ahmad Ghabel