Robert Fisk and Juan Cole on the Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech

Iran's palace intrigues

Although much of the world is surely watching while the popular opposition in Iran presses its and Mir-Hossein Mousavi's cause with the Iranian government, Robert Fisk holds the opinion that the decisive political struggle in Iran can be found only among those members of the elite vying for power.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was Thomas Cromwell yesterday, praising those he loathed with just enough directness for the recipient to know that a Supreme Leader's anger will embrace a senior cleric or two. When he expressed his admiration for Ali Akbar Rafsanjani's revolutionary credentials and added that "nobody has accused this gentleman of corruption" — who said they had? — you knew exactly what he meant. Think profits from pistachio nuts and the Tehran Metro. And when Khamenei said that "those who voted for these four candidates will have their rewards from God Almighty", you knew that most would not be rewarded with the president of their choice.

Thus Khamenei's threats were meant not only to persuade the mobilized common folk to return to their homes, lest they become cannon fodder when the government chooses to restore order to the country. They were, Fisk suggests, indicative of the fact that Khamenei also feels personally threatened by these events and the opposition leaders who stand to profit from them:

So why did he [Khamenei] glue himself to Ahmadinejad? Could it be he is worried about another very powerful clergyman who lives in the golden-domed city of Qom, a certain Ayatollah Yazdi who has long feted and praised the aforesaid Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? And is it possible — it is, by the way — that Ayatollah Yazdi would very much like to be the next Supreme Leader?

Good reason then for Khamenei to stand by the President who insisted a halo shone around his head when he addressed the UN.

Juan Cole shares Fisk's concerns:

It now seems only a matter of time until there are high-level arrests and then an intervention against the protesters by the security forces of a quite brutal sort. Only if Mousavi backs down (and thus possibly demoralizes the crowds) can this outcome now be averted.

The real question is whether this is 1963, when the shah managed to put down a rebellion led by Ruhollah Khomeini, or whether it is 1978-79, when he failed to do so. The answer lies in the depth of support for the protests among the population, and in the stance of the various armed forces toward the latter. In 1963 the military was willing to crack down hard on the protesters. In 1978, they started refusing to fire on them. The air force officers actually went over to Khomeini, which was decisive. Precisely because the opposition is from within the ruling circle, we cannot know what the Revolutionary Guards and the regular armed forces are thinking. Mousavi helped get Iran's military act together during the Iran-Iraq War. Rezaie is a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Iran's national guard. If the armed forces hesitate or split, Khamenei could be in real trouble. If not, the protesters could end up being crushed.

So, the stakes are large. And did Khamenei's threats work? Have the popular and elite opponents of the election retreated? No, according to an Agence France-Presse report: "Iran's opposition will go ahead with a planned rally in Tehran despite a government warning against new protests, an aide to defeated presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi told AFP."

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