A glaring mistake

A glaring mistake

Ahmadinejad has called for national unity, but the cou-ntry is more divided than at any time since the Islamic Revolution 30 years ago.

Two former presidents, Hashemi Rafsanjani and Muhammad Khatami, many senior clerics, students, academics, businessmen, journalists, and hundreds of thousands of Iranian citizens reject the outcome of the election and are calling for a new poll – at the minimum. The opposition has adopted the protest slogans and actions employed during the 1979 revolution that toppled the Shah, thereby questioning the legitimacy of not only Ahmadinejad but also Khamenei.

Although Khamenei’s task is to ensure that the regime acts in accordance with Islamic law and practice, he is no longer viewed as infallible by many Iranians. This undermines the very foundations of the regime of  ‘vilayet-e-faqih,’ rule by a right-guided jurisprudence.

By imposing Ahmadinejad by means of an election widely viewed as fraudulent and using brute military force to crush protest, the regime is sacrificing its legitimacy. Protesters are calling their rulers ‘dictators.’ The show trial of 100 opposition figures, including former officials and respected opinion makers exposes the regime’s weakness.

Although Ahmadinejad called for national unity in his inauguration address, the country is more divided than at any time since the Islamic Revolution 30 years ago. For the moment there is a stand-off between the regime, headed by Khamenei, and the opposition, led by Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist presidential candidate. He is accused of directing a long-planned ‘velvet revolution’ with the help of the demonised West.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Mousavi is a loyalist who had the patronage of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic. Mousavi's grandmother is Khamenei's maternal aunt and the men grew up in the same city. But Mousavi belongs to the left wing of the revolutionary movement while Khamenei is from the right.

   Mousavi served as prime minister during the period Iran fought a bitter war with Iraq and the regime was under great challenge from the West. He was widely admired for successful management of the economy and the war. After leaving office, Mousavi withdrew from political life, taught architecture, and headed the academy of arts.  Mousavi is just the man to ‘save’ Iran during its troubled time.

During Ahmadinejad’s first four years as president Iran suffered economic turmoil as well as political isolation caused by his unnecessarily confrontational approach to the West. Although Iran enjoyed high revenues while oil prices soared, this was not invested in development projects and job creation but spent in hand-outs for the poor and lost in mismanagement and corruption. Iranians face high unemployment rates and rising inflation. 

As a result of the fall of oil prices, public sector wages and subsidies have been cut. Young people are frustrated by the lack of opportunities and irked by conservative social controls imposed by the clerics.

At the very least, Mousavi could have lifted the atmosphere of oppression and projected an optimistic outlook. As final authority, Khamenei was always in position to shape and direct policy as he did when the reformists were in office (1997-2005). Older and in failing health, Khamenei may no longer have the stamina to stand up to the reformists so he backed Ahmadinejad, a committed conservative.

Strategic mistake
On the external front, the choice of Ahmadinejad was also a major strategic mistake. A victory for Mousavi would have been the best option for the regime. Ahmadinejad is regarded internationally as a loose cannon thanks to his bellicosity towards Israel, dismissal of the Holocaust and confrontational stance toward the Western powers.

  They would have welcomed a Mousavi presidency and given him time to settle into office. While he, like Ahmadinejad, is committed to Iran’s controversial nuclear programme, Mousavi might have been given room to find a compromise allowing Iran to continue enrichment of uranium and construction of reactors for generating electrical power. Ahmadinejad will not be given any leeway.

The Obama administration, under Israeli and domestic pressure to take action against Iran’s nuclear programme, has given Tehran a vague deadline of September to agree to a dialogue. If it misses this deadline, the administration is threatening to step-up sanctions by banning the sale to Iran of refined petroleum products. While Russia and China are unlikely to go along with such a ban, the US could be expected to extract from them a tougher measures than those presently in force. 

The re-inauguration of Ahmadinejad is encouraging Israel to carry on its campaign to persuade the US to mount strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities.  So far, Washington has resisted Israeli pressure, knowing full well that bombing Iran could put at risk US interests in Iraq, which is ruled by pro-Iranian Shias, and prompt Tehran to create problems for the US in Afghanistan. Washington knows that Iran can stir up trouble wherever else there are disaffected Muslims who would be happy to receive Tehran's backing and funding.