Is Iran’s Supreme Leader under pressure?
|September 28, 2011|
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, recently appointed a mediator to resolve a dispute between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the parliament. This dispute challenges the Ayatollah’s authority. The appointee, Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi, is a supporter of Khamenei and will lead an Arbitration Body to investigate and tackle controversies within the ruling system.
The meaning of this appointment is disputed, although several reasons are being proposed.
One theory is that Khamenei felt that he was unable to fulfill his duties as “the regulator of powers” without an additional appointment. This is unlikely, however, because historically, the duty of government relationship regulation, specifically between the parliament and the judiciary, was the job of the president. In 1988, when the constitution was revised, this duty was transferred to the supreme leader. Khamenei transferring this duty to a new mediator is in line with his usual behavior -- he generally rules by exerting indirect control all aspects of the political system, effectively absolving himself of any consequences if something goes wrong.
A second theory is that Khamenei learned his lesson after taking Ahmadinejad’s side following the disputed presidential election of 2009, a decision that hurt his reputation. Over the last few months, Khamenei has tried to end Ahmadinejad’s spats with the parliament and the revolutionary guard. But his speeches and orders could not assuage the fighting words, and Khamenei may have felt pressure to appoint another experienced politian to help solve the conflict. Khamenei’s failure to resolve the recent conflict is unprecedented. In the past, his statements were final and nobody could challenge him. Such was the case, for instance, when he banned normalizing the relationship between America and Iran 10 years ago.
Some experts believe that Khamenei wants to wipe out ex-president Rafsanji and his Expediency Council from the circle of power by curbing their influence. I disagree with these experts, as well. Rafsanjani, in fact, holds little real power since Khamenei must approve all of the Expediency Council’s decisions. More importantly, the powers of the Council are different than those of the new Arbitration Body.
The Expediency Council was formed in 1988 and its mission was to solve disagreements between the parliament and the Council of Guardians. Clerics, scholars, and intellectuals are members of the latter council. Over the time, Khamenei gave it new responsibilities and used the Expediency Council as an adviser.
When doing so, Khamenei referred to Part 1 of Article 110 of Constitution which states that the supreme leader has right to, “...delineation of the general policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran after consultation with the Expediency Council,” and also to Part 8 from the same article which states, “...resolving the problems, which cannot be solved by conventional methods, through the Expediency Council.” To create the new Arbitration Body, he used Part 7 from Article 110 which says, “...resolving differences between the three wings of the armed forces and regulation of their relations.” Therefore, the Expediency Council never had the authority to resolve conflicts, and we cannot claim that it’s power has been limited.
Furthermore, the people who are members of the Arbitration Body are known to be moderate conservatives, almost none of whom fully support Ahmadinejad. The head of this body is Ayatollah Shahrodi, who is a former Chief of Judiciary.
I met Shahrodi during my court case when I was in Iran. At the time, Shahrodi was the Chief of Judiciary. A few years ago his name was in an informal list of Assembly of Experts (a group of eighty six members of senior clergy; this group elects the supreme leader) for next supreme leader of Iranian regime. Ayatollah Khamenei spoke very highly of him when he appointed him as the head of the Arbitration Body.
The appointment of Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi has two potential outcomes: Khamenei using Shahrodi as a scapegoat if political order goes awry, or Shahrodi being on an accelerated path to be chosen as the next supreme leader. I believe, however, that after Ayatollah Khamenei steps down the opposition will take over and abolish the entire system of governance, and there will be no more supreme leaders in the regime.
Roozbeh Mirebrahimi is a well-known Iranian journalist. He worked for several reformist newspapers in Iran, leading to his arrest in 2004. His last job, before fleeing in 2006, was at the Etemad-e Melli newspaper. Mirebrahimi currently resides in New York and is the Editor-in-Chief at Iran Dar Jahan magazine.