Part III: The Future of Factionalism

(Continued from part II)

The pressing question is that with all this establishment infighting and recent sniping at Ahmadinejad’s faction, what, if anything, does this change? I think the best way to answer this question is to look at things in the short and long term.

Some of the short-term developments could be seen almost right after I began posting this three-part post. At the height of the criticism against Ahmadinejad the president wrote a letter to the Supreme Leader asking for his help in resolving the differences with parliament, and Khamenei even had a sit-down with Ahmadinejad, Ali Larijani and Sadegh Larijani (the judiciary chief, who has his own problems with the president). What exactly was discussed at this tea summit’ wasn’t reported, but a week or so later the president and Ali Larijani emerged in some photo with both of them smiling and, as the pictures would have you believe, getting along famously.

On the surface Khamenei seems to have done his job as balancer-in-chief and quelled the fighting for the time being. There was talk of MPs gathering signatures to summon Ahmadinejad to parliament for questioning–and in the most extreme case, to begin impeachment proceedings–but talk of this seems to have died down for the moment. Of course the criticisms haven’t totally been put to rest, and even after their chummy photo-ops there has been isolated criticism of the president for the same reasons as before. But in the short term, at least, the bleeding has stopped.

With regards to the clergy, I have a strong suspicion the re-introduction of the extremely controversial family planning bill was meant as a gesture to either satisfy or distract those conservatives who were criticizing the president for being to lax in enforcing Islamic morals. Better still, it is being debated in and must be passed by the parliament, so the hardline clerics can focus their wrath on MPs who, like they did today, vote down an amendment legalizing temporary marriages. Qom seems to have quieted down and calls for the head of Rahim-Mashaei are no longer mainstays of the news, so for the short term this mini-crisis seems to have been averted.

These tensions may have been swept under the rug and dealt with in the short term, but nothing about how this was done will stop these problems from re-emerging in the future. Rahim-Mashaei is going nowhere, and may have even racked up another job title, bringing his official appointments to upwards of 20, much to the chagrin of his (many) detractors. Ahmadinejad and Larijani may be smiling together now, but from what I’ve read there are no new solution or procedure established for instances of disagreement between the parliament and the president–of which there will surely be many more in the not-too-distant future. The conservative clergy may have their attention set on another issue, but when that one is dealt with there will surely be another instance of tension with the president, especially if he is, as some commentators have speculated, re-positioning himself as a Iranian nationalist to win votes from the disaffected (and irreligious) youth in the next parliamentary election.

With this said, I would expect to see more instances of heightened factionalism within the establishment in the medium and long term. Nothing has been done to address the root cause of their problem–the struggle for power amid the rising ‘neo-conservative’ block–and as elections approach and conservative factions feel more worried that they may meet the same fate as the reformists, they will fight back, and do so as if they are fighting for their very survival.

The determining factor will of course be Khamenei. In the past he has served his role as balancer-in-chief, making sure every faction is content and maintaining the broad support of as many groups and political blocs as possible. After the 2009 election he lost any pretence to be above the political fray and without a preferred faction, but at the same time, that was a choice he made when it was between the unpredictable but loyal Ahmadinejad and ‘seditious’ reformists. This dichotomy will not be repeated come the next parliamentary elections, so he may very well want to restore some credibility with other members of the establishment that have felt marginalized since July 2009. On top of this, Ahmadinejad may not be as loyal as the Supreme Leader may have previously believed, so he might want to humble the president and his ‘25 million votes’. It’s far too early to tell that far in advance, but we’ll get a glipse of this when the next conservative crisis hits. And that should be right around the corner…..


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