In the Arena

Something’s Happening in Iran

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Iran continues to emit wisps of turmoil at the highest levels. First, there’s the unprecedented statement by the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qom–the religious center of Iraq–in support of the reform movement. This was the group that was at the heart of the movement led by Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomenei that brought about the Islamic revolution of 1979. It could be an indicator of the more significant turmoil that may be taking place inside the Assembly of Experts, which elects and has the power to eject the Supreme Leader.

At the same time, there are the continuing, hyperbolic attacks against leading reformers like Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi in Kayhan, a newspaper closely associated with the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In an editorial, Hossein Shariatmadari–a close advisor to Khamenei–excoriates Mousavi and his movement:

“That corrupt movement has been implementing a foreign mission in order to encourage unlawful activities, kill innocent people, create a rebellion, plunder public property and weaken the power of the Islamic system,” he wrote.

Shariatmadari said Mousavi was trying to cover up his “crimes” after saying Wednesday that he still fully backs Iran’s system of governance.

“His aim is to escape from definite punishment for the murder of innocent individuals, inciting riots and rebellions, hiring some thugs and ruffians to attack the lives, property and honor of the people, clear collaboration with foreigners, performing the role of the fifth column inside the country, and scores of other undeniable crimes,” Shariatmadari wrote.

Well. These sorts of hysterical attacks are part and parcel of the Iranian thug leadership style. But the intensity may indiciate that Khamenei is getting a bit edgy, feeling more than a bit threatened–not so much by the street demonstrations, which are being brutally crushed by the police, but by his clerical brethren, who never thought very highly of him as a religious thinker, and are now showing clear disapproval of the military dictatorship that he and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lead. 

The chances are that the Qom mullahs won’t have the muscle to force out Khamenei, but it is increasingly clear that this story isn’t over yet.