Iran - Caught in a political storm
The Islamic state of Iran has been on the boil ever since the disputed results of the country’s Presidential Elections were declared. The Iranian version of democracy came under the scanner after the authorities declared the hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a ‘clear’ winner paving way for his return to power for a second consecutive term.
Ahmadinejad’s victory over his nearest rival and the reformist leader Mir Hossein Mousavi was not well received by the Iranians as allegations of poll fraud and rigging were slapped on the incumbent government.
Since then, the Shiites-ruled Islamic State has been on a knife-edge as millions of agitated supporters of Mousavi have taken to streets and protested against the “unacceptable outcome” of the electoral exercise.
Both, the opposition and the incumbent sides have in the recent past organised mass rallies to put forth their claim to power. Violent protests and demonstrations have taken place in several parts of the country as Mousavi has refused to accept the poll outcome and pledged to continue his crusade against what he calls a government of “lies and dictatorship”.
As tension flared up, thousands of Mousavi’s masked supporters clashed with police in Tehran, damaged public property, set ablaze public transport buses, pelted stones and bottles on the security forces taking the Islamic state towards the biggest unrest of the decade.
Besides Tehran, which has been at the centre of protests, violence also broke out in cities of Isfahan, Rasht and Tabriz. In Qom, which is the headquarters of Iran`s clerical establishment, severe demonstrations against former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, were also reported.
With the increasing international support for the green revolution leader and amidst allegations of poll fraud, the incumbent government launched a massive crackdown to silence the voices of angry Iranians, who took to streets defying gunshots and beating.
The brutal crackdown has so far claimed the lives of seven protestors (as claimed by the state radio) and the government has attempted to clampdown media in a bid to prevent the leakage of images and news of Iranian unrest to the outside world. The Iranian regime has suppressed liberal leaders, blocked text messages and social networking sites showing support for Mousavi and jammed mobile telephony in Tehran.
Struggle for power
Although, the disputed election has flared up the fresh tension in Iran, many political analysts believe that a veiled power struggle between the country’s two most powerful leaders - Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani – is mainly responsible for this state of unrest.
Khamenei, who is Iran`s supreme spiritual leader, has blessed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with his support while the reformist former president Rafsanjani, who is one of the country’s richest men, supports Mousavi.
The two leaders, Khamenei and Rafsanjani, represent two schools of thoughts in Iran.
The one represented by Khamenei promotes Iran as a revolutionary state, while Rafsanjani, who is a vocal critic of Ahmadeinejad’s anti-West diatribe, policies and hardline approach, wants Iran to be seen as a pragmatic state.
So the present conflict is actually fallout of a conflict between the two powerful camps.
Both, Rafsanjani and Mousavi are the old guards of the great Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Seeds of dispute
The seeds of present dispute were sown much before the start of election campaigning as the two sides categorically blamed each other for Iran`s pressing domestic problems.
The two camps have often expressed their bitterness during public rallies and electoral debates. Ahmadinejad has openly accused Mir Hossein Mousavi as a leader backed by a group of corrupt politicians led by Rafsanjani. Ahmadinejad has further blamed Rafsanjani’s side for acting as an agent of Washington and endorsing its anti-Islamic policies.
Ahmadinejad’s hardline approach, his anti-America & anti-Israel diatribe and his unwillingness for opening up the country and Tehran’s ongoing nuclear standoff with the West has faced severe criticism from the reformists.
The moderates have blamed Ahmadinejad for the country’s ailing economy and surging unemployment resulting due to the Iran’s economic isolation at the international level and the sanctions imposed by the US and the UN.
Khamenei’s intervention & nod for poll recount
In view of increasing international pressure on Tehran, the supreme leader Khamenei has appealed for calm and the country’s Guardian Council has agreed for a limited poll recount. However, Khamenei has categorically dismissed Mosavi’s demand to annul the elections and endorsed Ahmadinejad as the "elected president".
Blaming the “tension seekers” for the present unrest, Khamenei has urged the people of Iran to have patience and not to tarnish the country’s image in the global sphere.
All this also reflects that Khamenei is weakening and reeling under pressure and his status as the unchallenged leader of Iran is declining.
The international community, which was waiting for signs of a possible shift in Tehran`s attitude towards West, has strongly reacted to the outcome of the election. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was among the top international leader who denounced the Iranian government`s "brutal" reaction to demonstrators. Several Human Rights and democracy watchdogs have compared the Iranian polls to China’s ‘Tiananmen massacre’ and denounced the outcome. Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama was "deeply disturbed” by the Iranian regime’s crackdown on the protestors. Continuing a war of word, Tehran once again unleashed its tongue and accused Washington of “meddling” in Iran’s internal affair- a claim rejected by the US.
Meanwhile, Iran’s archrival Israel has renewed calls for more international pressure on Tehran to suspend its controversial nuke programme aimed at Tel Aviv. With Ahmadinejad`s return, Israel sees no softening of ties with Iran and this development is a major blow to the US hopes for rapprochement with the Islamic state.
Washington has had no official ties with Tehran for the past three decades. However, Barack Obama has expressed his desire for a direct dialogue with the rogue state ever since he was sworn in as President.
What has been most interesting to watch is the silence maintained by the major Arab States over the political disturbance in Iran. The silent approval of Ahmadinejad as the President of Iran reflects Tehran’s growing status as regional super power and its influence in the Arab World. Despite worries that Iran was fuelling Islamic radicalism, strengthening the Shiites in the region, the Arabs have also opposed any US-backed military strike against Iran.
All this makes Iran a key player in the Middle East. Despite Iran’s backing to Hezbollah, Hamas and its closeness with Syria; President Obama has sought Iran’s mediation in resolving the Middle East conflict and establishing a lasting peace in the region.
Although, Tehran has not responded only somewhat positively to President Obama’s overtures, the world keenly awaits the political storm to settle at the earliest, as a stable and moderate Iran holds key to resolving the Mid East crisis.