Iran internal battle simmers as state fetes anniversary

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad signaled that his dispute with a potential successor, parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, is still alive as the country celebrated the 34th anniversary of the Islamic Republic.

Speaking to thousands at a rally in Tehran yesterday, Ahmadinejad alluded to bickering with Larijani that became public last week as the two men traded accusations of fraud and wrongdoing before the June presidential election. That face-off before parliamentarians led to the impeachment of one of Ahmadinejad’s associates and the temporary arrest of another.

Ahmadinejad said there were “issues” that he wanted to share with Iranians. “Because I don’t want to turn bitter the sweetness of the revolution’s anniversary, and for our dear leader, I will do so at a later date,” he said in comments aired live on state television. He was referring to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Feb. 7 order that the ruling elite end its public squabbling.

During the annual ceremony held at the Azadi, or Freedom Square, Ahmadinejad vowed that Iran won’t cede its “rights” in the face of U.S. and European sanctions aimed at curbing its nuclear program, and lauded the nation’s progress in industries such as agriculture and energy.

Larijani Attacked

Larijani was forced to cut short his address yesterday at a gathering in the holy city of Qom to commemorate the revolution after he was attacked by Ahmadinejad supporters, the Iranian Labour News Agency reported.

About 100 followers of the president interrupted Larijani, the main speaker at the event, by shouting slogans and then throwing clay prayer tablets and shoes, ILNA said. He was led away after protesters tried to reach the area from which he was speaking, ILNA said.

The news prompted criticism by several members of parliament who said police and Intelligence Ministry officials must investigate the incident, the Tehran-based Etemaad newspaper reported today.

“This anti-revolutionary move emanates from a deviant way of thinking,” Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, was quoted as saying. “This deviation must be strongly confronted in line with the law.”

His comments referred to the “current of deviation,” a term coined by Ahmadinejad’s critics to describe an ideological movement they say is led by the president and his allies and detrimental to the Islamic Republic.

Lost Favor

Ahmadinejad, once a protege of Khamenei, fell out of favor with the top cleric during his second term after challenging his authority. Larijani, a follower of Khamenei, is seen as a potential candidate in the June 14 presidential election, in which Ahmadinejad is constitutionally unable to run. Larijani lost to Ahmadinejad in the 2005 vote and later stepped down as a nuclear negotiator over his disagreements with the president.

The two politicians’ dispute is as much rooted in social standing as differences of beliefs on how to manage the state, said Mahjoob Zweiri, a professor of contemporary Middle East politics at Qatar University.

Larijani’s father was a senior cleric and he’s one of five sons who have all held public office. Ahmadinejad by contrast is the son of a blacksmith and rose to power after a two-year stint as Tehran mayor, riding on his pledge to distribute the country’s oil riches amongst the poor.

‘Political Realities’

Ahmadinejad relies on his image as a man of the people, and “believes you have to respond to the needs of people,” Zweiri said. “Larijani sees that you have to act with regards to political realities, you have to act as a state. He presents himself as the statesman, a professional politician.”

Larijani has said that the Ahmadinejad government’s bad management is responsible for 80 percent of Iran’s economic problems, and “Robin Hood methods” haven’t helped the country.

Thousands of people gathered at the Azadi square earlier. With Tehran’s schools shut for the day, hundreds of students were visible in the crowd. Local reporters in the capital covering the event for foreign media were asked by authorities to stay in designated areas.

The state-run Press TV news channel had uninterrupted coverage of the celebration. Some demonstrators were shown holding banners that read “we will resist until the end” and “we heed your call, oh Khamenei,” as well as pictures of the supreme leader and his predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic.

Financial Sanctions

Yesterday’s state-backed rallies in Tehran and other major cities follow another round of U.S. financial sanctions that came into force four days ago to pressure the country to curb its nuclear program, which Iranian officials maintain is solely civilian. Last week, Khamenei rejected an approach by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to hold direct talks over the issue. Khamenei said negotiations while the U.S. “holds a gun” to Iran “won’t solve a thing.”

Iran is to resume discussions on its nuclear program with the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China on Feb. 26 in Kazakhstan. The last round of negotiations between Iran and the group, known as P5+1, were held in Moscow in June and failed to yield results. Iran, battling harsher U.S. and European Union sanctions, is faced with a weakened currency and an inflation rate nearing 29 percent.

By Bloomberg


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