Fatal fissures within Iran leadership aggravate

Iran focus

The memorial held last week for the founder of Iran’s theocratic state, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, offered a glimpse into the fractured state of a regime overcome by a year of popular protests. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sought to use the occasion to counter perceptions of his dented hegemony. But the ceremony turned into a showcase of his frail hold on power and the entrenched crises engulfing his regime.

Perhaps the most notable incident on Friday involved a confrontation between followers of Khamenei and Khomeini's grandson Hassan. Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a staunch supporter of the Supreme Leader, took Hassan’s turn to speak and at the end quickly announced that Khamenei would be the next and final speaker. An angry Hassan promptly took to the podium to speak first. His speech was cut short by unprecedented loud jeers by Khamenei supporters, forcing state television to interrupt its live broadcast as he walked off irate.

More bizarrely, after his partial speech, Hassan reportedly slapped and punched Ahmadinejad’s Interior Minister in the face during an argument, causing the minister to be rushed to hospital. And, when the event’s coordinator reminded Ahmadinejad that his speech was running longer than scheduled, the aggravated president discourteously chastised him on live TV.

Khamenei’s remarks during his first public Friday prayer sermon since he endorsed Ahmadinejad’s controversial presidency last summer signalled a dramatic shift in tone and substance.

On 19 June 2009, when popular protests were in their first days, Khamenei embraced all of the four presidential candidates, underscoring their “revolutionary credentials” and adding that they were all “the establishment’s figures and belonged to the system.”

Now, a year later, Khamenei issued a not so thinly-veiled threat to rival figures, sternly warning that their “current actions” would trump their celebrated “past credentials.” He reminded them that even some of the most loyal early supporters of the regime ended up being executed for adopting unfavourable positions. Indeed, a year of uncompromising protests has visibly jolted the rulers, causing fatal fissures and undermining Khamenei’s clout. Meanwhile, democracy activists have become bolder, louder, and better organised.

The international community should be more vocal in supporting upcoming demonstrations, calling for the release of political prisoners, and venturing to ban all ties with the mullahs unless they cease their political suppression of Iranian citizens.


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