Rafsanjani Blasts Ahmadinejad as a Counter-Revolutionary ; Charismatic Rahnevard Attracts Crowds for her Husband Mousavi

The political head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards,Yadollah Javani clearly had a scare thrown into him by Monday’s enormous demonstration in Tehran in favor of reformist presidential candidate Mir-Hosain Mousavi. He issued a statement Wednesday warning that there would be no “velvet revolution” in Iran and that attempts to foment one would be nipped in the bud.

Still, Mir-Hosain Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnevard are attracting huge campaign crowds.

The pro-Ahmadinejad forces are facing a public relations debacle. In his debates with other candidates, Ahmadinejad cited glowing economic statistics that ill accorded with the lived reality of most Iranians. As Gary Sick notes, he also lashed out at Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former two-term president and current head of the Expediency Council, which adjudicates disputes between the elected parliament and the clerical senate, the Guardianship Council. The Expediency Council also determines the competency of Iran’s Supreme Leader and appoints his successor.

Ahmadinejad claimed that in all the history of the republic since 1979 only his presidential administration had been free of corruption and nepotism. Since, as Muhammad Sahimi points out, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was president in the 1980s, that was a slam against even him. Ahmadinejad charged that Rafsanjani was personally corrupt, but since Rafsanjani has been at the center of the key institutions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ahmadinejad could not indict him for corruption and incompetence without implying that the whole history of the IRI since 1979 has been a den of iniquity. Perhaps such an implication was always there in the populist Ahmadinejad’s championing of the little people against clerical fat cats. But to state the case so baldly surely must have raised questions in the minds of his audience about why he wanted to be president of such an abased government.

Rafsanjani, who backs Ahmadinejad’s rival, Mousavi, fired off a trenchant letter to Khamenei complaining about Ahmadinejad. He compared him to the renegade cult, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (Holy Warriors of the People or MEK), which committed horrific terrorism against clerical leaders in the 1980s, and to other counter-revolutionary forces. Oooh, that had to leave a mark.

Ahmadinejad also slammed the wife of Mousavi, Zahra Rahnevard, whom he accuses of irregularity in how she obtained her academic doctorate. She has been actively campaigning for her husband in a way unprecedented in Iran. She is not exactly a liberal on women’s issues, but has been characterized as an Islamic feminist, i.e. seeking some sources of power for women in Islamic texts and practices. Borzou Daragahi reports that she is extremely popular with the public on the campaign trail. Some 60% of Iranian college students are now women, and many women are in the work force. I don’t know if Ahmadinejad will get many of their votes (anecdotal accounts suggest he is more popular with rural women).

Ahmadinejad went on television Wednesday to defend himself from charges that he had smeared his opponents, and the whole revolutionary tradition, and had hyped the economic numbers. He repeated his smear of Rahnevard, which did not add credibility to his assurances that he had been polite and a gentleman and had not smeared anyone. He assured his audience, taking a leaf from Karl Rove’s playbook, that his private polling shows him ahead.

An overview of the debates in Persian is here.

Another issue is that Ahmadinejad attacked the 2003 suspension of nuclear enrichment research by the Khatami government. A Centre of Strategic Research at the Expediency Council (i.e. Rafsanjani’s shop) report defended the suspension as prudent at the time. You wonder if this report, which was referenced in the newspaper E’temad on May 31, suggests that Rafsanjani would urge Mousavi to offer another period of suspension to the Europeans in return for lifting of sanctions and good faith negotiations on Iran’s right to peaceful civilian nuclear power.

Lauren Rozen points out that the Obama administration has avoided commenting on the Iranian election. She interviews observers who point out that critics of Ahmadinejad may be successful in tagging him as an adventurist both with regard to the domestic economy and to international relations.

Mahmoud Sadri makes the important point that Mir-Hosain Mousavi is not so much himself a member of the reformist bloc, but simply is willing to accept the support of the reformist faction.

When we think about elections here in the US, we focus on economic and local cultural discontents and are suspcious of claims that foreign policy determines all that many votes. But when it comes to Iran’s election, American and European commentators tend to focus on foreign policy issues. Azadeh Moaveni suggests that the inability of young people to get married because moving into an apartment of their own is so expensive compared to their incomes has helped fuel discontent with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad’s populist economic policies, whereby he pumped a lot of oil money into the economy, expanded the money supply without producing increased productivity. As a result, inflation climbed to nearly 30% last fall. It has come down to 15% now, but that is still high for anyone on a fixed income or who does not get a lot of raises.

Anyone who wants the full 11-page explanation of the political forces at work in the Iranian revolution rather than just Cliff Notes should check out the essay of Walter Posch a the Middle East Institute. (It is the pdf file). Posch’s detailed analysis reminds us that all the factions viably jockeying for position are elements of the Khomeinist coalition, whether radical internationalists turned domestic reformists, pragmatic conservatives, populists, and fundamentalist isolationists.

You always thought it was so, but some Neocons, at least, are willing to admit it– they are rooting for Ahmadinejad to win the election. They are also openly rooting for Obama’s peace plan for the Middle East to fail. Just tell me one thing. Why do they so lack any patriotism and why do they hate America so?

(It is a joke. These are the characters that put up a dossier on me in 2002 and urged people to spy on me for them on the grounds that I was unpatriotic for not supporting Bush or their Islamophobia. Turn about should be fair play, but two wrongs don’t make a right. Their problem is not that they are unpatriotic, but that they don’t understand the American Constitution and confuse support of rightwing governments with support of the United States. It is enough to see them in the political wilderness. But I will allow myself a little imprecation on them. I hope they and their backers invested heavily with Bernie Madoff.)

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