Beyond the power struggle playing out on the streets of Tehran is a complex battle for control of Iran’s intelligence ministry — a pivotal institution in the regime’s repression of dissent.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who began a second term this week, fired Intelligence Minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei late last month after Mr. Ejei objected to the president’s efforts to name an in-law as first vice president.
The departure of Mr. Ejei, a hard-line cleric close to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, two other Khamenei loyalists and nearly 20 other high-ranking officials appeared to weaken the leader’s hold over the ministry and strengthen the power of the Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s elite military force. [continued…]
Today, the mess that is post-election Iran becomes Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s problem, and bets are already being placed in Iran on just how long his second term as president will last.
Ahmadinejad’s most immediate challenge will be to name 21 cabinet ministers, the three most important of which are the minister of defense, the minister of the interior (who also oversees the elections), and the minister of foreign affairs. He can also nominate up to 10 vice presidents, one of which, the first vice president, will be charged with taking over the presidency should some horrible fate befall Ahmadinejad (God forbid). According to Iran’s constitution, the president has two weeks from the day of his inauguration to present his cabinet to the parliament for approval. This will not be an easy task. [continued…]
The Islamic Republic has on the whole been good at producing political theatre. Its establishment knows that politics can be a form of entertainment and that Iranians enjoy a good show. Unlike the shah, who always appeared uncomfortable with politics, the establishment of the Islamic Republic has tended to understand its utility. The sudden scandal, the rumour and, best of all, the “trial” have all helped to preoccupy the inquisitive and perhaps reassure the sceptics that politics remains alive, if not necessarily well, in the Islamic Republic of Iran. That said, managing political theatre has always been a delicate balancing act; too little and you risk losing control over the message, too much and you lose credibility. Many, particularly those of an authoritarian disposition, would like to dispense with the process altogether.
The paradox of the current administration in Iran, and in particular the character of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is that they want it both ways. They want the theatre but they also want total control, not only of the production, but of the audience reaction. In so doing they have singularly failed to manufacture consent and have been struggling since the election on 12 June to impose their narrative. Indeed, we should not lose sight of the fact that for all the contests on the streets and the divisions within the elites, this is at heart an ideological contest, where the message matters. This is why journalists have been expelled, academics imprisoned and activists put on trial. This is why the hardline establishment insists on normality and business as usual, and why the mere continuation of protests denies them that particular fiction. In fact, control has been especially elusive of late, not least because of the crisis of authority, but because the means of transmission have been so diverse: the internet has proved just as serious a battleground as the streets. But perhaps even more significant that these have been the mistakes perpetrated by the establishment itself in its urgency to get the message right. [continued…]