There is a lot of manoeuvring in Tehran to influence the decision on who will be Iran’s next supreme leader. There is no public succession plan for the most powerful position in the Islamic republic, which has been entrusted since 1989 to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, analyst Najmeh Bozorgmehr writes for The Financial Times:
Reformists want to build on the progress they believe has been made by the centrist Hassan Rouhani, president since 2013, and are pushing for a moderate candidate. Hardliners are determined to do all in their power to stop them. A large number of other interests, from the Revolutionary Guards to the clerics in the holy cities of Qom and Mashhad, will have a say. Some are even privately suggesting that the position, introduced after the 1979 Islamic revolution to have a senior cleric in charge of the country, may no longer be necessary — raising questions over the future of the theocratic state. …Rouhani, fearing the loss of his position, according to reformist analysts, has toned down his speeches. And last week he axed Ali Jannati, his controversial pro-reform culture minister, in what many analysts consider part of efforts by the two leaders to curb political tensions.
“If Mr Rouhani had continued to drive in that gear, he could have even anticipated a premature end of his presidency,” says a former senior reformist official. “When the gap widens between the president who runs the country’s daily affairs and the supreme leader who leads the ideology, then concerns grow over the future of the system.”
The most likely next Supreme Leader, Ibrahim Raisi [right], is “a vanguard of the regime and an enforcer of its will.” And “the only person in the Islamic Republic who could cause people to miss” Khamenei, Council on Foreign Relations analyst Ray Takeyh wrote for The Washington Post. Which is why one should be cautious of the conventional wisdom that “once the elderly Khamenei passes from the scene . . . his successors will embrace prevailing international norms,” he added.
The authorities are concerned that a disorderly succession will prompt a re-rum of social unrest akin to the 2009 Green Movement.
“We are worried about the possibility of chaos post-Ayatollah Khamenei,” warns a senior reformist. “Authorities successfully suppressed the generation that poured into the streets [in 2009]. How about the next generation? Is there any guarantee that they would be silenced so easily?”
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, recently gave a damning assessment of human rights in Iran,* highlighting the “alarming rate” of executions and saying little progress has been made under president Hassan Rouhani, The Guardian reported:
Ban’s 19-page report, released this week, says he remains “deeply troubled” by accounts “of executions, floggings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, unfair trials, denial of access to medical care and possible torture and ill-treatment”. It adds: “He is also concerned about continued restrictions of public freedoms and the related persecution of civil society actors, the persistence of discrimination against women and minorities and conditions of detention.”
In his bid to succeed Khamenei, another hardliner Sadeq Amoli-Larijani has been trying to win the approval of the Revolutionary Guards, the FT adds:
The 55-year-old head of the judiciary has adopted a hardline approach and harshly attacked reform-minded politicians. It is thought that he has been seeking the approval of the Revolutionary Guards but lacks popular support. Many judicial decrees seen as unjust by some — including heavy punishments against political activists — are attributed to him.
“Rouhani and his team want to use the shock of the nuclear agreement to push for fast economic and political reforms with the help of the US,” says a relative of Ayatollah Khamenei. “But the supreme leader is wary that this rush would make the system vulnerable to US ‘infiltration’.”
The regime is not making a good job of resisting Western cultural norms, according to Hojjat ol Eslam Abdullah Hajji Sadeghi, the Deputy Representative of the Supreme Leader to the IRGC.
“The Ministry of Culture [and Islamic Guidance] does not have a good record, and honestly, does not perform well on topics related to the Islamic Revolution.” Sadeghi said, the Basij News reported. “We hope this change will lead to dealing with [Western] cultural invasion, strengthening of the political system’s revolutionary, religious, and jihadi culture, and reinforcing of the country’s cultural institutions.”.
HT: The Critical Threats Project’s Iran team at the American Enterprise Institute.