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LOOKING AHEAD
09.06.2009

May 29, 2009 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexander Sotnichenko

IRAN: WHAT WILL BE THE OUTCOME OF THE IDEOLOGICAL BATTLE?

The Islamic Republic is going to choose not only a President but a political strategy

ALTERNATIVES FOR AHMADINEJAD

On May 2209, the Guardian Council of the Constitution Guards officially authorized the list of candidates for the post of Iran's President. It includes the names of Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi, former Majlis Chair Mehdi Karroubi, former Revolutionary Guards (IRC) Commander Mohsen Rezaee, and incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. These candidates were selected from a large list of over 400 registered candidates that included 42 women. An application for the supreme political post can be filed by any citizen, but in order to succeed, one needs to gain support from influential political and religious forces. Though the incumbent leader enjoys broad popularity in the Islamic world, he is facing serious challenges at home.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the President heads the executive power and guarantees correspondence of law with the Constitution. Decisions on crucial issues are made by him only after approval from the Rahbar, the supreme religious leader of the country. Today, this supreme power is concentrated in the hands of Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei. The Rahbar approves also a number of top appointments: in particular, he authorizes the nomination of the Ministers of Defense and National Intelligence.

The President is elected by direct popular vote for a period of four years. The tenth Presidential elections in Iran's history are scheduled for June 12.

 

MIR-HOSSEIN MOUSAVI: FOR POLITICAL LIBERALIZATION AND RAPPROCHEMENT WITH THE UNITED STATES

Mir-Hossein Mousavi (born 1941) is a very influential Iranian politician who occupied the post of Prime Minister in 1981-1989 in the period of Ayatollah Khomeini. An architect by profession, he taught in the Iranian University, and later chaired the Islamic Republic Party. His career in the Government started with the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs, from which he was elevated to Prime Minister. Since 1989, he served as president's Advisor, also being a member of the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution and the Assembly of National Interests. He gained much of his authority in the period of the Iran-Iraq war, being then responsible for maintenance and reconstruction of the national economy. Mr. Mousavi is very popular among the intelligentsia, as he also chairs the Iranian Academy of Fine Arts.

Today, Mir-Hossein Mousavi is reputed as the leader of the reformist branch of the Iranian establishment and a protégé of ex-President Mohammed Khattami, known for his policy of rapprochement with the West. Mr. Khattami advised him to run for Presidency already at the previous elections in 2005, but Mousavi then rejected the proposal.

Mousavi's rhetoric is more liberal than that of other candidates. In particular, he disputes death penalty for homosexuality, and advocates involvement of women in state management. Mousavi recognizes the Holocaust of Jews in World War II as a historical fact. He regularly criticizes Mr. Ahmadinejad on a number of foreign policy issues, regarding the President's political line as extremist, and seeks improvement of relations with the United States. From his viewpoint, Iran should wholly give up the nuclear program for the sake of improving the dialogue with the West.

Mousavi does not criticize the Shah's regime. He explains its collapse with flaws in the system of policy planning and not with erroneous foreign policy priorities. At the same time, he believes that economic policy should be based not only on planning but also on promotion of investments into the private sector in order to create jobs and prevent inflation.

One of the most important changes Mr. Mousavi is about to introduce is re-subordination of the uniformed services to the President. This reform, as he believes, would more efficiently guarantee him from a domestic coup d'etat. This idea is opposed by the Committee of Islamic Revolutionary Guards whose influence is thus supposed to reduce.

Mr. Mousavi expresses an independent view on Iranians who left the country after the 1979 Revolution: "I perceive them as Iranian citizens. I cooperate with all those who recognizes our statehood, but in case somebody does not, that does not mean that I'd necessarily ceased relations with him", he says. "Human dignity suggests values and not ethnic origin".

 

MEHDI KARROUBI: FOR LIBERAL REFORMS WITHOUT DRASTIC POLITICAL CHANGES

Mehdi Karroubi, born 1937, represents the Shi's clergy. He was one of Ahmadimejad's rivals at the 2005 elections. Karroubi is the general secretary of the National Confidence Party, established after his defeat. He twice chaired the Majlis, deserving reputation of a moderate and prudent politician. For several years, he also chaired the Association of Warring Clergy.

Karroubi is regarded as one of the leaders of the reformist wing. He enjoys support from the team of ex-President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Karroubi has a higher theological education. In 1979, with approval from Khomeini, he established the Foundation of Revolutionary Martyrs. Since 1985, he supervised pilgrimage issues. His political career started in 1997, during the tenure of President Mohammed Khattami. After the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he spent a short time under home arrest for his active criticism of the new President's foreign policy initiatives. Karroubi's economic program is even more liberal than Mousavi's, but not so well elaborated, and not suggesting groundbreaking political reforms. Karroubi advocates privatization of national industries, integration of the country into the global economic system and signing a long-term agreement with the United States.

 

MOHSEN REZAYI: FOR A MODERATE VERSION OF THE CURRENT LINE

Mohsen Rezaee, born 1954, chairs the Expediency Discernment Council, a consultative body under the Rahbar's supervision with duties of solving conflicts between the Guardian Council of the Constitution and the Majlis of Iran. A retired military general, Rezaee earned a Ph.D. degree in economy at the Tehran University in 2001.

Dr. Rezaee defines his political program as "the third way" that he interprets as the "way of national development". The policy he pursues revision of the current political and economic strategy which, as he believes, is steering the country to a catastrophe. He especially criticizes the incumbent President's foreign policy style: "The current foreign policy line is based on provocation: Ahmadinejad's statements reduce the foreign policy, based on the Revolution's achievements, to a risky game for adventurers".

At the same time, the former head of the Revolutionary Guards shares the current policy of Tehran in the Middle East, including support of Hamas. Criticizing the idea of two nation states in Palestine, Rezaee advocates unification of all the nations of the former British mandate into a single state under UN supervision.

Rezaee is moderate on the nuclear issue. He insists that Iran enrich uranium in cooperation with the United States, the EU, and Russia. In this way, he thinks, the country will avoid aggression from Israel. He regards US President Barack Obama as negotiable, being ready to start talks personally.

Rezaee's name surfaced in a number of international scandals. In November 2006, the powers of Argentina filed a request to Interpol, demanding an international warrant over the suspected involvement of Rezaee in an explosion in Buenos Aires that killed 85 and injured 151 persons. Other sources confirm that under Rezaee's rule, the Revolutionary Guards carried out a multitude of terrorist operations across the globe, being also involved in smuggle of nuclear materials.

 

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: ANTI-GLOBALISM AND SOCIALIST EXPERIMENTS

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was born in 1957 to a family of a blacksmith in Garmsar, Semnan province. He took an active part in the Islamic Revolution, reportedly being involved in the storming of the US Embassy in Tehran. During the Iran-Iraq war, he went to the front as a volunteer, and took part in sabotage attacks on the territory of Iraq. Graduating from the Science & Industry University, he acquired a Ph.D. grade in engineering in 1997. Afterwards, he worked as a Deputy Prefect and Prefect in Maku and Hoy, and was subsequently appointed Governor of the newly-established Ardebil province. In early 2004, he was nominated to the post of Mayor of Tehran by the Islamic Council of Iran. In this capacity, he introduced a number of efficient social programs and gained popularity among the capital's poor.

In 2005, Ahmadinejad won the Presidential elections, and was inaugurated on August 3. During the first months of his tenure, he curtailed the liberal reforms initiated by his predecessors Khattami and Rafsanjani. His decision to purge the high school aroused protests among students. At the same time, he introduced allowances for gasoline sold to the population (being a major oil provider for the global market, Iran has failed to satisfy the domestic demand for oil products), and beefed up implementation of the nuclear program that became the symbol of development of today's Iran.

In his foreign policy, Mr. Ahmadinejad pursues an anti-globalist and anti-imperialist agenda. Harshly criticizing the policy of US President George W. Bush, he declared rapprochement with Russia, the Arabic community, and demonstrated solidarity with states regarded in Washington as "rogue" regimes, like Belarus, Bolivia, and Venezuela. He became famous for his harsh statements towards Israel and Zionism, in support of the people of Palestine, and emphatically for Hamas Party. In this effort, he used every possibility to address the international audience. During his tenure, Ahmadinejad organized a multitude of political campaigns like the notorious conference on Holocaust, the festival of anti-Zionist cartoon films, exhibitions of political posters etc.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's political program is built upon a combination of far right and far left slogans. Gaining broad popularity in the Islamic community, he enjoys active support from Iran's poor, being hated by the pro-Western circles of the establishment. On the eve of the elections, he announced a number of political measures borrowed from the arsenal of his friend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. In particular, he claimed that oil belongs to the whole people, and proposed to issue bonds that would allow the Iranians across the globe to benefit from oil trade. These bonds, named "certificates of participation", supposedly enable the Iranians to invest in the national energy complex and to "mitigate Iran's dependence on foreign investments in oil industry".

Ahmadinejad advocates broader involvement of the working class in management of private and state enterprises. In 2006, he introduced a bill on "justice stocks" available for low-income employees of state enterprises, introducing relevant amendments in the Constitution. In accordance with the President's program, the government donates purchase of major products and services by the population, including fuel, electric energy, as well as basic food items.

(see also IRAN FACES THE SAME CHALLENGE AS THE LATE USSR)


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