What is behind Iran’s escalating domestic feuds?

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani replies to a question during a news conference on the sidelines of the 69th United Nations General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters in New York
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani

By Heshmat Alavi

With only four months to Iran’s next presidential “elections,” the political stage inside the country has been the scene of new and intense disputes, with both so-called “moderates” and “hardliners” pointing fingers.

“Can a single individual steal $3 billion all by himself?” asked Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in reference to the case of oil tycoon Babak Zanjani who was recently sentenced to death for his massive fraud case.

“To whom was he connected to? Who supported him and who were his partners? How could have oil, property and hundreds of millions of dollars been placed at his disposal?” Rouhani continued. “Now, if one individual is executed, so what? What happened to the money? Who were involved?”

Iran’s judiciary chief Sadegh Amoli Larijani, loyal to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his “hardliners,” held Rouhani’s cabinet and the Foreign Ministry responsible for the Zanjani dossier.

“The government and Foreign Ministry must provide answers regarding the Babak Zanjani case… Zanjani said he provided millions of dollars to the President’s election. Now you are saying let’s take a look at what was behind the scenes? No problem. We will summon all individuals he was in contact with in this regard and if needed, we will have them arrested to get to the bottom of this… Very high-tech security equipment were transferred to the presidential building without security being informed; with whose authorization? Where did the money come from? The government should be held accountable, yet everything is being portrayed lopsided,” he said.

Prior to his sudden death, former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a mentor and supporter of Rouhani, shed light on hundreds of billions of dollars wasted by this regime in wars abroad.

“I am shocked at how they actually wasted $700 to $800 billion of oil revenue! Those who use national media and other tribunes to spread political lies and insults… they should answer where those unprecedented profits went,” he demanded in reference to the government of firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Now, the real question is why has the Iranian regime’s factional dispute reached such a climax, and where is it headed?

The fact of the matter is there is a fundamental and a timely reason behind all this. The fundamental reason is the internal dispute over factional interests and the riches they have plundered from the deprived Iranian people. One such case is the $3 billion mentioned above, which no faction can back down from.

The timely—and maybe main—reason behind this recent flare in domestic disputes is the upcoming presidential “elections” in Iran. Both factions are pressing the gas pedal to rivals’ disclose massive theft cases.

For example, why is Sadegh Larijani so furious over Rouhani’s remarks? It is obvious that Larijani, who has close ties to Khamenei, is seeking Zanjani’s execution to bring an end to this fiasco and cover up the trace for all other Khamenei-loyalists involved. It is also crystal clear that Larijani himself is threatening to reveal the role of Rouhani’s senior cabinet ministers in this regard.

Here is a review of the possible scenarios before us and their impact on the upcoming presidential “elections.”

These disputes will continue to erupt more than ever before and both factions seek to deliver further blows to their rivals at the “ballot box.”

Before the elections, Khamenei may seek to eliminate Rouhani through the ultra-conservative Guardian Council, the body responsible for vetting all election candidates, or other mechanisms.

Although Khamenei understands quite well that such a scenario may tear open internal divides, allowing a 2009-like uprising at a much larger scale across the country.

Therefore, Khamenei is seeking to deliver as many setbacks to his rival Rafsanjani-Rouhani faction and weaken their ranks and files to the utmost extent.

This, in itself, is a very dangerous risk. The Iranian population will without a doubt reach the conclusion that all factions and senior regime officials are thieves and corrupt, parallel to atrocities such as the grave sleepers.

It is worth noting that the Iranian people have never believed in the existence of any so-called “hardliners” or “moderates” in Iran.

“There is often talk about there being two divergent lines in Iran, a hardline one dominated by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards and a pragmatic line represented by President Rouhani and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But far from the existence of two competing currents in Tehran, the two lines actually work harmoniously. Power in Iran remains firmly in the hands of the supreme leader, while Rouhani’s camp is useful for Khamenei to present a palatable image of Iran to the West,” as written in the Middle East Eye.

All regime elements seek their own mutual interests, with small differences here and there, and view the Iranian population as their number one threat and enemy.

The Iranian society can be summarized as a dangerous powder keg ready to explode at any moment.

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