The west should consider sanctions, but it should also focus on exploiting the divisions among Iran's ruling elite and empowering Iranian societyby Nazenin Ansari / June 25, 2006 / Leave a comment
Other articles in the Prospect online symposium on the Iranian nuclear crisis:
Philip Gordon explains why the US is unlikely to bomb Iran Michael Rubin argues that diplomacy is not enough Alastair Crooke says that the west are trampling over Iran’s rights Mark Fitzpatrick examines Iran’s nuclear progress Esther Herman on her encounters with everyday Iranians
To the outside world, the face of Iran is the rather unattractive countenance of its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But the truth is far more complex—and hopeful. The country is profoundly divided. Only a major catastrophe—like a confrontation with the US—could heal those divisions. Instead, the west should exploit these divisions to help Iran move towards democracy and the middle east towards peace.
Iran is a totalitarian country controlled by a few who claim to derive their legitimacy from the Divine. But there are competing interests at the top. Foreign and nuclear policy is directed by the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), controlled by Iran’s security and military apparatus. Although the president chairs SNSC, his role is nominal. Neither the parliament nor the government has any decision-making role in this regard.
Ultimate control rests in the hands of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei. But unlike Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, Khamenei lacks both charisma and jurisprudent qualifications. Peyman Aref, a graduate student at Tehran University who was recently expelled and sentenced to 18 months in prison for his activism, explains that Khamenei is caught between two power blocs: “moderate right” and “radical right.” Led by former president Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the moderates include so-called reformists such as another former president, Mohammad Khatami. The radicals, composed of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRCG), ministry of intelligence and security (MOIS) and the paramilitary Basij, centres on the Haghani circle and its leader Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi—the ideological mentor and spiritual guide of President Ahmadinejad—who strive for the return of the messiah.
Hamid-Reza Zarifinia of Daftare Tahkim Vahdat, Iran’s reformist student group, argues that Khamenei is increasingly dependent on IRCG, MOIS and powerful clerical cabals for support. Intimately woven with the underground economy, contraband networks and “bonyads”—parastatal charitable foundations that are immune to fiscal laws and do not pay taxes—these groups enjoy autonomous monopolistic power and muscle or buy patronage to stabilize the power base of the regime.
Although Iran’s various blocs have competing interests, they agree on the core…