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The 'Game Of Thrones' - Iranian Style


Hossein Fereydoun (C), brother of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, undated.

Rivalry and tension between Iran’s executive branch of the government and organs directly controlled by the Supreme Leader is not a new phenomenon. But its shadow hangs over the country’s politics and harms effective governance.

In the past ten years, we have witnessed numerous instances of conflict, but in fact it existed even during the first Supreme Leader, ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeni’s tenure.

Especially, as parliament’s influence waned in recent years, organs directly controlled by the Supreme Leader became even more potent tools for poking at the executive branch.

Now, in President Hassan Rouhani’s second term we are witnessing the continuation, or a new phase of the same game. All kinds of negative labels are thrown at the government and even harsher tactics are being used; such as harassing or arresting people close to the executive branch.

There are three bundles of cases against not only the Rouhani administration but also former presidents, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s and Mohammad Khatami’s political camps.

Apparently, Fereydoun’s arrest is part of the fight against corruption. But abuse of power for economic gain is an inherent part of governance in Iran. Annual government funds being devoured by corruption are estimated to reach $35 billion – or about half of the country’s oil income.

The first case is nothing much but vague accusations of “financial improprieties” thrown at Rouhani’s brother, Hossein Fereydoun. This in fact is a manifestation of ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s disputes with Rouhani.

Fereydoun was arrested by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) in July and then promptly released on a huge bail.

The Judiciary, controlled by Khamenei, has not explained what exactly has the president’s brother done. In Iran, such accusations are often left vague in order to allow for horse-trading later.

Apparently, Fereydoun’s arrest is part of the fight against corruption. But abuse of power for economic gain is an inherent part of governance in Iran. Annual government funds being devoured by corruption are estimated to reach $35 billion – or about half of the country’s oil income.

However, few powerful people are arrested for corruption. Fereydoun’s arrest is just a ploy to gain leverage against Rouhani. The fact that IRGC did the arrest speaks volumes about the real reasons. The action was taken right after Rouhani openly and strongly attacked the IRGC.

The second case relates to Ahmadinejad and his supporters. While they were denied the chance to compete in last May’s presidential elections, cases of corruption against them are left to simmer and ready to be used in case of a need.

Ahmadinejad and company will continue to stir the pot. In the meantime, Khamenei’s only low-risk weapon against them is the use of legal harassment. But the Supreme Leader and his camp underestimate the potential influence of Ahmadinejad

But Ahmadinejad’s camp is not going to disappear. They have sway over a part of the conservative vote. This partially explains why Khamenei’s hardline candidate did not win in May.

Ahmadinejad and company will continue to stir the pot. In the meantime, Khamenei’s only low-risk weapon against them is the use of legal harassment. But the Supreme Leader and his camp underestimate the potential influence of Ahmadinejad, who has sway over many people with a particular belief in the ultimate Savior; the Hidden Imam.

This social group will continue to a be a headache not only for Khamenei but for any future supreme leader who claims ultimate religious and political power.

The third case is related to the so-called reformists, symbolically represented by former president Mohammad Khatami.

No matter how docile they remain towards Khamenei and the IRGC, their comrades languish in prisons and under house arrest. They did not even oppose Iran’s involvement in the Syrian war, but to no avail. The hardliners keep treating them in harsh terms.

The new phase of a “game of thrones” has just begun in Iran and it could be even more exciting for Iran watchers than a popular TV series with the same title broadcast by HBO.

The views expressed in this op-ed do not necessarily reflect the views of Radio Farda.
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    Majid Mohammadi

    Majid Mohammadi is an Iranian sociologist and political analyst residing in the U.S., who contributes opinion and analysis to Radio Farda.

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