Growing tensions between the incredible shrinking Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appear to signal regime consolidation rather than fragmentation.
But the schism of greatest significance for democratization prospects would be between the regime and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), notes a leading analyst.
“Ahmadinejad has served the regime’s purposes; his usefulness now appears at an end,” writes analyst Barbara Slavin:
As parliamentary elections approach next year, followed by a new presidential vote, Iran’s conservative establishment appears intent on preventing Ahmadinejad from designating a successor and planning a possible Putin-esque comeback in 2017. The best way to block that is to weaken him now.
“You know how this works,” said Mehdi Khalaji, an Iran expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “This is what happened to Khatami and to Rafsanjani and to Khamenei when he was president. Khamenei has no problem with any president as long as he is weak.”
The Green Movement was not a spontaneous uprising catalyzed by a stolen election, but rooted in at least four long-term trends, writes Mohsen Sazegara:
(1) the economic, cultural and social failure of a dictatorial political system; (2) profound changes in Iranian society, such as increased urbanization, increased literacy, the increased presence of women in social spheres (and their demands for equal rights), increased industrialization and increased access to modern communications; (3) growing social, generational, ethno-religious and class divisions; and (4) the emergence of a democratic mindset and a rights-oriented discourse among many segments of the population.
The combination of the Arab Spring and economic stagnation are delegitimizing the regime, he notes, allowing the Green movement to make headway “in bolstering solidarity across opposition groups, cultivating democratic unrest, and causing schisms within the regime.” But the opposition needs to cultivate dissent and division within the Pasdaran – the “bulwark of government stability:”
In the months and years ahead, the toughest, but most critical, challenge for the Green Movement will be splitting senior IRGC officials from the regime. Even if the Greens can broaden their coalition and establish more robust neighborhood networks, they will not achieve their ultimate aims until they disable the machinery of repression.
But Iranian democrats also face an ideological challenge, claims analyst Nader Hashemi. Unlike the secular regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy rests on the ideological basis of “Islamic authenticity” and “anti-imperialism” which secure support from a loyal core constituency.
“In a religious society such as Iran, the regime manipulates popular sentiment, especially among the poor and the pious, through massive state propaganda,” he writes. “Thus, the use and manipulation of religion to preserve political power is a key weapon in the arsenal of the Iranian regime that it wields to retain power.”