The recent rifts between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei have sparked gossip about Iran's instability. However, the Iranian domestic political system's intricate structure shows that effects from the region’s uprisings won't provoke any type of regime change. Ahmadinejad’s position alone seems to be at stake, unless he concedes his authoritative tendencies, as demanded by the hardliners and conservative factions.
The infamous president is known to cause friction on the international scene. But this time the conflict is internal; Ahmadinejad is challenging the authority of the prevailing Islamic regime, the clerics, and their role in government. The suspense is rising since neither side is backing down. This is the only major political issue in Iran: hostility between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, not between Iranian leaders and their people.
The Arab Spring and the resulting geo-political changes give rivaling political camps an opportunity to take advantage of the divisions in the Iranian political hierarchy. Highlighting the power struggle between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad is a tool to provoke potential problems within the country; they want to connect this internal struggle with the recent power changes across the Arab region.
However, the opposition will have to wait a bit longer.
The power struggle began after Ahmadinejad fired several key ministers, without the approval of Khamenei. Recently, the president has been trying to consolidate his grip on Iran’s political affairs by defying the authorities of the Ayatollah and Iranian Parliament. Ahmedinejad and Khamenei's feud is causing rightful speculation about the future of Ahmadinejad’s presidency.
Both have different views on governing the Iranian state. If the feud continues, Khamenei and his supporters could move to impeach Ahmadinejad. However, Iranian history shows that impeachment doesn’t necessarily provide an ample opportunity for regime change, or a dramatic shift in policy. The Iranian revolutionary concept of velayat-e-faqih gives the Supreme Leader power over all final decision-making in both domestic and foreign affairs. Moreover, these decisions are primarily made to ensure national interests.
As such, national security interests will be Khamenei's main concern.
Iran already experienced an unforgettable revolutionary regime change in 1979, followed by a grueling war with Iraq from 1980-1989. Heavy domestic burdens, combined with current UN economic sanctions and rivalry with the United States, left a memorable imprint of the devastating consequences Iran endured. As a result, Iranians aren't interested in experiencing such mayhem again anytime soon.
In order to ensure regime security with the ongoing upheavals, Khamenei will have to consolidate the political rift by using his authoritative powers to ease potential domestic vulnerabilities and ensure stability. Naturally, this will have to include undermining Ahmadinejad’s attempts to increase his presidential powers. Ahmadinejad challenging the state’s power does not help worsening economic conditions.
On the other hand, his actions seem to have already cost him much of his respected authority from Khamenei, once a platform supporter of the president. Ahmadinejad will most likely serve out the rest of his term as a lame-duck president until the 2013 elections. Although it is hard to foresee a "Persian Spring," we can assume that Ahmedinejad’s presidency and popularity among many conservatives and hardliners, including Khamenei, has most likely reached a dead end.
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