Iran's coming storm

Hossein Bastani
22 June 2009

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered his first public speech since Iran's tenth presidential election at the Friday prayers in Tehran on 19 June 2009, a week after the controversial vote had delivered a landslide victory to the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The supreme leader's intervention, in front of a vast crowd that included senior clerics and politicians - though only one of Ahmadinejad's three rival candidates - was a turning-point in Iran's tumultuous post-election events.

Hossein Bastani is an analyst of Iranian affairs. He is a member of the editorial board of Rooz online, and was secretary-general of the Association of Iranian Journalists

The leader of the Islamic Republic again upheld the official result of the election, even as intense public protests continue against them.  In doing so, he appeared to accept the cost of supporting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a second presidential term - even though this is on a rising curve. 

Ayatollah Khamenei rejected allegations that the election result was unreliable: it was impossible that there had been "11 million fake votes", for "(the) Islamic republic does not tamper with people's votes." He also warned the protestors that they should end their street demonstrations and marches; if they don't, "commanders behind the scenes" will be held responsible for their actions. 

Khamenei also reaffirmed his call for a review by the Guardian Council of complaints and misgivings over particular results.  But the cautious report of the Guardian Council released on 22 June which acknowledged some problems with the voting also confirms that this body - whose members are directly or indirectly appointed by the leader himself - was always unlikely to nullify the election or initiate a recount; for this would negate the announcements of the head of state.

Also on the disputed election in Iran and its bitter aftermath:

"Iran's election: people and power" (15-18 June 2009) - a symposium with Ramin Jahanbegloo, Anoush Ehteshami, Nazenin Ansari, Omid Memarian, Grace Nasri, Rasool Nafisi, Nasrin Alavi, Sanam Vakil, and Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour, Iran's stolen election, and what comes next (18 June 2009)

In any event, the supreme leader's political stance is a risk - for the effect of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's behaviour and pronouncements (both before and after the election) is to impose great costs on the government of Iran and the person at the apex of the regime.

The damage done by the president includes his unprecedented "exposure" of corruption by leading figures in the Islamic Republic during the election campaign, which provoked angry disputes within the political establishment; his dismissive attitude to his political rivals; and his denunciation of claims that the election result was anything less than perfect.  All this has  helped to fuel rather than calm the divisions that  have led to the largest street protests in the country since the 1979 revolution, incited much international public opinion against Tehran, and even invited serious doubts over the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic's  right to govern.

In these conditions, the regime and its leaders face having to pay even more costs. Khamenei's threatening posture towards the election's critics has not curbed the street protests; even a large security presence and the intimidatory tactics of the basij militias could not prevent people continuing to assemble over the weekend of 20-21 June. The number being killed, though still small, is rising;  if there is more official violence towards protestors, the pressure on the regime from inside and outside will increase.

The leader's logic

Why should Ayatollah Khamenei continue to bear the costs of supporting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his associates, despite the accumulating problems for which the president is responsible?

A key part of the answer, judging from the ayatollah's own words, is the conviction that the "enemies" of the Islamic republic are threatening its existence;  that "resistance" to these is essential; and that the president and his allies represent the strongest current in this regard. 

In a meeting with members of Ahmadinejad's administration in August 2008, Ayatollah Khamenei favourably compared the current government's "right approach" to his predecessors': the latter had sought to  defend themselves against accusations by foreign powers, whereas Ahmadinejad's policy was to counter-attack. This admirable "assertiveness" has produced results, believes Khamenei; he argues that Mohammad Khatami's policy of relaxation of tension with the west during the reformist's presidency (1997-2005) resulted in Iran being labelled part of an "axis of evil", whereas the firm policies of the post-2005 administration have now produced calls in Washington for talks with Iran.

The logic of this uncompromising attitude is that the reformists' ignorance of or refusal to recognise the threats posed by the west and its values make them in effect "domestic enemies" who pose dangers to the very existence of the Islamic Republic. The needs of the state demand that reformists such as Mir-Hossein Moussavi are prevented from returning to power.

From Ayatollah Khamenei's perspective, the benefits of containing the domestic and foreign enemies of Iran are so high that they are worth the costs that come with supporting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But will this calculation withstand the continuation and perhaps even escalation of the post-election crisis, including the increased use of repressive violence by the security forces? The coming days in Iran will provide an answer.


Among openDemocracy's many articles about Iran:

Ardashir Tehrani, "Iran's presidential coup" (26 June 2005)

Fred Halliday, "Iran's revolutionary spasm" (30 June 2005)

Trita Parsi, "The Iran-Israel cold war" (28 October 2005)

Nayereh Tohidi, "Iran: regionalism, ethnicity and democracy" (28 June 2006)

Hooshang Amirahmadi, "Iran and the international community: roots of perpetual crisis" (24 November 2006)

Kamin Mohammadi, "Voices from Tehran" (31 January 2007)

Fred Halliday, "The matter with Iran" (1 March 2007)

Anoush Ehteshami, "Iran and the United States: back from the brink" (16 March 2007)

Rasool Nafisi, "Iran's cultural prison" (17 May 2007)

Nasrin Alavi, "The Iran paradox" (11 October 2007)

Omid Memarian, "Iran: prepared for the worst" (30 October 2007)

Sanam Vakil, "Iran's political shadow war" (16 July 2008)

Nasrin Alavi, "Iran: after the dawn" (2 February 2009)

Abbas Milani, "Iran's Islamic revolution: three paradoxes" (9 February 2009)

Homa Katouzian, "The Iranian revolution: beyond enigma" (13 February 2009)

Nikki R Keddie, "Iranian women and the Islamic Republic" (24 February 2009)

Fred Halliday, "Iran's revolution in global history" (2 March 2009)

Sanam Vakil & David Hayes, "Iran's election and Iran's system" (21 April 2009)

Nasrin Alavi, "Iran: a blind leap of faith" (2 June 2009)

Fred Halliday, "Iran's evolution and Islam's Berlusconi" (9 June 2009)

Omid Memarian, "Iran on the move" (11 June 2009)

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData