Monday, August 17, 2009

Ahmadinejad Consolidates Security Agencies

Ahmadinejad is steadily building his structure for political dominance, his proponents able to insult the opposition freely (reminiscent of Republican behavior toward Democrats after 9/11). The opposition seems slightly strengthened by a reaction to the viciousness of Ahmadinejad's supports but remains on the defensive, just barely retaining access to the media.

The way to run a government is to get the military, the intelligence (the part that spies on citizens), and the judiciary all working together: that way, you can find out what your enemies are doing, beat them up on the streets, and safely convict them in show trials. The process of governing is clean, secure, and free of surprise. Li Si, minister to the man who unified China two thousand years ago, knew that long before Machiavelli, as did many others, from Stalin to Saddam.

Ahmadinejad nominated a guy connected to both Khomenei and the IRGC to head the Ministry of Intelligence and Security – defining the core of a nice, tight little coalition to dominate the political process. Presumably this will be a winner, so it will be interesting to see what the reaction of the Majlis will be. Folks might be uneasy about the power that is emerging at the pinnacle of Iranian power, but who’s going to challenge this?

Hojjatoleslam Heydar Moslehi, nominated to head the Intelligence Ministry, is a representative of the Leader of the Islamic Revolution in the ground forces of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), as well as the Iranian Charity Organization. Press TV

Meanwhile, the judiciary, now under new management, will investigate the incendiary charges of prisoner abuse, even though former judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi, Majlis speaker Ali Larijani (since the election Iran’s most meticulously silent leading figure), and hardline cheerleader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami have all ominously prejudged the issue by flatly dening it.

Amid a persistent volley of opposition allegations that protestors had been raped in Iranian prisons, Iran's Judiciary tasks a committee to obtain evidence on the claims.

Iran’s Judiciary will now be under Hojatoleslam Mohammad Sadeq Larijani (replacing Mahmoud Shahroudi), a member of the Guardian Council and the Assembly of Experts, as well as a brother of Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani. Since Speaker Larijani voiced some very pointed criticism of Ahmadinejad’s policies during the campaign, this appointment seems out of step with the tightening of IRGC wagons. Media highlighting of Rafsanjani’s attendance at Larijani’s swearing-in ceremony further suggests distance between him and Rafsanjani. Does Larijani’s appointment have anything to do with Speaker Larijani’s post-electoral circumspection? Does it hint at further in-fighting within conservative ranks, with a potential split between Intelligence and the Judiciary?

Larijani is assuming a delicate position, given that Prosecutor General Ghorban Ali Dorri Najafabadi has already admitted that abuses have occurred. The attitude of the IRGC, whose leaders have felt that it was their duty to speak out regularly since the election on politicial and judicial issues, was made crystal clear by Brigadier General Yadollah Javani, head of the IRGC's political bureau. Javani called for the trial of Khatami, Mousavi, and Karroubi.

At his swearing-in ceremony, Larijani advocated the rights of oppressed people. His actual remarks were apparently even stronger than the quote carried by ILNA:

Nobody should dare ... to violate rights or security of citizens….I announce that I will not forgive anybody in this regard and violators will be put on trial.

Although safely vague, in the current Iranian domestic context, that would appear to put him on the side of the arrested protestors. Nevertheless, with a reputation as a conservative critique of ex-President Khatami, Larijani seems more like a smooth talker than a reform leader. It may be worth noting as well that a third Larijani brother, Mohammed-Javid, is a Judiciary official and recently issued a harsh condemnation of the opposition, evidently calling the whole Reformist faction traitors. The Larijani brothers may or may not be cooperating, and on the whole seem a likely base for an anti-Ahmadinejad faction, but they hardly represent defenders of democracy, much less any sort of pro-Western attitude.

In his effort to consolidate control, Ahmadinejad cannot forget the Ministry of the Interior, which, in Iran, runs the police, not parks, though the Basij serve a similar purpose and much more effectively. Last year he appointed an ally, Sadegh Masouli, to head Interior, which also controls elections.

While Ahmadinejad consolidates power, the opposition seems barely holding on to its access to the media. In an Aug. 16 report sympathetic to the opposition, Press TV quoted ex-President Khatami claiming that the opposition are the “real protectors” of the Islamic Republic and alleging that “certain ongoing moves run counter to legal principles.” The report stated:

Among the opposing voices are influential cleric Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Mir-Hossein Mousavi, whose credentials are well-known since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, as well as Khatami, a two-time former president, and Mehdi Karroubi, a former Parliament speaker.

In a separate report, Press TV quoted Moussavi saying:

We are confident that an atmosphere of mistrust would not have been created in the country if a fair attitude had been adopted (during the election course), to the demands of the Iranian people, and if the media had been prevented from attributing the nation's will to foreigners and diverting facts.

It is notable that in contrast to the explicit accusations by name and harsh rhetoric of the pro-Ahmadinejad partisans, opposition spokesmen still seem afraid to speak clearly and charge individuals by name. Pro-Ahmadinejad speakers are pushing bluntly for the political destruction if not death of their opponents, while the opposition is merely advocating its right to participate. For example, Hassan Bayadi, the Young Developer Society’s chief, called the factions of the right and left two wings of a bird and asserted that “no government can be run by only one faction, unless it is a dictatorial regime.” The report, in Tehran Times, concluded with a strong defense of a free media:

Nowhere in the Constitution is mentioned that the national television must be used only by one special party, but it is emphasized that the media belongs to the public and that it must serve national unity and interests.

Clues to watch for:

  • Sadeq Larijani’s attitude toward pre-trial torture of arrested protestors;
  • Ali Larijani’s public remarks relative to the electoral and torture controversies;
  • The outcome of the official investigation into torture;
  • Whether or not regime spokesmen assert the right to control the media;
  • Whether or not anyone makes a distinction between protestors arrested by the judicial system and protestors arrested by the IRGC/Basij;
  • Whether or not the Etemed Melli newspaper owned by opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, just banned by the Judiciary from publishing in a clear administration attempt to coerce the media, will be allowed back on the streets. (Note that a US website with contacts inside Iran is reporting rumors that Etemed Melli just had “printing problems,” which have already been corrected; perhaps Larijani greased their wheels.)
For further details on Iran's Judiciary, see Muhammad Sahimi's Iran's Crumbling Judiciary. Sahimi notes:

By law, all the jails and detention centers must be controlled by the judiciary. In practice, this has not been the case. The Ministry of Intelligence and the intelligence unit of the IRGC have their own detention centers, completely out of the judiciary’s control. The reformist leaders who are not jailed have accused the judiciary of total incompetence.

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