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Iran: No Welcome For President's New Elite

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (file photo) (epa) Iranian parliamentarians are accusing the country's president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, of replacing many serving government officials with individuals from the security and intelligence community. Lawmakers have been particularly critical of Ahmadinejad's selection of provincial governors-general. The Iranian president appears to be creating a new leadership elite upon whom he can depend if the country faces a security crisis. The same team could also help win him elections for years to come.

Ahmadinejad represents the consensus Iranian view on some issues -- such as the pursuit of nuclear energy. But he does not enjoy wholehearted support on domestic issues. The legislature has already created two sets of crises for the president -- one over his choice of cabinet members and the other regarding his budget. Now they are challenging him on his selection of provincial officials as well.

Soldiers And Spies

Deputy Interior Minister Gholam Hussein Bolandian announced in early February that all but one of the country's 30 governors-general have been replaced, as have half the governors, "Hamshahri" and "Etemad-i Melli" reported on 7 February, and many upper-level managers in the Interior Ministry.

Bolandian said the substitutions reflect the difference in priorities between the Ahmadinejad administration and the previous administration of Mohammad Khatami.

"The policy of Mr. Khatami's administration was to promote reforms and strengthen of civil institutions and parties," Bolandian said, "and high government representatives in the provinces were selected in conformity with that policy.” The Ahmadinejad administration, he continued, is focused on "justice and compassion," and chose people who will implement this policy accordingly.

When the changes were initiated in September, however, the talk was not of justice or compassion. There were allegations that prospective governors-general were being vetted by two of the unsuccessful nominees for cabinet posts, "Iran" reported on 14 September 2005.

Moreover, legislators and other observers expressed concern that Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi was selecting individuals with ties to the intelligence and security agencies, and they complained that the administration was not consulting with parliamentarians about its choices.

Conservative legislator Mohammad Hussein Farhangi said at the time that governors-general represent the executive branch at the provincial level, so their selection is as important as that of cabinet members, "Iran" reported on 14 September 2005.

Therefore, Farhangi added, "The interior minister must heed the demands of the [parliamentarians] about not employing as government officials people with intelligence and security links and background. Otherwise, he will certainly encounter problems in the future."

Reshuffling government officials is a commendable way to involve new people in running the country, the conservative Satar Hedayatkhah commented in "Aftab-i Yazd" on 13 September 2005. However, he continued, the wholesale replacement of governors-general with people from intelligence and security agencies would be unacceptable.

Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi (Fars)

The executive branch has the right to appoint anybody it desires, a third conservative, Ahmad Tavakoli from Tehran, acknowledged, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 28 September 2005. "However," he continued, "there are some objections to the fact that all the appointments involve individuals who are former members of a specific ministry [a reference to the Ministry of Intelligence and Security]."

So far, the Interior Ministry has not provided a complete list of governors-general, nor do all the provinces have websites that provide that information. The information that is available, however, does show that some people with security and military backgrounds are now serving in these positions.

Kerman's Abdul Hamid Raufinejad, for example, is one of the 24 Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) commanders who in 1999 signed a letter to Khatami threatening to take matters into their own hands if he did not quell student riots going on at the time. Mazandaran's Abutaleb Shafeqat also served in the IRGC.

The governor-general of Khuzestan Province, Amir Hayat-Moqaddam, was a general in the IRGC and served as commander of its air force. He appears to share Ahmadinejad’s religious convictions. In mid-February he told a meeting of provincial prayer representatives that roughly $1.25 million has been dedicated to mosque development and renovation, and that because a number of major local highways lack mosques, his office will build them, Ahvaz provincial television reported on 16 February.

At least two other appointees have the kind of background the legislators find objectionable. Isfahan Province's governor-general, Seyyed Morteza Bakhtiari, headed the State Prisons Organization. Seyyed Solat Mortazavi, the governor-general in South Khorasan Province, was the director of security and training at the State Prisons Organization, as well as the license holder for the conservative "Hemayat" newspaper.

Locals Only?

In a number of cases, legislators objected because the individuals chosen as governors-general were not actually from the province. Two legislators from Sistan va Baluchistan Province submitted their resignations on the grounds that the administration had gone back on its promise to consult with them on the appointment. They subsequently withdrew their resignations after meeting the appointee, Habibullah Dahmardeh, a Shi'ite Sistani from the predominantly Sunni Baluchi province, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 17 September 2005.

These were not the only demands for parliamentary input in the selection process. Shiraz's Mohammad Nabi Rudaki said he and his colleagues from Fars Province insisted on a governor-general from that province, but so far two people from elsewhere have been interviewed for the job, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. The Interior Ministry did not consult with the Fars legislators sufficiently, he continued, and when they instead contacted the ministry, officials there simply advised them to monitor the governor-general’s activities and ask to have him replaced if he is deemed sub-par.

The representative from Rasht, Ramezanali Sadeqzadeh, also complained of executive branch indifference to the input of legislators, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 21 November 2005. Interior Minister Purmohammadi asked a meeting of legislators from Gilan Province for a list of three local candidates, and promised that nobody from the police, military, or security agencies would be selected.

Purmohammadi rejected the first three names and requested new ones, Sadeqzadeh continued. However, the new governor-general introduced in late November was not one of the individuals nominated by either the Gilan Province parliamentarians or the provincial representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It was the onetime deputy police commander, General Abdullahi, Sadeqzadeh said. He added that he has nothing against Abdullahi, but if the interior minister, cabinet, and president are going to ignore the opinions of officials from the province, why do they take up their time?

Same As It Ever Was

Ahmadinejad campaigned against the cronyism and corruption of previous administrations. Indeed, the family of his chief competitor, Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, has allegedly grown enormously wealthy by taking advantage of the state-economy nexus. Moreover, the "aqazadeh" phenomenon, in which the offspring of clerics take advantage of their high-level connections to enrich themselves, is notorious.

Yet the appointments Ahmadinejad has made -- whether at the cabinet level or at the provincial level -- do not appear substantially different. Two of the new governors-general, Kamran Daneshju from Tehran Province and Dehmardeh from Sistan va Baluchistan, both taught at the Elm va Sanat University, as did Ahmadinejad. Qorbani, who was introduced as the governor-general of West Azerbaijan Province, was a manager in the Tehran municipality when Ahmadinejad was the capital's chief executive. Ali Mohammad Shaeri, who was appointed as governor-general of Gulistan Province in early November, is a local. But he also served as the mayor of Tehran's District 22, Gorgan representative Mohammad Abbasi said, Fars News Agency reported on 7 November 2005.

The appointment of former Revolutionary Guards, furthermore, has several implications. The first is that Ahmadinejad, a former member of the IRGC, trusts people with a shared background and with whom he feels a connection. The second is that such people are more likely to use force to deal with civil unrest, and they would be more willing to implement martial law should there be a crisis. The third implication is that the appointments are a payoff for the support the IRGC and the Basij militia gave Ahmadinejad during the election.

Ahmadinejad and his cohorts claimed that they would decentralize the state and give greater power to the provinces. But it appears that all they are doing is creating a new Iranian elite that will dominate the political system at many levels for at least eight years -- the length of two presidential terms. The new officials could influence elections for the Assembly of Experts (2006 and 2014), legislature (2008 and 2012), executive branch (2009 and 2013), and municipal councils (2007 and 2011).

The efforts of the Ahmadinejad administration could be out of ideological conviction, or they could reflect personal ambition and the quest for self-enrichment. Either way, after just six months in office, Ahmadinejad is looking very much like the politicians who preceded him.

The Iranian Revolution

The Iranian Revolution
Iranians demonstrate in Tehran on February 10, 1979, shortly after the return to Iran of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (epa)

THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC: Iran's 1979 revolution ended 2,500 years of monarchy and established the world's first modern theocracy. In February 2004, on the 25th anniversary of that event, RFE/RL produced a special report on how the ensuing years have measured up to the expectations of those times.

"I had been freed from jail in those days, and I hoped that the [revolutionary] forces would bring democracy and progress for the country, despite the religious leadership that caused some doubts, I hoped that the press would be free, the books would be published without censorship, [political] parties, associations and civil society organizations would be formed, and I hoped that I would be able to write freely. In fact, in these 25 years, I have not seen anything but the death and silencing of those beautiful hopes and dreams," Faraj Sarkouhi, an exiled writer and journalist, told RFE/RL....(more)


RFE/RL's reporting on Iran.

A tank bearing a portrait of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini takes up a position in Tehran on February 12, 1979 (epa)