Accessibility links

Breaking News

Analysis: Rivalries Heat Up Among Iran's Conservatives

A woman holds a poster of Iranian President Ahmadinejad (left) and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (file photo) (epa) An intense rivalry among Iran's conservative parties is being overshadowed by the nuclear issue, as well as by global concerns over the country's support for terrorism and its interference in other countries' affairs. This rivalry will intensify with the approach of fall elections --> for an 86-member clerical body -- the Assembly of Experts -- and for municipal councils. These elections will also affect issues that most interest the international community.

The Islamic Revolution Devotees Society (Jamiyat-i Isargaran-i Inqilab-i Islami) -- which President Mahmud Ahmadinejad helped create and of which he is a central-council member -- is emerging as the vanguard of the new conservative movement in Iran. The society's Central Council will soon hold its first session of the new Iranian year to elect its new leadership. Central Council member Mujtaba Shakeri stressed that subsequent sessions will be devoted to determining the party's program for the coming year, the reformist daily "Sharq" newspaper reported on April 4.

The Devotees Society held its third congress in early March, but Ahmadinejad was in Malaysia at the time. But "Sharq" suggested on March 4 that the president's absence could be traced to the society's failure to support him in the first round of the June 2005 election in favor of Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.

Congress participants reinstated most of the standing members of the society's Central Council, according to "Sharq." The newspaper named: Ahmadinejad; legislator Fatemeh Alia; Ali Darabi; Abbas Darvish-Tavangar; Economy and Finance Minister Davud Danesh-Jafari; legislator Hussein Fadai; legislator Nafiseh Fayazbakhsh; Lutfollah Foruzandeh; Hadi Imani; Ahmad Moqimi; Elias Naderan; Ahmad Nejabat; Abdul-Hussein Ruholamini-Najafabadi; Reza Rusta-Azad; Mahmud Saber-Hamishegi; Alireza Sarbakhsh; Mujtaba Shakeri; Sediqeh Shakeri; Masud Sultanpur; Mustafa Tavakolian; and the director of the hard-line daily "Siyasat-i Ruz," Ali Yusefpur.

A Call For Coordination

The Devotees Society split away from the older and more traditional Coordination Council of Islamic Revolution Forces shortly before the June 2005 presidential election. Such conservative disputes were perhaps most apparent when the legislature rejected four of Ahmadinejad's prospective cabinet nominees in August 2005. (See also, "Ministerial Rejection Belies Emergence Of New Elite.") Mujtaba Shakeri, a member of the Devotees Society's Central Council, noted in the October 4 "Etemad" that the new fundamentalists (commonly referred to as "osulgarayan") did not yet have a firm grip on power.

"[They] are only present at the lower- and middle-ranking posts of the government and the parliament," he said.

Shakeri said some two weeks later that the Devotees Society had yet to reach consensus on its relationship with the Coordination Council, ISNA reported on October 17.

Intra-factional disputes persisted. Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf referred to the problem when speaking to the Devotees Society late in the year. Former presidential aspirant Qalibaf warned in December that challenging Ahmadinejad would undermine both the president and the fundamentalists in the long term, according to a report in "Kayhan." Qalibaf conceded that differences of opinion are natural, but acceptable only up to a certain point.

The secretary of the influential Expediency Council, Mohsen Rezai, also referred in January to the harmful impact of the conservatives' disputes. In a speech to the Devotees Society, he said the two conservative wings have grown closer but added that "a disagreement and a gap are still evident between them." He went on to call the situation "extraordinarily threatening." Rezai chastised the older generation of conservatives -- whom he called the "revolutionary forces" -- for their failure to respond to public demands when they were in power.

Young Developers

When the new generation of fundamentalists seized the political initiative by dominating municipal elections in 2003, the entity that grabbed headlines was the Islamic Iran Developers Coalition (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami). A Developers-dominated municipal council in Tehran selected Ahmadinejad to be the capital's mayor. The Developers Coalition continued its success in the 2004 parliamentary elections, and Ahmadinejad became president the following year. The Developers Coalition was not a hierarchical organization -- something that became apparent shortly before the June 2005 presidential election.

In late-January 2006, a group calling itself the Young Developers (Abadgaran-i Javan) applied for registration. This entity is distinct from the Developers in the legislature -- two of its founders are members of the Tehran municipal council, "Iran" reported on January 23, and council Chairman Mehdi Chamran said the new entity could leave the current political elite behind. An editorial in "Sharq" on January 23 said the creation of the Young Developers changed the nature of fundamentalism. The editorial explained that Iranian fundamentalists reject modernity and its symbols and defy progress. By submitting to the rules of party activity, the paper argued, the Young Developers were joining the modern world.

The Young Developers held their first congress in early March in the capital. Tehran council member Hassan Bayadi -- spokesman for the Young Developers -- denied that his group was connected with the Devotees Society, "Sharq" reported on March 4, but said it sought good relations with all the fundamentalists. Bayadi went on to say that the Young Developers backed the president's administration, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on March 5.

An analysis in the National Trust Party's mouthpiece "Etemad-i Melli" in early March claimed that the emergence of the Young Developers -- and the fact that the group's congress was held at the same time as that of the Devotees Society -- underlines conservative rifts. A subsequent editorial in "Sharq" described a "new scene of conflict where one Developer stands against the other." It described three factions -- in the legislature, in the municipal councils, and in the person of the president. "Sharq" further claimed that Devotees Society Secretary-General Hussein Fadai sees himself as the creator of the Developers Coalition.

Cooperating With Reformists

Representatives of one of the country's oldest conservative organizations and a member of the Coordination Council, the Islamic Coalition Party, dismissed predictions of the council's demise in February and March. Senior Islamic Coalition Party member Asadollah Badamchian went so far as to say that the reformist movement is dead, and he hopes "our movement would never experience the same fate," "Etemad" reported on February 28.

It is notable, then, that within six weeks leaders of the Islamic Coalition Party were meeting with counterparts from the leading non-clerical reformist organization, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, for the first time in two years. "Farhang-i Ashti" newspaper ascribed the meeting to the fact that the reformists are marginalized and the conservatives resent what they see as an inadequate share of the spoils. Discussing the same meeting, "Etemad" reported that the more radical aspects of the right and left wings appear irreconcilable from a distance. The parties agree on factors such as the constitution and the Islamic republic system, and their differences translate into healthy competition at the negotiating table.

Mohammad Reza Khatami, secretary-general of the Participation Front, told "Etemad" on April 22 that the meeting related to the nuclear issue. Khatami said the government has forbidden parties from writing about the topic, so the reformists had to convey their concerns to the conservatives personally in the hope that their views would be conveyed to the executive branch. "Etemad" had previously noted that the nuclear issue appeared to be bringing parties together.

The Islamic Coalition Party-Islamic Iran Participation Front meeting may be more representative of a reformist attempt to get back in power. "Siyasat-i Ruz" -- the mouthpiece of the Devotees Society -- reported on April 9 that the emphasis on the fundamentalists' divisions is just one of the reformists' tactics. The reformist front sees the council elections slated for the month beginning October 23 as an opportunity for it to begin its revival, just as such voting provided a beginning for the fundamentalists in 2003.

Domestically, reformists also intend to adopt a more populist approach, strengthen their relations with the clergy, and pay greater attention to traditional values in an effort to attract public trust. And on the foreign front, the reformists will show themselves as supporters of peace, democracy, human rights, and international dialogue.

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)