BY: HASSAN FARAZIAN
SUMMARY: The passing of Hojat-el Eslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on January 8th of this year was the beginning of the end for the old guard and last companions of Khomeini who had so ruthlessly overthrown the Shah’s regime and eliminated other political factions by consolidating power in their favor. Since the death of Khomeini, the pillars of power had begun to rest increasingly on Rafsanjani and the current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. This unintended development was the result of a grave miscalculation that the politically savvy Rafsanjani had made in undermining Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, the designated Khomeini’s successor and helped replace him by Khamenei who was an old political acquaintance that ultimately he had underestimated. But gradually, Khamenei had outmaneuvered him. Thus at the end, a once all-powerful Rafsanjani, who had been Khomeini’s confidant, Speaker of the House and Iranian President was forced to the margins of Iranian political force. However, with Rafsanjani out of the picture, a new power dynamics is shaping with the looming political uncertainties and economic challenges facing Iran and its growing uneasy social forces.
The so-called moderates led in a de facto way by Rafsanjani are now only connected through a network of second-echelon mullahs and high-ranking government bureaucrats presented by the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani who was a close protégé of Rafsanjani and who had installed many of his followers in office. The other side is mentored by the callous and politically expedient Khamenei who has controlled the vital centers of power and notably the Revolutionary Guard Corps – known as Sepah. But he has been in an increasingly ill-health and unable to personally influence the daily political events. This will undoubtedly be true during the next presidential elections in 2021 if – he is still around. Thus with the disappearance of the old guard and the growing socioeconomic hardships facing the Iranian population at large the signs of a crack in the status quo is becoming more evident.
There are — not — too many scenarios that can follow the power vacuum left after Khamenei’s exit from Iran’s political landscape.
First, the mullahs out of political necessity and survivability can begin a honeymoon period in finding a new leader and an accommodating modus operandi. But this is a complete wishful thinking as the bad blood, and newer status quo generation strife for power grab will make it an impossible proposition. The designation of a new Supreme Leader will also be a problematic undertaking right from the start of a post-Khamenei era. It would undoubtedly be a difficult task for anyone to fill in his shoes and control the grips of power Furthermore, the growing economic pain felt by the masses will surely be reaching a higher crisis level by then and become even more unmanageable. Whatever done will be much too little and too late for a satisfactory and peaceful transition of power.
Second, the absence of a viable and perceived respected “authoritarian authority” can create a vacuüm of uncertainties that will be prone to strong and serious social unrest. In politics, as the saying goes, “perception — is reality”; but any new leader designated with “Full” power and control from the top and by decree will not have the time to assert himself in such a turbulent post-Khamenei period that is certain to follow his death.
The question of leadership and organizational discipline is a crucial factor in any political process, democratic or otherwise. The weight it carries will be a solid element of any sociopolitical equation that can take the day in Iran and shape the short and medium term period of the developing political sequences in a post old guard time. A quick glance at their correlation in the analytically magnificent written classic: Why Men Rebel by Ted Gurr can prove to be a guiding light in examining the post-Khamenei scenario. As he suggests in his study:
“…..A Comparative study of rural banditry in Colombia and urban terrorism in Venezuela concludes that effective organizational unity is a prerequisite for the pursuit of goal-oriented revolutionary policy and that highly politicized leadership is necessary if dissidents are to sustain a campaign opposed by both government and the majority of citizens. If leadership is not politically competent, political violence can persist only if there is widespread socioeconomic discontent. If a dissident organization was created as, or is transformed into, a paramilitary body, a leadership hierarchy is a prerequisite for successful military operations. Other dissident organizations, like extremist political parties, may pursue their objectives primarily by nonviolent means. The political and organizational skills of their leaders may help them attain those objectives by enabling them to direct spontaneous violence in their own purposes. The Bolsheviks did so successfully in Russia in 1917; leaders of the French Communist Party chose not to do so in 1968.
The latter example makes it clear that there is no exact correspondence between the existence of dissident leadership and organization, and the extent of violence. Competent leadership and complex organization enhance dissident institutional support; that support may be used to minimize rather than increase political violence, depending on commitments and tactical calculations of leaders A coup d’état in a prerevolutionary situation can forestall massive violence, for example, by removing hated symbols of political repression and offering hopes for the alleviation of deprivation. Generally, if dissident leaders are committed primarily to the enhancement of their own or members’’ value position rather than to repressive violence, they will adjust their tactics to the exigencies of the situations they face. If tactical considerations suggest that gains are best achieved with minimal violence, they are likely to control their followers to minimize rather than increase violence. It also is possible that the needs of intensely discontented followers for expressive hostility will force leaders into more violent action than they consider desirable on tactical grounds, on pain of losing control. They may then develop more routinized, less violent means of symbolic protest of the kinds used by the regimes to minimize the destructive consequences of protest……..The ritual use of antigovernment demonstration and strike, accompanied by high levels of verbal hostility, is one possible outcome of this process.”
NO FORCE OR RHETORIC CAN STOP ANY LONGER THE GROWING SOCIOECONOMIC DISCONTENT FACING THE YOUTH THAT WILL SERIOUSLY CHALLENGE THE REGIME’S LEGITIMACY
From this leadership and organizational perspective, the reality of a competent person and more importantly a regulatory body and force should be the critical element in predicting the future of Iran. The entity that can capture comprehensively by channeling both the politico and military leverage in a post-Khamenei Iran will most likely be cementing what shall follow for at least – the short term. The shortlist of options and evaluations based on the notion of Leadership and Organization could be the following:
The mullahs and the ruling apparatchik are naturally likely to put forward their best face and effort in maintaining the status quo as though nothing has happened in attempting to preserve the continuity of the regime. But the fracture ruling class and more importantly – the race by all parties and elites in distancing themselves from the ruling mullahs to assure their survivability and legitimacy to rule will make this an impractical political matter. In fact, it will power more winds of discontent and political disarray that can undermine the regime’s existence.
The Sepah, on the other hand, is most likely to play a significant role in the aftermath of Khamenei’s death. It has consistently gained the upper hand in all walks of life from security apparatus to economic domain. Also, in Iran’s foreign policy where it has quietly paid a hefty price by putting boots on the ground in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon thus proving to be the regime’s direct and indispensable foreign policy arm in the Persian Gulf and Middle East region. Earlier this year, a very high-profile Iranian delegation visited Turkey on August 15, 2017, to discuss a whole range of mutual regional and national security issues. It was not a coincidence that the delegation was led by General Mohammad Hussein Bagheri, the chief of Iranian Armed Forces a veteran of the regime from Iran-Iraq war.
The case of Zimbabwe’s political development and the Army’s intervention in many ways can be a similar blueprint as to what may follow in post old guard Iran. The question that should be asked briefly in Zimbabwe’s self-declared “Bloodless coup d’état” case is: Who, Why and How the coup d’état was organized and implemented? This can shed manifestly a better light on its similar utility to Iran’s current sociopolitical and military situation. Thus in the case of Zimbabwe, it could safely be assumed that:
- Robert Mugabe’s political influence had been diminished in the daily life of the country and was, in fact, manipulated by his wife and his opportunistic circle of protégés.
- The economic situation had and shall for some time continue to worsen to the point of meltdown.
- Faced with a real threat for a potential turmoil in the very short to medium term, with or without a politically impotent Mugabe, the central circle of politically expedient elite’s must have organized the coup and convinced the Army to step in to save the day.
In the aftermath of the coup, Military spokesman Maj Gen SB Moyo had announced:
“Firstly we wish to assure our nation, His Excellency, the president of the Republic of Zimbabwe and commander in chief of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, comrade R G Mugabe and his family, are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed.
We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice.
As soon as we have accomplished our mission we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.
To the civil servants, as you are aware there is a plan by the same individuals to influence the current purging which is taking place in the political sphere. To the civil service, we are against that act of injustice and we intend to protect every one of you against that.
To the judiciary, the measures underway are intended to ensure that as an independent arm of the state you are able to exercise your independent authority without fear of being obstructed as has been the case with this group of individuals.
To our members of parliament, your legislative role is of paramount importance, of peace and stability in this country, and it is our desire that a dispensation is created that allows you to serve your respective political constituencies according to democratic tenants.
To the generality of the people of Zimbabwe, we urge you to remain calm and limit unnecessary movement. However we encourage those who are employed and those with essential business in the city to continue their normal activities as usual. Our wish is that you will enjoy your rights and freedoms and that we return our country to a dispensation that allows for investment, development and prosperity that we all fought for and for which many of our citizens paid the supreme sacrifice.
To political parties, we urge you to discourage your members from engaging in violent behavior. To the youth, we call upon you to realize that the future of this country is yours. Do not be enticed with the dirty coins of silver, be disciplined and remain committed to the efforts and values of this great nation.
To all churches and religious organizations in Zimbabwe we call upon your congregations to pray for our country and preach the gospel of love, peace and unity and development. To both our people and the world beyond our borders, we wish to make this abundantly clear this is not a military takeover of government. What the Zimbabwe defence forces is doing is to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country which if not addressed may result in violent conflict.
We call upon all the war veterans to play a positive role in ensuring peace, stability and unity in the country. To members of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, all leave is canceled and you are all to return to your barracks with immediate effect.
To the other security forces, we urge you to cooperate for the good of our country. Let it be clear we intend to address the human security threats in our country. Therefore any provocation will be met with an appropriate response.
And to the media, we urge you to report fairly and responsibly.
We thank you.”
In essence, the entire ruling elite had been looking for a change to appease the discontented masses, assure their survivability, while trying not to rock the boat and agitate the established status quo or Mugabe’s supporters. Further, it is apparent that no one person or group has been willing to “own” the looming crisis that the simple disappearance of Mugabe’s disastrous thirty-seven-year rule cannot remedy by itself.
The case of Iran’s sociopolitical and economic landscape resemblance strongly to Zimbabwe in many ways in that no one entity would like to own a broken, volatile situation that will be left behind by Khamenei and his political clique. Hence, it can only be the Sepah that can save the day from chaos and they could very well take a page from the Zimbabwe military and announce the same kind of rhetoric in the aftermath of a takeover. To cite Gurr’s assertion again:
“A coup d’état in a prerevolutionary situation can forestall massive violence, for example, by removing hated symbols of political repression and offering hopes for the alleviation of deprivation.”
This is what the expectation in Zimbabwe has been and what will be a very likely scenario in Iran – post or while Khamenei has the appearance of being in charge. But a cosmetic power transfer cannot hold water in a politically and economically unstable Iran and eventually the appearance of a Wild Card, even Prince Reza Pahlavi the late Shah’s Heir to the throne shouldn’t be ruled out. He would have the advantage of capitalizing on his father’s legacy of socioeconomic prosperity, while not being held responsible for its political failures. The change of guard, in resembling the post-Mao China with a complete socioeconomic openness could be yet another possibility. Whatever the final political evolution to follow in Iran, the certainty of a change and a radical turn of domestic political development is inevitable and is on the horizon.
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 Ted Gurr, Why Men Rebel (New Jersey: Stanford University Press, 1970).
 John D. Martez, “Urban and Rural Factors in Contemporary Latin American Violence,” Western Political Quarterly, XVIII (September 1985), Supplement, 36-37.
 On this point see Andrew Janos, The Seizure of Power: A Study of Force and Popular Consent( Princeton: Center of International Studies, Princeton University, Research Monograph No 16, 1964), 6-39; and Chalmers Johnson, Revolution and the Social System( Stanford: The Hoover Institution on War Revolution and Peace, Stanford University, 1964,49-57.
Ted Gurr, Why Men Rebel, page 4.
This was great!