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    Middle East
     Dec 19, 2006
Page 1 of 2
Iran's crocodile rocked
By Pepe Escobar

With votes still being hand-counted, there's every indication Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's moderate faction has scored a stunning victory over the extreme right in the crucial election for the 86-member Council of Experts, according to Iranian state TV.

"Hashemi" - as he is known in Tehran - as well as Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi - the gray eminence and spiritual leader of

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad - will be among the 16 clerics representing Tehran in the Council of Experts.

The Council of Experts (86 clerics only; no women allowed) is key because it's the only institution in the Islamic Republic capable of holding the supreme leader accountable and even removing him from office. It is the system's Holy Grail. The supreme leader - not the president - is where the buck stops in Iran.

Once again, this election has been a case of the extreme right against the moderate/pragmatists. Or the recluse Yazdi - aka "the crocodile" (in Farsi) - against the eternal insider, relative "friend of the West", former president (1989-97), opportunist and king of the dodgy deal, Rafsanjani.

Yazdi is the dean of the Imam Khomeini Educational and Research Institute in Qom, a hardcore hawza (theological school) that has prepared and configured the world view of key members of the Ahmadinejad presidency. It's impossible to interview Yazdi - officially because of "government rules", unofficially of his own volition.

Rafsanjani, aka "the shark", remains the chairman of the Expediency Council and virtually the regime's No 2, behind Supreme Leader Ali al-Khamenei and ahead of Ahmadinejad. Iranian pop culture, with a tinge of Discovery Channel, delighted in describing this as the battle between the crocodile and the shark.

It was heavily symbolic that moderate Rafsanjani and another former president, the progressive, sartorially impeccable Mohammad "dialogue of civilizations" Khatami, voted together in the Jamaran mosque, where the late ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, used to deliver his speeches. Iranian reformist papers did not fail to publish the emblematic photo sealing the alliance on their front pages this past Saturday. Rafsanjani's victory was sweeter because he had lost to Ahmadinejad in the second round of the 2005 presidential elections.

There have been rumors in Tehran for months that Yazdi and his followers were on a power grab. They had won city and village council elections, then parliamentary elections, and the presidency (with Ahmadinejad), and were ready to conquer the Council of Experts and thus be in position to choose the next supreme leader. There have been unconfirmed reports that Khamenei may be seriously ill.

Saudi Wahhabis may complain there are "no free elections in Iran" (as if there were any elections in Saudi). Anyway, popular participation in these, one may say, "relatively free" elections was a healthy 60%.

Clerics running for the Council of Experts must pass a difficult theological exam - and must be approved by the Council of Guardians, which, as with anything that really matters in Iran, is controlled by the supreme leader. The six key mullahs out of the council's 12 jurists are directly appointed by the supreme leader. So inevitably the election for the Council of Experts had to be supreme-leader-controlled. No wonder Khamenei described it last week as the most important in the whole country, stressing that candidates "should comprise honest, wise, competent, benevolent and trustworthy people". Given the election results, the Council of Experts is expected to remain under the ironclad dominance of Khamenei's conservative bloc.

On municipal elections nationwide, the extreme right - clustered on Ahmadinejad-endorsed lists - also fared worse than expected. The results for the crucial Tehran City Council will only be known next week, but certainly there won't be a sweep by the extreme right - rather a surge by the reformists mixed with Ahmadinejad-faction allies plus a coterie of technocratic conservatives.

What the crocodile has been up to
Yazdi and his followers have always stressed they want to implement "real Islam". They view the Rafsanjani camp as a bunch of filthy rich, morally and legally corrupt decadents, totally oblivious to the concerns of "ordinary people", whose self-styled key symbol happens to be Ahmadinejad.

Yazdi is also the spiritual mentor of the Hojjatieh, a sort of ultra-fundamentalist sect whose literal interpretation of Shi'ite tradition holds that chaos in mankind is a necessary precondition for the imminent arrival of the Mahdi - the 12th hidden (since AD 941) Shi'ite imam who will come to save the world from injustice and widespread corruption. Ahmadinejad may not be a Hojjatieh himself, but he understands where they are coming from.

Yazdi's "real Islam" has nothing to do with Western democracy. He wants a kelafat - a caliphate. Ayatollahs like Yazdi are simply not concerned with worldly matters, foreign policy, geopolitical games or Iran's nuclear program; the only thing that matters is

Continued 1 2 

A bitter struggle for power in Iran (Dec 16, '06)

In Iran, all politics is local (Dec 15, '06)

The cost: An army and a leg (Dec 14, '06)


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