Seven months to go before Iran’s presidential election, the extraordinary power struggle between outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is heating up, against a backdrop of the Islamic republic’s increasingly tense confrontation with the United States in the Gulf.
Two children of former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani were arrested on 22 and 24 September and thrown into Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison in what was seen as a manoeuvre by Khamenei’s conservative clerics, to ensure Rafanjani does not run in the June 2013 race, or throw his political weight behind any moderate candidate with the temerity to challenge the supreme leader’s choice.
Ahmadinejad was under fire on several fronts. His media adviser and longtime associate, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, was arrested on 26 September, and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for publishing articles that allegedly insulted Islam and traditional values.
On the same day, judicial authorities, controlled by Khamenei, closed Shargh, a reformist newspaper shut down several times in recent years, for publishing a cartoon showing a line of blindfolded men following each other. Hardliners say the image insulted Iranian soldiers who fought in the 1980-88 war with Iraq in which tens of thousands were slaughtered in World War I style offensives.
On top of that, the authorities also issued an arrest warrant for Shargh’s managing director, Mehdi Rahmanian, for publishing the cartoon after the semi-official Fars news agency, linked to the powerful pro-Khamenei Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), launched a campaign for its closure. Javanfekr, the head of the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), was seized at 6.30 pm, almost at the precise moment that Ahmadinejad began delivering a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
That was seen as a clear warning by conservative hardliners in Tehran’s political elite to the president, who must step down next June after serving two terms, not to attempt to install one of his associates in the presidency to continue his controversial policies.
All three arrests were widely perceived as warning shots by the ruling conservatives that they will not tolerate any attempt by Ahmadinejad, or the badly mauled reformist block to which Rafsanjani, a close associate of the late Ayatollah Khomeini’s and a survivor of the political wars that have periodically ravaged Tehran since the 1979 revolution, to have any influence over the next administration.
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