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Khatami’s last stand and Rohani’s first

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By: Ehsan Mehrabi

“This government will be toppled in six months!” This is a statement attributed to an Islamic Republic hardliner about the reform government of Mohammad Khatami.

After Mohammad Khatami’s unexpected victory in June of 1998, a potential coup and subsequent fall of the government was the talk of every political gathering. Opponents of the reformist government dismissed such innuendo as media sensationalism. They had better ideas about quasi-coups, which would be much less costly, such as an attack on a Tehran University dorm and the mass closure of media outlets.

The Hassan Rohani administration is similar to that of Khatami’s government in that it should be preparing for such quasi-coups. While the Rohani government is talking about a return to a peaceful political atmosphere of hope and wisdom, Tehran’s political atmosphere is tense, and the security atmosphere in the border provinces appears to be showing some bent toward the upheavals of the Ahmadinejad era. And in the arena of foreign policy, while the government is making efforts to reduce tensions, billboards have dotted the city landscapes in an attempt to damage potential talks with the United States.

Proud of Sabotage

Opponents of the government are hoping to repeat the disabling of the Khatami government with acts of sabotage, which can already be noted in the statements of government opponents. Ahmad Alam-ol-Hoda, the Mashhad Friday Mass Imam, speaks with pride when describing their acts of sabotage, saying: “The 11th government has tried six times to appoint a person to the governorship of Khorasan Razavi Province but failed.”

Alam-ol-Hoda emphasized the four million votes garnered by the ultra-conservative candidate Saeed Jalili, saying that according to the leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khamenei, these four million are “the essence of the Revolution.” The statement seems to point to the old Iranian expression: “A centimetre of horn easily outweighs a metre of tail!”

They do not even need four million to disable the Rohani administration. The active Basij militia is enough to handle that for them. Basij militia members, who according to Alam-ol-Hoda, are willing to go on a land mine for the sake of this regime, or in other words, are prepared to throw a shoe at the president or even perhaps, as Mohammad Khatami has fearfully speculated, may be prepared to begin assassinations.

Source of the Quasi-Coups

Saeed Hajjarian, a prominent reformist figure who was the target of an assassination attempt, claimed 14 years after the attack that the attempt had been carried out by a Basij member, after Hajjarian had criticized statements by top Islamic Republic hardliner Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi. A month after the attack, all reformist and independent press outlets were shut down. Seven months prior to that, the attack on the Tehran University dorm had taken place. However, some observers trace the source of the quasi-coups against the Khatami government back to the prosecution of progressive Tehran mayor Karbaschi or even the house arrest of dissident senior cleric Ayatollah Montazeri.

Khatami did not appear to have a red line for when he would stop tolerating the push against his programs and policies and he kept retreating as far as they pushed him back. Khatami made neither a first stand or a last stand.

Now, with the experience of the Khatami government under its belt, the Rohani administration needs to define its first and last stand. It might choose the method of the leader of the Islamic Republic. When the leader of the Islamic Republic decides to oppose his opposition, he prefers to oppose them in the first stronghold rather than the last.

According to his campaign promises, the first stronghold of the Khatami government was politics and culture. However, he mounted no resistance in these initial trenches and he failed to put up any resistance in later trenches when dealing with the economy.

Now Khatami’s last stand has become Rohani’s first stand; however, it is the method of resistance that is of greater importance. If Rohani has chosen the economy and development as the first stronghold, he must resist right there. If the opponents of this administration come to the realization that Rohani, like Khatami, has no red lines for his plans, they will run him over.

Rohani’s New Stronghold

Rohani has found himself a new stronghold: foreign policy. The administration is lucky that the impact of sanctions on the economy is undeniable, and the leader of the Islamic Republic, contrary to his inner desires, has opened up some room for nuclear negotiations.

If the Rohani government appreciates this stronghold and the space it has opened up, it may make history. He has already become the first Iranian president to have had a conversation with an American president. This is only the beginning of the road, and the Rohani administration can score many more firsts for itself if it mounts an effective resistance.

The Rohani administration needs its political and popular supporters to make such a stand. Disappointing the people and making everyone believe that nothing has changed was one of the chief strategies used against the Khatami administration. It is now being used against the Rohani government.

The administration’s actions can also contribute to the success of this strategy. The Khatami government chose to take on the role of the oppressed opposition rather than taking a stand. This made it easy to swallow the idea of an impotent administration. The Rohani administration has the potential to avoid similar disillusionment of the people by taking responsibility and resisting in all areas where it has some power.

Rohani’s supporters will stand behind his government only if they are certain of the the lines of resistance and retreat, so that their fate does not become akin to that of soldiers who do not get the retreat orders and are captured by the enemy.


[translated from the Persian original]