Monday, February 11, 2008

The Iranian Old Guard

In today’s Washington Post, Thomas Erdbrink reports on the diminishing influence of the Iranian old guard. It’s sure to set off a generational struggle to fill the political vacuum in the long-term, while emboldening the Ahmadinejad faction in the near-term.

After Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's followers toppled a U.S.-backed autocracy in Iran, he brought to power a coterie of politically engaged clerics who sought to create the world's first Islamic republic. Nearly 30 years later, a new generation of politicians is sweeping aside those clerics, many of whom had become proponents of better relations with the West and gradual steps toward greater democracy.

The newcomers are former military commanders, filmmakers and mayors, many younger than 50 and only a few of them clerics. They are vowing to carry out the promises of the revolution and to place Iran among the world's leading nations. This rising generation has the support of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader in Iran's political system, who backs the government's assertive foreign and nuclear policies.

Last month, local election councils disqualified scores of clerics and their allies -including Khomeini's grandson, Ali Eshragi - from seeking election to parliament March 14. Such candidates have been disqualified before, but analysts said the absence of members of the clerical old guard from other institutions of power in Iran means they will find it difficult to mount an electoral comeback.

"These newcomers are pushing the followers of the imam out of power," said cleric and political veteran Rasoul Montajabnia, using an honorific to refer to Khomeini. "We are being dealt with disloyally." Analysts say the purging of those clerics strengthens President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the most prominent leader of the new generation, and will result in a smaller political class that is more beholden to the supreme leader and less tolerant of even internal dissent.

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