The personal and political rivalry between Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani hit a new low last week during a hearing in the Majlis regarding the ouster of Minister of Labor and Social Services, Abdolereza Sheykhoeslami, due to his support of the appointment of Saeed Mortazavi as Chairman of the National Social Security Organization. Saeed Mortazavi is the former Prosecutor General of Tehran and is considered the person who is responsible for the deaths of several protesters in Kahrizak Prison following the June 2009 presidential elections. President Ahmadinejad reiterated his support and defense of his protégé during the sharp exchange with the Majlis Speaker and several of his followers. President Ahmadinejad even played a tape of a conversation that ostensibly took place between Mortazavi and Fazel Larijani (brother of Majlis Chairman Ali Larijani and Judiciary Chairman Sadegh Lairjani) implying Larijani’s involvement in corruption. Mortazavi is considered a strong supporter of Ahmadinejad, who continues to nurture him despite the accusations and the criticism leveled against Mortazavi by the Majlis and public.
The “strident” clash in the Majlis sent shockwaves throughout the political establishment and afforded a glimpse of what is merely the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to the bad blood between Ahmadinejad and his supporters and the Majlis in general, and particularly with the Larijani brothers. The long-running dispute has garnered extensive media coverage despite the time that has passed since the incident. This internal struggle once again reveals the weakness of the regime, just as Iran is facing external pressure, primarily through the sanctions.
Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani has been a key player on the Iranian political scene since the Revolution and one of President Ahmadinejad’s fiercest critics since his election (Larijani ran for president in 2005, but lost and may decide to run again). He has held numerous important positions and is important in the decision-making process at the highest echelons of the regime. Larijani is extremely close with the Supreme Leader, and served as Deputy Minister of the IRGC (a position that has since been eliminated) and advisor to the IRGC Commander. While serving in the various IRGC positions, Larijani forged strong relationships with the heads of the IRGC, who are currently helping him navigate the stormy waters of his clashes with the President and the President’s supporters from within the group known in Iran as the “deviant current.”
That said, this most recent confrontation, which is not the first between the two, also reveals Ahmadinejad’s defiance of the Supreme Leader, who has called several times in the past to avoid public arguments and show unity in the face of the difficulties with which Iran must grapple. Ahmadinejad, who in the past had been a favorite of the Supreme Leader, has become his rival and is trying to pave the way for his successors in the run up to the upcoming presidential elections. This dispute is likely to cross camps even in the upper and middle echelons of the IRGC, which was established to protect the values and path of the Revolution.
The internal tension at the top of the regime in Iran can be expected to intensify during the time remaining before the June presidential elections. External pressures, such as negotiations on the nuclear program, Iranian involvement in Syria, its subversion in Gulf countries as well as domestic issues such as the budget, declining revenue from oil, inflation and unemployment will continue to fuel this tension and further expose the various camps and their positions as Iran heads into the final straight to the elections.