IRAN: Islamic Republic "at a turning point," analyst says
Iran scholar Mohsen Milani says the Islamic Republic is "at a turning point."
The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has thrown his support behind President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and today the police reportedly used tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of opposition supporters protesting in the streets of Tehran.
Presidential challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi "has to make some strategic decisions," says Milani, who chairs the department of government and international affairs at the University of South Florida. "He and the entire opposition now have to ultimately decide whether they are willing to confront the security forces or not. Because Khamenei has made up his mind.”
The semiofficial Fars News Agency and other media outlets reported that a bomb exploded today near a shrine to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“That is very important,” says Milani, who would not speculate about who might be responsible. But, he says, “This could be used by the Islamic Republic, by the government, to try to regroup its social basis of support, to try to imply that what is going on today has gone beyond the dispute between factions, and they are now challenging the basis of the Islamic Republic itself.”
Some Western commentators have made much of the apparent divisions among Iran’s ruling clerics. Milani is more cautious, saying Khamenei signaled in his Friday sermon that he might be willing to bring prominent moderate and former president Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani back into the fold.
“In the past, I have seen how cracks have been created and then repaired,” Milani says. “What I am watching for is whether there is a permanent division between Rafsanjani and Khamenei . . . I am not convinced there is.”
Asked whether the opposition movement would persist without its current figureheads, he says, “I believe this is one of the reasons that Rafsanjani has not made up his mind. He knows on the one hand that Ahmadinejad is determined to undermine him. Ahmadinejad has made that very clear. On the other hand, the strategic decision that Rafsanjani has to make is if he does not join the Islamic regime that is in power today, then his fate is locked with the fate of the (opposition) movement . . . He is waiting I think to see where is the center of gravity in these unfolding events, and then he will decide where to go.”
— Alexandra Zavis in Los Angeles