Adrian Hamilton: Power in Iran - a labyrinthine system

Related Topics

The regime in Iran is now desperately – and so far uncertainly – playing for time while it tries to work out just what is happening in the country and the forces that are now engulfing it. The Council of Guardians has agreed to a recount of the disputed results. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was seen off for the day to a summit in Russia. Talks have been opened up with the main opposition leaders. The foreign press has been effectively confined to barracks. The authorities have warned against demonstrations but appear to have held back from trying to suppress them by force.

Is this the calm before the authorities marshal their forces to impose a crackdown à la Tiananmen Square? Or is it the reflection of a system now divided within itself and an establishment losing control of the situation.

The simple answer is that nobody knows and nobody can know until the strength of feeling around the country, on all sides, becomes clear. The size of the popular outpourings and the fact that they have persisted and seem to be spreading to other cities, has taken the authorities by surprise and also given an opportunity for Ahmadinejad's enemies within the establishment to bare their teeth.

These include Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president and chairman of the important Assembly of Experts, rumoured to be in Qom gathering support to overturn the election result; Ali Larijani, the Speaker of parliament (the Majlis) who was a rival to Ahmadinejad in the presidential election of 2005 and has come out to challenge the results of the election; and Mohsen Rezai, the Secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council and former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, who stood against the President in these elections to garner only 680,000 officially counted votes.

Not for nothing is Iran home to one of the highest number of bloggers per head of population in the world. Tehran is thick with rumours of plots and counter-plots. Even the position of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Ruler, is said to be vulnerable.

The truth has probably a lot less to do with plotting and a lot more to do with simple confusion. Ahmadinejad may have been absent yesterday but he is far from powerless. A populist who has made his reputation attacking the corruption of the old clerical establishment, he can count not just on the votes of the rural majority but also the more formidable powers of the veterans of the Iran-Iraq war (in which he served) and the feared volunteer paramilitary forces of the Basiji.

Behind the scenes stands the ambiguous figure of Ayatollah Khamenei, the religious head of the country, who has so far supported Ahmadinejad and the forces of the hardliners but is ultimately charged with keeping the country whole and balancing the forces surrounding him. Should the pressures of change prove too great, he is perfectly capable of throwing the country's President overboard in the interests of unity just as he could give in to hardline advice and go for a clampdown.

For the moment, Khamenei will probably temporise, seeking to treat with the opposition candidates by offering concessions on the recount in the hope that Mirhossein Mousavi can call his followers to order and accept Ahmadinejad's victory, even if by a reduced majority. But that assumes the reformists will agree to accept that result and that Ahmadinejad will agree to any compromise.

It also assumes that the hardline forces will continue to hold back and that the students and radicals in the reform movement, having sensed change, will not accelerate their efforts to achieve it. And of that no one for the moment can be certain.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
Joyce Carol Oates is among 150 writers to protest that the award decision was ‘neither clear nor inarguable’  

Charlie Hebdo's PEN Freedom of Expression Courage Award is well deserved

Joan Smith
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk