WASHINGTON, DC – This month marks the one-year anniversary of the contested re-election of hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which spurred the country’s largest popular uprisings since the 1979 Islamic revolution. While the regime gradually succeeded in violently quelling the momentum of the opposition Green Movement, the country’s deep internal rifts – both among political elites as well as between government and society – are far from being reconciled.
Among the numerous post-election casualties was the notion of Iran as an “Islamic Republic.” As the late Grand Ayatollah Ali Montazeri put it, the regime’s brutality towards its own people has rendered it “neither Islamic nor a Republic.”
Another casualty was the legitimacy of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. For two decades, Khamenei deceptively cultivated an image of an impartial and magnanimous guide, but his defiant public support for Ahmadinejad exposed him as a petty, partisan autocrat. Among the unprecedented slogans of last summer’s street protests were thunderous chants of “Khamenei is a murderer, his leadership is void!”
Under Khamenei’s leadership, an unholy trinity of nouveau-riche Revolutionary Guardsmen, hard-line clergymen, and indoctrinated Basij militiamen increasingly wield power. Despite his religious pretensions as a spiritual guide, Khamenei’s future rests largely in the hands of the Revolutionary Guards. While opposition to his rule among top clerics in Qom worries Khamenei, opposition within the Revolutionary Guard could be fatal for him.