Published on 30 Dec 2009

If Khamenei falls the Islamic Revolution may unravel

I am not persuaded by reports that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s presidential jet is being “made ready” to lift him out of the country in the event of an impending overthrow.

When I arrived on the tarmac at Shiraz International Airport in the south of Iran a week ago, there were no fewer than two official jetliners sitting there. An antiquated Boeing 707 and a newer Airbus.

The ruling elites in Iran (and there are many) have access to a whole range of state paraphernalia for moving about the country, and out of it. When I interviewed him on the day before Christmas Eve, President Ahmadinejad could have moved a total of some 500 officials with ease from Shiraz to anywhere within several thousand miles.

Even if I’m sceptical about the plane, I do think it is right to focus on Khamenei. His position is becoming increasingly fragile.

The death of Ayatollah Montazeri just ten days ago, served to underline how junior and unimportant an Ayatollah Khamenei was when he came to power. Montazeri was infinitely more learned and more senior. No one has ever accused Khamenei of being over endowed either with brains or spiritual insight.

He’s been a place man holding the ring between those clerics like Montazeri who did not want the clergy in government and those like the founding father of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Khamenei, who did.

The question remains. Who gave the order to shoot live rounds at protesters on Iran’s holiest day of Ashura? Who ordered the “assassination” of Ali Habibi, the nephew of presidential candidate Mousavi? Did Khamenei give his blessing?

The Islamic Revolution in Iran is going the way of all revolutions – it is rotting from within.

It is demonstrating its weakness by proving unable to risk arresting the actual leaders of the protests, instead jailing and killing the relatives of those leaders.

Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has already had her prize taken from her by the regime, now her sister Nooshin – a professor of medicine – has been arrested.

My sense, as the last Western journalist to look into the eyes of President Ahmadinejad, is that he is not the key to his country’s destiny. He was “favoured” by Khamenei to be regarded as the victor of the 2009 elections.

Khamenei forced him to sack a relatively liberal first Vice President Mashaei. (Mashaei was caught attending an event in Turkey three years ago at which, perish the though, women danced). I saw Mashaei in Shiraz, a surprisingly approachable man who has now been translated into Ahmadinejad’s Chief of Staff.

I found people around the president more talkative than a year ago. One man, who I had conversed with before, on the fringes of the group, confided that there were only two true loyalists left in the president’s inner circle – Mashaei and his chief press man. The rest he said “are there for the ride”.

Ahmadinejad is a religious technocrat – a town planner who’s PhD was on traffic management – a much required science in Iran.

If Khomeini falls, he falls. If Khamenei falls, the Islamic Revolution itself may unravel.

This rotting of the revolution manifests itself in the rampant corruption in the clerical and Revolutionary Guard classes. They are eating the Iranian economy from within.

Vast sectors are now in the hands of young guards who were hardly born at the time of the revolution. The volunteer Basij class – once highly ordered from above – is now at large on the streets, largely out of immediate control.

Sitting in front of Ahmadinejad at the tomb of the great Persian poet Hafeez, seven days ago, I did not feel I was anywhere near the controlling eye of the storm.

Events are running in Iran, and the revolutionary system is too divided, too much at war with itself to retrieve the initiative.

Killing may be its last recourse. In which case poor Iran must prepare for still more funerals.

Speaking of which, the government is at odds with its own Islamic law by failing to release the body of Mousavi’s nephew for burial within 24 hours of his death.

They fear the consequences of such a funeral.

Tweets by @jonsnowC4

15 reader comments

  1. margaret brandreth- Jones says:

    You and planes Jon…Similarities though can be made with Police Cars which are unmarked in the UK.There is always doubt who they belong to.

    Perhaps there is a jet in a hanger.?

    The Basij I believe ,were originally formed as a voluntary arm of the government to protect Islamic rule and way of life,( but volunteers , volunteer for many reasons) so following on from that initial formation, it does seem that the church again rules the roost, c/o government., however uprisings are similar to those in 1979 and outcomes could be similar.

    Did you say Mr A ,had a Phd in controlling traffic?

    1. margaret brandreth- Jones says:

      have we got the police voting here.?

  2. adrian clarke says:

    Those who rule by fear and not allegiance have no hope but to carry on killing , signing their own death warrant.If the international court of the hague has any real impact or meaning , it should be preparing arrest warrants against the leaders of the revolutionary guard

    1. margaret brandreth- Jones says:

      It seems though Adrian that fear and allegiance are so interlinked in Iran that they cannot be separated.

      The new political structure arising from 1979 has the Supreme Leader ,an unelected leader, appearing to be on a par with the elected parliament and cabinet.

      This parity seems to be a fiction, born out of fear of Islamic rule who the Ayatollah represents.

      The conservative Mr Ahmadinejad ,looks to many to be going along with the supreme leader. All the cabinet are elected unless they are related to the Ayatollah.

      So who are the basij fighting against , a theocracy or a political structure , or lack of it.?

  3. Ray Turner says:

    A political leader with a PHD in traffic management…?

    Just out of interest, what are the qualifications of some other well-known political leaders and are they really any better qualified for the job…?

    1. adrian clarke says:

      Gordon Brown has a degree in psychosis and meglomania.He is also a egomaniac,so pretty much on a par with the Iranian leadership both Religious and Govmental,

  4. adz says:

    Fear of reprisal is the dominant force for many countries in todays society. Some nations use the violent weapon more than others. In some places it’s physical and in others it is psycological. Some independent States use both together and I fear Iran is one of those.
    All current conflicts, whether visible or not, are not about religion but about power and control.
    May the people of Iran achieve peace through justice and not unrestricted government control.
    adzmundo CND

    1. margaret brandreth- Jones says:

      again adz you see through. Mind games in abundance —-as though we dont know that they are trying to screw us?

      Is that God? control, corruption, violence. Some unstable humans out there.!

    2. adrian clarke says:

      Zealots use religion as their excuse for many things.That unfortunately is the problem with religion.A cause for good can so easily be used as an excuse for evil.Perhaps the answer is to ban all forms of religion and become a secular society.

  5. baz says:

    After some rather skewed reporting from Copenhagan it’s good to see Jon Snow back on top form in a brave if somewhat odd interview with Dr A – Master of the non-sequitur whose response when asked awkward questions is to talk about something else (probably why he got the job even over and above traffic acumen) – and now sharp insights into internal workings and possible developments. Placed alongside recent Guardian claims (and extraordinary film) surrounding the Peter Moore saga, the ordinary citizen can’t move much beyond the Laurel and Hardy 1930s claim that here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into… But we’ll remain patient. And meantime thank JS for his extraordinary insights. b.

  6. tanya spooner says:

    I do find a note of hope, for the West, or possibly even, the whole world in the information and insights provided here. I think it is courageous of J Snow and the C4 unit to face these powerful individuals and ask difficult questions. I don’t find similar determination anywhere else.

    1. margaret brandreth- Jones says:

      I agree Tanya..Lindsey Hislum’s reports are also always packed with information and this C4 team connect admirably.

      If you read some of the blogs from those who have been affected by the basiji and government the rot has set in and there is no clear distinction between the various motives of different factions.

      What is worrying me is that as one blogger commented on another sight , there is increasing accountability for any action taken.This assertion that as long as responsibility is taken for the misdeeds makes it right needs to be upturned and questioned again and again.

  7. adz says:

    Thankyou for your important words Margaret.
    There is still, not enough of us who know or believe in this vast screw but internet also has vast power.
    Things can change, in the interest of two known unique entities, the planet and living beings.
    Help spread the cyber revolution, the “up to date” way that is.
    adzmundo CND

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