x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Cracks in Iran's regime could widen further

Iran's 2009 Green Revolution was ruthlesly put down. But now infighting is dividing the country's elite, and that may lead to new opportunities for the true voice of the people to be heard.

Convinced that conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had stolen the presidential election of 2009, tens of thousands of Iranians protested in the streets that summer - and were ruthlessly stifled. The "Green Revolution" vanished from view, and even the example of the Arab Spring revived only a faint echo of public protest in tightly controlled Iran.

Increasingly, however, discord within Iran's elite is bringing new hope to those among Iran's 78 million people who hope for more responsive rulers. Green shoots may soon begin to rise toward the light through the widening cracks in the regime.

Everyone at the top in Iran is politically and religiously conservative, but the ruling class in this "theocratic republic" is far from monolithic. News reports focus on infighting between Mr Ahmadinejad and his team, on one hand, and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his acolytes on the other.

As his title suggests, Ayatollah Khamenei appears to be winning, and the president's influence is shrinking. The struggle might seem arcane to outsiders: some presidential aides were even accused of using sorcery.

It would be wrong however to overlook the role of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, arguably the most potent force in the country and not obviously subordinate to anyone. Combining military and intelligence roles with a strong presence throughout the economy, the Guard is a state within a state, with members and former members - including Mr Ahmadinejad - in high places throughout the government.

Now a report in The Times of London suggests that Mr Amadinejad has sent a public warning to the Guard, long known for black market exploits, by complaining in a speech about "our own smuggling brothers".

For the president, this approach is courageous, foolhardy or desperate - perhaps all three. But all of this is a signal that change is coming.

New parliamentary elections are due in March; reformists are debating whether to run; some of them at least will do so. And whatever the election results may be, the voting could well be the midwife of a new and more robust Green Revolution. No wonder the Supreme Leader called this week for public squabbling at the top to cease.

Will it cease? Who can say. But for a regime that has managed to force its citizens to obey - sometimes by brute force - there is remarkable dissension within the ranks.