Foreign and Defense Policy, Middle East and North Africa

Iran’s Velvet Revolution Within

On July 26, 2009, only eight days prior to the August 3 presidential inauguration, President Mahmoud Ahmadineajd surprisingly dismissed Intelligence Minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ezhei and appointed Majid Alavi as acting intelligence minister. Ahmadineajd’s dismissal of Ezhei is significant for several reasons. First, Ezhei was the last remaining cleric in Ahmadinejad’s government, which is dominated by former officers of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). Second, the position and tenure of the intelligence minister is usually determined by the Supreme Leader and not the president. Ahmadinejad’s actions, therefore, pose a direct challenge to the authority of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Details of the circumstances of Ezhei’s dismissal shed light on the remarkable dynamics at play during the crisis that has emerged since the June 12 presidential elections. Recent reporting in Iran indicates that there may have been reasons for Ezhei’s dismissal beyond his alleged incompetence or disapproval of the Rahim-Mashayi appointment for first vice president. These reports suggest that the conflict between Ahmadinejad and Ezhei arose from an intelligence report in which the ministry’s analysts denied the existence of a “velvet revolution” financed and directed by foreigners. If made public, such a finding could prove extremely embarrassing for the regime since it runs contrary to the Supreme Leader’s Friday prayer sermon on June 18,  in which he stressed that “Iran is not Georgia” so “they [Western powers] can unleash a velvet revolution.” Moreover, it could also damage the credibility of Iran’s judiciary branch since countless political activists in Iran have been arrested on charges of being velvet revolutionaries and some have been forced to make televised confessions on this issue.

Although the IRGC has consistently used the threat of a velvet revolution to legitimize its interventions in the internal politics of the Islamic Republic, this latest interference has caused particular outrage. In response to Ezhei’s dismissal, several intelligence ministry officials resigned in protest to the IRGC’s meddling in internal ministry affairs. During a time when the Iranian regime needs to demonstrate unity more than ever, such inter-agency power struggles waste valuable resources and further weaken Khamenei’s power base.

Such divisions within the Islamic Republic security sector also provide a window of opportunity for those opposing the Revolutionary Guards’ creeping coup, and otherwise unlikely alliances may be forged. For once, the intelligence ministry may consider the poorly organized Iranian dissidents as allies against the predatory Guards who are aiming at what remains of the ministry’s integrity.

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