The New York Times has a frightening article on how Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is consolidating power in Iran:
Mr. Ahmadinejad is pressing far beyond the boundaries set by other presidents. For the first time since the revolution, a president has overshadowed the nation’s chief cleric, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on both domestic and international affairs.
He has evicted the former president, Mohammad Khatami, from his offices, taken control of a crucial research organization away from another former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, challenged high-ranking clerics on the treatment of women and forced prominent academics out of the university system.
“Parliament and government should fight against wealthy officials,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said in a speech before Parliament on Saturday that again appeared aimed at upending pillars of the status quo. “Wealthy people should not have influence over senior officials because of their wealth. They should not impose their demands on the needs of the poor people.”
In this theocratic system, where appointed religious leaders hold ultimate power, the presidency is a relatively weak position. In the multiple layers of power that obscure the governance of Iran, no one knows for certain where the ultimate decisions are being made. But many of those watching in near disbelief at the speed and aggression with which the president is seeking to accumulate power assume that he is operating with the full support of Ayatollah Khamenei.
There are two possibilities here: either Ahmadinejad has someone seized an unprecedented level of power himself, or he’s a puppet for Khamenei and the Guardian Council. Either way, it looks bad. Ahmadinejad’s attempt to consolidate power and directly challenge the West indicate that Iran’s policy is becoming increasingly aggressive. It appears quite likely that the Iranians will possess nuclear weapons soon – possibly even before the end of the year. Their enrichment program is continuing at a rate that was much faster than initial estimates, and their ability to enrich uranium will only grow in the future.
Meanwhile, Iran is hit with mass protests by ethnic minorities including Iranian Arabs from Baluchistan, Azeris, and Kurds. The regime’s reaction has been to strike back at the protesters, but it remains entirely uncertain as to how widespread the anti-regime sentiment is. There have been rumors that the Iranians are not happy with Ahmadinejad’s inability to fix the sputtering Iranian economy and ethnic minorities are angered by increasingly discriminatory policies that further marginalize them from Iranian society.
The problem here is that it seems very unlikely that the anti-Ahmadinejad resistance has nearly enough force to topple the government – if anything, it strengthens Ahmadinejad’s hand to crack down on dissent and suppress opposition to his regime. It would be nice if Iran would have a nice democratic revolution and become a less dangerous country – it’s just that such a scenario seems profoundly unlikely right now. It took a million Lebanese in Martyr’s Square to force Syria to leave Lebanon – 10,000 Azeris in Tehran won’t force Ahmadinejad to budge.
Ahmadinejad, despite the protests, seems increasingly brazen in his attempts to consolidate his own power and set Iran’s policy against the West, especially Israel and the United States. Unless there is a major mass uprising by the average Iranian Persian, the violence in Iran seems unlikely to topple the regime. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, praying for a revolution is simply not a sound policy. Sooner or later, the world will need to confront the reality of an increasingly aggressive and dangerous Iran – and hopefully it will be before something truly catastrophic happens.