Iran: Crackdowns and power struggles

April 25, 2013

By Laura Hughes

On 24th April 2013, the Frontline Club hosted a discussion on Iran’s political system in the lead up to the country’s elections in June. Azadeh Moaveni, former Middle East correspondent for Time magazine, hosted the panel of Iranian experts.

iran election

The conventional thinking is that the upcoming election will be a highly orchestrated event. Kelly Golnoush Niknejad, founder and editor-in-chief of the award-winning Tehran Bureau commented:

“The candidates are going to be vetted by the Guardian Council . . . conservative candidates who are all loyal to the regime are going to compete, and someone loyal to the Supreme Leader is going to come out of the ballot box. . . . It won’t be that interesting an election.”

With opposition leaders still under house arrest following the disputed 2009 elections, Mehri Honarbin-Holliday, author of Becoming Visible in Iran: Women in Contemporary Iranian Society said:

 “There isn’t the opposition in Iran against the Supreme Leader, because he is a cleric. Millions are saying they don’t want to vote again because it is like rubbing salt in old wounds. But the face of Iran today is not what it was in 1978. The education system has created an Iranian cosmopolitan that is unprecedented.”

Kasra Naji, special correspondent for BBC Persian TV remarked:

“There are these people who are very powerful today in Iran and they have come to the conclusion that to hold onto power is a lot more important than the dictates of the ballot box. If they see that the ballot box does not go their way, they will do everything in their power to make sure that the outcome is what they want to see.”

Moaveni added: “Conservative Iran is not monolithic and there is a diversity of cultural attitudes.”

The audience asked the panel if Iran was on the brink of revolution. Naji responded:

 “At the time of the [1979] revolution there was a political alternative – Khomeini provided that. Today there is no political alternative. Many people have gone through one revolution and seen what it might bring . . . there is little appetite for another.”

The panel discussed the power struggles emerging amidst the Iranian political spectrum, narrowly focused on the right. On the subject of the Supreme Leader, Naji told the audience:

“Ali Khamenei has all the leverages of power at his disposal . . . he is the man with the key to these elections. He wants someone as president who will be subservient to him and his policies.”

Niknejad concluded:

“The ultimate ray of hope is that, so far, anything that has happened has been unpredictable. Nobody really predicted what was going to happen in 2009, so if something happens, it’s not because we sat here predicting it was going to happen.”

Laura Hughes is a history student at University of York and editor of student newspaper Nouse.

You can watch the event and stream or download the podcast below: