The Truth Behind Iran’s Election Protests

The real struggle isn’t between conservatives and moderates.
From the September 2009 Trumpet Print Edition

In the broad scheme, Iran’s star is rising. It is ready to seize the advantage from a fading United States in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, it has effectively neutralized the long-standing threat from the U.S. It has prepared its terrorist proxies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip for a future attack on Israel. It is about to go nuclear. Many long-held dreams of Iran’s radicals appear about to come true.

And yet, trouble stirs at home. Cracks in the ayatollah’s power have appeared. After allegations of fraud sullied its June 12 presidential election, the streets filled with angry protest. As the weeks passed, clerics began to defect from the supreme leader and voice their dissent over the regime’s heavy-handed, even corrupt rule.

Could it be that Iran is on the verge of a transformation? What is going on here?

Many outsiders have viewed the protests as a sort of prelude to a long-awaited Islamic counter-revolution. They are going to be disappointed.

The Trumpet believes categorically that this is not the herald of a new age of moderation in Iran. Though there may be bumps along the way, ultimately the Islamic Republic will roll on toward its goal of regional dominance and general mayhem in the name of Allah. It will keep supporting terror and pursuing nuclear weapons. There are several reasons this is true.

A Sham Election

For one, the election—like all Iranian elections—was a charade. This isn’t merely a question of whether or not votes were counted correctly, as European and American leaders disingenuously claim.

Iran is not a democracy—it is a theocratic republic. The religious leaders decide who can run for office and who can’t. “In practice,” American Thinker wrote, “a president of Iran is already chosen through a farce process of giving the voters a chance to elect one of the men hand-picked from the regime’s functionaries, as was the case with President Ahmadinejad” (June 16). Out of 470 candidates who entered the prescreening process, only four came through. Ahmadinejad’s main opponent, Mirhossein Mousavi—whom many seem to think would shepherd Iran into the peace-loving brotherhood of nations—has a history as a hardliner from the days when he was prime minister under the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Of course, the mullahs control more than just elections—they control everything. The president, whoever he may be, doesn’t create foreign policy; he is essentially a caretaker of domestic matters. Even then, everything he does is subject to approval by the ayatollah. Consider how Iran’s nuclear program has developed virtually uninterrupted through several presidencies, both “radical” and “moderate.”

The stranglehold these religious leaders have on the nation is far more complete than Western media are leading people to believe.

In truth, it is erroneous to view recent events as a battle between conservative and liberal camps within Iran. Rather, we are witnessing a power struggle between rival conservative factions, both hungering for the same goal: nuclear-armed domination of a Jew-free Middle East en route to broader, global ambitions. The two sides only disagree on how to go about it.

The True Struggle in Iran

There has not in fact been an uprising against the regime. As Stratfor wrote, “The post-election unrest in Iran … was not a matter of a repressive regime suppressing liberals … but a struggle between two Islamist factions that are each committed to the regime, but opposed to each other” (June 29). Any truly reformist faction simply doesn’t exist as a credible political force.

The primary struggle within the regime is between the hard right, under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the pragmatic conservatives led by influential cleric and former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Both of these men are sons of the 1979 revolution, as are the rest of Iran’s political and religious leaders. As Stratfor pointed out, “It would be a massive mistake to think that any leadership elements have abandoned those principles” (ibid.).

On July 17, in his first sermon after the election, Rafsanjani claimed that he was the true heir to the Islamic Revolution and that he spoke for the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini. He is no liberal reformer. He has a lengthy public record of supporting and driving Iran’s radical policies.

Yes, both sides claim to speak for the Khomeinist cause. Both factions also want Iran to become a nuclear powerhouse capable of dominating the Middle East. Ahmadinejad, of course, has made this clear. But Rafsanjani, despite being considered a moderate by some in the West, has the same national goals. In a 2001 speech, Rafsanjani spoke of a nuclear Iran and said Iran would one day vomit Israel “out from its midst” in one blast, because “a single atomic bomb has the power to completely destroy Israel, while an Israeli counterstrike can only cause partial damage to the Islamic world.”

For the time being, Rafsanjani wants to avoid confrontation with the U.S. so the Iranian nuclear program can progress unhindered and the Iranian government can play a larger role in Iraq. Ahmadinejad’s ultraconservative faction, on the other hand, opposes any sort of rapprochement with the West.

While Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has worked to build a consensus between the two camps, the election in June brought the dispute to a head.

Ahmadinejad had been stacking the Iranian government with his loyalists for years, and prominent politicians and clerics came to see him as a threat to their own political careers. It wasn’t voter fraud they were concerned about in Ahmadinejad’s reelection. It was the threat to their own power.

What to Expect

The challenge that Rafsanjani and the other clerics are mounting is worth watching. It could prove to make Ayatollah Khamenei even more dangerous. Tests of his absolute authority undermine the very nature of the Islamic Republic. He could well take more extreme and brutal measures to reestablish his authority and demonstrate his power. The weapons in his arsenal include the Revolutionary Guard, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, operatives in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, and many more terrorist sleeper cells around the world.

The battle for power will continue on behind the scenes, but at the end of the day the struggle is not over foreign policy. That will remain the same. The regime may even take a more aggressive stance in its foreign policy and nuclear development in an effort to unify the country.

For 17 years, the Trumpet’s editor in chief has been drawing readers’ attention to Iran—particularly its aim to seek undisputed leadership of the radical Islamic camp and how this factors into its significant part in the unfolding of end-time biblical prophecies. Through most of those years, reports have percolated of Iran’s moderate youth movement preparing to take over. American leaders have kicked the Iran can down the road in hopes that its dissidents would muster the strength to overthrow the mullahs. But Gerald Flurry only became further convinced over time that Iran would grow more radical—eventually to fulfill the prophesied role of “king of the south” (Daniel 11:40). Request a free copy of his booklet The King of the South to understand this pivotal scripture.

We stand by that prophecy today, even while political turmoil swirls in Tehran.

The situation is still developing. Though it looks like Ahmadinejad, supported by Khamenei, firmly has the upper hand, we can absolutely say that should that change and Rafsanjani succeed in this power struggle, Iran’s geopolitical course will remain steadfast.