Two years after the June 2009 sham presidential elections in Iran and consequent mass anti-regime uprisings, the honeymoon seems to be over for the regime’s beleaguered president. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is now at loggerheads with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who actually secured his “victory” two years ago. Their floundering alliance may also signal a crack in the levee of repression, which for two years has stayed the nationwide anger from washing the mullahs from power.
The souring relations between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei signal a worsening of the regime’s internal strife. Other pillars and institutions, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Intelligence Ministry, have inevitably been thrown into the fray.
The widening gaps represent a turning point for a regime that survives on repression and brute force. The regime has not been able to stamp out the social dissent, nor resolve its internal crises. As a result, Khamenei’s authority has been gradually deteriorating, allowing Ahmadinejad to demand more influence.
For the past two years, Ahmadinejad has slowly bolstered the position of his own inner circle, rallying his cronies around his long-time friend and senior advisor Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. At the same time, he has sought to consolidate his power over high-profile ministries like the Foreign, Intelligence and Oil ministries, purging their ministers one by one, despite provoking rare public disdain from Khamenei.
The upshot of the incessant bickering is a weakened regime already loathed by the majority of Iranians. Clearly, Tehran is feeling the heat, especially in light of the wave of change in the entire region.
More than two years have passed since President Obama tried to reach out to the clerical rulers in an attempt to resolve the nuclear standoff. Despite high expectations among some circles inside the Beltway, the regime’s behavior has worsened. The regime ruling Iran is much closer to getting the bomb than at the time of President Obama’s inauguration.
In April, the principal Iranian opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), which was the first to expose the regime’s clandestine nuclear program in 2002, revealed yet another secret nuclear site. Located near Tehran, the site has been used for building parts for tens of thousands of centrifuges, all hidden from the eyes of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The exposure compelled Tehran to promptly acknowledge its existence.
Earlier this month, when IAEA director general, Yukiya Amano, reiterated “concerns about the possible military dimensions” of Tehran’s nuclear program, Iranian nuclear chief Fereydoun Abbasi told reporters, “Our answer is increased work in the sphere of nuclear technology and know-how.”
To remove any doubt, Iranian regime’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told reporters on June 7, “There is no brake and no reverse gear on our nuclear program.” When asked whether he would ever consider stopping the enrichment of uranium, his reply was a resounding “No.”
And if that wasn’t enough, state television reported the next day that Iran is tripling its production capacity of higher-grade uranium, and that the new more advanced centrifuges will be installed at the nuclear site in Qum buried under the mountains.
Tehran’s increased nuclear defiance has created a new sense of urgency for a review underway at the State Department regarding the status of the main Iranian opposition. A significant number of Members of Congress have introduced a bi-partisan resolution calling for an end to blacklisting of the MEK, meant as a goodwill gesture to Tehran.
As the winds of change pass through the region, Iran remains a fundamental threat to peace and stability. Khamenei recently declared, “We back movements that are against the United States and Zionism.” The Iranian regime is under siege, and hopes to exploit regional unrest to its advantage.
Inside Iran, since February, the uprisings have reignited. People now use every opportunity to protest. Even mourning ceremonies and sports events are turned into major anti-regime demonstrations. The Persian Spring is alive and well.
President Obama has the opportunity to contribute to both the Persian and Arab springs by crafting a new U.S. policy towards Iran. The first step of that policy would be removing any obstacles on the path of the principal Iranian opposition, which has the potential to accelerate democratic change to replace the foremost state sponsor of terrorism: Tehran.
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