What does the future hold for post-Khamenei Iran?

What does the future hold for post-Khamenei Iran?
Elections for Assembly of Experts in Iran are making headlines. This time it's a decisive one, as Iran's elite prepare for ruling after Khamenei.
6 min read
06 Jan, 2016
The upcoming Assembly of Experts elections will prove to be decisive for Iran's future [AFP]

As the date gets closer for Iran's Assembly of Experts elections, Akbar Rafsanjani officially announced that he will run for re-election.  Ayatollah Khomeini’s grandson signalled he will also run in the February elections. Shortly after that, Ayatollah Khomeini was framed as “Modern Iran’s Founder” in the New York Times. Yet again, pro-Rafsanjani’s forces who have gained the upper hand within the current political structure following Rouhani’s victory have been eyeing Hassan Khomeini's next move.


However, the news around “Ijtihad eligibility” of the candidates as a prerequisite (an Islamic legal term that means "independent reasoning") calls his qualifications into question. The possible confrontation of “three heavyweight moderates”, as the Western MSM put it, with Iran's Council of Guardians has become the central issue. After all, Ayatollah's grandson and his family had dressed '’Green" in the turbulent aftermath of Iran's 2009 Election.


In the meantime, the discussion of the possibility of the idea of Leadership Council as an alternative for an individual leadership in the post-Khamenei era once again hit the headlines.


Everyone talks about a Leader


It is the rumours of Khamenei's failing health once again that bring Khomeini's children out of their nest. And they are many. They range from the core of the system to what is known as “opposition”.

One is Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi,a senior cleric and main theorist of Iranian “ultra conservatives” who clearly opposes the idea of  “democracy” and is considered as one of potential candidates of the Leadership.

Other children of Khomeini, are cast in the role of ‘democracy promoters’.

From the more “moderate” ones like Akbar Ganji to the pundits of the hawkish think tanks in the US. These Hollywood versions of '’dictatorship" versus "democracy" have been promoted in the US political market for a while. They usually tend to take Mr Khamenei as a "superman” and the root cause of all evil and target the IRGC given its significant geopolitical role in the region in confrontation with the interests of the West in the context of “Realpolitik”.


The loopholes of Islamic jurisprudence


What is at stake is the positions and the possibilities of manoeuvre within the dynamic of power in Iran today.  One of the conundra of recent political discussions on Iran has been the frequent emphasis of Rafsanjani and his political forces on the idea of a Leadership Council in the post-Khamenei era. They often referred to Khomeini's remarks and concluded that implementing this idea is constitutionally possible. Even though many observers within different governmental factions reminded Rafsanjani and his “Moderate” supporters that, after constitutional revision, the idea of a Leadership Council had been eliminated from article 107. It might be naive if one thought one of the architects of the IR in post-Khomeini era brought this up without knowing about the constitutional fact. The key to Rafsanjani’s political game might be found in Article 111 of the constitution:


Whenever the Leader becomes temporarily unable to perform the duties of leadership owing to his illness or any other incident, then during this period, the council mentioned in this Article shall assume his duties.


Though in this article it is not clearly defined how much time the Assembly of Experts will have to make the final decision in case of the Leader’s passing away. In this case the issue will be referred to the council to be resolved:


A council consisting of the President, head of the judicial power, and a faqih from the Guardian Council, upon the decision of the Nation's Exigency Council, shall temporarily take over all the duties of the Leader.


If the members of the Assembly of Experts are not able to agree on the Leader’s successor, the three members of the council are authorized to take over the Supreme Leader’s responsibility and they can even hold a referendum on the revision of the constitution - including the future of “the principles of absolute guardianship of Islamic Jurists”.


Unlikely to happen


Nevertheless, given the power dynamic of the current status quo in Iran, the possibility of a Leadership team in the post-Khameinei era is very unlikely to happen. Along the same lines, the deputy chief commander of “Iran’s Revolutionary Guards”(IRGC) entered the political fray this past week in opposition to the idea of Leadership Council. Having called a Leadership Council “impossible” he once again referred to ”those intrigues of those agents." By this he tried to mention "The Green movement" and Rafsanjani’s recent discussion over the issue.


Either one Ayatollah or several, the IRGC matters


Putting aside the way IRGC’s officials appear in the public, more than three decades after establishing of the IR in Iran, evidence has shown that when it comes to political and social issues related to the survival of the system, the relation between the nation-state and Islamic jurisprudence or “fiqh”(Arabic: “understanding”) has always been flexible. Thus, in light of the more pragmatic nature of the current system, despite the MSM narrative, the inevitable change in the Islamic Republic’s Leadership as it shifts towards becoming an acceptable member of the so-called international community, is the crux of the matter. The post-Khamenei internal battle had begun a while ago. It was under Ahmadinejad that Khomeini had become a giant cardboard  thanks to creativity of the part of IRGC or as would be more appropriate to say the military capitalism in Iran.


Nevertheless, trying to draw a specific political pattern from the ongoing play can be a tricky business. In the final analysis what is at stake is if the IRGC, which is pretty aware of the profound unpopularity of the clerical establishment, will be able to accelerate the ongoing transition. Will the IRGC businessmen intervene to install their own pick for the supreme spot, weather in the form of an Ayatollah or several, this time in the confluence of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie and Washington’s green light? When this question pops up that weather Khamenei is under the control of IRGC or vice versa, one can see many evidence that the IRGC’s initiative is way beyond the authority of Khamenei and in fact he has been following the agenda as far as he could.


Nonetheless, one has to wait and trace the trends of the upheavals given their variable factors both in terms of domestic and geopolitical stability. It is only a question of time to see to what extent the West could satisfy its considerable interest in the post-Khamenei era and the IMF its “comprehensive reforms” ,which have already begun despite the ongoing hullabaloo. On the other hand there is the Iranian civil society in a Gramscian sense of building civic capacities and moving towards a ‘counter-hegemonic’ struggle.

Soheil Asefi is an independent journalist based in New York. Follow him on Twitter: @SoheilAsefi

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.