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Iran loses clout in Arab world

In the wake of its disputed election, Iran faces diminished support from some friends and hardening opposition among foes.

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More broadly, she says, the aim of hard-liners – Ayatollah Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and a group of neoconservative politicians backed up by the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij ideological militia – is to destroy all reformist trends in Iran, as well as any "softer" approach to Islamic government.

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"After 30 years, [the Islamic system] is losing, it's getting tired, it's getting old. It no longer has any new ideas, any new strategy to offer. It's just fundamentalist heated speech, and nothing more than that," says Mr. Torfeh. "Khomeini was very creative in his own way, in the way he presented Islam to the world. But this is now just the right- wing end of a movement, the fundamentalist end. I think these are the final stages; it's going more and more to the right, as if it was exiting that way."

The official rhetoric emanating from the regime since the election has remained strident. Khamenei has declared Ahmadinejad's victory a "divine assessment." A host of election complaints and anecdotal evidence of widespread fraud – along with official results that Iran analysts say are virtually impossible to achieve in Iran's mix of ethnic, social, and political constituencies – have not caused the regime to back down. Khamenei, in fact, has decreed the refusal to accept the election results as the "biggest crime."

The opposition remains active and defiant. It has been marking up currency notes with slogans supporting Mir Hossein Mousavi, the moderate challenger who declared the election was stolen, as well as with pictures of a bloodied Neda Soltan, the 19-year-old student shot dead by a Basij gunman. It is also painting opposition graffiti on streets and in classrooms.

ONE TEST OF IRAN'S current standing in the region lies among the mosques and militias of southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah has been watching the turbulence more closely than any of Tehran's allies.

Hezbollah was founded with Iranian help in response to Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It is the only organization outside Iran that adheres strictly to Ayatollah Khomeini's system of velayat-e faqih, leadership by an infallible supreme theologian.

Iran still provides significant funding and weaponry to Hezbollah, and all members must swear allegiance to the Islamic system led today by Khamenei.

Still, as an example of the damage done to Iran's image, Nasrallah, the Hezbollah chief, has noted Iran's "internal problems." Significant, too, the ultraconservative Tehran Friday prayer leader, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, related in a mid-October sermon how Nasrallah told him "that following [the postelection violence] he has received phone calls from all over the world. They expressed displeasure and were asking him questions. They were telling him that all the world's oppressed and liberal-minded people have pinned their hopes on Iran."

One week prior to Iran's June vote, Hezbollah itself suffered a blow in Lebanon's general election. The bloc that it led was expected to gain a majority of seats in parliament, but, in fact, held steady at 45 percent, against the US-backed bloc that won the remainder. Another blow struck the militia's well-honed reputation for incorruptibility when a Lebanese businessman close to Hezbollah was caught in a vast Bernard Madoff-style scheme to rip-off investors.