Ahmadinejad assassination attempt: Why a new leader wouldn't change Iran much
Iran downplayed early reports of an assassination attempt on populist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this morning, saying a firecracker exploded near his convoy. Would an Iran without Ahmadinejad be much different?
Iran dismissed early reports today that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had survived an assassination attempt in the western city of Hamadan, saying instead that a firecracker tossed by a supporter had simply detonated after his convoy had passed.Skip to next paragraph
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Early reports on Iranian news services, one closely tied to the government, had it that a grenade had been tossed at his car. Whatever the truth, no one was hurt and Ahmadinejad went on to a local sports stadium to deliver a scheduled speech.
The populist leader made no mention of the incident during his televised address, instead lashing out at American and European efforts to rein in his country's nuclear program. "It will be one of your big mistakes if you think you, resorting to lies ... we will give you any concessions," he told supporters.
But the incident, involving a leader who publicly reviles America, is demonized by the United States in turn, and is the face of a nuclear effort that appears to be grinding inexorably forward, does allow for an interesting thought experiment. What would an Iran without Ahmadinejad look like? And would it to be any advantage to the outside powers like the US that are deeply hostile to his regime?
The short answers are: 1. Not much different. And, 2. Probably not.
The reasons why have to do with the nature of Iranian politics and the fact that Ahmadinejad is as much an expression of hard-line, anti-Western elements at the top of Iran's government now as much as he is their symbol.
Despite the fact that his reelection in June 2009 was badly marred by fraud and sparked democracy protests by reformers often referred to as the "Green Movement," Ahmadinejad and his allies have since consolidated their positions.
A brutal crackdown on reformers, with show trials, executions, and allegations of torture, has been largely effective in quelling opposition, at least on the surface. The Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), the paramilitary group that is closely aligned with Ahmadinejad and led the crackdown, has expanded its financial and political power in the past year, leading to an unprecedented degree of militarization at the top of the state and making the group one of the handful of key power-brokers in the country.
Ahmadinejad's current position is as much a reflection of IRGC power as the IRGC's ascendancy is a reflection of their close alignment with Ahmadinejad. An Iran tomorrow without Ahmadinejad, whether through election, accident, or attack, is conceivable. An Iran without with the IRGC and the strong voice it would have in a successor, less so.
None of this is to say that change isn't possible in Iran or unlikely to happen some day. Just that no bolt of lightning appears to be on the horizon to shift Iran from its stance of confrontation with the West that has prevailed for most of the 30 years since the revolution.
Flawed practice of democracy
The flaws in Iran's practice of democracy are manifest, from electoral fraud to restrictions on who can run for office and the overall authority Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the unelected cleric who is seen within Iran as the interpreter of God's will on earth. But that shouldn't obscure the fact that the country is far from a dictatorship like, say, the regime of Saddam Hussein that the US and its allies toppled in 2003.