A presidential election in Iran next month could provide the final straw for the division of a long-divided conservative political camp after years of growing divisions.
While the list of eligible candidates has not yet been released, the June 18 poll is already expected as a showdown between the conservative Ali Larijani, a former parliamentary speaker, and the ultra-conservative judiciary Ebrahim Raisi.
According to the electoral committee, almost 600 hopefuls – including 40 women – have registered as candidates to succeed moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who is constitutionally suspended for a third term in a row.
But only a handful are allowed to run for election after scrutiny by the Guardian Council, a conservatively dominated, unelected body responsible for overseeing the elections.
The first breaks within the conservatives go back to the “Green Movement”, which arose in 2009 during protests against the controversial re-election of the populist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But it was the 2015 nuclear deal in Vienna that deepened the cracks.
– Left and right –
In Iran, the word “conservative” – ââ”Mohafezekaran” in Persian – is rarely used, a term that did not appear in the media until 1997.
Until then, only the “right” and the “left” within the “followers of the Imam’s line” were known, the followers of the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The other forces – from Marxists to liberals to nationalists – that participated in the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah were thrown out.
The main ideological difference was economic; The left preferred interventionism, the right less government control.
After 1989, with the end of the Iran-Iraq war and Khomeini’s death, law dominated political life.
– “Principalists” –
But in 1997, left-wing President Mohammad Khatami took power and pushed a reformist agenda of dÃ©tente with the West.
The right regrouped to slowly gather strength.
“The right, which suffered bitter failure in the elections, was gradually rebuilding,” said historian Jafar Shiralinia, author of several books on Iran today.
The movement convinced young faces of the movement – who called themselves “Ossoulgara” or “Principalists” – to set them apart from their rivals, the “reformers”.
“You see yourself as supporters of the principles of the 1979 revolution,” said journalist Farshad Ghorbanpour.
“It implies that the other current, the reformers, had deviated from the values ââdefended by the revolution.”
One of the critics of Khatami’s government at the time was the young head of state Ali Larijani.
– Rise of the “ultra-conservatives” –
In 2005, the surprise victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – a largely unknown anti-corruption candidate at the time – helped bring traditional conservatives and reformers together against him.
The crisis after the 2009 elections in the midst of the controversial re-election of Ahmadinejad heralded the beginning of the so-called “ultra-conservatives”.
The ultra-conservatives defined themselves as “revolutionaries”, based on a saying of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: “I am not a diplomat, I am a revolutionary”.
The ultra-conservatives reject traditional conservatives – especially Larijani – and accuse them of being “the guardians of the status quo,” according to the ultra-conservative daily Javan.
But the ultra-conservatives also have little time for Ahmadinejad, whom they cannot forgive for opposing Khamenei in his second term.
– Important talks in Vienna –
Conservatives and ultraconservatives turned down Rouhani in 2013, the year he won the presidency. “Principalists” mobilized against his policy of openness to the West and accused him of selling Iran’s interests.
The 2015 Vienna Agreement strike – with the approval of Khamenei – changed the situation.
Centrist conservatives like Larijani, who was parliamentary speaker at the time, rallied to support the deal.
However, the United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear deal and reinstatement of sanctions in 2018 during Donald Trump’s presidency increased support for the ultra-conservatives.
With the biting sanctions and the severe economic crisis in Iran, the ultra-conservative criticism of Rouhani’s government grew.
But next month Iran and the world powers hold talks again in Vienna to revive the agreement.
The ultra-conservatives follow the position of Khamenei.
Raisi, who won 38 percent of the vote in the 2017 race, says the priority is to lift U.S. sanctions – meaning he will keep Iran in the deal if it wins.
Raisi and Larijani are expected to compete more against the economy and place of Iran in the world, with the former advocating defiance of the West and the latter advocating a more open economy and some easing.
Larijani spoke out on Wednesday on the subject of “social freedoms”, which he described as “extremely important”, a red line for the ultra-conservatives.
Â© 2021 AFP