Saturday, July 18, 2015

Khamenei's Eid al Fitr Speech

Ayatollah Khamenei's Eid al Fitr speech has received quite a bit of attention in the international press (herehere and here) because it is the first time Khamenei has spoken directly about the recent nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran. The speech was nothing out of the ordinary, as Khamenei repeated the same tropes he has repeated for decades. This was immediately jumped upon as proof that Iran, and Khamenei in particular, negotiated in bad faith, that Iran will never change et cetera et cetera. It is much more complicated than this.

Once again, the people saying this do little more than display their intense narcissism and lack of political acumen. These speeches are nearly always about domestic issues more than international ones (even when talking about international affairs), and at the same time they must be taken in context. Khamenei is a reactionary, a pragmatic one at that, but his political bent remains one way and will remain this way. This doesn't mean that Iran isn't going to change; Khamenei himself is threatened by this change and must act to mitigate this. The Eid al Fitr speech is a way for him to do this.

Rouhani, like Khatami a decade ago and Montazeri 30 years ago, is a challenge to the Ayatollah's politics. This coming year is a most important one, as the Majles and the Assembly of Experts both are slated to hold one of the most significant elections in the history of the Islamic Republic. Khamenei wishes to ensure his legacy continues once he dies, which means stifling domestic dissent, especially reformists, and electing a conservative AoE, so that if Khamenei were to die during this 8 year term, an 'acceptable' principalist candidate (or candidates) are selected to succeed him.

Iran needed the sanctions relief, and this gives room to Rouhani and his administration to improve the economy (one of the few important things the Iranian president has some degree of control over), but at the same time Khamenei wants to makes sure that the hardliners are not sidelined. I expect crackdowns, especially in the media (probably a closure or a lawsuit directed at reformist newspapers or journalists), as Khamenei tries to give a boost to the Islamic right.

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