As the fallout continues from the June election, Ahmadinejad is working to consolidate power in his secular executive branch, and away from the mullahs. But what happens if his play backfires?
Taking advantage of the chaos following June's civic protests, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is moving to consolidate authority in the executive office -- and to wrest it away from the clerical wing of the Iranian government, particularly Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran's revolutionary leader, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had established a guardianship of Islamic jurists headed by a supreme leader to oversee the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of Iran's government.
Khamenei, who became supreme leader in 1989, was a mentor to Ahmadinejad and during June's protests, quickly endorsed his presidential candidacy to keep their relationship smooth.
Although Ahmadinejad had begun centralizing authority during his first presidential term, he usually deferred to Khamenei if there was a divergence of opinion.
But Ahmadinejad and his cohorts, junior members of the 1979 revolution who are just now coming into their own politically, are not themselves clerics. And though they claim deep religiosity, they are best described as secularists, as their primary aim is consolidating political power in their own hands.
Since the recent election, members of the executive branch are openly disregarding revolutionary or activist mullahs -- knowing full well that most clerics are quietists who prefer not to be directly involved in politics. Even Ahmadinejad's famous incident of kissing Khamenei's shoulder or characterizing their relationship as "like that of a father and son" is just etiquette, not a sincere sign of deference.
Ahmadinejad's secular political expansionism is made possible by the schisms and weaknesses that have emerged among fundamentalist clerics in the wake of this summer's election protests.
Most threatening for Iran's religious system of governance, the protesters' focus expanded from the rigged presidential election to the more basic question of why Iran needs a faith-based supreme leader.
The idea of cutting out the theocratic branch, while retaining the executive, legislative, and judicial ones, has gained considerable popularity.
Source: Foreign Policy