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West shows restraint as domestic pressure increases on Ahmadinejad

Exposing deep rifts within Iran's political elite, lawmakers have issued a strong rebuke of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that could ultimately lead to impeachment hearings. But how should the West react?

President Ahmadinejad in parliament

Iranian lawmakers criticize President Ahmadinejad

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been under fire from abroad by the international community and domestically from the reform movement for years, but especially since last year's disputed presidential elections and the government's crackdown on the opposition.

Now he is apparently facing a pushback from inside his own conservative group. According to various media reports, Iranian parliamentarians have issued a list of grievances with the president and signed a motion that could bring about hearings on the way he is conducting his office and even his possible removal, something that has never happened before in the Islamic Republic.

"The charges are quite serious on the face of it," notes Shahram Chubin, a Geneva-based Iran analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The 14 grievances listed range from a lack of transparency to the misappropriation of money and accusations that the president repeatedly acted without the approval of lawmakers.

While it is notoriously difficult to gauge the inner workings of Tehran's political system, experts emphasize the significance of the move to launch parliamentary hearings on the conduct of the Iranian president.

Spotlight on Ahmadinejad

"What I think is the most fascinating aspect of this whole affair is that people are now really starting to focus on what they perceive as his mismanagement, his governing style and especially they accuse him personally of planning to curtail the functioning of the Iranian government," says Walter Posch, an Iran expert with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.

The parliamentary move against Ahmadinejad serves as a sign that the president's problems run much deeper than many observers had been thinking, says Chubin. He adds that it's not any longer only the student movement or reformers who oppose his government, but that dissatisfaction has spread.

"There are problems between the conservatives and him, there are problems with the labor unions and workers and him and of course with some of the clerics," elaborates Chubin.

Most importantly, however, is the apparent rift within Ahmadinejad's own conservative camp, which to outsiders often appears as a monolithic block.

Unsustainable tensions

"I think what we see with that motion to get him in front of a hearing or even to impeach him is a break-down of this basically very artificial united ideological brand," argues Posch. "They are all right wing but the differences among them are quite big. The tensions which are evident and ongoing have become simply unmanageable."

Iran's supreme leader Ali Khameini casting his ballot for the presidential elections 2009 in Tehran

Supreme Leader Ali Khameini will make the ultimate decision on the motion

While complaints of Ahmadinejad's conduct are not new, they have accumulated over time and came to a head now, because tensions in parliament have become increasingly stronger. "This in turn made them pull the trigger and this lead to the crisis which the Iranian president is facing right now," says Posch.

Considering that through his aggressive style he brought politics down to the street level, Ahmadinejad shouldn't be surprised if he now reaps what he sowed, says Chubin: "A lot of it has probably to do with his style which is very high-handed, very arbitrary, very personalized and which many people don't like."

But does this move by Iranian lawmakers ultimately stand a chance of success?

"These people have managed to get 40 signatures until now and there is a big chance that this may increase," says Posch. To launch a parliamentary debate 73 signatures are needed. However, the likelihood that Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who is the final authority in Iranian politics and closely associated with Ahmadinejad, will let this happen is slim, argue the experts.

Europe and US should not interfere

"If Khamenei wants to allow it, he can allow it, and if he wants to stop it, he will stop it," says Chubin. "I think that he will clamp down fairly soon, because if they get into this discussion and then they start impeaching Ahmadinejad what's the next step?"

People including clerics, read newspapers on the wall, in Qom, Iran, in March 2008

Iran's president has lost some support among conservative clerics

As for advice on how Western governments should react to these fissures in Iran's conservative ranks, Chubin and Posch have a clear message: "They should stay out of it," says Posch. "It's a domestic brawl."

Europe and the US shouldn't intervene in Tehran's domestic crisis, because that could turn against the people Western governments actually want to support, concurs Chubin: "The West should do pretty much what the Europeans and Americans have done which is to condemn the regime's human rights atrocities toward Iranian citizens and to be watchful."

Author: Michael Knigge
Editor: Rob Mudge

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