Iran will stage its annual show of solidarity and defiance Sunday, a festive day of scripted rallies and fiery oratory marking the 34th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution and denouncing “satanic” Washington and its allies. But with a pivotal presidential election approaching in June, the veneer of unity among Iran’s diverse political blocs has been wearing thin as average Iranians struggle to cope with a withering, sanctions-driven economic crisis. Even before official candidates have emerged, a nasty spate of preelection infighting has erupted, unveiling an unedifying display of name-calling and mudslinging. Last week, Iranians witnessed the stunning public spectacle of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad going before the parliament to play an apparently secretly taped video clip that, he alleged, exposed corrupt dealings by the powerful family of parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani — the president’s bitter rival and a possible candidate to succeed him.
Ahmadinejad called for an investigation, arguing that corruption and power grabs were undermining his authority at a time when “external” attacks on Iran were accelerating. But the speaker was unmoved.
“You did not observe the dignity of the Islamic Republic,” Larijani admonished the president before the assembled lawmakers, labeling him a blackmailer and dismissing him from the parliamentary chamber. “Farewell.”
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has denounced the pre-electoral bickering as immoral and called on the squabbling parties to put away the long knives. The politicians say their bickering doesn’t detract from their devotion to the supreme leader or the interests of Islam and the nation. But many observers predict an escalation of hostilities as the election approaches.
“This is the opening salvo on the conflict surrounding the election,” said Alireza Nader, senior policy analyst with the Rand Corp. “They are tearing the system apart.”