Iran’s political structure, its domestic dynamics, and the Islamic Republic’s rapprochement with the United States and the West are all complex and nuanced, a far cry from the overall optimism and simplicity that has been recently projected. While the West, and more specifically the Obama administration, believe that they scored a little victory with Rowhani’s visit to the United Nations General Assembly in New York and the exchange of pleasantries, there exists an underlying and more sophisticated reality regarding Rowhani’s diplomatic outreach to the West and the United States, or conversely the West to Iran.
Despite President Obama’s efforts to reach out to the new Iranian president, and despite the current hope in mending the political, economic, and diplomatic ties between the United States and Iran, Iranian principalists remain at odds with America. As soon as President Rowhani reached Tehran, Islamic radicals and principlaists - who are extremely loyal to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - walked and stomped on an American flag and spat on Obama’s image throughout various cities in Iran. Amir Mohammad, a 23-year-old student of management at Tehran Islamic Azad University, stated: “Our government and our principles should be based on Imam Ruhollah Khomeini’s and Khamenei’s ideals. We should never surrender to the Great Satan. I am very upset because Rowhani talked to the U.S. president on the phone. This violates our Islamic ideals and Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini’s] principles.”
Hardliners and conservatives are also planning to walk on an American flag and spit on Obama’s image on their way to prayers this upcoming Friday. Last week, upon Rowhani’s return to Tehran from New York, several protesters hurled objects, threw eggs and at least one shoe at Rowhani.
Even the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has scaled back on his flexibility by pointing out in Fars News that some aspects of Rowhani’s efforts in New York were “not proper,” adding that the Islamic regime has no trust in America.
Furthermore, according to Brigadier General Seyyed Masoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of the Joint Armed Forces Headquarters, mass rallies will be held in three weeks across Iranian cities to chant and shout “Death to America,” the “Great Satan,” as well as “Death to Israel” as a sign of comprehensive criticism of Zionism and for the anniversary of the U.S. Embassy takeover of Nov. 4, 1979.
A generation of loyalists
In addition to the foreign challenges - such as Tehran’s insistence to continue spinning centrifuges and enrich uranium - that the Iranian government will face in mending its political and diplomatic relationship with the United States and the West, Tehran’s government must first and foremost deal with, and overcome, its domestic political bickering. They must also deal with the ideological split between strongly established and deeply ingrained governmental institutions such as Sazmane Basij-e Mostaz’afin, Ministry of Intelligence and Security (Mois), the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Mostazafan Foundation of Islamic Revolution (which owns and manages approximately 350 subsidiary and affiliate companies in several fields and industries including industry, transportation, commerce, agriculture, and tourism), the Supreme National Security Council, regular army, the Expediency Council, and others.
Any Iranian administration that shows signs of flexibility towards mending diplomatic and political ties with the West faces these vast political and economic powerful monopolies that fundamentally oppose the “The Great Satan”Majid Rafizadeh
Since its establishment, the ruling clerics and Iranian government have set up several solid institutions which have not only employed, educated, and ideologically trained millions of loyalists in the last few decades, but have also managed and controlled the nation’s economy and foreign policies. These institutions were created in order to secure an adequate and dependent social base in case of any revolt or opposition, as well as a stalwart against potential Western intervention. Although these governmental institutions are run by a few members of the inner circle (who make most of their profits by creating monopolies from the top levels of the state), millions of other Basijis, revolutionary guards, and secret police work for the state in exchange for official benefits and deeply believe in the ideals of Ayatollah Khamenei and Khomeini’s of opposing détente with the West, the United States, and Israel.
These aforementioned governmental institutions are set up in a way to uphold the fundamental revolutionary principles of Khomeini and Khamenei, the ideals which have been clearly articulated for the last 34 years, the denouncing of any relationships with the United States, “The Great Satan,” and Israel, “ The Little Satan.”
Oppositions and contradictions
As a result, any Iranian administration that shows signs of flexibility towards mending diplomatic and political ties with the West faces these vast political and economic powerful monopolies that fundamentally oppose the “The Great Satan” and “The Little Satan.” If any political or diplomatic ties are going to be restored between the United States and Iran, the underlying principles and fundamentals of these integral institutions will be shaken. Therefore, they will need to create a new narrative to address their ideologies and ruling justifications to their social bases and hundreds of thousands of loyalists. This change will put the government and the supreme leader’s office at risk of losing their social bases.
Creating political and diplomatic ties with the West will endanger the underlying establishment, ideals, and ideology of the ruling conservative clerics and their economic monopoly. The governmental institutions of Iran were established on the fundamental principle of opposing détente and advocating for no compromise whatsoever with the West and Israel.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American scholar, author and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC.