Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :
Amir Taheri
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt since 1987

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : The Perfect President

Ibrahim Raisi who died in an air crash last Sunday was a perfect president-perfect as seen by the Islamic Republic’s “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei.
Raisi understood the true nature of the Khomeinist system and supported it without arriere-pensee. He knew that the contradiction at the heart of a system which is designed as an autocracy but pretends to be democratic could not be attenuated, let alone resolved, without the president’s submission to the “Supreme Guide”. A double-headed eagle, or turkey as the Islamic Republic is, cannot fly.
None of Raisi’s predecessors understood or wished to admit that.
The first president Abol-Hassan Bani-Sadr owed his position to the “Imam” but started second guessing him weeks after assuming the office. The “Imam”, Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini, dismissed him with a 9-word fatwa, showing who was boss. His inflated ego punctured, Bani-Sadr fled into exile.
The second president Muhammad-Ali Rajai was blown into smithereens in a terror attack by an Islamic-Marxist group.
Ali Khamenei was the third president.
He, too, tried, gingerly, to cut an independent profile but was quickly put in his place. He wanted the post of the prime minister abolished but received a sharp niet from the “Imam” Khamenei.
The 3rd President Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani assumed office when Khamenei had become “Supreme Guide”. His eight-year tenure was marked by almost permanent tension between the two. Rafsanjani made the mistake of using his energy in the pursuit of power through wealth in a context of clientelism and patronage of nouveau-riche elites.
In contrast, Khamenei cast a faux-ascetic persona while building support in the military-security apparatus. He won as the nouveaux-riches elites gradually merged with the military-security cliques that permeated all sectors of the economy. Towards the end of Rafasnjani’s tenure, the nouveaux-riches and the jackboots had become Siamese twins connected at the head- and the head was Khamenei.
Rafsanjani’s successor Muhammad Khatami understood and accepted the reality of his position as a factotum. Nevertheless, he tried to build a profile as a peddler of a “neo-Islam” which, in his words, offered a new model, Islamic democracy, to correct the error of separation of church and state made by the Enlightenment.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Khatami’s successor won the presidency thanks to Khamenei’s mistaken identification of him as “someone close to my way of thinking.”
Ahmadinejad soon made the same mistake made by his predecessors by behaving as if he were something more than the ventriloquist’s dummy. He claimed that the Hidden Imam had attended his address at the UN General Assembly in New York thus anointing him as a chosen one.
Worse still, he dismissed the Minister of Security without informing Khamenei who immediately reappointed the minister.
The next man to make the mistake was Hojat al-Islam Hassan Rouhani who also tried to become somebody on his own with the help of British and US well-wishers” who saw him as “a man we could work with.”
US President Barack Obama telephoned him and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw praised him as a statesman. Rouhani’s sidekick, Foreign Minister Muhammad-Jawad Zarif advertised his walk alongside US Secretary of State John Kerry by Lake Leman in Geneva as if it were a triumphal march by a Roman emperor.
Raisi avoided such mistakes.
He did nothing without announcing that he was carrying out the Leader’s instructions. He assumed his nobody-ness without qualms and used it as a prop in his “serving the ummah” show.
For four decades the Islamic Republic had been plagued by factional feuds.
The feuds are prompted by temptation and fear. The temptation is to make a deal with “big powers”, especially the United States, to guarantee one’s position at home.
Rafsanjani as president and Mir-Hussein Mussavi as Prime Minister had separate secret channels to Washington without informing Khamenei who all along wanted to achieve normalization under his own exclusive control.
The marginalization of rival factions and Raisi’s appointment as president opened a new perspective for Tehran accepting the offer that Obama had made a decade ago. Under Raisi, Tehran has toned down its anti-Americanism and initiated regular dialogue with Washington.
It has normalized ties with US allies in the region and, anti-Israel rhetoric notwithstanding, settled for largely symbolic attacks by surrogates on the “Zionist enemy”.
With Khamenei’s faction in total control for the first time Obama’s idea of “bringing Iran into the fold” seemed to have a chance. President Joe Biden has continued Obama’s policy by easing sanctions on Islamic Republic and thus helping Raisi avoid economic collapse amid rising popular anger against the regime.
Now Khamenei tries to find another “perfect president”.