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
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Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Iran: The Turban and The Military Cap

While conspiracy theorists offer endless versions of the theory that Islamic President Ibrahim Raisi’s sudden death in a helicopter crash was planned by Tehran’s “deep state” a more realistic approach might show that it has, in fact, created a problem that may not be so easy to solve.
From “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei’s view, Raisi, as we noted in another column, was the ideal choice.
He was the only President of the Islamic Republic to have led one of the judiciary one of three pillars of the state. He had also been a member of the Assembly of Experts that has the task of choosing a successor to the “Supreme Guide”. Raisi was also a cleric but not too highly placed in the religious hierarchy to put the “Supreme Guide” in the shade.
More importantly, Raisi, hailing from the second generation of Islamic revolutionaries, assumed his lack of charisma almost with pride and missed no opportunity to pay homage to the “Supreme Guide” as a gift to mankind.
Looking closely at the 100 or so “personalities” that form the Khomeinist elite in Tehran one would have difficulty finding anyone to match Raisi’s qualifications.
This is perhaps why Raisi’s death has revived many old ideas of reforming a system that may have lost its capacity to cope with new challenges.
Once again there is talk of switching from the current fake presidential system to a parliamentary one with a prime minister in charge of the executive.
Arguing that the one-and-only Khamenei cannot be replaced there are also murmurs about replacing the “Supreme Guide” with a committee of three or five clerics.
At the same time, there are small but active groups calling on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard to seize power name one of its own as president, and manage the dicey transition to a post-Khamenei arrangement.
It was perhaps to silence those voices that last week the so-called Election Organization Committee came out with 12 new conditions for registering demands for candidature. One key condition is that no officer of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) ranking below major-general would be allowed to register as a candidate. Thus the three most-talked-about wannabes from the IRGC are excluded from the start. One is 1-star general Muhammad Baqer Qalibaf who was an unsuccessful candidate in three previous presidential elections. Qalibaf has just been re-elected Speaker of the Islamic Majlis for a year.
Another is 1-star general Hussein Dehghan, a former Defense Minister and a champion of normalization with the United States.
The third IRGC contender is 1-star general Sa’id Muhammad who had hoped to throw his casket in the ring this time.
There are 11 major generals in the Islamic Republic. Of these Mohsen Rezai, aged 71, has been a presidential candidate for decades and may be allowed to run again if only to amuse the gallery. Four of the top generals hail from the regular army and are presumably not as interested in a political career as their IRGC counterparts may be. Two former IRGC chiefs, Gen. Rahim Yahya Safavi and Gen. Aziz-Jaafari are members of Khamenei’s inner sanctum but are reported to be in declining health and thus unlikely to seek a relaunch of their career in politics.
Theoretically, IRGC chief Gen. Hussein Salami could also qualify. The problem, however, is that he is held in low esteem by both military and political elites. The same elites hold the Chief of Staff Gen. Muhammad Hussein Baqeri in high esteem. But that is because he has tried to remain a professional soldier and not get involved in the rough-and-tumble of politics.
Finally, we have Gen. Ali Shamkhani who resigned as Secretary of the High Council of National Defense a year ago to supervise his multiple business interests. A former Commander of the Navy and Defense Minister Shamkhani is the only senior officer to have demanded to be switched from the IRGC to the regular army. His sudden reappearance after Raisi’s death has led to speculation that he may try to throw his cap in the ring.
However, the “Supreme Guide” may wish to go for a turban rather than a military cap.
He would find that difficult as none of the 500 or so clerics who hold official posts could claim a support base among the 200,000 or so mullahs who form the Shi’ite clerical hierarchy. Even in 88-member Assembly of Experts, the highest clerical organ of the regime includes only one that is acceptable as a genuine theologian. Clerics close to the “Supreme Guide” are too sullied by politics or too old to embark on a new career as president of the Islamic Republic. Ahmad Jannati Head of the Council of Guardians, who must approve all candidates, is aged 98, and the Assembly of Experts is led by 93-year-old Ali-Muhammad Movahedi Kermani.
To make this look like a regular election, Khamenei needs the participation of the so-called “reformist “faction. However prominent members of the faction may prefer to wait for a better occasion, presumably after Khamenei has entered history.
The most likely scenario is to field four candidates, a mullah, a military, a technocrat, and a “reformist” in the hope of attracting at least half of those eligible to vote to go to the polls. The election that propelled Raisi into the presidency failed to do that. In fact, Raisi ended up elected by just over 35 percent of those eligible to vote.
To create some interest in the exercise within the next three weeks or so a number of testimonial candidacies may be put under the limelight even if none is approved by the Council of Guardians. Two former presidents, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hassan Rouhani have already indicated an interest in what is in effect an act of presence while they know they won’t pass Ayatollah Jannati’s toll-post.
Having said all that, the magician may yet bring a surprise rabbit out of the top hat. There are numerous younger figures from the second generation of Khomeinists who hope to see the elders fade away and allow them to try different policies. That, however, remains a remote possibility at a time when the entire system faces the biggest challenge in its existence.