Do the disturbances currently engulfing Iran threaten the power of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei? It is difficult to say in such a complex political system.
Iran’s present power structure dates back to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when Ayatollah Khomenei seized power after 15 years in exile. Since then the country’s religious leaders have held a tight grip on all levers of power. The Supreme leader commands Iran’s entire army, which is answerable only to him. With a powerful presence in other institutions, the military’s support is seen as unequivical. If that were to waver it would be a serious threat to the regime. Iran’s political structure relies on two forms of legitimacy: universal suffrage and the authority embodied in the Supreme Leader. The people elect the president, parliament and assembly of experts currently led by former president Hashemi Rafsanjani. This body appoints the Supreme Leader. He appoints the heads of the armed forces, judiciary and expediency council, which has ultimate adjudicating power in disputes over legislation. The Supreme leader also appoints part of Iran’s influential Guardian Council, which monitors the constitution. Up until today all reformist projects have been blocked by those in power or through the veto of the mullahs. However, while observers say there are signs of division, it all functions within a strict political system where there is one real ruler and one philosophy. Brussels-based political analyst Firouzeh Nahavandi told euronews: ‘‘Certainly there is a power struggle, that’s existed for a long time. This can give the impression to outsiders that there is democracy. Because there’s discussion, debates in and outside of parliament. There is discussion but it takes place between those already pre-selected, people who have been accepted by the regime and don’t question the way it functions.’‘ Despite the political unrest, many analysts believe Iran’s regime remains firmly in control. If a change in regime is to occur it will more likely come from within Iran’s elite rather than from a revolution from below.