The battle between the left and right is just as vicious in Iran as it is in the United States. In a piece at the National Interest titled Iran’s Incredible Shrinking Ayatollah, Muhammad Sahimi writes:
There is a fierce power struggle in Iran between those who want to open up Iran and reconcile with the rest of the world, and Khamenei and his supporters who have been frozen in the revolutionary era of 1979.
Sahimi recounts Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s rise to power as successor to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his reign as the Supreme Leader. I, for one, was surprised to learn that
At the time of the revolution, Khamenei was not even in Khomeini’s inner circle. It was Rafsanjani who brought him into the inner circle, and it was Rouhani who arranged for him to get his first major post in the provisional revolutionary government of Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan as deputy defense minister.
Rafsanjani is former moderate President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Rouhani, of course, is current moderate President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Though at the time of the Iran Nuclear Deal Khameini, was ostensibly supportive of Rouhani, he has long been the linchpin around which the hard-liners revolve. After reformist President Mohammad Khatami was elected in 1997, writes Sahimi
Khamenei ordered the closure of dozens of newspapers and other publications, and the judiciary, under his control, jailed dozens of journalists, dissidents and outspoken reformists.
But, while “Khatami’s program of reforms stalled … it began the process of Khamenei shrinking in stature, which continues today.” After the controversial and violent 2009 election when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected as president:
… it became clear to the entire nation that not only does Khamenei pull all the strings from behind the scenes, but that he is also the leader of only one political faction and a minority at that, not the supreme leader and the father figure that he pretended to be. Khamenei became truly despised.
In other words:
Although he still has immense power, Khamenei has shrunk in stature and is merely the leader of a small minority. The West can tip the balance of the struggle in favor of the reformists and moderates by delivering on its promise of allowing large investments in that nation.
Really — enough with the sanctions already.