May 27, 2014 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1094

The Power Struggle Between Khamenei And His Camp And Rafsanjani And His Camp – Part X: The Political And Media Confrontation Escalates Into Reciprocal Threats

May 27, 2014 | By Yigal Carmon and A. Savyon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1094


Over the past year, MEMRI has published nine reports on the evolution of the power struggle between the two political camps in Iran and their leaders – the pragmatic camp of Hashemi Rafsanjani and his spokesman President Hassan Rohani and the ideological camp of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and senior officials of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).[1] The clash between the two camps has lately heightened, to the point where each is issuing threats against the other.

The Ideological Camp

The ideological camp is accusing the leaders of the pragmatic camp of treason and of instigating fitna, i.e. popular unrest, and of deviating from the legacy of the founder of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Thus, Rafsanjani and his camp have now become the "deviant stream" of this era. Senior officials from the ideological camp have referred to the pragmatic camp's leaders as reviving the fitna of previous years, and of having supported that fitna in the past; as lackeys of the U.S.; as traitors collaborating with Satan, and as guilty of misreading reality and misleading the Iranian public vis-à-vis the international community's positions regarding Iran. They also accused them of attempting to culturally Westernize the Iranian people and of attempting to marginalize the IRGC, both economically and politically.

Officials in the ideological camp are accusing Rafsanjani personally of trying to thwart Iran's Islamic Revolution from its very start, beginning with forcing Ayatollah Khomeini to "drink the cup of poison"[2] – that is, to accept the ceasefire with Iraq in 1988 and U.N. Security Council Resolution 598. Further attempts by Rafsanjani to thwart the revolution, they say, include his actions as president of the Construction (Kargozaran) government of Iran (1989-1997); masterminding the fitna against the regime in 1999 and 2001;[3] and calling for dialogue with the "Great Satan" – the U.S. – which they claim began 30 years ago with then-U.S. national security advisor Robert McFarland during the Iran Contra affair.[4]

Officials in the ideological camp implied that if Rohani did not bring his actions into line with the orders of Leader Khamenei, he could be committing political suicide as previous senior officials had – protest movement leaders Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who have been under house arrest since 2009, and former president Mohammad Khatami.[5]

Reflecting the escalation between the two camps, in early April 2014 a computer game based on the popular game "Doom," called "The Return of Mokhtar," was posted online by an official organization, with regime approval. The game allowed players to hunt and kill "fitna leaders" Mir-Hossein Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnavard, Mehdi Karroubi, Mohammad Khatami, and Rafsanjani's son Mehdi Hashemi, and to shoot down U.S., British, and Israeli flags. The game was later blocked due to Iranian public pressure; MEMRI retains a copy of it.

Image from "The Return of Mokhtar" game, showing a weapon for players to aim at the head of Mousavi

Another example of the ideological camp's "fitna" accusations against the pragmatic camp came against the backdrop of the brutal suppression of rioting among political prisoners in Tehran's Evin Prison, also in April 2014. Rafsanjani had criticized the handling of the matter, saying that it had created a "crisis,"[6] and his newspaper, Jomhouri-e Eslami, called for a genuine investigation of those responsible for the brutality – that is, IRGC members.[7]

In response, the Seratnews website, which is close to Kayhan editor and Khamenei associate Hossein Shariatmadari, stated: "Rafsanjani is preparing the ground for new propaganda [against the regime] by enemies of the Revolution."[8] Iranian Judiciary head Sadeq Larijani warned: "The judiciary will act decisively against any [attempt] to incite, spread lies, and harm national security aimed at reviving the fitna and activating the men of fitna." He added, "It appears that the fitna stream sees this completely legal move [i.e. the suppression of prison riots] as a chance to return to the arena, and several elements in Iran, together with enemies of the regime, intend to revive the fitna stream."[9]

The Pragmatic Camp

It was the pragmatic camp that sparked the recent escalation between the two camps. The pragmatic camp claimed that "the mental health" of the members of the other camp, who call themselves "the concerned ones," was "doubtful." It accused the ideological camp of being like the Zionists who had rejoiced over the failure of the May 2014 round of Iran-5+1 nuclear talks because served their interests, hinting at economic interests. It also implicitly threatened that if members of the ideological camp oppose the will of the people, the people will "enter the arena," i.e. take to the streets.

In addition, the pragmatic camp stated that Islamic culture must not be forcefully imposed on the people – not even if it is done with the aim of leading them to Paradise – and that the regime must conduct dialogue with the U.S. and meet the demands of the international community.

Regarding the nuclear issue, the pragmatic camp not only called for dialogue with the U.S. and openness to the international community, but also implied that the current situation requires doing what Ayatollah Khomeini did in 1988 – that is, drinking the "cup of poison" of this era, i.e. making difficult decisions vis-à-vis the nuclear issue.

Iranian Army Chief Of Staff Calls For Avoiding Schism

The conflict has deteriorated to the point where on May 19, 2014, at a conference attended by the political and military leadership, Iranian Army chief of staff Hassan Firouzabadi called on the regime's top officials to "avoid schism, rumors, and baseless accusations."

This paper introduces a series of articles on aspects of the conflict between the two camps in Iran:

1. The IRGC's place in the Iranian regime

2. Each camp's threats against the other

3. How Islamic culture should be preserved in Iran

4. The status of women in Iranian society

5. Attitudes towards the U.S. and the nuclear negotiations.

*A. Savyon is Director of MEMRI's Iranian Media Project; Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI.


[1] See MEMRI's series of analyses on the struggle between Khamenei and Rafsanjani: MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 996, Iran's Presidential Elections – Another Episode In The Years-Long Struggle For The Iranian Leadership between Khamenei and Rafsanjani – Part I, July 14, 2013; MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No.1000, The Struggle Between Khamenei And Rafsanjani Over The Iranian Leadership – Part II: The Conflict Heats Up Over Direct Talks With The U.S. And The Nuclear Issue, July 25, 2013; MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No.1014,The Struggle Between Khamenei And Rafsanjani Over The Iranian Leadership – Part III: Rafsanjani Says Assad Used Chemical Weapons Against His Own People, September 3, 2013; MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No.1018, The Struggle Between Khamenei And Rafsanjani Over The Iranian Leadership – Part IV: Rafsanjani Calls For Moderation In The Spirit Of 'Islamic Realism'; Khamenei Is Ready For 'Heroic Flexibility' By Iran But Without Compromising Revolutionary Principles, September 23, 2013; MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No.1019, The Struggle Between Khamenei And Rafsanjani Over The Iranian Leadership – Part V: Rafsanjani – Not Rohani – The Leader Of Potential Change In Iran, September 23, 2013.MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1025, The Struggle Between Khamenei And Rafsanjani Over The Iranian Leadership – Part VI: Despite Rafsanjani's Push To Omit 'Death To America' Slogan, Demonstrators At Tehran Friday Sermon Persist In Chanting It, Wave Placards Against Obama, Rafsanjani, October 10, 2013; MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1027, The Struggle Between Khamenei And Rafsanjani Over The Iranian Leadership – Part VII: Rafsanjani Creates A Schism In Khamenei's Camp, October 14, 2013; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5499, The Struggle Between Khamenei And Rafsanjani Over The Iranian Leadership – Part VIII: Rafsanjani Receives Death Threats: Rafsanjani Receives Death Threats, October 28, 2013.

[3] (Iran), May 4, 2014.

[4] Rafsanjani quickly responded to the criticism regarding McFarland, saying: "Ayatollah Khomeini was involved in the McFarland affair from start to finish, and gave several useful instructions during it... The critics of the McFarland affair have always created a ruckus. Even back then, eight Majlis members wanted to ask the [Iranian] foreign minister about it and protested in the press, so much so that Khomeini berated them, saying: 'Even Radio Israel does not have the courage to say what you do.'" ISNA (Iran), May 18, 2014.

[5] Kayhan (Iran), May 19, 2014.

[6], April 24, 2014.

[7] Jomhouri-e Eslami (Iran), April 22, 2014.

[8], April 24, 2014.

[9] Mehr (Iran), April 23, 2014.

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