February 16, 2015 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1145

The Power Struggle In Iran – Part XV: Clash Over Demand To Release Green Movement Leaders

February 16, 2015 | By A. Savyon, Yossi Mansharof, and E. Kharrazi*
Iran, Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1145


The power struggle in the top echelons of the Iranian regime between the ideological camp, led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and the pragmatic camp, led by Expediency Council head Hashemi Rafsanjani and President Hassan Rohani, has become even more acute in recent months. This shift follows President Rohani's call for examining the release of the Green Movement leaders - Mehdi Karroubi, Mir Hossein Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnavard - who have been under house arrest since February 2011. The debate on this issue has escalated to physical confrontations among Majlis members, the beating of pragmatic camp activist Ali Motahari by ideological camp supporters, and threats to the political futures of pragmatic camp leaders.

The issue of releasing Mousavi and Karroubi is far more significant than previous points of contention between the two camps such as the status of the IRGC and the referendum, since this is a question of whether oppositionist positions and activity that counter the view of Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei are legitimate or whether they are fitna[1] and criminal. In fact, it concerns whether the actions of Mousavi, Karroubi, and the Green Movement are legitimate or criminal - because the pragmatic camp now and in the future will continue to fight for its positions that are contrary to those of the jurisprudent ruler. Therefore, legitimizing the oppositionist actions of Rafsanjani and Rohani by legitimizing the actions of Mousavi and Karroubi is critical for the very existence of the pragmatic camp, while defining their actions as criminal is critical for Khamenei's preservation of the regime. Therefore, the issue of releasing Mousavi and Karroubi has dangerous implications for the stability of the regime. and pursuantly, reactions from Khamenei supporters have been suitably harsh.

Pragmatic Camp Calls For Examining Release Of Green Movement Leaders; Ideological Camp Protests

The attempt by the pragmatic camp leaders to promote the release of Mousavi and Karroubi was met with firm opposition on the part of the ideological camp. On January 11, 2015, Majlis member Ali Motahari, from the pragmatic camp, called from the podium for their release, prompting a fistfight and the closure of his website by judiciary order.[2] In late January 2015, a report was removed from the website Saham News, which is affiliated with Karroubi supporters, hours after it was posted; the report had stated that Rohani had ordered the Supreme National Security Council to examine the possibility of releasing Mousavi and Karroubi within two weeks.[3] Guardian Council head Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, from the ideological camp, even called on the public to use the February 11 Revolution Day rallies to stress its opposition to the Green Movement leaders and to the pragmatic camp's calls for their release.

Physical Confrontation In The Majlis Following Motahari's Call To Release Mousavi And Karroubi

On January 11, 2015, during a speech in the Majlis, Majlis member Ali Motahari called for releasing Karroubi, Mousavi, and Rahnavard, stating that their arrest was not in line with the regime's constitution. The session was temporarily halted after Majlis members approached the podium and tried to remove Motahari by force, resulting in exchanges of blows.[4]

Saham News: Rohani Ordered Supreme National Security Council To Examine Release Of Mousavi And Karroubi

On January 31, 2015, the website Saham News, which is affiliated with Karroubi supporters, reported that President Rohani had ordered an examination of the possible release of Green Movement leaders . The report, which was subsequently deleted from the website, stated: "Nearly 18 months [after his election], Iranian President Hassan Rohani has begun dealing with the arrest of Karroubi, Moussavi, and Rahnavard. At the start of last week's Supreme National Security Council meeting [in late January 2015], Hassan Rohani presented his government's fears regarding the house arrest of Karroubi, Mousavi, and Rahnavard, and criticized the group that speaks irresponsibly on this matter.

"Later, when [judiciary head Sadeq] Amoli Larijani entered the meeting, Rohani expressed his displeasure at the [judiciary's] failure to deal with [Mousavi's and Karroubi's] arrest docket, and said: 'The Supreme National Security Council has not and does not make a decision on this matter, but the public believes that the council was responsible for their arrest, while the judiciary is attempting to evade responsibility on this matter.'

"Later in his statement, the president received a warning from [IRGC commander] Mohammad Ali Jafari, who asked the head of the council to postpone examination of this matter so that council members could arrive better prepared. This came as it was previously reported that elements from Khamenei's office took documents related to the house arrest of the Green Movement leaders.

"Rohani accepted [Jafari's] statement and asked council secretary Ali Shamkhani to move the issue of the release to the top of the council's agenda [for their meeting] in two weeks' time, and to present all documents related to the arrest of Karroubi, Mousavi, and Rahnavard that are in the council's possession."[5]

Kayhan Editor: Rohani Cannot Remove The Siege Since He Ordered It

At a conference in Qom in February 2015, Kayhan editor Hossein Shariatmadari, who is close to Khamenei, noted: "I say bravely that Rohani cannot lift the siege [from Mousavi and Karroubi]. He himself was one of those who ordered it. Some are raising the issue [of the house arrest] to [make people] forget this."[6]

Ahmad Jannati: "Strike The Mouths" Of The "Four Punks" Who Are Calling For The Release Of The Instigators Of Fitna

On January 24, 2015, Guardian Council Chairman Ahmad Jannati condemned the leaders of the pragmatic camp for calling for the release of the Green Movement leaders, referring to "four punks" - i.e. Rafsanjani, Rohani, Motahari, and likely former president Mohamad Khatami- who pose a "grave danger" to Iran and to the regime, and who must be opposed, even by force: "There is a grave danger from people at the country's administrative level who believe that we can no longer resist and withstand [economic sanctions] and must therefore surrender [to Western demands] ... Leader [Khamenei] speaks with complete clarity, yet some neither understand nor believe [him]... Some people, who I wish would go to hell, occasionally give the enemy a green light and say that we must compromise with it on the nuclear issue, economy, and politics, and stand against the people, the Islamic revolution, and the blood of the martyrs. The people should know [these] officials better...

"God gave us a leader who calls aloud until we realize that fitna means the destruction of the regime. On February 11, 2015, we must strike the mouths of those who call to release the instigators of fitna from house arrest so that they can do it again... On February 11, the masses will expose the plot of the instigators of fitna and condemn them; just because four punks have begun talking about this matter, does that mean that this position is shared by 75 million [Iranians]? The people is joyful, although there are four people who are not so joyful. They are given a pulpit, and have big mouths, and begin talking. Will society, the regime, and 70-80 million people listen to them?"[7]

Khamenei Representative In The IRGC: Status Of Every Iranian Official Depends On Sympathy With Rule Of The Jurisprudent

On February 1, 2015, at a ceremony celebrating the start of the Ten Days of Dawn commemorating the Revolution Day of February 11, Khamenei's representative in the IRGC, Ali Saidi, warned regime officials that obedience to Khamenei was the yardstick for how vital they are to the regime: "There is no difference between the mission and authority of the Imams, the divine prophets, and the jurisprudent ruler [Khamenei]. Just as it is a duty to obey the Imams and prophets, it is also a duty to obey the jurisprudent ruler... Combating oppression, preserving the religion, shari'a, and the Islamic regime are among the missions given to the divine leaders... The value of every person and group [in Iran] depends on their identification with the Rule of the Jurisprudent..."[8]

On February 4, 2015, Saidi added: "The claim by some that the situation in the country constitutes a crisis is unacceptable. We obviously have problems, but the way to solve them is not submission, concessions [to the U.S.], and allowing America to cross our red lines... Today more than ever, the IRGC should be ready for sacrifice since we are dealing with the hypocrites and we must not repeat the mistakes of the past... Unfortunately, people such as [deposed president Abolhassan] Bani Sadr, [former prime minister Mehdi] Bazargan, and others occasionally attacked the IRGC even though it is the revolution's closest ally and assists the Leader [Khamenei]..."[9]

IRGC Commander: More Than 830 People's Spines Were Broken In The 2009 Riots

On February 7, 2015, at an IRGC conference in Hamadan, IRGC official Hossein Hamadani, former IRGC commander in Tehran province, said that "the crime by the heads of fitna is unforgivable. More than 830 people's spines were broken in the 2009 riots."[10] It should be mentioned that the report was removed from the website hours after publication,[11] and the IRGC denied the statements the following day.[12]

IRGC Commander: Heads Of Fitna Are Politically Unclean And Cannot Be Rehabilitated

In early February, the IRGC commander in Fars province, Gholam Hossein Gheib Parvar, said: "[Former president] Mohammad Khatami is one of the heads of fitna and played a more prominent role than Mir Hossein Mousavi and Karroubi. Some... want to purify the names of the heads of fitna, and I have repeatedly said that the heads of fitna are politically unclean and cannot be rehabilitated unless they repent... The province governors feed off the bread of the Islamic republic [but] in Fars province, they support the heads of fitna. If the governor of Darab [a city in Fars province] does not distance himself from the heads of fitna, especially Mohammad Khatami, there will be no choice but to fire him."[13]

* A. Savyon is director of MEMRI's Iranian Media project; Y. Mansharof and E. Kharrazi are Research Fellows at MEMRI.


[1] A pejorative that has become a religious term to opposing a Muslim ruler, which in the past reached the point of waging war against him.

[2] Fars (Iran), February 2, 2015.

[3] Additionally, council spokesman Keyvan Khosravi, denied the "baseless [report] meant to incite and create schism in society's political arena. IRNA (Iran), January 31, 2015.

[4] ILNA (Iran), January 11, 2015.

[5] Saham News (Iran), January 31, 2015.

[6] Fars (Iran), February 5, 2015.

[7] Asr-e Ma (Iran), January 24, 2015.

[8], February 1, 2015.

[9] Tasnim (Iran), February 4, 2015.

[10] Asr-e Iran (Iran), February 7, 2015.

[11], February 8, 2015.

[12] Tasnim (Iran), February 8, 2015.

[13] Saham News (Iran), February 5, 2015.

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