It appears that a third force, centering on Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and his influential relatives, is taking shape in Iran. This new political force -- whose leaders have strong ties to Iran's religious establishment, and who possess strong revolutionary credentials -- is working hard to establish a public profile apart from hardliners led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and from progressives led by aggrieved presidential challenger Mir Hussein Mousavi.
The Larijani faction is still coalescing, drawing support mainly from right-leaning politicians and military officers, who, prior to the outbreak of Iran's political crisis on June 12, tended to be conservative opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The Larijani coalition is also gaining the backing of so-called traditionalists among the Islamic clergy. So far, the new faction has not enunciated a philosophical platform, but it seems that its leaders view the recent upheaval as a threat to the Islamic Republic, and they are dedicated to working to preserve the existing system. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Ali Larijani is emerging as the public face of the faction, but behind him stand his very influential brothers and other relatives, according to a well-connected source. One of Larijani's brothers is Sadegh, who is one of the 12 members of the powerful Guardian Council. Another is Mohammad Javad, a physicist and prominent political strategist. The Larijanis' cousin, Ahmad Tavakoli, a prominent rightist politician and a member of parliament, is also believed to be an important player in the faction, as is Ali Motahari, another prominent rightist political operator who is Ali Larijani's son-in-law.
The Larijanis' father was Grand Ayatollah Hashem Amoli, a leading Shi'a scholar who died in 1993. This paternal connection provides the Larijanis with strong ties to religious leaders in the holy city of Qom.
In trying to build the faction's political influence, the Larijanis have taken care to distance themselves from both hardliners and progressives. Most recently, Larijani was a prominent no-show for a June 24 dinner marking Ahmadinejad's supposed re-election. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. MPs loyal to Larijani also stayed away from the event.
There would appear to be an element of personal animosity at work in Ali Larijani's relations with Ahmadinejad. Prior to becoming parliament speaker, Larijani was Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, but was pushed aside by political maneuvering carried out by the president and his neo-conservative allies, and undertaken with the backing of the supreme leader. Larijani and his brothers likewise all come from scholarly backgrounds and reportedly disapprove of Ahmadinejad's crude political style.
At various points during the political crisis, Larijani has staked out an independent position by pointedly criticizing hardliner-controlled institutions, including the Guardian Council, the Interior Ministry and the state media agency, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). Despite Ayatollah Khamenei's insistence that the presidential election results were genuine, Larijani publicly castigated the Guardian Council, the state body charged with certifying the vote, alleging that some of its members were part of a conspiracy to guarantee Ahmadinejad's reelection.
"A majority of people are of the opinion that the actual election results are different than what was officially announced," Larijani said in comments posted by the Khabaronline website. "The opinion of this majority should be respected and a line should be drawn between them and rioters and miscreants."
Larijani has also dared to complain about state media's censorship during the political crisis, saying that "the IRIB should not act in a way that provokes people."
In addition, Larijani has called on the IRIB to give air time to Mousavi, but this call does not signal that the two men are allies. Larijani has been vocal in his criticism of the protest tactics of Mousavi supporters. On June 22, Mohammad Javad Larijani roundly condemned Mousavi personally during a television broadcast.
Meanwhile, political analysts in Tehran suspect that Sadegh Larijani was responsible for the Guardian Council making public information -- specifically that irregularities in 50 cities tainted 3 million ballots in the election -- that proved highly embarrassing to the supreme leader. Ayatollah Khamenei has publicly characterized Ahmadinejad's landslide as a "divine assessment."
The Larijani faction's relations with another pivotal player in the political crisis, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, are not clear. If they joined forces, they might well have enough influence to tip the balance in the political crisis.
By standing apart, the Larijani faction may be aiming to play a kingmaker role. It may end up being a case of as the Larijanis go, so goes the political crisis.
Kamal Nazer Yasin is a pseudonym for a freelance journalist specializing in Iranian affairs.