The Saudi-Iranian crisis reveals a deep power struggle in Tehran


Kamran Matin in The Conversation:

Ever since Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shia dissident Nimr al-Nimr was met with violent protests at the Saudi embassy in Iran, the two already hostile countries have been at diplomatic loggerheads. But while Saudi Arabia’s actions suggest a unity of purpose at the highest level, the Iranian reaction has not been uniform.

The Iranian government has severely criticised the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic missions. President Hasan Rouhani attributed the attacks to “rogue elements” who “want to damage the dignity of the Islamic Republic”.

By contrast, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and officials close to his office such as Tehran’s leader of Friday prayers, have tacitly or openly supported the protesters.

The official media, meanwhile, is similarly divided with reformist and pro-government newspapers and websites taking a critical but more measured line while conservative media and those close to the security and intelligence establishments have adopted a more aggressive tone.

These conflicting reactions stem from the deep ambivalence at the core of the Iranian state, which combines centres of power both popular and divine.

That contradiction is reflected in the country’s official name: the ‘Islamic Republic’ of Iran. This means that different and often competing ideological factions are constantly trying to dominate the state and its vast economic resources, and to shape Iran’s strategic direction both internally and externally.

Such rivalries can become particularly intense at critical domestic junctures and produce unintended consequences.

More here.