A Western journalist’s perspective on the ongoing standoff between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the head of Iran’s state broadcaster shed light this week on Iran’s internal divisions and instability, particularly the power struggle playing out in Tehran, under the clerics’ watchful eye.
In an article titled “The President v. The State Broadcaster — The Full Story,” EA’s Iran-based Scott Lucas said the conflict between Rouhani and his political rivals, such as IRIB chief Ezzatollah Zarghami, pointed to “a future battle” between the president and his hardline opponents in what has so far been a months-long war.
Lucas noted the ties between Zarghami and ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for whom the broadcasting company served as a “propaganda agency” of sorts. He added that Zarghami has just one year left as head of IRIB – a short period of time to further his political ambitions, mostly by casting aspersions on Rouhani in areas where he isn’t supported by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
So who will win the power struggle? Lucas suggests that while Rouhani has the upper hand “for now,” it is up to Khamenei to decide who will win the war – and if he begins to “waver” over engagement with the West, Rouhani will fall out of favor as opponents denouncing his “openness” gain the upper hand.
Already, Lucas said in another report, Khamenei is expressing his reservations and voicing criticism about Rouhani’s cultural policies and talk of easing censorship, making the president tread carefully when it comes to domestic issues and limiting any reforms to rhetoric rather than action.
Khamenei, according to Lucas’s insider account, is the one deciding if and when the wind blows west: if he is displeased with Rouhani’s behavior, he will back his political opponents instead, leaving the president powerless in the face of criticism from hardliners – as has already happened to some extent on the domestic front. If the same happens on the diplomatic and nuclear fronts, what will become of Iran’s agreements with world powers?
It is Khamenei, and not Rouhani, who calls the shots, Lucas’s “Full Story” tells us.