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Mehdi Khalaji's Blog

Report: How Khamenei Makes Decisions

      Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has accumulated formidable authority within Iran’s political system since he became supreme leader nearly 25 years ago, mainly through transforming the Revolutionary Guard Corps into a key political and economic player. But even Khamenei has had to “devise sophisticated measures for keeping the president in check,” according to a new report by Mehdi Khalaji, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Khalaji argues that the supreme leader “is not omnipotent, and various factors and individuals have affected his decisions over the years.” The following are excerpts from the executive summary with a link to the full text.

 
            To better understand Iranian decision making, one must first look at Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s background. He was by no means a typical cleric -- his acquaintances, interests, and ambitions were shaped more by intellectual currents than by clerical tradition. After the 1979 revolution, such interests developed into an enthusi­asm for military affairs that would greatly influence his approach to consolidating power in later years.
 
            Once Khamenei succeeded Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, many of his appointees hailed not from the first generation of the Islamic Republic but rather from a new generation of politicians with mili­tary or security backgrounds. Since then, this approach has gradually transformed the country’s top military structure—the Islamic Revo­lutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)—into a key player in Iranian poli­tics and economics, allowing Khamenei to establish a very powerful centralized authority. This in turn gives him the last say on foreign policy, the nuclear issue, and many other matters.
 
            To be sure, the Supreme Leader is not omnipotent, and various factors and individuals have affected his decisions over the years. Attempts to unify the government and completely dissolve factional­ism within the ruling elite have failed, often generating crises instead. Yet Khamenei has established numerous mechanisms to manage schisms and exert his authority.
For example, Khamenei’s “house”—the Office of the Supreme Leader—has from its inception been led and staffed by personal acquaintances and loyalists, most of whom are bureaucrats rather than politicians. Thus, while the office influences him by determining what information he receives, Khamenei has sought to keep politi­cal factors from seeping into that information by personally manag­ing the office and bringing close friends into his inner circle. A look at the structure of this “house” can therefore help explain how the Supreme Leader thinks, what he believes, and whom he trusts.
 
            Khamenei has also kept his office distant from the clergy, unlike Khomeini, who surrounded himself with clerical disciples. Over the years, a new bureaucracy was imposed on the once-independent cleri­cal establishment. The nature of the Islamic Republic, combined with Khamenei’s efforts to consolidate control, made the seminaries com­pletely dependent on the regime for financial and political support. Today, Khamenei is responsible for appointing the council that manages Iran’s major seminaries and related religious institutes. He has also revo­lutionized the clergy’s administrative structure, replacing the traditional order based on oral culture with a modern, computerized system that gives him great control over the private lives, public activities, politi­cal orientation, expenditures, and property holdings of clerics.
 
            Other coercive mechanisms (e.g., the Special Court of Clerics; the “Statisti­cal Office,” an organ of the Ministry of Intelligence; a special militia brigade composed of guerrilla clerics) have further helped him repress opposition. Hundreds of clerics have been imprisoned and executed as a result of such structures, which often disregard Iranian legal procedures.
At the same time, many clerics are rewarded with a wide array of amenities, privileges, and business opportunities. Today’s cleri­cal establishment is both the wealthiest in Iran’s history and the least likely to call for a secular, democratic government that would remove many of these benefits.
 
            On the political front, Khamenei has had to navigate tensions with the country’s other top office, the presidency, even going so far as to question whether the position should be abolished. While the president’s powers are limited to the executive branch and greatly constrained by institutions under the Supreme Leader’s control, he can challenge the ruling jurist’s authority in many cases. Khamenei lacks Khomeini’s charisma and popularity, so he has been forced to devise sophisticated measures for keeping the president in check—at times with nearly disastrous results.
 
            Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency best illustrates how such tensions can play out, and how the Supreme Leader failed in his goal of ending factionalism by spearheading the election of a sub­servient president. Despite paving Ahmadinejad’s way to electoral victory, Khamenei felt compelled to turn on him once he began to exert independence from the Supreme Leader and the IRGC and to develop his own sphere of economic and political influence. For example, Khamenei allowed the judiciary, intelligence, and media apparatuses to accuse various people in Ahmadinejad’s circle of eco­nomic or moral corruption, connection with opposition movements, or links with Western governments.
 
            In the end, such efforts have harmed both Khamenei’s personal image and that of the Islamic Republic. The mass protests that fol­lowed Ahmadinejad’s disputed 2009 reelection forced the Supreme Leader to resort to violence against peaceful demonstrators, leading many Muslims throughout the world to question the regime’s reli­gious legitimacy. Moreover, his subsequent efforts to control Ahma­dinejad effectively forced him to discredit the same person he wanted to keep in power in 2009.
 
            Early signs suggest a less perilous relationship with Hassan Rou­hani, who was elected president in June 2013. Rouhani has sought common ground with the Supreme Leader on issues such as reduc­ing the IRGC’s role in the country’s economy. The Supreme Leader, in turn, has been generally supportive of Rouhani’s efforts in the nuclear talks with the West. No doubt, keeping up such a dynamic will depend on the president’s sustained deference.
 
            The Supreme Leader has also kept other branches of the govern­ment under his thumb. He frequently intervenes in legislative deci­ sions, whether through direct letters to the speaker of parliament or by sending word through the Guardian Council and his personal office. More important, he controls the Supreme National Secu­rity Council (SNSC), a small group responsible for designing Iran’s defense and security policies and responding to internal and external threats. Although the president is the council’s titular head, Khame­nei’s personal representative is the one who truly leads its delibera­tions, and most of the other members are his appointees.
 
            Today, the council has sway over many foreign policy matters, including the nuclear issue. In recent years, Khamenei has taken pains to disavow the approach that former presidents Moham­mad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani took on the issue. In particular, he has claimed that he is not responsible for policies he regards as soft and ineffective—in his view, the “flexibility” shown by past nuclear negotiators without his approval only encouraged “the enemy” to make bolder demands. Since then, he has taken steps to assume ownership of the nuclear portfolio, such as establishing con­trol over the SNSC and forming a negotiating team stocked with loyalists.
 
            Finally, Khamenei’s relationship with the IRGC is perhaps the most complicated factor in regime decision making. Since assum­ing power, he has transformed the Guards from a military force to a religious, political, economic, and cultural complex, one that controls the country’s media and educational system. But despite the IRGC’s power and numerous internal rifts, there is no evidence that any of its commanders are in a position to challenge the Supreme Leader’s authority. Among other measures, Khamenei has kept the Guards in check by purging old commanders, deploying his personal represen­tatives throughout the ranks, and appointing each commander’s dep­uties himself; in fact, many of these deputies report directly to him.
 
            Going forward, it is important to remember that Khamenei has changed his views on certain issues in the name of political expedi­ency. For example, when he first became Supreme Leader, he found it necessary to put aside his (private) opposition to actively anti-American policies. He did so not out of any grand ideological shift, but simply to confiscate political capital from the leftists who had grown powerful during Khomeini’s reign. By becoming more anti- American than the anti-Americans, so to speak, he was able to mar­ginalize them and increase his own authority. His hold on power is much stronger today, however, so a major shift is less likely unless domestic pressures increase dramatically. He may not be able to eliminate his critics within the political elite, but he has protected his interests thus far by curbing the influence of those seeking to remodel Iran’s anti-American, anti-Israel, and nuclear policies, including each of the last three presidents.
 
Click here for the full report.
 
Click here for Mehdi Khalaji's chapter on politics and Iran's clergy.

 

Part I: Iran-Syria Religious Ties

Mehdi Khalaji

            Iran and Syria are unlikely bedfellows. Iran has been an Islamic republic—and the world’s only modern theocracy—since the 1979 revolution. Syria has been a rigidly secular and socialist country since Hafez Assad took over in 1970. Ethnically, Iran is predominantly Persian, while Syria is predominantly Arab. Yet Tehran and Damascus have one of the region’s strongest alliances—based in part on religion. Iran is Shiite-dominated and Syria is predominantly ruled by Alawites, a Shiite offshoot. They share a common interest in the survival of a minority in the Middle East, which is about 85 percent Sunni Muslim.

      The ties were again reflected in the Iranian regime’s call for volunteers to protect Shiite shrines in Syria in early May 2013, after Syrian rebels reportedly ransacked the shrine of Hojr Ibn Oday, a revered Shiite figure, in Damascus. The Nusra Front, a Sunni militia affiliated with al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for exhuming Oday’s remains. Syria is home to some 50 Shiite shrines and holy places. For centuries, Iranians have performed pilgrimages to Syria. The holiest is the Tomb of Zaynab (left) on the outskirts of Damascus. Mehdi Khalaji explains the religious ties that bind two of the most strategically important countries in the Middle East.
 
What religious doctrines do Shiites and Alawites share? How have the Iranian and Syrian regimes bonded through belief?
            The Alawite sect is a relatively minor branch of Shiism. Alawis share the Shiite belief that leadership of the Islamic world—and rights to interpret the faith—should have descended through Prophet Mohammed’s family after his death. They believed that Ali—who was both the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law—should have become the first caliph in the 7th century. Shiite literally means “follower of Ali.” In contrast, Sunnis believe that leadership should instead be inherited by the prophet’s early advisers. Ali was briefly the fourth caliph, but otherwise leadership of the Islamic world has since been largely dominated by Sunnis.
            Since the 9th century, Alawites struggled for legitimacy and recognition from other Muslims. One important breakthrough was a fatwa issued in the 1970s by Musa Sadr, an Iranian cleric and head of Lebanon’s Shiite community. He formally announced the acceptance of Alawites as Shiites, a move that significantly opened the way for the sect’s recognition within the general Shiite community.
            In recent decades, Twelver Shiites have also made serious efforts to minimize theological differences between mainstream Shiism and Alawites. This has been partly due to the decline of Arab nationalism and rise of the religious factor in making political alliances and defining identity. The shift is palpable in many ways. Shiite clergy use Damascus as a bridge to connect Shiites in Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and Lebanon together. The Syrian government has allowed Shiites to visit various holy sites, especially the Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque.
 
How are Alawites different from Shiites?
            Alawites, or “Alawis,” are primarily known in the Islamic orthodoxy as “Nusayris.” Nusayri-Alawi is an esoteric sect that is relatively unstudied because members have historically kept core beliefs secret.
            In terms of theological principles, rituals, and jurisprudence, Twelver Shiism and the Nusayri-Alawi faith have few commonalities. (Iran practices Twelver Shiism, so named because of the belief in twelve divinely ordained Imams, or leaders.) For centuries, Nusayri-Alawis were actually considered heretics by both Shiites and Sunnis and often faced persecution. For instance, they venerate Ali as a supreme and eternal God.
            They were only embraced by Muslims under certain advantageous political circumstances. Their historical position is similar to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints among Christians. Both experienced difficulties being recognized by the orthodoxy. Both are secret sects. And outsiders have minimal access to their core beliefs and administration. 
            One major difference between the two Shiite branches is the source of religious authority. Twelver Shiites are led by an ayatollah, who is the source of emulation on juridical issues and rituals. The faithful are also obligated to pay religious taxes to their ayatollahs. But Alawis do not have ayatollahs. So the two sects have not historically had the same religious-financial bonds. 
 
What are the political bonds between Iran’s Shiites and Syria’s Alawites?
            The political bonds between Shiites and Alawites are more about identity and survival of a minority than about religious doctrine. The Middle East is dominated by Sunnis. Iran and Iraq are the only Shiite majority countries in the region, while Syria was for decades the only major Arab country ruled by the Shiite offshoot. Iraq was ruled for nearly a quarter century by Saddam Hussein, a Sunni. So Iran and Syria have had natural psychological bonds that turned into a political alliance over common religious identity. The bonds were further fostered after the rise of a Shiite-dominated government in Iraq—the country that separates them—in 2003. This nascent Shiite bloc was dubbed the “Shiite crescent” by Jordan’s King Abdullah.
            The bonds are also strategic for two isolated governments. The Assad regime’s need for allies in Iran and Lebanon made it ignore the theological differences between Twelver Shiism and Nusari-Alawis. The Islamic Republic of Iran, spurned by the region’s Sunni-led governments, made ties with Alawite brethren in Syria particularly appealing—even though Tehran has actually never referred to Damascus as an Alawi regime. Its official policy toward Muslim countries has been to highlight Islam rather than its specific branches.
            In the end, Iran and Syria actually have very different types of government. Syria’s ruling elite may be Alawite, but the government’s official ideology is Ba’athism, a secular mix of socialism and pan-Arabism. The Ba’ath party is also not only Alawite. It also includes some Sunnis and Christians.
            The governments in Syria and Iran also have different ties to their constituencies. The Alawites are only about 12 percent of the Syrian population. Syrians are predominantly Sunni. In Iran, more than 90 percent of the population is Shiite.
 
 
Mehdi Khalaji, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, studied Shiite theology in the Qom seminary of Iran. 

 

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Tehran’s Views on U.S. Politics, Nuclear Talks

Mehdi Khaliji
 
Iran’s ruling regime pays close attention to American politics in its own calculations about how to negotiate with Washington—and how to game the new diplomatic effort. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his inner circle, for example, believe that President Barack Obama needs to talk to Iran, but they also sense that the U.S. president will be unable to make any concessions because it might endanger his reelection bid.
 
So Tehran has concluded that Obama needs to prolong the talks and achieve minor goals to demonstrate that talks are making progress.
 
The regime also believes that reaching an agreement with Washington before the presidential election will be futile, since a new administration could change U.S. discourse and any agreement that is reached before the election.
 
As a result, the regime has concluded that both sides will benefit in delaying any substantive agreement until after the U.S. elections in November.
 
In the meantime, Khamenei continues to believe that neither the United States nor Israel is willing to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, at least before the U.S. election. So rather than seek a solution to the standoff, Iran’s short-term goal is to decrease diplomatic pressure, or at least prevent new sanctions before the election.
 
Historically, the Islamic Republic has viewed Republican presidents more favorably than Democratic ones. In 2008, nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani said publically that Iran would prefer that a Republican win the presidential election because Democrats incessantly pressured Tehran. In trying to game diplomatic talks in its favor, Iran could even employ the nuclear issue to influence the U.S. presidential election—in an attempt to replicate the impact of the 1979-1981 hostage crisis. President Jimmy Carter’s inability to resolve that crisis contributed to Ronald Reagan’s victory.
 
Khamenei’s calculations are based on his belief that resisting U.S. demands is the most effective response. His conclusion is based on the patterns of past diplomacy. Every time Iran has demonstrated flexibility or willingness to compromise, the West has pushed for even more concessions. But in recent years, Iran’s defiance and uncompromising positions have scared the West and forced it to consider Iran’s demands.
 
Khamenei also believes that if the West pressures Iran economically, then Iran should pressure the West in its own way—such as making direct and indirect threats to U.S. allies. On May 20, Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, warned that Israel was a serious danger to stability in the Middle East. And with a team of senior military officials, he traveled to three disputed islands in the Persian Gulf also claimed by the United Arab Emirates, an oil-rich sheikhdom and close U.S. ally.
 
Khamenei apparently wants to influence Western perceptions about diplomatic prospects by reactivating a former team of negotiators allied with Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was president from 1989 to 1997. Khamenei’s office may be encouraging them to publically engage in debates abroad about the nuclear issue to appear as if he is consulting with a broad range of political figures, even some who once defied him. In reality, however, Khamenei remains solely in charge of the decision-making on nuclear policy.
 
Iranian state media has been an interesting barometer of the regime’s intentions in the talks. In April, the media provided wide coverage of the opening round of diplomacy between Iran and the world’s six major powers in Istanbul. But it has not praised or publicized what happened at the Baghdad meeting in May to the same extent. And the state media has also not shown much enthusiasm about the Moscow meeting scheduled for mid-June.
 
Mehdi Khaliji is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, studied Shiite theology in the Qom seminary of Iran.
 

Assessing Iran’s Parliamentary Election

Mehdi Khalaji

 
Who were the winners and losers in this election?
 
The most important result of this election was the rise of a new generation of hardliners. It did not have a serious presence in parliament before the election. The new hardline faction is led by Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi. It has strong ties to the intelligence community and Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).
 
But the winners and losers were basically determined before the election. There were no surprises. The reformists and the candidates who supported President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were the losers. The candidates who won were explicitly against Ahmadinejad and for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. There are now two factions in parliament. One is the old generation of conservatives, and the other is a new generation of hardliners that has emerged in recent years.
 
How is this election different from previous elections?
 
This election was important because it was the first since the disputed 2009 election for president—and it was free of protests or incidents. It also provided clues about the presidential election due next year. For example, the poll marked a turning point for Ahmadinejad, whose political life is over. He and his faction won’t have a chance in the 2013 presidential election.
 
This election was important not so much because Khamenei’s power was consolidated; this has happened gradually. Previous parliaments were also obedient to Khamenei. The Majles now does not have any autonomy, and there is no separation of powers in Iran. The different branches of government basically all now work as extensions of Khamenei’s office.
 
What does Khamenei’s consolidation of power mean for the future of Iranian politics?
 
The Majles has been weakened by Khamenei over the past 20 years. The last Majles was completely in Khamenei’s hands. Despite clear disagreements with Ahmadinejad, the Majles was not able to put pressure on the president or hold him accountable because Khamenei supported Ahmadinejad. It was not initially willing to confirm eight cabinet ministers when Ahmadinejad was reelected president in 2009. But Khamenei then told parliament to confirm all the cabinet ministers. Parliament’s lack of political will was obvious.
 
At the same time, however, Khamenei is in a very difficult position. He has destroyed Iranian political institutions that might restrain him but that also could protect him by sharing responsibility for decisions. So when Khamenei weakens institutions, he alone then faces responsibility for every government action. This makes him vulnerable.
 
In the place of these institutions, he has empowered the Revolutionary Guards, which can be a double-edged sword because they have become so powerful and now they own up to half the country. The IRGC has become an enormous organization. At some point, they may have different political or economic interests than Khamenei does. They may try to impose their preferences on Khamenei--and at that point the supreme leader may not have others to turn to for support.
 
How is this election likely to change domestic politics and the regime’s foreign policy in Iran?
 
The current Majles is likely to be even more loyal to Khamenei, who likes to micro-manage the details of economic and domestic policies. Obviously, he is also the decision-maker behind foreign policy and the nuclear program. So I don’t expect any change in domestic or foreign policy after this election.
 
On the nuclear program, economic sanctions mainly target people affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards. Khamenei’s no-compromise policy hurts them economically, so some elements may revolt against Khamenei if the situation gets significantly worse.
 
Khamenei’s inner circle could even face a shake-up over the next six to nine months due to economic problems from sanctions. Iranian banks currently conduct 2.2 million international transactions annually.  SWIFT, the global financial service, decided on March 15 to cut ties with Iran. This could be far more crippling for Iran's economy. SWIFT's annual report notes that 19 Iranian banks and 25 Iranian institutions use SWIFT, and that in 2010 they "sent 1,160,000 messages and received 1,105,000 messages." If these 2.2 million transactions stop completely, the Revolutionary guards will be hit the hardest, and they might pressure Khamenei to change his policy--or even try to politely push him out of the decision-making process.
 
Is the consolidation of power in Khamenei’s hands turning the Islamic Republic into an Islamic monarchy?
 
No, Iran is rather moving toward a more militarized government, not a monarchy. If Khamenei is gaining more power, it is because the Revolutionary Guards are gaining more power. So far they need each other, but the relationship may not continue under these harsh sanctions.
 
What is the outlook for the reformists?
 
It is difficult to talk about reformists in Iran now. When the reform movement started, there were 18 political groups who called themselves reformists. They had different political agendas. There was a spectrum of ideas and opinions.  Some of them were loyal to the idea of Velayat-e Faqih (the rule of the jurisprudence), and others were critical of the idea. The only thing they had in common was that they supported former President Mohammed Khatami.
 
Especially since the 2009 election , reformists have ceased to exist politically. If there are some people who wish to reform the system, they have to redefine themselves, produce new ideas of political reform and reorganize. I don’t see that happening in today’s Iran. So I don’t think reformists have a future. They are completely broken ideologically and organizationally, and they have no leadership.
 
Khatami has always taken ambivalent positions. He does not have a clear idea of reform. He wants to be part of existing government but at the same time reform the system. Many people are also angry at him for voting in this election when other reformers called for a boycott. He was one of the main reasons for the reform movement’s failure. He failed to organize, and he has lost his power base. The people who are angry at Khatami now are the people who voted for him 16 years ago. I don’t think he will play an important role in Iran in the future. This is why he did not have a significant role in the Green Movement.
 
Mehdi Khalaji, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, studied Shiite theology in the Qom seminary of Iran.
 
Tags: Elections

Iran on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

Mehdi Khalaji

  • For decades, the Muslim Brotherhood was the largest organized opposition party in Egypt. It is Islamist. What are its similarities and differences with Iran’s Islamic revolution?
The current revolt in Iran is against Islamism, but the recent uprising in Egypt is neither Islamist nor anti-Islamist. In Egypt, the Muslim brotherhood was able to find common interests with other political factions to force President Hosni Mubarak to resign.
 
Before rising to power, Iranian Islamists worked with leftists, nationalists and liberals to oust Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. After Ayatollah Khomeini consolidated power, however, the regime suppressed former allies, including other Islamist factions that did not accept his authority.
 
The difference between Iranian Islamists and Egyptian Islamists is that Islamism in Iran has been tested by the Islamic Republic and has failed. Islamist writings before the 1979 revolution promise to open up in politics, the economy, and culture. But few of these promises have been delivered three decades later. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed, so has not had operated legally or freely let alone run the country.
 
Islamists around the world have many differences, but they also often share the common view that democracy is an instrument to gain power—but not always to share it with other parties. Strict Islamists reduce Islam to Islamic law. Some accept democracy but reduce it to elections rather than freedoms, such as equal rights for all citizens--men and women, Muslims and non-Muslims, heterosexuals and homosexuals--and freedom of expression, religion and political parties. So some elements of the Muslim Brotherhood are similar to some Iranian leaders in their talk of religious democracy.
 
  • What contact has there been between the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran since the 1979 revolution, formally or informally?
There has been regular contact between the Muslim Brotherhood and Iranian officials throughout since the 1979 revolution, both formally and informally. These contacts have taken place in several countries, including the Persian Gulf as well as in Tehran.
 
The most recent contact was the meeting of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with Kamal al Halbavi, a senior member of the Brotherhood, in February in Tehran. Iran’s supreme leader has a special affection and sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood. He has translated into Farsi several books by the late Sayyid Qutb, who was the leading militant ideologue of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s.
 
  • Both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Republic promote Islam as an ideology governing all aspects of life. How do the two differ on their views toward Islam’s role in politics and society?
The main goal of Islamist ideology is to implement Sharia, or Islamic law. When Ayatollah Khomeini ascended to power, however, he soon realized that a complex modern state like Iran could not be run only by Islamic law. He subsequently ruled that the interests of the regime trumped Islamic law when they are in conflict. Iran’s supreme leader therefore has the religious legitimacy to overrule religion in the interest of the revolutionary Islamic state. As a result, rule based on “the interests of the regime” is not an Islamic theocracy, but Shiite autocracy and absolutism.
 
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood still advocates—according to its longstanding agenda-- Sharia law in Egypt. Iran passed from Islamic utopianism to Islamic tyranny. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, which has diverse factions, is still in the utopian phase.
 
  • How did the Muslim Brotherhood respond to Iran’s 2009 post-election protests and the ensuing opposition Green Movement?
Silence. Islamist groups internationally supported the Iranian regime by their silence. Islamists cannot support secular democracies in the face of an Islamic government.
 
  • How do Iran’s ties with the Brotherhood compare to Tehran’s relationship to Hamas, a Palestinian group with which Iran has supported since the early 1990s?
Iran, a largely Shiite country, has publicly backed and aided Hamas, a Sunni movement. In contrast, it would have been risky for the Brotherhood to have had public ties to Iran, especially as it ran candidates for Egypt’s parliament. But the Muslim Brotherhood is Iran’s main potential political ally in a new Egypt. Iran is pushing for the empowerment of the Muslim Brotherhood.
 
Iran has invested in various branches of the Muslim Brotherhood in other countries, such as groups in the Persian Gulf countries. The Muslim Brotherhood is the largest Islamist organization in the Arab world that ignores Arab nationalism and Sunni identity to facilitate alliances with Islamist movements outside the Arab world.
 
 
Mehdi Khalaji, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, studied Shiite theology in the Qom seminary of Iran.
 

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