Today begins with seemingly contradictory news from Iran: the Guardian Council, a body of clerics that holds more power than the President or the parliament, has agreed to recount some of the votes from Friday’s disputed election. At the same time, the regime has expelled some members of the foreign press, forbidden Iranian journalists from leaving their offices, and arrested major reformist figures, including the former Vice-President Mohammad Ali Abtahi, the former member of parliament Behzad Nabavi, and the reformist political strategist Saeed Hajjarian. These are men with impeccable revolutionary credentials—Hajjarian and Nabavi were founders of the Islamic Republic’s intelligence apparatus—and unquestionable loyalty to the constitutional order. What is going on here?
The Guardian Council’s gambit, while not entirely without promise, should be viewed with some skepticism. First, the council is not recounting all the ballots, if they can be found; it is reviewing only disputed ballot boxes, whatever that means. Second, this is not a disinterested review of the election results; in Iranian politics, the Guardian Council is essentially the practical hand of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the organ by which he most directly intervenes in the affairs of state. Through it, he has veto power over all legislation and can disqualify candidates for public office at will. Its members are directly or indirectly appointed by the Supreme Leader, and manifestly beholden to him. So this is not a neutral intervention; it is Khamenei’s next move.
Some interesting analysis follows.