Why Ahmadinejad Fears Khatami
The Islamic Republic in Iran is facing “a sinister international conspiracy” designed to “replace religious rule with secularism.” The plot was allegedly hatched by a “secret society of Freemasons” known as the Bilderberg Group whose members include many of the Western world’s richest and most powerful businessmen and politicians.
The alleged conspiracy was finalized at a secret meeting of the group in June 1999 in Caesar Park Hotel in the Portuguese resort of Penha Longa. Inside Iran, the executors of the “plot” included the so-called Reform Movement symbolized by former President Mohammed Khatami who attended the meeting along with his then assistant on environmental affairs Mrs. Massoumeh Ebtekar.
The so-called Bilderberg “lodge” is often described by conspiracy theorists as “the secret government of the world”.
According to the report published by IRNA, the “plot” included building up Abdul-Karim Sorush, a self-styled philosopher and erstwhile Khatami protégé, as “the Martin Luther of Islam” with a message of separating religion from politics. They also tried to “transform Khatami into an Islamic [version of Mikhail] Gorbachev.”
Wow! A tall story from the rumor-mills in the marshlands of the Internet?
Not at all. The claim comes in a lengthy report published by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), the official organ of the Khomeinist regime in Tehran.
The claim is worth noting for two reasons.
The first is that it is presented by the official organ of the state. Claims that the former president had a part in foreign plots against the regime have been made by radical Khomeinist groups and websites since 2005 when Khatami’s eight-year presidency ended. However, this is the first time that such a claim is given prominence by mainstream organs of the regime.
The accusation was first published by the mass-circulation daily newspaper Kayhan whose Editor-in-Chief is appointed by the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei. The paper, which has promised “more sensational revelations”, has often been used for character-assassination campaigns against critics of the regime, and makes no secret of its dislike for Khatami and his supposedly “reformist” supporters.
Putting the claims on IRNA, however, marks a new step in the campaign against Khatami.
The second reason why the episode is worth noting is that it indicates a dramatic intensification of the power struggle in Tehran. The radical revolutionary groups led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are beginning to fear a possible Khatami candidacy in next June’s presidential elections.
However, before we deal with the political implications of the campaign let us first deal with its substance.
Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as the Bilderberg Group or Masonic lodge. What we have is an annual private meeting of influential individuals, mostly from Europe and the United States, designed to generate free discussions on a range of issues without a pre-set agenda and according to the so-called Chatam House rules under which there are no reports of the proceedings and none of the participants could be quoted by name.
The first meeting was held at Hotel de Bilderberg near Arnhem in Holland in 1954 at the invitation of Prince Bernhard, the husband of the then Queen Juliana. The number of guests was fixed at 130 and initially only limited to politicians, academics and business people from member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Later, the meeting extended its reach and started inviting personalities from all over the world, according to which countries happened to be in the news. The invitations were designed to include two representatives from each country, one liberal and one conservative.
Over the past half a century, almost anybody who was somebody in international business or politics has made at least one appearance at the group’s annual meetings. Thus, if this were a gathering of conspirators we would have to assume that virtually the whole of the global leadership elite consists of Masonic plotters. Last June, for example, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both attended the Bilderberg meeting along with more than 60 other political figures from across the globe.
From the late 1960s until 1977, a number of Iranian politicians, academics and business people attended one or more of the group’s gatherings - always with the understanding that they were there as private individuals. However, no Iranians were invited after the Khomeinist seizure of power in 1979. That such invitations were resumed in 1999 indicated the hopes raised by Khatami that the Islamic Republic could close its revolutionary phase and return to the mainstream as a normal nation-state.
The IRNA campaign against Khatami shows that those hopes were premature. Even if one assumes that Khatami was sincere in his desire to normalize the Islamic Republic, the election of President Ahmadinejad showed that a majority of Khomeinists who provide the regime’s support-base reject such change.
Nevertheless, the question has not gone away.
Many within the Khomeinist establishment realize that a majority of Iranians are tired of Khomeinism and desire normalization. The next presidential election, to be held in June, is likely to be fought on that issue. And Khatami is coming under pressure from inside and outside Iran to stand for election again, challenging Ahmadinejad’s radicalism with a message of reform and moderation.
The IRNA report shows that the radical factions fear a Khatami candidacy and are trying to terrorize him into not becoming a candidate. As always, the Khomeinists shun serious arguments. They prefer accusing their critics of atheism, secularism or, as in this case, collaboration with foreign conspiracies.
The tactic may work against Khatami who has never been much of a fighter. But even if Khatami does not enter the presidential race, the main question will remain: how should Iran come out of the impasse created by a bankrupt ideology?