Ah, that word again. It can mean many things to many people. In Iran, it can be used to mean the traditional clerical establishment who find Ahmadinejad's messianic Twelver radicalism, especially in foreign policy, and his ignorance in economic policy distasteful. If you take the view that Mousavi is also part of the regime, he represents the more traditional foreign policy and a saner grip on economics.
I know it is light years away from the US but the distinction between Ahmadinejad's messianic, universalist faith and Mousavi's more realist traditionalism has some parallels in American conservatism - between the exceptionalist, religiously-grounded, expansionist fanaticism of the early Bush years and the creeping back to sanity in his second term - now followed by Obama's foreign policy worldview, which seems to feel at home somewhere between Bob Gates and Brent Scowcroft. Here's the quote from Memri that occasioned this thought. It's worth mulling:
Ahmadinejad has been relentlessly criticized by the conservative establishment throughout his term. This is due to his radical policy, fed by his messianic vision, primarily in foreign affairs - for example, his attitude to Iran's Arab neighbors, to Israel, to the issue of the Holocaust, and to Iran's nuclear issue, and particularly to his provocative stance in the nuclear issue vis-à-vis the West. Harsh criticism has also been directed against his economic policy, which has not managed to successfully address Iran's severe economic crisis.
Further, Ahmadinejad's activities against the economic interests of the moderate conservative school - primarily against the traditional ayatollahs, the financiers, and the bazaar merchants - and the fact that he has directed state economic resources to his support groups, primarily among the IRGC, have led to criticism against him by the traditional conservatives.
But above all, the radical messianic ideology that he has worked to promote, and his claim that the Islamic Revolution has deviated from its path under the 16 years of his predecessors Rafsanjani and Khatami, constitute very real threats to Iran's traditional conservative stream.
As early as August 2008, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced his support for a second Ahmadinejad term, apparently in order to thwart Hashemi Rafsanjani's initiative to select a less controversial candidate who did not challenge the traditional leadership. In recent months, Khamenei has tried to claim that he does not favor any particular candidate, but his calls to the public clearly show his preference for Ahmadinejad. Thus, he has called for voting for the candidate whose way of life is modest and whose family also leads a simple life, and who steadfastly faces the superpowers.
You can see the split between Palinesque populism and Pawlenty-style conservatism - in a vastly different and much less democratic context, of course. But when political movements are based in religion, these splits are common.
(Cartoon by Nikahang Kowsar in Rooz (Iran), May 10, 2009.)
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