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Internal Upheaval in Iran

The current controversy in Iran surrounding President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s repeatedly rejected Oil Ministry appointments is like a barometer measuring all-things-Ahmadinejad in Iran. The Mejlis (parliament) has rejected each of the three nominees Ahmadinejad has put forth on the grounds that they are inner-circle cronies and not necessarily in the best interest of Iran or its oil industry.

With the standard window for appointment of posts three months, Ahmadinejad now sees the latest rejection as the opening of a new three month window to nominate another Oil Minister.

“The government’s reading is that a new three-month period has been established and there is no problem about the Oil Ministry being run by a caretaker,” Gholamhossein Elham, head of Ahmadinejad’s office, told state television.

Iran is the world’s second largest exporter of oil, so the Oil Ministry post is of great significance, both within Iran and abroad. With his presumption of another 3-month window, Ahmadinejad not only is at odds with the elected Mejlis who have rejected each of his nominees, but now also with the Guardian Council on the other side.

Guardian Council Spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodai said the constitutional experts had not been consulted by the government for a legal ruling on the time allowed.

“Of course, my personal opinion is that the time foreseen for the introduction of ministers in this article of the institution — that is to say three months — is non-renewable,” he said.

“The president must nominate a new oil minister as soon as possible,” he said.

But the internal struggles are not limited to the Oil Ministry appointment by any stretch of the imagination. As pointed out in significant detail by The Washington Institute’s Mehdi Khalaji, Iran’s new president has facilitated a renewed War on Culture. The new Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance was an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps veteran and part of Ayatollah Khameini’s inner circle with a history of attacks on journalists and activists. Renewed restrictions on publishing, dress codes, movie production and, via intimidation, controlled journalism are being ushered in.

The new Iranian president’s current tussle with the Mejlis over Oil Ministry appointments can be seen as an indicator of broader struggles he is experiencing, including with the Guardian Council and the sophisticated citizens of Iran resistant to rolling back the cultural clock. At what point and to what degree the internal power struggles further influence Iran’s international policies (such as the coming nuclear re-negotiations with the EU) will be important to recognize and interesting to watch.