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Friday, Iranian Regime Wins

Eager for a diplomatic opening, Western optimists have hailed the upcoming Iranian presidential elections as an opportunity to replace hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a potential partner in Tehran. Much of this hope rests with reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who is presently running in a virtual dead heat with Ahmadinejad. Unfortunately, a Mousavi victory on Friday may not presage the types of domestic (much less foreign policy) changes in Iran that Western advocates of greater engagement desire.

Mohsen Sazegara, co-founder of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and a former government official in Iran, is uniquely well versed in the internal dynamics of the Islamic Republic. As such, Sazegara is also uniquely qualified to predict the positive ramifications, if any, of a Mousavi victory on Friday. In an article for the Boston Globe, Sezagara was not overly optimistic.

As was made clear during the presidency of Ahmadinejad's reformist predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, the conservative establishment does not go quietly into the opposition when its candidates lose.

For all the reforms made during the Khatami era, real power in Iran never left the hands of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The supreme leader's conservative allies retained control over the security forces, as well as the judiciary and the media, and simply circumvented the rule of law when their stranglehold on the country was challenged.

The violation of Iranian and international law by Khamenei loyalists was rampant between 1997 and 2005. Throughout Khatami's presidency, a vast parallel intelligence apparatus operated beyond the authority of the government, brutally intimidating and silencing those viewed as critical of the regime.

Recent pronouncements from members of Iran's intransigent ruling elite lend credence to Sazegara's pessimism. Revolutionary Guards Corps official Yadollah Javani reputedly claimed that the reformist opposition will allege voter chicanery and may take to the streets if Ahmadinejad wins. In that event, according to Javani, street violence will be quelled and opposition "crushed."

These, as Sazegara can attest, are no idle threats. In 2003, the former deputy prime minister for political affairs was incarcerated at Tehran's Evin Prison for roughly four months. Others doubtlessly received harsher treatment, including torture.

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