Yesterday, In a press conference to the Iranian public, Ali Akbar Javanfekr defended himself and the Ahmadinejad administration against attacks from ….. As we have written in the last few months, the conflict between Traditional Principalists, represented by figures like Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani and Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani, and Neo-Principalists, represented by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Cabinet, has been coming to a head in the lead-up to the 2012 Majlis elections in March. This conflict took on more overt dimensions this Monday when Judiciary officials attempted to arrest Ali Akbar Javanfekr, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chief media advisor, chief executive of the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) and head of the presidential newspaper Iran.
Before joining the president, Javanfekr was a press secretary in the Office of the Supreme Leader. Since joining the administration Javanfekr has been known as a defender of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad’s controversial chief of staff who has been accused of leading a “deviant current” viewed as a threat by Traditional Principalists and even some Neo-Principalists (known as the Third of Tir current) within Ahmadinejad’s own camp. In August, Javanfekr was at the center of a controversy involving a special issue of the newspaper Iran published under his supervision entitled Khatoon. In one interview contained in the special issue, Mehdi Kalhor, a supporter and advisor to Ahmadinejad, claimed that the chador (a black full body length cloak worn by some Iranian women in public as a form of Islamic hejab) was of non-Islamic origins. This was perceived as an insult by many Traditional Principalists, particularly those close to the clergy, and resulted in an one year prison sentence and three year ban on journalism being handed down to Javanfekr. He has appealed the sentence.
Javanfekr added fuel to the fire last week when he harshly attacked Traditional Principalists and ex-Ahmadinejad administration officials in an interview with the Reformist newspaper Ettemad. Javanfekr was quoted as saying “Principalists have not yet realized their own incompetence in politics”, but saved his worst for ex-Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and ex-Intelligence Minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei. Javanfekr was much criticized for the interview, and Ettemad newspaper which had conducted and published the interview was banned.
On Monday, Javanfekr continued to escalate tensions by holding a press conference in which he again defended himself and the Ahmadinejad administration. According to Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, Tehran’s chief prosecutor, the Judiciary sent agents to the press conference to monitor Javanfekr:
“During Ali-Akbar Javanfekr’s interview on Saturday with one of the country’s newspapers, he presented matters which were contrary to reality and caused tension, [and we had] information that he intended to repeat these claims at the press conference…In carrying out the law, two representatives of the Judiciary were sent to the location of the press conference, and after hearing Mr. Javanfekr’s claims and relating it to the Tehran Prosecutor’s Office, [it] was decided to bring him into custody.”
He then accused Javanfekr of resisting arrest and inciting employees of Iran newspaper to prevent the Judiciary officials from carrying out their orders.
Javanfekr’s account of events differed somewhat. He has stated that he asked the Judiciary agents to calm down, have patience, and wait for “higher-levels” to sort out the matter, but did not receive their cooperation. According to him, Judiciary officials said they did not care about the president or Judiciary chief and had their orders.
Reports of what happened next indicate that Judiciary officials used teargas and Tasers to subdue the Iran newspaper staff while taking Javanfekr into custody, injuring at least one person and arresting another 30 in the process.
Editor’s note: The attack by one branch of government on another, while not unprecedented in the Islamic Republic’s history, is nonetheless a sign of heightened tensions within the regime, particularly between Traditional Principalists and Neo-Principalists. While some English-language media reports have attributed this to a conflict between Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the struggle appears to have deeper roots in changing factional dynamics of Iranian politics. Both Javanfekr and Ahamadinejad have promised a response to the attacks against them.
At a time of rising tensions between Iran and some regional and international powers, the political situation within the country also appears to be deteriorating. This most recent case involving Javanfekr and the increasing tempo of politics in Iran appear to be linked to two factors. First Ejei, who is now the chief prosecutor of Iran and special representative of the Judiciary on the major banking fraud scandal case still rocking the country’s financial system, will soon release his report on the banking fraud scandal potentially implicating Ahmadinejad administration officials. Second, as the important Majlis elections in March draw closer, the intensity of the political rhetoric and tensions is likely to increase as each side attempts to discredit the other in a bid to win.