Iran In 2013: Three Possible Crises By Mark N. Katz, Special To Cnn
The real question about these possible crises is the impact that each might have on the strength and stability of the Islamic Republican regime.
This is the latest in a
series of entries looking at what we can expect in 2013. Each weekday, a guest analyst will look at the key challenges facing a selected country – and what next year might hold in store.
In addition to its ongoing economic problems, which are unlikely to be overcome next year, there are three potential crises that could affect Iran in 2013. One is the possibility of public unrest concerning the succession to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who cannot run for a third consecutive term as president. Another possibility is the incapacitation or death of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei setting off a power struggle to succeed him which also results in public unrest. A third possibility is that the Iranian nuclear crisis boils over, and either the U.S. or Israel (or both) launch an armed attack to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The next Iranian presidential election is scheduled to take place on June 14, 2013. The leadership of the Islamic Republic very much wants to avoid the outburst of opposition that occurred in response to the widely-disbelieved announcement that Ahmadinejad had won re-election by a wide margin in June 2009. New regulations that further tighten clerical control over who is allowed to run for president are likely to be put into effect which even some regime insiders – most notably President Ahmadinejad himself – have voiced objection to. If indeed the only candidates allowed to run for president are just those few approved by the regime, the Iranian public may come to regard the entire presidential election process as illegitimate. With the downfall of long-ruling leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen (and possibly Syria by mid-2013) providing role models for what popular uprisings can accomplish, the Iranian public may launch a more concerted effort in response to what it regards as an illegitimate presidential election outcome in 2013 than it did in 2009.
In addition, Khamenei – who wields much greater power than the Iranian president – will be 73 years of age at the beginning of 2013. This is not particularly old, and he could go on to rule for another decade or more (his predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini, lived to age 86). But if – despite his own vociferous denials – the reports that Khamenei is in poor health are true, it is possible that he could become incapacitated or even die sooner rather than later. Unlike the one and only previous occasion in 1989 when a Supreme Leader (Khomeini) died and Khamenei was able to move up from being president to the top position, it is not clear yet who could replace Khamenei.
Not being a cleric, Ahmadinejad is ineligible for this position – as would be any other non-clerical. Yet even if the next president is a cleric, the religious establishment might not consider him suitable for the supreme leadership post. Given the importance of this position, a power struggle over who should fill it could easily erupt. Finally, an unpopular choice could arouse public opposition not just to the new supreme leader, but to the institution of an unelected supreme leader exercising so much power over elected officials.