In Iran, a father and son vie for nation’s future
Washington - Ahmad Jannati and his son Ali Jannati are symbols of the growing generational gap within the political elite of Iran.
Jannati the elder perceives himself to be the custodian of the revolutionary legacy of the late Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Jannati the younger has dedicated himself to reforming the Islamic Republic in an attempt to adapt the regime to a society very different than the one seized by Khomeini in 1979.
Both men can’t win. One is bound to prevail over the other and the winner will play a major role in defining the values of the Islamic Republic as it emerges into what could be a new era.
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, 89, a native of the village of Ladan near Isfahan, south of Tehran and capital of the Safavid dynasty in the 16th century, patiently climbed the ladder of power in the regime and has a seat at the apex of power.
He serves as secretary of the Council of Guardians, which vets candidates for elections and must approve parliamentary legislation before it becomes law. He also has a seat in the Assembly of Experts, so he will be among the clerics who will appoint a successor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei when he steps down or dies.
The elder Jannati made great sacrifices as he climbed the ladder of power. Before the revolution, he was imprisoned three times during the reign of the shah and endured three years of internal exile in Asadabad, close to the north-western mountain city of Hamadan.
After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, he sacrificed his own son Mohammad-Hassan, who was a member of the Mujahideen-e Khalq opposition group and was killed in a gun battle with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in 1982.
Ali Jannati, 66, also started his career as a radical and was a comrade-in-arms of Mohammad Montazeri, the militant son of Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri. With the SAVAK, the shah’s infamous secret police, hunting him, Ali fled in 1975, first to Pakistan and then, with help from the Fatah Movement, to Syria.
There he was reunited with Mohammad Montazeri in Palestinian training camps in the Damascus suburbs. In Syria, and later in Kuwait, the men established the core of what is known as al-Quds Force, the extra-territorial operations branch of the IRGC that is active in the Syrian and Iraqi wars.
But after the 1979 revolution, Ali gradually distanced himself from paramilitary activities and by the early 1980s, he had become a protégé of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, then parliamentary speaker and later president.
Today, Ali Jannati, the minister of culture and Islamic propagation, remains in the camp of Rafsanjani and President Hassan Rohani, seen in the West as pragmatists seeking to open Iran to the outside world.
In this capacity, Ali Jannati has launched a debate about allowing women to sing in public and even for the legal production and distribution of Persian language rap music. After a few attempts to ease restrictions on publishers and authors, Jannati also called for easing internet filtering in Iran.
Separately, Ali Jannati consistently emphasises the importance of improving the quality of the programmes produced by the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting organisation as an alternative to the futile effort of jamming foreign media broadcasts to Iran.
On top of this, Ali Jannati has also had publicised meetings with former President Mohammad Khatami, which the hard-line media, such as the Kayhan daily, condemns as acts of “reconciliation with the leaders of sedition”, a reference to the Green Movement’s protests against the fraudulent June 12, 2009, presidential election.
The younger Jannati’s attempts to liberalise the cultural policies of the Islamic Republic, along with his widely publicised meetings with Khatami, have provoked strong criticism from the conservative-dominated parliament, which, on several occasions, tried to remove him from the cabinet.
The critics of the minister include his own father.
“The enemy is engaged in soft warfare against the regime of the Islamic Republic… People who fundamentally do not believe in the path of the Imam and the martyrs and want to allow Western culture to enter this country are trying to be in control of the affairs,” Ayatollah Jannati said a few months after Rohani was elected president.
“They’re trying to get hold of money and power by cooperating with the foreigners.” The person in charge of cultural affairs in the Islamic Republic, of course, is his son Ali.
For now, Ali Jannati has managed to stay on course and ignores the critics but the regime in Tehran is at a crossroads and must soon decide between the father or the son, the legacy of the Khomeinist revolution or reform and liberalisation.
The Islamic Republic can’t have it both ways.