On April 12, Javan, a newspaper affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, published an article slamming Mehdi Karroubi, the Green Movement leader who has been under house arrest since February 2011.

The article was a response to an open letter Karroubi had sent to President Hassan Rouhani two days earlier, in which he criticized the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, implicitly blamed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei for a range of political and economic disasters, and demanded a public trial.

Under the headline “Be Thankful for House Arrest” the Javan article argued that if Karroubi had expressed such sentiments when Ayatollah Khomeini was the leader of the Islamic Republic, he would have been hanged “with a few words” from Khomeini.

The writer also predicted that Mehdi Karroubi would not get a public trial, and would spend his life under house arrest, like dissenting figures under Khomeini such as Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari and Grand Ayatollah Ahmad Azari-Qomi. It also accused Karroubi of hypocrisy, since he had once criticized Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan for taking journalists to Shariatmadari’s home.

“Aren’t you the one who wishes to return to the golden age of Imam [Khomeini]?” The author asked Karroubi. “Now the Islamic Republic regime has returned you to the same era.”

Other hardliners had varied reactions, including recourse to conspiracy theories. Reza Sarraj, an analyst affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, wrote a short note on a social network demanding more protection for Karroubi because, he argued, reformists might be planning to murder him and then blame the regime. Serraj also accused the reformists of planning to heighten tensions in society.

Abdollah Ganji, the managing editor of Javan, tackled the letter from yet another angle. He said it could be a reaction to the possibility that former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would run in the upcoming presidential elections in 2017. Media outlets close to Ahmadinejad have published reports hinting that Ahmadinejad might run again. Ganji’s note can be interpreted as an expression of approval for Ahmadinejad’s presidency from 2005 to 2013.

Javan Online, the website of the Javan newspaper, had yet another interpretation. It wrote that Karroubi was trying to relieve pressure on Rouhani’s government in the economic arena by creating “a parallel political atmosphere” and an alternative to the “resistance economy” that Khamenei promotes. Rouhani, by contrast, wants to open up Iran’s economy to foreign trade and investments.

 

“A Funny Guy”

Mehdi Mohammadi, who was a member of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team under Ahmadinejad, ridiculed Karroubi. In a note published on the Mashregh News website, he called Karroubi “a funny guy” and added that he agreed with his request for a public trial because it would provide a chance to witness “unequalled comic moments” that would recompense millions of people for “the lunatic delusions of a bunch of criminals.”

But in a second note published by the same website, Mohammadi resorted to another conspiracy theory. Perhaps, he wrote, Karroubi is the tool of “an influential person” who wanted to vent his anger over some recent words or events. This was a thinly veiled reference to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s  president from 1989 to 1997, and the current chairman of the Expediency Council, who Khamenei criticized last week over his views on Iran’s missile program.

Some hardline media questioned whether Karroubi had even written the letter himself. Addressing Rouhani under the headline, “Who wrote the letter for this illiterate sheikh?” the Students News Agency said that nobody could believe that Mehdi Karroubi, under house arrest and politically isolated, could have written the letter himself. Rouhani, the article said, should not remain silent, and should take a clear and decisive position toward the “leaders of the Sedition” and finish off the commotion.

The Students News Agency also reported that “in line with the counter-revolutionary movement,” the Tehran University Islamic Society has pinned Karroubi’s letter on bulletin boards across colleges.

The hardline website Rah-e Dana also asked Rouhani and the Intelligence Ministry to react to Karroubi’s letter. It called Ahmadinejad an “honorable servant with clean hands” and added that the letter would not only fail to damage his reputation but would make him “more popular with the people.” Replace “people” with “hardliners,” and one can see that when push comes to shove, they will stand by Ahmadinejad in spite of past disagreements arising from Ahmadinejad’s quarrels with Khamenei during his second term.

Hardliners’ reactions to Karroubi’s letter have been largely contradictory. Some welcomed a public trial but then said that it was not going to happen. Some called the letter a scheme by the supporters of Rouhani’s government but then asked the government to take a position against it.

On one thing, however, most of them agree: Ahmadinejad’s legacy needs defending.

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