Seyyed Mohammad Khatami was the fifth president of Iran from 1997 to 2005. During his time in office, to the dismay of hardliners, he was recognized for his efforts to liberalize and reform the Islamic regime. Khatami has been a strong supporter of the Green movement, and is the only significant figure of the opposition notcurrently in detention.
Due to reform attempts during his presidency, hardliners were already skeptical of Khatami’s loyalty to the regime. These fears were exacerbated by Khatami’s support for the Green movement. Following the 2009 elections, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Mohammad Ali Jafari, publicly accused Khatami of working to overthrow the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Furthermore, in 2010, it was reported that Khatami had been barred from traveling outside of the country.
Mir-Hossein Mousavi Khameneh was never president, but was prime minister of Iran from 1981 to 1989. After staying out of politics for twenty years, Mousavi ran as the reformist candidate in the 2009 presidential elections, losing to Ahmadinejad.
As prime minister in the years following the 1979 revolution, Mousavi was a strong supporter of the regime, and helped crush any dissent. However, in 2009, he was quick to question the legitimacy of the election results, and led the opposition in its protests against the government. His active participation has resulted in Iranian security forces applying immense pressure upon himself and his family. He and his wife have been in and out of house arrest since the elections, and his two daughters were taken into custody this past February.
President Ahmadinejad is acutely aware of the fate of his predecessors. In the past year, Ahmadinejad has been extremely outspoken and has attempted to gain popular support by rebelling against the establishment. In February, Ahmadinejad became entangled in a high-profile political feud with the speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani. The dispute centered around a video Ahmadinejad released which reportedly showed evidence of corruption on the part of the speaker’s younger brother, Fazel. Due to their prominence and influence within the government of Iran, taking on the Larijani family was a big risk for Ahmadinejad. Additionally, Ali is an ally of the supreme leader, who was displeased by the confrontation created by Ahmadinejad, calling it “immoral behavior.” Soon after the public skirmish, Ahmadinejad’s supporters threw shoes and prayer tablets at the speaker, forcing him to cut a speech short.
Ahmadinejad’s chosen successor is his former chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. Mashaei has been a polarizing figure in Iranian politics, and like Ahmadinejad, is not viewed favorably by the ruling clerics. If Mashaei or another ally of Ahmadinejad’s fails to win the upcoming presidential elections in June, Ahmadinejad may face challenges similar to those faced by his predecessors, particularly in transitioning to civilian life, no matter how much popular support he has. The cases of Rafsanjani, Khatami, and Mousavi prove that regardless of one’s power, wealth, or influence, falling out of favor with the supreme leader will unquestionably result in marginalization and isolation.
Rassool is a program associate for regional programs at Freedom House in Washington, D.C.