January 7, 2008:
Who runs Iran? No one in particular, it turns
out. Over the past two years, the senior cleric, Ali Khamenei, has tried to
solve the corruption problem by ordering most state owned companies to be
privatized (sold off to investors). Khamenei, who has enormous civil and
religious power, was ignored. How did that happen? It's all about money.
About ten million of Iran's 70 million
people live off the third of the economy that is, technically, owned by the
state. These are properties that were seized from the royal family and royalist
families 25 years ago. These firms are controlled by the clergy and their
Islamic conservative allies. This includes the oil industry, which earns over $80
billion a year. Most of that goes to finance a huge bureaucracy, whose main
goal is to keep the clerics in power. State owned companies that are losing
money, are kept afloat with oil revenues. Education, health and infrastructure
spending all take second place to keeping the clerics in power. Khamenei's order to sell the state firms, finally
made publicly over national television, was ignored because all the corrupt
clerics knew that the most important thing was not curbing corruption, but
keeping the clergy in power.
The various cleric controlled
bureaucracies keep themselves out of trouble with each other by following a
"live-and-let-live" policy. So one faction can support terrorist attacks on
U.S. troops in Iraq, while another insists that the government is doing no such
thing. There are some general rules
followed by all the factions. These are based on Iranian tradition and custom.
First, don't do anything that will cause great and obvious harm to the country.
Namely, keep us out of war. The losses of the 1980s war with Iraq are still
vivid in everyone's mind. It is believed that the main leadership factions have
agreed to keep nuclear weapons and materials out of the hands of terrorists.
But the Iranians won't discuss this openly, as their official policy is that
they have no nuclear weapons program.
Bottom line, no one is in charge of the
national government, and the senior government officials have the maintenance
of their personal wealth and power as their primary goals. All in the name of
Allah, of course.