Jan. 26 (UPI) -- With elections due to take place to the Majlis (290-member parliament) and the Assembly of Experts (88 members), in Iran on March 1, fractures in the governing theocratic elite are beginning to show.
Neither of these organizations has much influence on the daily lives of Iran's 85 million beleaguered citizens. The main power lies exclusively in the hands of the 84-year-old and increasingly psychotic supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. However, the Assembly of Experts does have one important function. It is tasked with selecting the next supreme leader. Its members are elected for eight-year terms and are therefore likely to nominate Khamenei's successor.
The Iranian constitution states that a Guardian Council, comprising six theologians appointed by the supreme leader and a further six jurists appointed by the head of the judiciary, who is also incidentally appointed by the supreme leader, are allowed to vet candidates for the elections. Candidates for the Majlis and the Assembly of Experts are therefore painstakingly handpicked, with thousands being disqualified and only those showing maximum allegiance to Khamenei's policy of repression and tyranny selected. The result is the selection of the usual elderly, bearded, homophobic, misogynistic sociopaths that have run this oppressive theocratic regime since the fall of the shah.
However, the rejection of two prominent candidates has shaken the regime's leadership to the core. Former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who has served on the Assembly of Experts since 1999, has had his candidacy for re-election vetoed by the Guardian Council, as has former Justice Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi.
Rouhani was the secretary for the Supreme National Security Council for 16 years, a Majlis deputy for five terms, head of the Exigency Council and president from 2013 to 2021. Mistakenly regarded by the West as a "moderate," in fact he presided over a government that condoned torture and arbitrary imprisonment, discriminated against women and encouraged public floggings, eye-gouging, amputations and hanging as a means of terrorizing the Iranian population into docile submission.
He openly praised the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, now listed as a terrorist organization in the United States, and its extraterritorial Quds Force, for its reign of terror in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Gaza and Lebanon, which left hundreds of thousands dead. Rouhani was deputy commander-in-chief of the eight-year war with Iraq at the time of the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, mostly supporters or members of the People's Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK), and he undoubtedly was complicit in that atrocity. But now it seems that even kissing the hand of Khamenei has not saved Rouhani.
Indeed, one of the key executioners during that notorious 1988 massacre was Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi. The mass executions, in jails across Iran, were carried out on the orders of a fatwa by the regime's then-supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. A "Death Commission" approved all the death sentences. Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi was a member of that commission and was subsequently appointed justice minister by Rouhani.
For Rouhani and Pour-Mohammadi to be rejected by the Guardian Council is almost the equivalent of Adolf Hitler rejecting Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Eichmann for being too restrained and not loyal enough. It conclusively demonstrates that any window to even a semblance of normal political activity in Iran has been completely closed and the West needs to wake up to the need for tougher action.
Clearly Khamenei is preparing the ground for his successor and rumors inside the regime indicate that he favors the appointment of his eldest son, Mojtaba Khamenei, to the role. The power-hungry Mojtaba Khamenei runs the bayt-e rahbari, Office of the Supreme Leadership Authority, which is the official residence, bureaucratic office and principal workplace of the supreme leader. Mojtaba Khamenei is a low-level mullah but has been given "ayatollah" status in his quasi-religious bureaucratic role. Being an ayatollah is a prerequisite for the supreme leadership.
The only other possible contender to take over following Khamenei's death is the current Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, known as the "Butcher of Tehran" for his role as another of the key Death Commission executioners during the 1988 massacre. Raisi was appointed as president by Khamenei to crush nationwide protests that were calling for regime change. Over 750 protesters were gunned down by the IRGC and their paramilitary Basij thugs, while another 30,000 were arrested. Many of the detainees have been tortured into making false confessions and executed. In a frenzy of executions, Raisi hanged 864 men and women last year, an average of 16 every week. Iran is now the world's leading per-capita executioner.
It must surely now have dawned on even the most ardent appeasers in the West that engaging with the Iranian regime is no longer viable. Instead of appeasing the corrupt and murderous dictators in Tehran, the international community should recognize the right of the Iranian people to use all means at their disposal to resist the ruthless machinery of suppression, including the IRGC, which is crucial to the regime's survival, and to overthrow the mullahs.
As stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law." This urgent mission is increasingly being undertaken by the younger generation of Iranian men and women, who have organized into resistance units. The civilized world must stand with them.
Struan Stevenson represented Scotland in the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014. He served as president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is chair of the In Search of Justice committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran, coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change, an international lecturer on the Middle East, president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association and author of "Dictatorship and Revolution. Iran - A Contemporary History."
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.