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Infighting Among Iran’s Ultra-Hardliners Escalates

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Rivalry over power, influence and money among Iranian hardliners has turned into public mudslinging, after they began their successful bid in 2020 to gain full control over state institutions.

The latest manifestation of their internal squabbles is serious allegations of fraud and money laundering against the controversial ultra-hardliner politician Ali-Akbar Raefipour. The accusations were made public ahead of Friday’s run-off parliamentary elections and appear to have affected the results in Tehran.

The early tally for over half of the 30 seats of the capital indicates that the three candidates exclusively listed in Raefipour’s electoral list have all failed. Many on social media attribute the failure to the recent allegations of financial improprieties.

An overwhelming majority of eligible voters in Tehran, around 92 percent, shunned Friday’s vote, making it the most lackluster elections the capital has ever seen.

The allegations against Raefipour, leader of a newly established ultra-hardliner political “front” called Jebhe-ye Sobh-e Iran (Iran Morning Front), were brought by Jalil Mohebi, an ally of Parliament Speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf. The allegations come amid pressures by ultra-hardliners on Ghalibaf, himself a conservative politician and former high-ranking general in the Revolutionary Guard.

Former Minister of Communications Mohammad-Javad Azari-Jahromi said in a Telegram post, the groups claiming to be revolutionaries have now reached the stage of competing for the status of “who has stolen less”. “God bless the father of the person who said this is a time of vulgarity politics,” he wrote. The rivalry erupted after hardliners purged ‘reformists’ and even traditional conservatives from the parliament, government and even university teaching positions.

Mohebi has released documents that indicate Raefipour used the equivalent of over half a million dollars donated to his Masaf Institute, formally a cultural entity with the status of a charity, for payments to other organizations. The funds were then paid out to him, his family members, and his allies. The leaked evidence was apparently provided by an opponent in security-intelligence bodies.

Mohebi, the former secretary of the state-run Islamic morality enforcement entity, says Raefipour’s should be sentenced to up to five years in prison for money laundering according to the Islamic Penal Code.

Raeifipour’s political organization, Iran Morning Front, was established in late February, ahead of the first round of the parliamentary elections, and published its own list of 30 candidates for the elections.

The lists in both the first and the second rounds had much in common with other lists put out by ultra-hardliners.

But accusations of financial wrongdoing is a two-way street. Raefipour and his supporters often accuse Ghalibaf and his allies on social media of corruption, including before the elections, but the allegations initiated by the Ghalibaf camp were crucially timed.

Supporters of Raefipour have consistently hailed him as a “champion of transparency and anti-corruption,” citing his confrontations with Ghalibaf and his team as evidence.

After Mohebi’s revelations, Raefipour tried to defend himself in a video clip posted on social media. His supporters have also taken to social media and are passionately defending him.

Raefipour, a 30-year-old politician and conspiracy theorist, has gained a rather large, cult-like following in the past few years among the younger generation of pro-regime youth and teenagers who call themselves Hezbollahi and refer to him affectionately as Ostad (The Teacher).

He is often given a platform to deliver his speeches in universities on invitation of die-hard regime devotees in the academia and invited to the state television programs.

Raefipour’s speeches and accusations against other politicians consistently generate significant reactions on social media, even among supporters of other regime insiders. His followers are often instrumental in popularizing pro-regime hashtags in Persian on the platform X, including those related to the late IRGC Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani.

Raefipour’s ideology, as articulated in his fiery speeches and writings, blends apocalyptic Shiism, pseudoscience, and the cult of Mahdi, the twelfth imam. This messianic figure, believed to have been hidden by divine will since 941 CE, is known as the Imam of Ages who is prophesied to emerge at the end of times to purify the world of sin and evil.

Additionally, Raefipour is notorious for his vehement speeches against Israel, freemasonry, and Satanism. He gained further notoriety by hosting Mark Weber, director of the California-based Institute for Historical Review, which is known for denying the Holocaust and promoting theories of a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world, during his 2012 visit to Tehran.