by Amir Taheri
Gulf News

November 16, 2005

They are well-heeled, sophisticated and full of energy. And, yet, since last August they have faced a growing sense of boredom because, for the first time in years, they have plenty of time on their hands with nothing to do.
The "they" in this story are scores of Iranian men and women, mostly in their late forties, who have lost their positions as a result of the massive purges initiated by newly-elected president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In Tehran circles they are referred to as the sutehdelan which means "the broken-hearted" because these are men and women who fought for the Khomeinist revolution since their teens only to be cast off in middle age.

In a tough speech at the Islamic Majlis (parliament) on Tuesday last week, Ahmadinejad reminded the group that they had all got immensely rich thanks to the revolution, and that they should now go away and enjoy their money instead of fomenting trouble against his government.

The outside world knows the sutehdelan as "the reformers", although they never carried out or even proposed any reforms.

There are several reasons for this misunderstanding. The first pertains to their appearance. Although the sutehdelan observe the Khomeinist dress code, they make sure their attire is tailored and made of the most expensive material. The mullahs among the sutehdelan wear turbans made of hand-woven silk and don cashmere shawls. The non-mullahs wear hand-cut tie-less shirts with gold cufflinks. All in all their wardrobes have nothing to do with Ahmadinejad's which reportedly consists of two or three cheap suits and blousons.

The sutehdelan are also different as far as the way they grow their facial hair is concerned. Where Ahmadinejad and his Islamic "proletarians" grow full, honest beards, they go for designer stubble of the kind once worn by Brad Pitt.

The womenfolk among the sutehdelan are also different from their counterparts in Ahmadinejad's "proletarian" camp. The former wear Hermes silk scarves to hide part of their hair, always making sure that a few strands ooze out to identify them as "reformers" and "modernists".

Their dresses and shoes, however, often come direct from Paris or copied from Parisian models in Tehran's exclusive workshops. The "proletarian" women folk in Ahmadinejad's camp, however, wear thick, black headgear and dark, shapeless dresses.

The sutehdelan are also different from the "proletarians" when it comes to political discourse.

When they speak to Western audiences, the sutehdelan adopt a discourse that would not be out of place in the intellectual cafes of Paris in the 1960s.

They also claim that they want reform and modernisation without ever saying what they mean by such terms.

The favourite phrase of the sutehdelan is: the dialogue of civilisation. But they have never bothered to spell out which civilisation they belong to. Nor do they wish to answer the question that if "dialogue" is good why didn't they allow it to take place inside Iran which they ruled for more than 16 years?

The "proletarian" camp under Ahmadinejad may also be hypocritical as far as principles are concerned. But it has adopted a coherent discourse in sharp contrast with the hypocritical ambiguity of the sutehdelan.

Ahmadinejad says Islam is incompatible with and superior to democracy and that his aim is to one day covert the whole of mankind to Islam as the last and only version of the truth.

Unlike the sutehdelan who have recruited, trained and financed thousands of men and women in a campaign to destroy Israel while denying any involvement, Ahmadinejad has no qualms about stating his strategy to wipe the Jewish state off the map as "a stain of shame".

Since they were booted out of ministerial offices and the boardrooms of public companies, the sutehdelan have been coming together in regular lunch and dinner parties where, we are told, the food is excellent but the mood is fouled by an intense hatred of Ahmadinejad.

In the first lunches and dinners after Ahmadinejad's victory, the sutehdelan comforted each other by talk of revenge. Hashemi Rafsanjani, the businessman-mullah who had represented the so-called "reformist" camp in last June's election, had talked of contesting the results and forming a mass party to oppose Ahmadinejad. Another businessman-mullah, Mahdi Karrubi, had promised to set up a television channel to "expose and oppose" Ahmadinejad.

A third mullah, Mohammad Khatami, the outgoing president, had threatened to "appeal to the masses" against the new president.

Now, however, it is clear that, having lost most of their positions of power within the regime, the sutehdelan have no hope of winning any favours from the people. In fact, a good number of Iranians hold them responsible for the tragedies that the nation has suffered since the mullahs seized power in 1979.

Nevertheless, one should not write them off. They still have lots of money and powerful positions, often as representatives of giant Western and Japanese corporations, in Iran. They also have the immense advantages of being able to gather together and even to criticise the system without being murdered a privilege denied to most other Iranians. But there is one thing the sutehdelan can no longer do: try to deceive everyone by claiming that they want to reform a system that is incapable of reform. The days of a two-faced mullah speaking with a forked tongue may well have come to an end with Ahmadinejad's coming to power. And that, believe me, is no bad thing.

Amir Taheri was editor-in-chief of Kayhan, one of the most prominent newspapers of Iran during the reign of Shah Reza Pahlavi. He is a member of Benador Associates.