The Ayatollah and the Prince

With the show trial of more than 100 well-known reformers, the Iranian regime has declared that it feels no insecurity (which could lead to an effort to normalize the situation) and harbors no doubts about its actions. On the other hand, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems just as determined to undermine his new term, with former presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami boycotting the ceremony to ratify his re-election on Monday. The regime has the upper hand, with supreme leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supporting Ahmadinejad dynamically and with the state machinery dedicated to enforcing order. The streets are empty of demonstrators, but it is clear that the rift that opened after the June 12 elections is widening. It is also clear that the regime believes it is better to be feared than loved. But its uncompromising stand harbors dangers, as Niccolo Machiavelli notes in his handbook for effective leadership. If a leader cannot instill both fear and love in his subjects, he should opt for fear alone, but, Machiavelli adds, «he must avoid provoking anger.» Machiavelli, who lived from 1469 to 1527, would have loved watching Khamenei. In his book, he investigates «why the kingdom of Darius conquered by Alexander did not rebel against his successors after his death.» His answer is that Darius, like the Ottoman sultan, was an absolute ruler whose ministers had no power without his authority. When the leader was replaced, there was no one with the power to lead a rebellion. In France, on the other hand, the king was continually pressured by a powerful aristocracy which would stand up against anyone who threatened its privileges, whether he be the king or an invader. The Iranian regime has managed to instill fear in its people, but it risks pushing them into an anger that will overcome this fear. And Khamenei runs the risk of losing his absolute authority and coming under pressure from a clerical aristocracy that is ready to clash with him.