Iran's fundamentalist clergy are going all out to "neutralize" President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr. But Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is working equally hard to prevent a head-on collision between the politically powerful clergy and the increasingly popular President.
The latest move by Iran's religious leader was to order what diplomats described as a "tactical withdrawal" of the clergy's forces. On Dec. 17 he canceled a one-day countrywide closure of shops and offices planned by the fundamentalists to protest what they called "insults against the supreme religious authorities." The "insults" were a series of recent anti-clergy demonstrations in several Iranian cities, including Isfahan, where portraits of Ayatollah Khomeini and his probable successor, Ayatollah Hussein Montazeri, are said to have been torn in pieces.
With such tensions growing, both fundamentalists and moderates in Iran expect the Islamic Republic's Council of Guardians to define the authority of Iran's President soon. The council consists of six clergymen and six laymen whose task it is to ensure the Islamic nature of legislation passed by the Majlis.
"The situation cannot continue as it is," an aide to Mr. Bani-Sadr told the Monitor Dec. 18. "The power struggle will very soon have to be resolved."
Aides to Mr. Bani-Sadr believe that Ayatollah Khomeini's surprise cancellation of the fundamentists' planned one-day protest was motivated by:
* A fear that mass demonstrations would result in violent clashes between supporters of the President and supporters of the clergy.
* The wish to avoid the publication of statements against President Bani-Sadr at a moment when his popularity is at a peak and when the country is in dire need of national unity.
Despite the "tactical withdrawal" imposed on the clergy, aides to Mr. Bani-Sadr do not doubt that the fundamentalist cam paign will continue. These aides claim that the current investigation of the President's accusation that tortune occurs in Iranian prisons will result in a "whitewash" in an attempt to discredit Mr. Bani-Sadr.
Moreover, these aides point out that 67 deputies, without mentioning the President's name, accused Mr. Bani-Sadr of revealing national secrets in his newspaper Inqilab-i Islami. These deputies demanded that the offender be "prosecuted and punished."
Political analysts believe that the fundamentalists wish to neutralize Mr. Bani-Sadr as a factor of any significance on Iran's political stage in preparation for an onslaught on their other domestic opponents. Prominent among these are the Islamo-Marxist Mujahideen-e Khalq and the Marxist Fedayeen-e Khalq. The fundamentalist Ayandegan newspaper published Dec. 17 a leaflet supposedly drated by the Mujahideene Khalq that called for the overthrow of the "reactionary regime in Iran."
These political analysts point out that the fundamentalists had described the protest planned for Dec. 18 as a sign "of unity between the clergy and the students." The universities, now closed for more than six months, are believed to be the Mujahideen-e Khalq's main power base.
Follwing appeals for the reopening of the universities, Ayatollah Khomeini in a speech Dec. 18 defended the closure and demanded "universities [which] can be Islamic and for the nation itself," instead of being "at the service of the United States.
"The universities were bastions of the communists and they were war rooms for the communists," the Ayatollah said. "How is it that you want the universities to be opened which until a year ago were the centers of corruption and in the grip of communists, guerrillas, and other seditious organs."
The Ayatollah's speech appeared to support the fundamentalists' rejection of "expertise." Replying to this rejection of "exper" tise." Replying to this rejection, an editorial in former Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan's newspaper, Mizan, said Dec 18:
"[It is] as if the country does not need doctors, nurses, engineers, and technicians. We shall not cross the barriers without lawyers, teachers, economists, and managers or in general terms without the experts. . . ."
The heated debate on the necessity of expertise serves as the ideological background to an ongoing diatribe between Mr. Bani-Sadr and Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Rajai. In a brutal attack on the government's economic policy, Mr. Bani-Sadr listed "20 characteristics of our economy" in his diary published by Inqilab-i Islami Dec. 15. He held the government responsible for:
* "The remarkable decline in the economic growth."
* "The remarkable rise in unemployment."
* The price increases.
* The lack of confidence in Iran's banking system.
* The lack of foreign credit.
* Problems and stagnation in the industrial, agricultural, and services sectors.
* Shortages of basic foodstuffs like whea and meat.
* Lack of a program for economic development.
* "Lack of judicial security for economic activities."
Answering Mr. Bani-Sadr's accusaions, the hard-line Islamic Republican Party newspaper, jummhuri Eslami, quoted Mr. Rajai Dec. 18 as saying:
"I have mentioned a number of factors which are the cause of the shortage of paper money, one of which is the lack of efficient management of the Central Bank . . . even though Mr. Bani-Sadr has mentioned that he will not take the responsibilities which he himself approved of. . . . I never said that the head of the Central Bank [Ali Reza Nobari] has been appointed by Mr. Bani-Sadr. . . . I will take no responsibility whatsoever. [MR. Bani-Sadr] is responsible for all who work in its cabinet."
Aides to Mr. Bani-Sadr believe that the fundamentalists are now trying to take advantage of the President's preoccupation with the war against Iraq to strip him of this political power. "Bani-Sadr can do anything because he is busy with the war." one aide said.
Analysts believe that a verdict by the Council of guardians on the powers enjoyed by the presidency will be a miltestone in Iran's protracted power struggle. A Dec 17 decision was ingerpreted as a victory for Mr. Bani Sard