Iran’s presidential election is already heating up.  Only weeks after the announcement that reformist candidate and former President Mohammed Khatami would be challenging incumbent President Mahmood Ahmadinejahd, Ahmadinejahd’s hard-liner allies have made it clear that they will be making Khatami’s life difficult.

Only two days after announcing his candidacy Khatami was attacked by members of a mob wielding sticks and chanting “Death to Khatami”.  According to Khatami’s organization, the Baran Foundation, he was immediately surrounded by supporters and escorted by his bodyguards to a safe location.

On February 17th, The Guardian reported that an Iranian conservative newspaper, Keyhan, has stated that Khatami risks being assassinated like Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto. The statement has been interpreted as a thinly veiled threat against  Khatami, especially since the paper is known to be closely connected to the Supreme Leader Ali Khameini.  One Tehran-based analyst, Saeed Leylaz, notes, “I worry that radicals will try to convince Mr Khatami not to participate by carrying out one or two terrorist attacks in the country. It could be not just he who is under threat, but people close to him.”

As recently as Friday, the Huffington Post reported that Iranian authorities had blocked two websites supporting Khatami.  Khatami’s official campaign website is still visible within Iran, but two sites set up to support his bid in the race have been blocked to all internet users inside Iran.  The editor of one of the sites, Behrouz Shojaei, observes, “Closing down our Web sites means hard-liners are not going to tolerate Khatami challenging Ahmadinejad”.  One of the sites was blocked simply because of it had reported the people’s views on Khatami’s candidacy.

In a way, these attacks and harassment are a good sign.  They mean that the conservatives in power feel threatened by Khatami’s decision to run.  But the fact remains that hard-liners in the Guardian Council and other positions of power could continue to be an enormous obstacle for Khatami.  They must approve all candidates in all political races and it is not yet clear if they will approve Khatami.  The hard-liners certainly hold the upper hand and they have made it clear that they will use any means they can to increase their advantage.

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