insideIran – The Iranian parliament passed a bill June 21 in which any changes to the constitution of Azad University, a network of private universities in Iran, must be approved by the so-called “Board of Founders,” and cannot be changed by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, which is chaired by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
This bill is significant because it prevents President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei from taking over Iran’s most profitable educational system estimated by Kayhan, a hardline newspaper close to Khamenei, to possess assets worth up to 250 billion dollars.
Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani is the chairman of the Board of Founders and was the person behind the creation of private universities in Iran some 29 years ago. The current head of Azad University, Ahmad Jasbi, is considered a close ally of Rafsanjani. Jasbi is the longest serving executive in Iran for heading Azad University since its founding. Rafsanjani’s son, Mehdi Hashemi, is also a high-ranking executive of Azad University. The Iranian judiciary has issued an arrest warrant for Mehdi Hashemi, but he left Iran last summer before the warrant was issued in order to avoid prosecution.
The Supreme Council on the Cultural Revolution and President Ahmadinejad’s allies pursued a number of goals by seeking to take over Azad University. First, pro-government forces would have assumed control over a significant amount of money currently in the hands of Rafsanjani’s allies.
Second, by eliminating a major source of funding and removing Jasbi from his post, the hardliners would have moved one step closer to making Rafsanjani less relevant.
Third, Azad University operates campuses in the most remote corners of Iran, where public universities have traditionally failed to reach. Controlling this network of universities would have allowed hardliners to tighten their hold on Iran’s university campuses from where they have received stiff resistance and disobedience.
The parliamentary vote against the Supreme Council on Cultural Revolution and in favor of the Board of Founders is a victory for Rafsanjani. But this victory may not last long.
The parliament has come under enormous pressure by hardliners inside the government. In reaction to this bill, President Ahmadinejad canceled his meeting with Ali Larijani, the speaker of parliament, and Sadegh Larijani, Iran’s chief justice, Monday June 22. Supreme Leader Khamenei is also believed to be on the side of the government. Pro-government protestors have been demonstrating outside the parliament demanding the bill to be overturned.
The bill, if not overturned by the parliament in another vote, will go to the Guardian Council. The Guardians will most likely reject the bill, which will then go to the Expediency Council chaired by Rafsanjani.