(2 of 2)
The differences between the Larijanis and Ahmadinejad are both political and personal. Ali Larijani ran for President against Ahmadinejad in 2005; he came in sixth with less than 6% of the vote. Khamenei then appointed him head of the National Security Council, a body that reports to the Supreme Leader rather than the President, who has just one seat on the council.
In that capacity, Larijani was the lead negotiator with the international community on Iran's disputed nuclear program. Although he took a tough line on Iran's right to enrich uranium as part of its energy program, he was also interested in a deal that would prevent deepening Iran's isolation, according to diplomats involved in the talks.
But Ali Larijani often found himself at odds with Ahmadinejad's inflammatory rhetoric, and finally quit in 2007, underscoring the political divide even among the conservatives. "They were ideological differences," Larijani told an Iranian news agency. "I thought that the differences would be damaging and thus I resigned." Larijani ran for parliament last year, and was elected speaker.
After the June election protests erupted, Ali Larijani was also one of the few regime officials to publicly warn that many Iranians questioned Ahmadinejad's victory. "The opinion of this majority should be respected and a line should be drawn between them and rioters and miscreants," Larijani said in comments posted on an Iranian website.
In a further jab at Ahmadinejad, the speaker warned last week that government ministers should have the qualifications necessary for their positions. Cabinet picks require parliamentary approval, and the legislature has previously rejected Ahmadinejad's picks for being unqualified. The vote on his Cabinet nominations will be the first major test for Ahmadinejad as he begins his second and final term.
Thus far, however, all the Larijanis have heeded political boundaries. Ali Larijani last week announced that a parliamentary investigation proved that some detainee claims of torture were false. "On the basis of precise and comprehensive investigations conducted about the detainees at Kahrizak and Evin prisons, no cases of rape and sexual abuse were found," he told parliament. The probe lasted less than a week.
"Larijani has been a very ineffective speaker," says Iran scholar Shaul Bakhash. "[Parliament] has been a virtual no-show on all issues during his leadership ... And his investigation of allegations of mistreatment of prisoners was clearly slapdash."
The ill will between the Larijanis and Ahmadinejad is also rooted in a social class divide, according to Sadjadpour. The Larijani brothers are the progeny of the late Grand Ayatullah Mirza Hashem Amoli, a marja whose interpretations of Islam are considered binding by a following of devout Shi'ite Muslims. Some of his sons have also married into prominent clerical families, giving them status beyond politics. Ali Larijani represents Qum, the center of Islamic scholarship in Iran, in parliament. Ahmadinejad, by contrast, is the son of a blacksmith.
Over the years, the Larijani brothers have expressed realist positions on Iran's relations with the U.S. Mohammad Javad Larijani, who did doctoral work in mathematics at the University of California, has often urged an end to tensions. "Our country's relations with America are important in terms of our national interests," he said in a public debate a decade ago. "We should regard our relations with America realistically and without extremism, and weigh them with the criteria of our national interests."
But critics also charge that the Larijani brothers have risen so far as much from opportunism as political savvy. Many analysts believe Ali Larijani may be positioning himself to run for the presidency again after Ahmadinejad's term ends in 2013. "They are nakedly ambitious. Their overarching principle seems to be to position themselves wherever power lies," said Sadjadpour. "If the Shah were still in power, they'd be coveting him. And if Iran evolves into a democracy, they'll try and reinvent themselves as progressive democrats."