Iran's conservative camp is so divided that it probably cannot be called a "camp" any longer. Gaps have been widening and differences emerging during the past year.
Nonetheless, various conservative groups prepare for the parliamentary election in March 2024 and get together on an almost daily basis, discussing probable alliances.
Divides among conservatives were noted by the media when Majles Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf's supporters in February accused the ultraconservative Paydari Party of using the controversy over hijab for political gain as the next election nears.
During the 2020 parliamentary elections, and Presidential election of 2021 conservatives at least pretended to be united in the absence of their reformist rivals.
According to Etemad Online, Conservative figurehead and former Majles Speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel warned in March against divides and infighting within the conservative front and suggested that various groups should forget about their differences in the interest of unity of the "revolutionary front."
Majles Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (left) and former Speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel
According to the website, when the Society To Promote Popular Institutions of the Islamic Revolution emerged as a conservative alliance in February, it was clearly the same alliance that was called JAMNA (Persian acronym for the Popular Front of Islamic Revolutionary Forces) in 2017, which was led by Haddad Adel.
The alliance was mainly consisting of IRGC-linked Isargaran and Rahpouyan groups. Like 2017, the group once again claimed to be the leading conservative group. Regardless of the word "revolutionary" in its name, the group is a traditional conservative entity. The group's rhetoric, however, looks like the fashionable revolutionary discourse promoted by Paydari, a younger and more aggressive group. Its leading figures are Haddad Adel, Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani and current lawmaker Zohreh Elahian.
Lawmaker Zohreh Elahian (left) and Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani (center)
According to Etemad Online, it is evident that decisions about the group and its strategy are made in secret darkrooms rather than transparent congresses. The group is also said to be a rebranded version of SHANA (Coalition Council of Revolutionary Forces), another name for the same group, once again with the code word "revolutionary" which means a group that aligns itself with Khamenei's radical anti-US stance.
However, as a tactic to reduce the significance of Ghalibaf's neo-con allies while giving him prominence as an individual, Haddad Adel is giving the leadership of the group to Ghalibaf, who knows that he has little chance if he remains just as the leader of his neo-con group.
Another conservative group, SHARIAN, the Strategic Network of Supporters of the Islamic Revolution, was established in March with the presence of Vice President Mohammad Mokhber and Roads Minister Mehrdad Bazrpash, firebrand anti-US cleric Mahmoud Nabavian and former hard-line lawmaker Hamid Rasai.
This group's members are known as younger conservatives. Meanwhile, a report in Khabar Online featured photos and a long list of the leading members of the Sharian group mainly to show that they are much younger. The website tagged the next parliamentary election in Iran as a competition between young and old conservatives.
The third group is the notoriously non-conformist Paydari which consists of relatively younger anti-US politicians who have so far defied any alliances in almost every election since 2009. They support a totalitarian Islamic government as opposed to an Islamic Republic which at least pretends to be adhering to some democratic principles. They hold the majority in the current parliament where they ratified reactionary laws against Internet freedom and women's rights.
The group's membership is not transparent. Many members do not openly show affiliation with the Paydari Party, and some others at times distance themselves from the party although it is public knowledge at the parliament that they belong to Paydari.
A poster to unveil members of conservative group SHARIAN, a Persian acronym for the Strategic Network of Supporters of the Islamic Revolution
There are also smaller groups such as those who are affiliated with former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the supporters of former Speaker Ali Larijani but they are not big in numbers.
Other groups running for the Majles include traditional parties such as the extremely unpopular Islamic Coalition Party and the allies of former President Hassan Rouhani. The latter group is said to be operating under the leadership of former Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, a "moderate" politicians who is known for his remarks after the violent crackdown on the 2019 protests: "It is a lie that we only shot the protesters in the head. We shot some in the leg."
However, following the unresolved issues after the 2022 protests, there are every indication that the turnout in the March 2024 could be even less than the elections in 2020 and 2021, which were as low as 20 percent in some big cities.