- Published on Tuesday, 10 May 2011 16:30
- Category: The Connection
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad returned to his job as president of Iran last week after having spent eleven days at home, refusing to go to his offices in protest against the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Ahmadinejad was upset after Khamenei publicly overturned the president’s decision to fire Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi.
Over the past year, Ahmadinejad has steadily plucked out members of his cabinet, such as Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki, with whom he has had ideological disagreements. Until now, the Supreme Leader has, for the most part, stayed out of such decisions, which are, after all, the prerogative of the president. But apparently the firing of Moslehi was the last straw for Khamenei, who demanded that the intelligence minister be reinstated post haste.
It took more than a week (and another threat of impeachment from the Iranian Parliament) but Ahmadinejad finally gave in and has publicly professed loyalty and admiration for the Supreme Leader. On Sunday, after Ahmadinejad returned to work, he told the local media that, “to defend the Supreme Leader, I am ready to die.”
But as details continue to trickle out of this sordid affair, it has become increasingly clear that a fierce political battle has ensued between the Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad, creating more instability for a country desperately in need of exactly the opposite.
The past year has been particularly rough for Ahmadinejad’s relations with other Iranian political leaders. An ailing economy and some surprising remarks about the independence of the Office of the President have caused a massive rift with conservative parliamentary members, who have tried three times to impeach the president. Ahmadinejad has butted heads with almost every key member of the Iranian political structure, including Ali Larijani, Speaker of Parliament, who once claimed that Ahmadinejad and his advisers were naïve in their dealings with the West. With only two years of his current term remaining, how will Ahmadinejad deal with his biggest crisis yet?
In the face of the latest impeachment threat from Parliament, Ahmadinejad has attempted to allay the concerns of MPs, saying “There are some perverted currents in the political system, but the problems will soon be solved. I am the servant of the political system, the Revolution, and the families of the martyrs, and you should know that I will never hurt the system.” The make-up session was under full-force, but Ahmadinejad’s efforts may be too late, insufficient, or both.
Now there are reports that the Revolutionary Guard and the Intelligence Ministry have been spying on Ahmadinejad’s key adviser and potential successor, Esfandiar Mashaei. Ahmadinejad’s right-hand man and father of his son’s wife, Mashaei first upset officials when he said Iran should push “an Iranian school of thought rather than the Islamic school of thought” outside of Iran. That nationalistic attitude has not sat well with Khamenei’s supporters. Even Ahmadinejad’s spiritual adviser, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, has denounced Mashaei saying, "These people are not our comrades; we have no permanent friendship to anyone, but to those who are following Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Islam."
Other close advisers around Ahmadinejad have been affected by a flurry of arrests. Ahmadinejad’s aide, Abbas Amirifar, head of the Cultural Council, was arrested for “cooperation in the making and distribution” of a film about the upcoming return of Imam Mahdi, signaling the end of Earth. In fact, Iranian media outlets claim that nearly twenty five people close to Mashaei have been arrested for allegedly practicing “magic.”
In what seems to be a calculated pattern, the allies of Khamenei have one by one attempted to emasculate Ahmadinejad in hopes of forcing a retreat. On May 6, during Tehran’s Friday prayers, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sadigh said, “One of the ministers told me, ‘We believe that if His Excellency decrees the divorce of the president's wife, she will become haram (religiously forbidden) for him and the president will no longer be able to touch her. That is how [the extent to which] we believe in him [Khamenei].’” In a more direct challenge, Sadighi said to Ahmadinejad, “If you stand against the Supreme Leader, you will be downtrodden and humbled.” At another Friday prayer, Ahmad Khatami said, “If it was not for the Supreme Leader's support, Ahmadinejad would not have received as many votes.”
The Supreme Leader’s allies have signaled their determination to remind Ahmadinejad that Khamenei still plans to remain relevant in Iran’s political system. Ahmad Khatami, Tehran prayer leader, said, “All achievements and accomplishments of the revolution are under the auspices of his eminence,” adding, “It is not true that the supreme leader has kept away from the fray. His eminence is busy monitoring everything.”
Ahmadinejad’s formerly cozy ties with the Revolutionary Guards seem also to be eroding, meaning he now has every major official (and unofficial) branch of the government against him: the Parliament, the Supreme Leader, the Clerics, the Revolutionary Guard, and the Intelligence Ministry.
Ahmadinejad would be wise to play the part of an obedient servant to the Supreme Leader – a role that, after all, is in the job description of the Iranian President – to prevent losing all relevance in Iranian politics. But given what we’ve seen from Ahmadinejad over the years, it seems unlikely that his behavior will change overnight. This could set the stage for a political battle that may last through the end of his term and could potentially have devastating consequences for the country’s stability. Ahmadinejad is out of options. Where does he go from here? The next month should provide answers—will he continue to praise the Supreme Leader or will he move along with his staff’s own agenda?
By Kianpars, Aslan Media Columnist
Photo Credit: Shahram Sharif