President carried away from reality


Published in “Sueddeutsche Zeitung”, August 20, 2009

President carried away from reality: Ahmadinejad loses political power and strives for higher goals
By Rudolph Chimelli, Süddeutsche Zeitung

Even in times of stability the Islamic Republic of Iran was not a monolith of power. For years, conservatives and reformers, radicals and pragmatists have been struggling for influence and for the details of national policy-making. But now, the conflict about the reelection of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is dividing the ruling elite so deeply that the head of government had greatest difficulty to submit his cabinet list in due time. In fact, only 18 out of 21 departments have been assigned.

It is still written in the stars how many of the proposed cabinet members will be approved by parliament. The debate is only to start on coming Sunday. After six names had been released in advance, the influential conservative deputy Ahmad Tavakoli said: “Some of these people do not have a single day of government experience.” Only in the last hour did it emerge that Ahmadinejad’s preferred candidate Said Jalili, a loyal apparatchik, would not become foreign minister. Instead the more affable Manouchehr Mottaki will retain his post. With his government formation, the president wants to reconstruct his own power base in the first place. For this he must stand up to supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who in turn fills key positions with his loyals. This has been the case for the new judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani, a brother of parliament chairman Ali Larijani. Both are reliable opponents of Ahmadinejad. When the latter wanted to name his friend and relative Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as vice president, Khamenei put his foot down on it. The president reacted by appointing the reject as his advisor and head of office. Since then, the rivalry between the two heads of the conservative camp is visible to everyone.

Ahmadinejad also dismissed the intelligence minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i and several top officials of the ministry. They had rejected in a report to Khamenei the claim that the protests after the disputed election had been staged by foreign governments. The new intelligence minister Heidar Moslehi is loyal to the president. However, his dismissed predecessor has not been disabled, but will become chief prosecutor.

When the former defense minister Mustafa Mohammad Najjar appeared at Ahmadinejad’s swearing-in ceremony in civilian clothes, insiders already suspected that he would switch to the interior ministry. He is a general who, like the President, comes from the Revolutionary Guard, speaks fluent Arabic, assisted in the establishment of Lebanese Hezbollah, often visited Russia for arms purchases and is considered by Pasdaran commanders as a man of the hardest line. Only when the full cabinet list is published will the whole weight of the Pasdaran in the government become visible.

Apart from these staffing issues, Ahmadinejad is striving for higher legitimacy – beyond Khamenei. On each occasion, the president worships the cult of the Twelfth Imam who, according to Shia belief, was carried away 1200 years ago and will return at the end of time as the Mahdi. This is to happen quite soon, as constantly hinted at by Ahmadinejad and his religious mentor Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi. During cabinet meetings, the president always keeps one seat free for the Mahdi. He recently made large water trucks spray rose water on the reconstructed mosque of the Mahdi in Qom. There is talk about a project to build a direct road from Qom to Samarra in Iraq, the place where the Imam is believed to have disappeared. The lesson of all these ceremonies is: one who is so closely connected to the Lord need not necessarily answer to his representative Khamenei.


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