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May 24, 2011

NPR: Political Problems Mounting For Iran’s Ahmadinejad

NPRIranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad looks to be in the most
precarious position he’s been in since his election nearly six years
ago. He’s under attack from the Parliament, the conservative press and,
most seriously of all, many of the conservative clergy who once
supported him.

Ahmadinejad has been accused
of adopting a “deviant position” and of seeking to circumvent Iran’s
clerics in matters of religion.


this photo released by an official website of the Iranian supreme
leader’s office, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves as President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad stands in the background.

In recent weeks, he tried to fire his
intelligence chief but was blocked from doing it. He has tried to
consolidate several government ministries, but the Parliament says he
can’t — it’s illegal.

Officials close to his inner circle have been arrested, and there’s a rumor his chief of staff will be arrested.

Tension With Islamic Leaders

Nader, an Iran analyst at the Rand Corp., says that the number of
supporters Ahmadinejad has within the governing system in Iran is

“There’s tension between him and
the supreme leader,” Nader says. “He doesn’t get along with Parliament.
There’s a lot of tension between him and the Guardian Council, and the
head of the Guardian Council was a strong Ahmadinejad supporter. So he
is slowly being squeezed by all the most important players in Iranian

Why all this hostility? In
essence, because Ahmadinejad has challenged Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei. Ahmadinejad and those around him have sought to portray the
president as pre-eminent in matters of both religion and policy.

He’s trying to create new constituencies, says Trita Parsi, the director of the National Iranian American Council.


Many in Iran believed Ahmadinejad wanted his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, to succeed him as president.

“He’s been trying to play the Persian
nationalist card, for instance, which is very, very popular in Iran,
particularly among those who despise the Islamic Republic,” Parsi says.
“Whether he will be successful in that, of course, is a different
matter. But it shows that he is himself aware that he needs to have a
stronger platform and constituency in order to continue this effort of

Keeping Power Beyond 2013

The goal appears to be to extend Ahmadinejad’s political power beyond 2013, when his second and final term as president expires.

accomplish this, he had taken some very risky steps. He has set in
motion new economic policies to eliminate many of the subsidies that for
years have provided cheap gasoline, electricity, bread, rice and other
basic staples.

At the same time, he has
initiated cash payments to many in Iran to ease the economic pain, says
Hossein Askari, an expert on Iran’s economy at George Washington

“Nobody else had the courage to
do this,” Askari says. “He jumped on it because I think he saw this as a
way to become even more of a populist. He wanted to target the cash
payments to the poor.”

All this is designed
with a clear political purpose in mind, and many in Iran believed the
goal was to put forward his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, as
the presidential candidate to succeed him, says Nader of Rand.

is not a man who is going to give up power easily, and since he can’t
run for another term, he wants to use Mashaei as basically his proxy,”
Nader says.

Askari agrees, saying Ahmadinejad is “trying to make sure that he is the power behind the throne when the two years are up.”

Clashes With Khamenei

it’s been a dangerous gambit, and it’s brought him into direct conflict
with Khamenei, who wields ultimate power in the Islamic Republic. So
far in all the head-to-head clashes that have taken place recently,
Khamenei has come out the winner.

effectively conceded that in a recent television interview, in which he
appeared contrite. He told the national television audience that it is
his duty to defend both the dear leader and his high status.

But that appearance has done nothing to calm the storm of criticism, says Parsi of the National Iranian American Council.

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the Guardian Council, delivers a sermon in Tehran in July 2009.

“If you’re an Islamic Republic and you have
people who may run for president say that Iran is more important than
Islam, then that is a fundamental challenge to the very principle that
[the] Islamic Republic is resting on,” Parsi says.

A Weakened Iran?

battle for control of Iran’s government shows no sign of abating, and
as it intensifies, it only seems to weaken Iran further, Parsi says.

are no good guys in this fight, but there can be a good outcome if this
further weakens them and enables the political spectrum in Iran to
expand rather than shrink, which is exactly what it’s been doing in the
last 10 years,” Parsi says.

The latest slap
in the face for Ahmadinejad occurred when he appointed himself interim
head of the Oil Ministry, with its multibillion-dollar budget. The
rotating chair of the oil cartel OPEC is in Iran’s hands right now, and
he was expected to lead its meeting next month.

Not going to happen, declared the clergy-dominated Guardian Council a couple of days ago — that’s illegal.




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