x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Khamenei gives Ahmadinejad a cool shoulder

Even as Iran's president is about to be sworn in for a second term multiple fissures have emerged in the political establishment including signs of a possible rift between Mr Ahmadinejad and the supreme leader. The absence of Mr Ahmadinejad's political foes at his endorsement decree on Monday came as no surprise but he was certainly caught off guard by what looked like a cool response from the supreme leader.

In the process leading up to his being formally sworn in for a second term as Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was officially endorsed by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday as demonstrators once again took to the streets of Tehran. The endorsement decree for Mr Ahmadinejad took place without defeated presidential candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi being present, nor were former presidents Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami in attendence. If the absence of Mr Ahmadinejad's political foes came as no surprise, he was certainly caught off guard by what appeared to be a cool response from the supreme leader. "Ahmadinejad was permitted only a peck on the shoulder of Khamenei, and the supreme leader did not embrace the president as he did four years ago," The Guardian reported. "CNN contrasts the footage of the two ceremonies. "It suggests that today's fumbled shoulder kiss illustrates a rift between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad." In The New Republic, Abbas Milani described how a rift appears to have opened between the president and the conservative ranks of the political establishment. The appointment to the all important position of first deputy president of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who has been both a mentor to Mr Ahmadinejad and is also his son's father-in-law, provoked swift criticism. "Immediately after the Mashaei appointment was made public, a chorus of conservative voices demanded its repeal, claiming that Mashaei's apparent sins were unforgivable. A few months ago, he had been accused of saying Islam does not have the ability to cope with twenty-first-century problems, and that Iranians have no natural enmity against the citizens of Israel. Ahmadinejad ignored demands for firing Mashaei, defending him as one of the most pious men he has ever had the good fortune to meet. Aside from family ties, the two men share a passion for the messianic return of Shiism's Twelfth Imam. "Khamenei soon sent Ahmadinejad a hand-written note declaring the Mashaei appointment null and void. It was a Hokm-e Hokumati, the equivalent of a Papal Bull in Catholicism. Even then, Ahmadinejad chose to ignore the order for a week. The delay caused a minor rebellion in the cabinet, with several ministers, including the powerful ministers of intelligence, labor, and Islamic guidance, demanding that Ahmadinejad sack Mashaei. Instead of heeding their advice, Ahmadinejad reportedly left the cabinet meeting in anger, sending Mashaei back to chair the rest of the meeting. A few days later, he dismissed the dissenting ministers. "Of the group, the firing of Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi is the most sensitive and important, since the ministry has become a surprising weak link in the regime's apparatus of oppression. During Khatami's presidency in the mid-90s, some of the ministry's rogue elements, particularly those responsible for murder of opposition figures, were tried. Under Mohseni Ejehi, appointed by Ahmadinejad to the job in 2005, the ministry has been openly opposed to the broadcast of tortured 'confessions' of those arrested during last month's protests, all forced to admit that they had been pawns in a Western master-plan for a 'velvet revolution' in Iran. Through leaked stories and occasional comments from 'inside sources,' the intelligence ministry has been supporting the claims of the opposition - that the rebellion has been locally bred (rather than engineered by meddling foreigners), the result of perceived irregularities in the election. It is not surprising that after firing Mohseni Ejehi, Ahmadinejad went over the ministry of intelligence and said he was unhappy with their work. Even his effort to appoint one of Mohseni Ejehi's deputies as acting minister backfired when the man refused to accept the job. Ultimately, Ahmadinejad has been forced to become the acting minister himself for the rest of his term." At Tehran Bureau, Muhammad Sahimi noted that another rift to emerge is one between commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the clerics. "According to Iranian law, the head of the ministry of intelligence must be a mojtahed (an Islamic scholar), and hence, a cleric. It will be interesting to see how Ahmadinejad navigates that one - finding a qualified cleric whose first loyalty is to him and the IRGC high command. "The author's source also told him that the top commanders of the IRGC are firmly behind Ahmadinejad in his struggle to wrest full control of the government away from the clerics. But, the rank and file of the IRGC is divided into two main groups. The first group supports the reformist movement and remains silent for now (or perhaps it has been forced into silence). The second group is divided. One group is behind Ahmadinejad and the high command of the IRGC; they believe that the clerics should be purged from the government, and that Ayatollah Khamenei should be transformed into an ineffective and irrelevant figurehead. Others in the second group believe that Ayatollah Khamenei is Ma'soom (free of sin, from a religious perspective) and a deputy to Mahdi, the Shiites' hidden 12th Imam who is supposed to come back some day to rid the world of injustice and corruption. Members of this group believe that obedience to Ayatollah Khamenei is their duty. "According to the source, Hossein Saffar Harandi, minister of culture and Islamic guidance and a former officer in the IRGC, belongs to this group and was forced to resign, after he protested the appointment of Mashaei as First VP. Officially, Saffar Harandi is still part of the cabinet, because if he is formally sacked, the constitution requires Ahmadinejad to seek a vote of confidence from Majlis [parliament] since he has replaced half of his cabinet during his four-year term. Since his first term will expire in about 10 days, however, Ahmadinejad does not want the issue before Majles for a vote. "According to a second reliable source in Tehran, seven of Ahmadinejad's ministers, including Saffar Harandi and Ejehei, wrote a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei last week complaining about their boss and supporting Khamenei to sack Mashaei. It is widely believed that Ahmadinejad intends to fire the remaining five after he begins his widely disputed second term. The author already reported on two of the five ministers to be fired. "That the IRGC high command may wish to purge the government of clerics is no surprise. In addition to the fact that the IRGC did the bulk of the fighting with Iraq and eliminated the internal opposition to the political establishment in the 1980s, the IRGC has also been guarding and protecting the high-ranking clerics for the past three decades. The IRGC is therefor privy to much of their secret wheeling and dealings. The IRGC holds information on cases of corruption and nepotism among clerics over their heads like the Sword of Damocles." In The National Interest, Hossein Askari wrote: "To gauge Iran's future, it is essential to emphasise the obvious - the 'Islamic' Republic of Iran was built on velayat-e-faqih, Ayatollah Khomeini's concept of clerical oversight, which was intended to reverse Iran's drift toward secularism under the shah. "Khomeini understood that for his imprint to be accepted, it would have to show respect for centuries of Iranian history and civilization and for the traditional Shiism practiced in Iran. This meant just rule, social and economic justice, the freedom to chose rulers, the obligation to fight oppression and the glorification of martyrdom among others - something that the shah had ignored to his own peril. Khomeini knew full well, from his own experience under the shah, that Iran, unlike other countries in the region, could not be governed by force for long. As such, Khomeini adopted a religious mantle and a new constitution to bolster his legitimacy. It looks like that same mantle has now become a noose around his successor's neck. "As Khomeini was putting his views into constitutional practice, he reluctantly realised the need for a Guardian Council to vet candidates for all-important elected offices. His strong view was that the only criterion for candidacy should be total acceptance of Iran's constitution, in particular of velayat-e-faqih. He preached against oppression, because he viewed it as the issue that most undermined the shah's rule. And when it came to the selection and appointment of leaders to high office, he warned against the selection of military and security personnel. He cautioned that if this were allowed, the regime would collapse. "Upon Khomeini's death, Ayatollah Khamenei grabbed the religious mantle with support from none other than Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. It was this power grab, by a man who did not have the requisite religious credentials, that has paved the path toward the regime's breakdown in Tehran today."

pwoodward@thenational.ae