In a bid to divert attention from allegations that some of his allies, including his chief of staff, are involved in black magic and exorcism, the Iranian president is clamping down on divination, exorcism and 'devil worship'.
Ahmadinejad launches own attack on 'occult' in Iran
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government is seeking to divert attention from hardline rivals' allegations that some of the Iranian president's allies, including his chief of staff, are involved in black magic and exorcism.
The government is doing so by assuming the leading role in the battle against occult practices and nonconformist ideologies.
Alireza Afshar, acting interior minister in executive affairs, told Nasim Online, a news website, that the ministry had commissioned a non-governmental organisation to identify those engaged in divination and exorcism as well as "deviant schools of thought and false Gnosticism".
Under Iranian laws various kinds of occultism are punishable by fines and jail terms of up to seven years.
Occult practices such as fortune-telling, divination and black magic have always existed in certain strata of Iranian society and were largely tolerated unless individuals claimed to be victimised or defrauded.
In a later interview Mr Afshar added "devil-worshippers" as subjects of the intended crackdown. Devil-worshipper is the collective term that authorities in Iran often use to refer to underground rock bands and young people dressing unconventionally or "western-style".
A political analyst from Tehran said: "By reducing the fight against occultism to the ordinary diviners and fortune-tellers, and of course launching an attack on nonconformist youth culture, Sufi sects, [and] non-Islamic Gnostic groups such as popular Indian theosophical cults, the government can divert attention, at least for a while, from their own involvement in practice of the occult against their rivals."
Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, Mr Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, is considered the main cause of the occult brouhaha.
Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, a hardline cleric who was once thought to be Mr Ahmadinejad's mentor, recently claimed that Mr Mashaie had cast a spell on Mr Ahmadinejad. As many as 25 men associated with Mr Mashaie were arrested last month on charges of sorcery and black magic.
Hardline websites claimed one of these men, Ali Yaqubi, had gained supernatural powers by desecrating the Quran and invoking Satan and evil spirits.
Neither Mr Ahmadinejad's hardline rivals in the parliament and the judiciary nor the clergy challenge the belief in the existence of supernatural beings such as the jinn, but they claim the "deviant circle", the president's men, have been using the power of the supernatural beings towards evil ends.
"Their rivals are not less guilty of resorting to occult practices. They have their own divinators, too, and maybe even exorcists," the analyst said.
"This may well be an opportunity to threaten to expose the pro-clergy rivals' engagement in similar practices. The clerical establishment can't tolerate being marginalised by the spread of occultism of the kind the political alliance that has formed around Mr Ahmadinejad is promulgating.
"These men challenge the authority of the traditional clerics by claiming to have their own means of acquiring the truth, without any help from the clergy. The clergy has every reason to fear losing its status and becoming redundant if an alternative is found in occult practices and beliefs."