x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Iranian president in intensive care

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has not been seen in public for days, has fallen ill because of his heavy workload.

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, greets his supporters during a religious ceremony marking the death of the Shiite Saint Jaafar Sadeq in Tehran on Oct 25 2008.
The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, greets his supporters during a religious ceremony marking the death of the Shiite Saint Jaafar Sadeq in Tehran on Oct 25 2008.

He is in better shape than most of his ministers. But like any president who slogs for more than 20 hours a day in the service of his people, the man can sometimes be laid low by exhaustion - and often needs to be checked into intensive care for plummeting blood pressure. So proclaimed members of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government, who went to great lengths yesterday to scotch rumours that the president may have a more serious ailment. The startling medical revelations came as questions began circulating over Mr Ahmadinejad's health, with the Iranian leader not seen in public since last Tuesday. Certainly, his spin masters said, he would be up to fighting for re-election next June. But with more frankness than Mr Ahmadinejad might appreciate, his culture minister divulged that the hyper-energetic president, who has cultivated a confrontational image, was often hospitalised for fatigue. "He is in good shape and better than me," Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi loyally told reporters when asked if the 52-year-old president was unwell. But, he conceded that because of blood "pressure dropping, going to the ICU and receiving intravenous [treatment] has happened to him before and does happen". He added: "Because of overwork it happens to him a lot." Mr Harandi declared proudly that Mr Ahmadinejad often puts in 21-hour days with no rest. That would mean the firebrand president enjoys even less sleep than the four hours a night the redoubtable Margaret Thatcher permitted herself as Britain's prime minister. An equally candid medical bulletin from another of the president's close associates on Saturday suggested Mr Ahmadinejad was still laid low by his official exertions. "The president will eventually heal and continue his job," Mohammad Ismail Kowsari, a parliamentary deputy, told Iran's official news agency. "Every human being can face exhaustion under such a workload." An Iranian news website associated with one of the president's conservative rivals reported last week that Mr Ahmadinejad suffered a bout of listlessness caused by low blood pressure last May that forced him to cancel several engagements over a three-week period. Officials at the time blamed an overflowing diary for the sudden cancellations. Mr Kowsari accused the president's opponents of using his exhaustion as an excuse to spread rumours about whether he will run for a second four-year term in elections set for next June. "Those who use such a natural issue for psychological warfare will fail to gain support in public opinion," he insisted. Mr Kowsari has witnessed the president's insatiable appetite for work. He accompanied Mr Ahmadinejad to the UN General Assembly in New York last month where, as in previous years, the Iranian leader had arranged a packed and exhausting itinerary. At home, Mr Ahmadinejad burnishes his image as a champion of the rural poor by making regular, gruelling tours of Iran's far-flung provinces to deliver public speeches, meet ordinary people and dispense largesse. His schedule allows little time for exercise: he was a keen football player in his youth, but is now an armchair fan only. But Mr Ahmadinejad will need to make a vigorous return to public life soon to convince sceptical Iranians of his sprightliness. They will give at least as much credence to the rumour mill as to official reports on his health. State television said he had attended a funeral ceremony on Saturday for the recently discovered remains of soldiers from the eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s but broadcast no footage of him. The Iranian president has faced a particularly stressful few weeks with a slew of bad news on the economic front just as he prepares to launch his bid for a second four-year term. His expansionist policies are blamed for spiralling inflation, which now stands at nearly 30 per cent. Unemployment is rising and the price of oil has more than halved since July's record high of US$147 (Dh540) a barrel, slashing revenues he was expected to funnel to the poor in an attempt to win votes. He is also facing embarrassing calls for the resignation of his interior minister, Ali Kordan, who told parliamentarians he had an honorary degree from Oxford University that was revealed to be bogus. Shahab, the news website that reported Mr Ahmadinejad was incapacitated in May, declared he should not stand for re-election unless his camp removed doubts about his health. The suggestion has prompted speculation that rival hardliners bracing to run against him hope Mr Ahmadinejad will use ill health as a face-saving excuse to stand aside. If he refuses to do so, they could attempt to undermine his candidacy by amplifying concern about his physical ability to manage the country at a time of acute challenges at home and abroad. Western capitals will scrutinise further reports and rumours about his health. Washington, with Barack Obama as president, would find it easier to engage with Iran if one of Mr Ahmadinejad's pragmatic conservative rivals takes the helm in Tehran, analysts say. Intimations of his mortality, however, will be treated gingerly by foreign embassies in Tehran. For more than a decade rumours of ill health have dogged Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's long-serving, 69-year-old supreme leader, who has overall say on Iran's nuclear and foreign policy and commands his country's armed forces. There were excitable reports on the internet in January last year that he had died of prostate cancer or suffered a fatal cerebral stroke. But within days the ayatollah, a keen mountain trekker in his youth, made a televised public appearance - looking in vigorously good health. mtheodoulou@thenational.ae