[Marxism] Ahmadinejad appeals to Green movement's base
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Apr 4 09:39:24 MDT 2013
NY Times April 3, 2013
Power Struggle Is Gripping Iran Ahead of June Election
By THOMAS ERDBRINK
TEHRAN — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not going quietly.
With only three months to go in his second and last presidential term,
he has raised a series of controversies intended, experts say, to
reshape his public image and secure the support of dissatisfied urban
Iranians for his handpicked successor, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. It is
all part of a power struggle ahead of the June election between Mr.
Ahmadinejad’s faction and a coalition of traditionalists, including many
Revolutionary Guards commanders and hard-line clerics.
With the demise of the protest movement that sprang up after the last
presidential election, in 2009, Mr. Ahmadinejad and his supporters have
emerged in the unlikely role of the opposition. They are now fighting
the traditionalists who, among other things, take a tougher line in
negotiations with the West on Iran’s nuclear program and would like to
abolish the presidency — a locus of opposition to their power.
In Iran’s complex politics, these struggles are typically waged under
the watchful eye of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei, who ultimately decides the winners and losers, carefully
balancing competing interests, to make sure no faction amasses too much
But this time, the jockeying for power is more than politics as usual.
If the president and his supporters fail, they will lose any claim to
immunity from prosecution and find themselves at the mercy not only of
the judiciary but also of the country’s security forces, state
television and influential Friday Prayer leaders, all controlled by the
Already, prosecutors have opened several files against Mr. Ahmadinejad’s
lieutenants and are publicly warning them of possible prosecution on
charges of financial corruption, mismanagement and deviating from Islam.
That is not to say that Mr. Ahmadinejad has had an epiphany and is ready
to embrace Western democracy. Nor has he renounced his Holocaust denials
and denouncements of Israel. But in recent months he has surprised his
many critics in the West by challenging his enemies, sometimes in ways
that are shockingly public.
In February, during a session of Parliament that was broadcast
nationwide, he showed a secretly taped video of a meeting between one of
his allies and Fazel Larijani, the youngest of five influential brothers
closely associated with the traditionalists, who Mr. Ahmadinejad said
was proposing fraudulent business deals.
At the funeral of Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan leader, he was
photographed embracing the former president’s mother, a display that was
denounced by the clerics, who forbid physical contact between unmarried
men and women who are not closely related. But urban Iranians, many of
whom have moved far beyond the social restrictions set by the Islamic
republic, viewed his action as a simple gesture of friendship.
Despite his early advocacy of Islam’s role in daily affairs, the
president is now positioning himself as a champion of citizens’ rights.
“He more and more resembles a normal person,” said Hamed, a 28-year-old
driver in Tehran who did not want his last name used. “He doesn’t allow
them to tell him what to do.”
In speeches, he favors the “nation” and the “people” over the “ummah,”
or community of believers, a term preferred by Iran’s clerics, who
constantly guard against any revival of pre-Islamic nationalism. He has
also said he is ready for talks with the United States, something other
Iranian leaders strongly oppose under current circumstances.
Mr. Ahmadinejad regularly brings up the topic of corruption by other
officials, and he hints that they have accumulated wealth and power
because of their positions. “Some of the relationships, which had been
formed as a result of groupings and power-mongering pursuits in the
country, have come to an end, and with the help of God will be purged
from the revolution and the holy Islamic republic,” he asserted recently.
The president has also taken to using the slogan “long live spring” in
his speeches, which some have interpreted as an allusion to the Arab
Spring uprisings. “This way of thinking and talking about ‘Human
Awakening’ is political mischief and dangerous,” one newspaper wrote in
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s maneuvering is all about his legacy, experts say, an
effort to preserve both his political power and his allies.
“In effect, the president has created a new current in Iran’s political
establishment,” said Reza Kaviani, an analyst at the Porsesh Institute,
which is aligned with Iran’s former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi
Rafsanjani, a moderate opponent of Mr. Ahmadinejad. “He has organized
himself, placed bureaucrats in key positions. He will outlive his two
terms, and so will his friends. But how he will remain and at what costs
is unclear for now.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s support of Mr. Mashaei, his spiritual mentor and the
father-in-law of his son, is a particular stick in the eye for the
conservatives, as well as a subtle appeal to more progressive Iranians.
In messages filled with poetic language, Mr. Mashaei repeatedly
propagates the importance of the nation of Iran over that of Islam.
Leading ayatollahs and commanders say that Mr. Ahmadinejad has been
“bewitched” by the tall, beardless 52-year old, whom they have called a
“Freemason,” a “foreign spy” and a “heretic.” They accuse Mr. Mashaei of
plotting to oust the generation of clerics who have ruled Iran since the
1979 Islamic Revolution and of promoting direct relations with God,
instead of through clerical intermediaries. He and his allies, they say,
are part of a “deviant” current.
In response to Mr. Ahmadinejad, several opponents have warned about
unrest and “sedition” around election time, comparable to the protests
and riots after the president’s 2009 re-election, when millions took to
the streets to dispute his victory.
“However, this time the scenario comes from figures who appear to be
loyal and hold an office in the establishment,” Avaz Heydarpour, a
lawmaker and critic of Mr. Ahmadinejad, told the Farda News Web site in
Those opposing Mr. Ahmadinejad are the same clerics and Revolutionary
Guards commanders who supported Mr. Ahmadinejad’s candidacy in 2005
because he promoted religious values. They also backed him during the
2009 protests, cracking down on the opposition with blunt force at high
The presidency has evolved over time, starting out weak in the early
years of the revolution but taking on greater importance after the
abolition of the office of prime minister in the late 1980s. Once in
office, presidents now create their own power bases, often clashing with
the very people who backed their rise to power.
“All presidents in Iran start out under the patronage of a powerful
faction,” said Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a former member of Parliament
who is critical of Mr. Ahmadinejad. “But after they gain power they
create their own circles and say they represent the people.”
The factional wrangling may well be a preview of what could unfold in
Iran over the coming months. The first critical point may come if the
Guardian Council, which vets candidates for public office, rejects Mr.
Mashaei’s candidacy. In that case, said Ehsan Rastgar, a political
scientist, “only the leader can decide.”
Ayatollah Khamenei has for now tried to calm the warring factions,
repeatedly warning that their infighting is hurting the country’s interests.
Of late, the ayatollah has allowed Mr. Ahmadinejad to score victories in
minor battles, like preventing Parliament from bringing him in for
questioning. While both factions claim to have the ayatollah’s support,
his position is unclear, and deliberately so, many Iran experts say.
If Mr. Mashaei’s candidacy is ultimately rejected by the Guardian
Council, Ayatollah Khamenei can keep the peace by issuing a decree that
would allow him to run, as he did for a reformist candidate in 2005.
“If Mr. Ahmadinejad refrains from all-out speeches with grandiose
statements following a possible disqualification of Mr. Mashaei by the
council, there is a chance the leader will allow him to run using a
state decree,” Mr. Rastgar said. “If not, we might witness unrest.”
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