Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Viktor Drachev/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images
Updated: Sept. 24, 2012

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the president of Iran. Since taking office in 2005,  he has been a divisive figure in world affairs, cheering on the development of Iran’s nuclear program despite orders from the United Nations Security Council to halt it, calling for Israel to be “wiped off the map’' and calling the Holocaust “a myth.” He was sworn in for a second term in August 2009 after disputed election results set off a bloody government crackdown against street protesters.
Mr. Ahmadinejad has held onto power with the support of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, while the country’s police, the Revolutionary Guards and militias cracked down on the opposition, arresting large numbers of their leaders and attacking demonstrators.
By the summer of 2010, Mr. Ahmadinejad appeared to have stamped out public displays of opposition, and seemed to be challenging the older conservative imams who had been the guardians of public authority since the 1979 revolution. He attempted to build his own patronage system and source of financing, separate from the intelligence network loyal to Mr. Khamenei, to elect candidates in the 2012 parliamentary elections and, most important, in the 2013 presidential race.
But Mr. Ahmadinejad began to run afoul of the supreme leader by challenging the authority of the clergy and trying to recast the presidency into a more powerful post that could operate independently of — and in some cases in contradiction to — Mr. Khamenei. The strains between Mr. Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei spilled into more public view in 2011.
At the end of October, Mr. Khamenei made a proposal to eliminate the position of president, highlighting a bitter struggle within the country’s political elite, as he and his allies continued to try to undercut Mr. Ahmadinejad’s power.
On March 2, 2012, coinciding with global concern over Iran’s nuclear program and growing speculation about whether Israel would launch a military strike against Tehran’s nuclear facilities, Iran held its first parliamentary elections since the government crackdown in 2009.
Two days later, with 90 percent of the country’s districts counted, it appeared that Mr. Khameini had gained the ironclad majority he needed not just to bring President Ahmadinejad to heel, but to eliminate his position entirely.
Mr. Khamenei was not expected to eliminate the presidency until Mr. Ahmadinejad’s second term expires in June 2013. But the parliamentary vote makes the president more of a lame duck, accountable to a parliament dominated by his conservative adversaries.
Mr. Ahmadinejad was still capable of seizing attention with provocative remarks. The yearly gathering of heads of state at the United Nations has been a favorite stage; upon arriving in New York for the September 2012 session he told reporters that Israelis had no historical roots in the Middle East and that the existence of Israel was just a passing phase in the region’s long history.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s handling of the economy has been largely unpopular, and in late 2011 Iran’s currency, the rial, fell sharply as sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe over Iran’s nuclear program began to bite. In January 2012, Mr. Ahmadinejad called for a resumption of nuclear talks.

A Power Struggle Before the Elections
Iran experts say that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s faction had been weakened before the parliamentary elections in 2012, and that a more pliant figure would likely be favored by conservative religious leaders for the next presidential election in 2013.
He had always rattled the conservatives around Ayatollah Khamenei with his messianic rhetoric and presumptions of religious authority, redistributive economic policies and an appetite to expand his own power at the expense of the clerics.
After the supreme leader helped him crush the reform movement after the 2009 elections, Mr. Ahmadinejad set about trying to establish his own authority.
But in the Iranian system, the supreme leader has final say over all matters of religion and state, and has control over the most delicate issues, like the nuclear file.
His battle with the supreme leader began in April 2011 when Mr. Ahmadinejad crossed a line by openly feuding with Mr. Khamenei — who has the final word in affairs of state — over cabinet appointments. Mr. Ahmadinejad tried to dismiss the head of the intelligence ministry, the powerful government branch that exerts widespread control over domestic life, and Mr. Khamenei Khamenei reversed the decision, a sign that he would retain control over the powerful ministry.
Mr. Ahmadinejad then engaged in a visible fit of pique. In May, he tried to take over the oil ministry and project himself on the world stage at a meeting in Vienna. But he soon reversed himself, a step that suggested that his ability to exert independent power in either domestic or foreign affairs was diminishing. More openly, Web sites supportive of the president were shut down, and he found himself heckled at public speeches.
In September, conservatives accused a financier close to Mr. Ahmadinejad along with his right-hand man, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, of perpetrating a record $2.6 billion bank fraud, the largest in Iran’s contemporary history. Mr. Ahmadinejad had groomed Mr. Mashaei to succeed him as president in 2013, until the internal battle with Ayatollah Khamenei led to the arrests of several of their associates and eliminated talk of such a succession.
Mr. Ahmadinejad asked the chief of the judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani — the same powerful conservative who squashed the prisoners’ release — for an “honest” investigation of the bank fraud.
But, in an extraordinary departure, Iranian state television — also controlled by the conservatives — did not broadcast the speech. It was shown only on the Web site of the Iranian presidency, though state news agencies covered it.

An Unprecedented Interrogation
On March 14, 2012, lawmakers subjected Mr. Ahmadinejad to an unprecedented interrogation, questioning his economic policies, cabinet appointments and tense relationship with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a publicly broadcast parliamentary session that seemed intended to humiliate the president in the final few years of his tenure.
The hourlong interrogation, carried live on Iran state radio, was the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that an Iranian president had been required to appear before lawmakers to answer their questions.
The session itself seemed to reflect the emboldened position of Ayatollah Khamenei in his power struggle with Mr. Ahmadinejad, a former ally, who had irritated the supreme leader and alienated many members of the overwhelmingly conservative Parliament.
Undaunted, Mr. Ahmadinejad declared at the outset that he did not want to attend, and he responded to the questions evasively, dismissively and sometimes sarcastically, offending the interrogators and leading some to call for his impeachment. At the least, the session amounted to an unusual public airing of the tensions in Iranian politics at a time when the country was straining under major outside pressure.
Analysts of Iranian politics said it was highly unlikely that Mr. Ahmadinejad would be impeached, a prospect the Parliament has often threatened. But some said the interrogation further diminished the prospects that he would be able to cultivate a protégé to run in the 2013 presidential elections or even exert any political influence after his term expires. Such an outcome was already in doubt from the results of the March 2 parliamentary elections, in which his supporters lost many seats to rival conservatives.

A Voice of Defiance
After taking office in 2005, Mr. Ahmadinejad soon became known on the international stage as the face of Iran’s defiance over its nuclear program and hostility toward Israel. He shocked the world when he called the Holocaust a “myth” and repeated an old slogan from the early days of the 1979 revolution, saying “Israel must be wiped off the map.”
Following his election, Iran broke the United Nations’ nuclear agency seals on its nuclear facility and resumed sensitive enrichment activities — a process that can be used for making nuclear bombs or nuclear fuel. Iran contends that its program is peaceful and that it merely wants to produce fuel for its nuclear power plants. But because of secretive past activities, the United States and some European countries accuse Iran of having a clandestine weapons program. The country has been the target of three sets of United Nations Security Council sanctions over its program.
In late November 2009, Mr. Ahmadinejad said his cabinet would also order a study of what it would take for Iran to further enrich its existing stockpile of nuclear fuel for use in a medical reactor — rather than rely on Russia or another nation, as agreed to in an earlier tentative deal. Iran refused to comply with a United Nations nuclear agency demand to cease work on a once-secret nuclear fuel enrichment plant, and escalated the confrontation by declaring it would construct 10 more such plants.

A Challenge From Traditional Conservatives
After a year in which outpourings of public anger failed to effect tangible change, the dust settled in 2010 to once again reveal a more basic split within Iran’s political elite. Having successfully suppressed the opposition uprising that followed the disputed presidential election, Mr. Ahmadinejad and his supporters renewed their efforts to marginalize another rival group — Iran‘s traditional conservatives.
The rift was partly a generational one, with Mr. Ahmadinejad leading a combative cohort of conservatives supported by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards. On the other side is an older generation of leaders who derive their authority from their links to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Reformist lawmakers represent a largely impotent minority in the Parliament.
Older conservatives, including clerics, lawmakers and leaders of the bazaar, which is the center of Iran’s ancient system of trade and commerce, had long questioned Mr. Ahmadinejad’s competence and even accused his ministers of corruption. But in 2010 they went further, accusing Mr. Ahmadinejad’s faction of distorting the principles of the Islamic Revolution and following a messianic cult that rejects the intermediary role of the clergy.
To some, those criticisms amounted to a veiled plea by the old-line conservatives to Ayatollah Khamenei to rein in the president or even to remove him.

The 2009 Campaign
During the campaign, Mir Hussein Moussavi, a former prime minister whose moderate views won him support from other reformers in Iran — including former President Mohammad Khatami — had positioned himself as the prime challenger. Public rallies in support of the reformist candidate were of unexpected size and enthusiasm. The leading candidates exchanged accusations that were extraordinarily fierce for Iranian politics.
In the tumultuous aftermath of the election, it became clear that Mr. Ahmadinejad had the full support of Mr. Khamenei. While the Khamenei and Ahmadinejad camps have had their differences, they share the messianic vision that the supreme leader is a surrogate for the Hidden Imam, who will return to usher in a golden age of Islamic rule. On a more practical level, both camps would like to eliminate the former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, as a serious contender for supreme leader when Ayatollah Khamenei dies. Finally, they both believe in a confrontational foreign policy.
The crisis over the presidential vote demonstrated how firmly Mr. Ahmadinejad has grasped the levers of power within a government that is increasingly dominated by its security forces. His allies, many of them former midlevel Revolutionary Guard officers in their 50s, run the Interior, Intelligence and Justice Ministries. They also include the commander of the Basij popular militia, the head of the National Security Council and the head of state-run broadcasting.

From Humble Origins
During the presidential campaign of 2005, Mr. Khamenei endorsed Mr. Ahmadinejad because the humble son of a blacksmith appeared to be not only a hard-line conservative, but a figure lacking his own base of support. But Mr. Ahmadinejad entered the presidency with a coterie of veterans and ideologues shaped by the Iran-Iraq war who were conservative, religious, largely populist and disdainful of the old guard from the 1979 revolution.
Mr. Ahmadinejad was elected president of Iran in June 2005 on a mandate to distribute the country’s growing oil income among the poor. He was an unknown figure in the country’s politics who had served as Tehran’s mayor for only two years and earlier as a provincial governor for four years. But with the support of the country’s religious and military circles — who had been frustrated with the policies of his moderate predecessor, Mohammad Khatami — Mr. Ahmadinejad appealed to a large rural constituency who voted for him in hope for economic change.

Headlines Around the Web

Fox News Channel
September 26, 2012
Egypt's Morsi to make UN debut as Iran's Ahmadinejad prepares for last speech at General Assembly

September 26, 2012
Ahmadinejad pushes new world order

Christian Science Monitor
September 26, 2012
Ahmadinejad: Iran 'could have behaved better,' IAEA has 'double standards'

The Associated Press
September 26, 2012
AP Interview: Ahmadinejad Pushes New World Order

National Journal
September 26, 2012
Iran's Ahmadinejad Won't Back Down from Harsh Rhetoric on Israel

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