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11/13/10

PERSIAN LETTERS -- Khamenei, Ahmadinejad: It's Complicated

By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL

One of the casualties of the 2009 Iranian presidential election was the seriously damaged legitimacy of the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, resulting from his endorsement of the vote amid allegations of massive fraud. His recent visit to Qom was widely seen as an attempt to regain legitimacy, strengthen his authority, and demonstrate that he is popular through the regime's propaganda machine. 

 
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, at a gathering with clerics in the holy Shi'ite city of Qom.

Since last year, some analysts and others have been questioning the reasons for Khamenei's support of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who many believes came to power in 2005 due to Khamenei's backing and whose highly disputed reelection in 2009 was sealed with Khamenei's approval. 

Hojatoleslam Eslamian, a member of the Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom who met with Khamenei during his recent trip to Qom, said in an interview with the semi-official Fars news agency that Khamenei told the members of the conservative group that Ahmadinejad has not been striving to create a "parallel administration" and added that the country's current politicians speak "the language of the establishment and the language of the revolution."

Eslamian quoted Khamenei as saying:

"In the past the enemy spoke like this, and some people tried to create such a situation in the country, where the government and the parliament are opposed to the Velayat Faghih [rule of the Supreme Leader], which is the center of the government. But this is not the case now." 

According to Eslamian's account, Khamenei added: 

"In the current situation there are differences of opinion, and I don't agree with some issues. But now when the Supreme Leader says something, the president accepts it and acts accordingly. "

Eslamian said that Khamenei provided examples of past wrongdoings of the country's senior politicians.

"Today when the president or a senior government representative travels outside the country, I have no concern. Before, I used to worry about what officials would say abroad."

Khamenei seems to be referring to former President Mohammad Khatami, who had been described in the West as Iran's Gorbachev. During his presidency, Khatami challenged the appointed bodies, like the powerful Guardian Council, and tried to improve ties with the West. Apparently, such efforts made Khamenei feel insecure and undermined. 

Khamenei recent comments suggest that, despite differences, he remains generally supportive of Ahmadinejad. At the same time, it appears that Khamenei is not totally confident in the Iranian president and behind the scenes subtly tries to weaken him.

The differences between the two seem to arise from the division of power in the Islamic Republic, where Khamenei has the last word on all state matters, including relations with the U.S. and the nuclear dossier. Yet, Ahmadinejad has been increasingly trying to take such matters into his own hands, which has spurred tensions between the two. 

An analyst, who did not want to be named, told Persian Letters that the fact that Khamenei expressed support for Ahmadinejad in Qom demonstrates how unpopular the Iranian president is among the clergy, who, the analysts says, are concerned that Ahmadinejad is undermining their power in the country's political structure.

A few days ago Khamenei himself warned publicly against those who advocate "Islam minus the clergy," which was interpreted by many as a criticism of Ahmadinejad and his controversial aide Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who have been promoting "Iranian Islam" and nationalistic themes. 

In Qom, Khamenei was quoted as saying that he opposed the Iranian doctrine which has been promoted by Ahamdinejad.

"I am against the Iranian doctrine, and I have reminded the officials about that," Khamenei said. "But my understanding is that they do not mean to orient the Iranian doctrine against Islam." 

 

Khamenei was also quoted as saying that no Iranian official has brought up the issue of Islamic principles and values at the UN as much as Ahmadinejad.

"He was the one who revived the name of the Hidden Imam and Hazrat Zahra (the daughter of Prophet Mohammad) in international bodies," Khamenei said. 

The analyst who spoke to Persian Letters explains Khamenei's strategy:

"On the one hand, Khamenei needs the clerical support for Ahmadinejad to keep the country together during these difficult days, and on the other hand, Khamenei is determined to contain the lame-duck president, whose faction might be looking for ways to stay around longer. "

An example of Khamenei's strategy, the analyst says, is the recent warning to Ahmadinejadprinted in a Revolutionary Guard's publication, which is managed by Khamenei's representatives.


Copyright (c) 2010 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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