Iranian presidential elections in June 2005 brought a surprise
victory to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and an end to an uncertain era
of reform in the Islamic theocracy. Ahmadinejad, the conservative
mayor of Tehran, won 62 percent of the vote in a run-off election
with the favored candidate and a former president Ali Akbar Hashemi
is the beginning of a new movement," Ahmadinejad said after casting
Ahmadinejad was a little-known politician until Tehran's conservative
city council appointed him mayor in 2003. In office, he gained
a reputation for rolling back reforms enacted by moderate and
reformist officials, moving to close fast-food restaurants, instituting
separate elevators for men and women in municipal offices, and
requiring male city employees to have beards and wear long sleeves.
During his presidential campaign, Ahmadinejad was backed by powerful
conservatives and second-generation revolutionaries known as the
Abadgaran, or Developers, who have a strong influence in the Iranian
parliament. Ahmadinejad also is widely believed to have the unspoken
endorsement of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hoseini Khamenei.
Ahmadinejad took office Aug. 6, 2005, replacing reformist Mohammad
Khatami who was elected by an overwhelming majority in 1997 and
2001, but whose power to follow through with reforms was severely
checked by the supreme leader and the Guardian Council.
In Iran's complicated hybrid government, the supreme leader,
not the president, controls the military and makes final decisions
on security matters. The structure grants few exclusive powers
to the president, the most influential being his appointment of
a 21-member cabinet that must be confirmed by the parliament.
Ahmadinejad nominated his cabinet in June but the parliament,
or majlis, withheld votes of confidence from four candidates close
to Ahmadinejad, signaling possible hesitations about the new president
within his own government.
Ahmadinejad's presidency got off to a rocky start after allegations
surfaced that he participated in the 1979 student-led hostage
crisis at the American Embassy in Tehran that led to an end of
U.S.-Iranian diplomatic ties and strict sanctions against Iran.
According to Aljazeera.net, an Arab news Web site, Ahmadinejad
joined the ultraconservative faction of the Office for Strengthening
Unity, the radical student group responsible for the U.S. Embassy
hostage crisis. The site reported that Ahmadinejad attended planning
meetings for takeover and may have lobbied for a simultaneous
takeover of the Soviet Embassy. Ahmadinejad has denied involvement
in the hostage crisis.
The new president also took office as Iran faced increased suspicion
over its uranium enrichment program that some fear could be used
to manufacture nuclear weapons. Nuclear talks with France, Britain
and Germany have stalled and in September, the U.N. nuclear watchdog
group, the International Atomic Energy Agency, voted to refer
Iran to the Security Council for violating the nuclear nonproliferation
certainly has adopted a much harder line on these negotiations
and was critical of them in the past. But this is such an important
issue that I think the major decisions will be made at the level
of the supreme leadership rather than at his level," Shaul Bakhash,
a history professor at George Mason University and a former journalist
in Iran, told the NewsHour.
While Ahmadinejad may have limited control within the Iranian
government, foreign officials take his statements more seriously.
In September 2005, he delivered a fervent anti-American speech
at a U.N. summit in New York. The following month, Ahmadinejad
said at a student program that Israel should be "wiped off the
map" evoking sharp criticism from world leaders, including a unanimous
condemnation from the U.N. Security Council.
"What we see with Ahmadinejad is a reversion to the kind of rhetoric
and language that Iran used publicly in the past but did not during,
say, the Khatami presidency," said Bakhash. "He is a threat not
in the sense that Iran is going to attack the West but clearly
he has exacerbated relations in a very severe way between Iran
and the Europeans and the West."
On June 12, 2009, controversy erupted once again when Ahmadinejad
was re-elected by a landslide 62.6 percent of the vote. His primary
challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, charged massive fraud as his
supporters took to the streets of Tehran protesting the election
Despite the massive protests, which recalled the 1979 Islamic
Revolution, Iran's powerful Guardian Council announced about a
week and a half later that it found "no major fraud" in the vote.
Ahmadinejad was born in 1956 in Garmsar, a neighborhood southeast
of Tehran, as the fourth of seven children born to a blacksmith.
He holds a Ph.D. in engineering and traffic transportation planning
from Tehran's University of Science and Technology. He is the
first non-cleric to be elected president of Iran in 24 years.
After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Ahmadinejad voluntarily
joined the Revolutionary Guard. He is also reported to have served
in covert operations during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.