Opinion: On His Way Out
by MEA CYRUS in London
25 Sep 2010 05:53
[ comment ] There is considerable confusion as to why President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said what he did in New York, clearly suggesting that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were a devious American plot. Delivering another blow to his image in the West and unnecessarily pushing Iran further down the path of confrontation with the United States, he also did all he could to create a new atmosphere of hostility between the American and Iranian people. Indeed, Ahmadinejad has proven himself a leader who enjoys creating provocations around a wide range of issues -- the Holocaust most notoriously, until now. And this tendency to create controversy is not limited to international affairs where it might make sense to vex those whom one perceives as enemies. He acts in exactly the same manner inside Iran, as well.
For almost 30 years, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini's words showed the way in matters of national governance. The Revolution's iconic figure unreservedly ranked the Majles, the Iranian parliament, as the country's most important civil institution, responsible both for legislation and for holding the executive and judiciary branches accountable to the Constitution and the popular will. Ahmadinejad openly challenged Khomeini's view a few days before flying to New York to take part in the U.N. General Assembly, claiming precedence for himself and his administration.
He has also challenged the system's current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, by publicly refusing to follow his words (orders!) on many occasions. When Esfandiar Rahim Mashei, probably Ahmadinejad's closest political confidant, talked of friendship between Iranians and Israelis, there was a huge wave of calls for his removal. The Supreme Leader wrote a letter to Ahmadinejad asking him to remove Mashei from the vice presidency. Ahmadinejad took days to respond to and then appointed Mashei as his chief of staff, embarrassing Khamenei.
Recently, the president has embarked on a new policy of glorifying Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire in the sixth century B.C. Even his own intelligence minister publicly labeled this particular approach to nationalism a policy perpetrated by Iran's enemies. Before Ahmadinejad set off for the United States, his administration eliminated and at the same time added new days to the Iranian calendar of events. One deprecated event was the day devoted to the "Dialogue among Civilizations," introduced to the calendar to pay respect to former President Mohammad Khatami's initiative, which he happened to bring to the world's attention in a speech at the United Nations.
His behavior clearly demonstrates an abnormality in Ahmadinejad's way of thinking and the depth of the problem the Islamic Republic now faces in how to deal with him. He is losing his base among conservatives fast. There has not been a day in the past few months when he has not been strongly criticized by conservative MPs, clerics, and right-wing newspapers (notably, Kayhan on many occasions). Reformist politicians and media outlets, of course, have also spoken out -- those few that are still able. Most have been completely silenced due to harsh crackdowns comparable only to those in Burma or North Korea.
Ahmadinejad is the first Iranian president in the past 20 years to have defied Khamenei on so many occasions. Previous Iranian leaders had not questioned the Holocaust and his words about 9/11 stand in stark contrast to the fact that, as U.S. President Barack Obama noted, Iranians took to the streets in great numbers to show their grief over what happened to Americans in the terrible events of that day. Given this, the outside world would be better off not to afford Ahmadinejad what he is looking for: attention. His own best hope is to generate controversies that, supposedly, demonstrate how strong he is in dealing with so-called enemies and, more importantly, distract from realities on the ground in Iran like growing economic hardship and the political chaos of the era defined by the stolen June 2009 election and its bloody aftermath.
What Ahmadinejad has done to Iran's image in the past five years has ultimately done most to serve certain interests in Israel and the United States. With his inflammatory words about the Holocaust and now 9/11, he has made it much easier for foreign powers to put pressure on Iran, whether through sanctions or a possible military attack. Even Saddam Hussein was not that stupid.
Ahmadinejad has a rough road ahead of him. New privatization policies and the planned elimination of subsidies have shaken the country even before the latter has officially begun. There is a serious concern that the disappearance of subsidies, hitting Iranians directly in the pocketbook, will greatly magnify popular dissatisfaction. Resistance against his policies in every area from domestic to foreign -- recently, for instance, with his appointment of special diplomatic envoys outside the purview of the Foreign Ministry -- has become constant and intense. In turn, his repeated claims to widespread popularity and respect grow ever more incredible.
It is quite possible that Ahmadinejad's words and policies may ignite a grave confrontation between Iran and the outside world or between the regime and the Iranian people themselves. Some observers regard Khamenei as a relative pragmatist and not without reason. Supporting that view, he has been more vocal in criticizing the president over the past year. Ahmadinejad has paid only perfunctory notice to the Supreme Leader and stuck to his guns, refusing to select his inner circle of statesmen according to Khamenei's wishes. If this and related trends continue, they may create the internal conditions for his removal well before any American decision to intervene.
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