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Tensions Flare Between Supporters of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei

29 May 2011 17:30Comments

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Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

The first direct confrontation between supporters of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been reported in Shiraz. The acting provincial governor general of Fars province was sacked for criticizing the "perverted group," the hardliners' code name for the inner circle of Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahimi Mashaei.

Farhad Sajjadi was appointed by the interior ministry as the new acting governor. Sajjadi was the deputy governor general for planning. Before holding that post, he was the chancellor of a campus of the Islamic Azad University.

The previous acting governor general, Abdollah Hosseini, a Khamenei supporter, had lasted only four days. Since his appointment by Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, Minister of Interior, he had been pressured to resign. But, he had reportedly told Mashaei, "I will not resign and will not be a 'yes sir' man either. If you do not like it, fire me."

He was fired, but the governor's office announced that he had resigned. The news apparently angered supporters of Khamenei and prompted them to gather at the governor's office, where they started shouting slogans against Mashaei, such as, "Death to Mashaei," and "Mashaei, have some shame and leave Fars [province] alone." They then installed a lock on the doors of the building and announced that they would return tomorrow [Saturday May 28]. On Saturday, the university branch of Basij surrounded the governor's office and began shouting slogans against the "perverted group."

After the sudden change in leadership, Ayatollah Asadollah Imani, who is Khamenei's representative in Fars Province, issued an angry statement, denouncing the move. "My question for the Minister of Interior is this: How do you appoint someone as acting governor general, and then nullify your own order [for the appointment] and appoint someone else after only a few hours?"

Ali Saeedi, Ayatollah Khamenei's representative to the Revolutionary Guards, severely criticized Ahmadinejad in an interview. Here's an excerpt:


This [Ahmadinejad] government has done some good work, but unfortunately it has been afflicted with a great calamity, which is that it has been penetrated by a "perverted group," which has created the present conditions. If the head of a branch of the government, such as the legislative or judiciary branch, crosses a red line or violates a principle, the Supreme Leader will issue a warning, and if it's not effective, he will confront [the situation].... It is really surprising that those who came to power with slogans against aristocracy have created such an aristocracy in its shadow. Is it not a strange phenomenon, if a thesis becomes its own anti-thesis? The view of His Excellency [Khamenei] was that Ahmadinejad should not appoint the closest person to himself [Mashaei] as the First Vice President. But Ahmadinejad accepted the view with some delay and then granted him even more power. Then, it was decided [by Ahmadinrjad] to merge the Organization for Cultural Heritage [and Tourism] with that of the Haj [pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia], but His Execellency intervened and prevented it. The same Ahmadinejad who came to power with the slogan of "being affectionate," sacked the [former] foreign minister [Manouchehr Mottaki] while he was on a foreign mission. Is this being affectionate? Is confronting the Minister of Intelligence [Heydar Moslehi] in the worst possible way [a sign of] affection? Is firing the Minister of Oil, who was to take over the presidency of OPEC [Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] affection? Those elements [within the administration] who do such things [as exorcism and involvement with djjins] are truly corrupt because they are haraam [forbidden] in Islam...

Ali Banaei, a deputy from Qom in the Majles, said that in the budget for the current Iranian year [that began on March 21], Ahmadinejad eliminated the necessary budget for Khamenei's trip to Qom.

Banaei said that the budget for last year was about $130 million, but Ahmadinejad eliminated it from this year's budget. "What is certain is that by eliminating the budget, injustice has been done to the people of Qom," he said.

In a speech to the Coordination Council of the Principlists of Kerman Province, the hardline managing editor of Kayhan, Hossein Shariatmadari said,

What is happening today is more complex than the 88 "sedition" [the Green Movement that began in 2009]. Despite all the good work that the government has done, it has developed an angle [with Khamenei's views] because a perverted group is influential in decision making, appointments and firings. It does not consider itself responsible toward anybody and is supported by the President. Even if we [say that] we have nothing to do with this group, they say that they have things to do with us. They are predicting that in the next Majles elections [to be held on March 3, 2012], they will have at least 150 deputies, which will enable them to take off for the presidential elections [in 2013], although they have concluded that Mashaei cannot get the [necessary] votes and [therefore] they are searching for another candidate.

Regarding the confrontation with Khamenei over the Moslehi fiasco, Shariatmadari said, "They [Mashaei group] did not think that His Execellency would resist [firing Moslehi]. They thought that due to the popularity of Dr. Ahmadinejad, people will come out onto the streets [to demonstrate in their support], and did not think that the [recent] arrests [of some members of the group] will occur.

Hassan Sobhani-nia, a Majles deputy from Neishabour, said on Friday, May 27, that several members of the "perverted group" have been arrested and are being interrogated. "Given the connections that this group has, the trust [of some people] that it has attracted, and its economic resources, this group is preparing itself for the next Majles elections," he surmised.

In a speech, Mahmoud Nabavian, a disciple of reactionary cleric Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdiand (former spiritual advisor to Ahmadinejad), strongly attacked the President, Mashaei, and their group. The speech was apparently delivered when Ahmadinejad was staying home and refusing to attend to his duties. In the speech, which has just been recently publicized, Nabavian makes strong charges against the group:

I swear to God that only now are we recognizing that they [the group] do not believe in Velaayat-e Faghih, not even a bit. In the name of Imam-e Zaman [Imam Mahdi], they want to eliminate the deputy to Imam-e Zaman [Khamenei]. Do you understand this? Mr. Mashaei's team is very dangerous. We should be highly alert. They [Mashaei's team] say that we should not listen to [obey] Sir [Khamenei]. Mr. Ahmadinejad, we did not expect you to stay home to protest the order of of the Supreme Leader! The corruption that is seen in Ahmadinejad is due to Mashaei. Otherwise, he is a good man. In a private meeting I told Ahmadinejad that I have a complaint about [what Mashaei had said regarding Israel]. Ahmadinejad responded, "Mashaei is right [that the people of Iran and Israel can be friends]." I did not say anything out of respect for the Supreme Leader. Mr. Mesbah [Yazdi] met with His Excellency. He [Khamenei] told him, "Whatever you said [about Mashaei and Ahmadinejad] turned out to be correct." He [Mesbah] responded, "Yes, cats are very good at smelling things."

First Deputy Majles Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar said, "The confrontation between Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader was so deep that Ahmadinejad was contemplating resignation, but in the final analysis he decided to stay on. Our thinking was that His Excellency was willing to pay a heavy price to end the tenth administration [Ahmadinejad's], but we realized that he does not wish something unusual to happen, and wishes the administration to end normally [in 2013]." Bahonar added, "The next important point is about the recent firings [of several ministers] and mergers [of eight ministries into four]. Some people believe that these should be analyzed the same [as the Moslehi affair]. For example, [Minister of Oil] Mr. [Masoud] Mir Kazemi was trying to be both supportive of the president and very high officials [Khamenei]. [Minister of Industries and Mines] Mr. [Ali Akbar] Mehrabian was also involved in infighting with Mashaei when he was with Saipa [car manufacturers]. Any way, there were debates about how the mergers should take place and whether the government can set up new ministries. Thus, we asked the Guardian Council, the only organ that can interpret the constitution, and the council said that the founding of new ministries must be approved by the Majles, and even if a minister had already received vote of confidence for his previous post, he still needs to receive the same in the new post [as the minister of newly founded ministries].

"But there were still arguments over it. Then there was a meeting of the heads of the three branches of the political system with the Supreme Leader in which the view of the Guardian Council [regarding the mergers] was brought up. Some parts of the meeting were depressing. The argument of Mr. Ahmadinejad was about the council's view [which he had rejected]. His Excellency [Khamenei] said that the interpretation of the Guardian Council and its view must be implemented. He also said that even if there is debate over it, it will have no effect because the view of the Guardian Council must be executed. Then, the president asked [Khamenei], 'Is this an order?' and he responded this is a meeting of the heads of the system. One job of the Leader is to monitor the relations between the heads of the three branches. But, this view is the view of the law, not an order by the Supreme Leader," Bahonar continued.

Bahonar's recounting of the meeting between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei confirms the previous reports that the former had offered to resign because he did not want to work with Moslehi, but ultimately changed his mind.

Mahmoud Jafari, who is in charge of supervising the completion of the Bushehr light-water nuclear reactor and bringing it online, said that the project is being completed and there will soon be a celebration in Bushehr. He added, "We are prepared for any problem or accident. Taking care of any emergency inside the nuclear power plant is the responsibly of the plant itself, and the ministry of interior is in charge of addressing any problem outside the plant. The probability of any accident inside the plant is very low, but in accordance with international agreements we must be prepared even for an event with very small chance of happening.... The nuclear plant has been constructed in the best area of Bushehr peninsula, and the direction of wind is not in the direction of the city itself 90 percent of the time. Thus, winds cannot bring any contamination to the city."

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that the production of a nuclear bomb would be a strategic mistake for Iran, which we will not commit. He added, "The sanctions and the Stuxnet virus failed to slow down Iran's nuclear program. You can be sure that the sanctions have no effect on the program. You can be 100 percent sure." He also explained why Iran is not interested in a nuclear bomb by saying, "Producing the bomb will create an undesirable situation for us in any negotiation with the United States and other countries that are armed with nuclear weapons. These are the countries that have many more bombs [than Iran can produce]."

Sayyed Jasem Sae'di, a member of the Majles energy commission, said that, "Ahmadinejad being acting minister of oil is both against religion and against the law." Sae'di said that he holds this view based on the ruling of the Guardian Council that Ahmadinejad cannot appoint himself as the acting oil minister. "Every hour that passes with Ahmadinejad as the acting oil minister, there are more disruptions in the oil industry," he said.

Mehdi Kouchakzadeh, a hardline Majles deputy, and a fierce supporter of Ahmadinejad, has apparently switched sides and joined his critics. Tamasha News, a website that supports Ahmadinejad and Mashaei, said that Kouchakzadeh has criticized Ahmadinejad for using the word "Iran" too many times in his speeches, and considers it as a perversion. The website quoted "an informed source" as saying, "If talking about Iran is perversion, we are perverted and are proud of it. Gradually, and as expected, the true supporters and those who want their share [of power and wealth] are becoming transparent. We hope that this purification process will increase the government's speed in serving the people." Kouchakzadeh has always been considered a hardliner's hardliner. In the past, he has even physically attacked some critics of Ahmadinejad in the Majles.

Gholam-Reza Mesbahi Moghaddam, secretary of the economic commission of Majles, said that the cash handouts in lieu of subsidies for basic food and energy needs are intended to prevent unhappiness among the people, but will not continue for long. He said that according to the law governing the elimination of subsidies, the cash handouts will end after five years.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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