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Mahmoud's friends, enemies and the iditots in between

31 Jul 2009 23:128 Comments


By Hana H. in Tehran | 31 July 2009

Comment After the post-election unrest in Iran, one man stood by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This man did all the dirty work, made all the veiled and not-so-veiled threats and sent certain parties the necessary warnings. This man gave orders for arrests and eliminations; he was the face on television telling the nation that his staff had uncovered a "velvet revolution," assuring the ignorant that his agents would diligently uncover plots before they hatch and that they would restore calm. This one man who stood by Mahmoud's side through thick and thin was none other than intelligence minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei.

They say that it is good for politicians to know their friends and their enemies and the idiots in between who will do their bidding when push comes to shove. However, miscalculating where the loyalty of such people lies can have serious repercussions. And Mahmoud miscalculated if he thought Ejei was ready to transfer his allegiance from the Supreme Leader.

After infuriating almost every politician in the country and then refusing to allow many qualified officials to join his government, the out-of-favor Iranian president decided it would be nicer to have family and trusted friends around. In a bold move, he appointed Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, his son's father-in-law, as his first vice president.

In doing so, however, Mahmoud may have alienated his last dependable support group, Iran's hardliners, who despise Mashai for his un-Islamic and very un-revolutionary remarks and actions. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stepped in for damage control, but headstrong Mahmoud refused to budge, ignoring the Leader's handwritten order for a week until it was made public. Mahmoud's refusal to obey Khamenei's order to remove Mashai from his second in command was based on the argument that if they knew his VP better, they would pat him on the back for his wise selection.

Mashai, who had better judgement than Mahmoud, and well aware that opposing the supreme leader would spell his doom, stepped down himself. Still Mahmoud was reluctant to let his confidant easily slip away and appointed him as the head of the presidential office, instead.

Mahmoud's insistence on Mashai's appointment has come at a price. During a cabinet meeting, three of his high-ranking ministers -- including Ejei -- reportedly stood up to Mahmoud and questioned his authority.

Hotheaded Mahmoud fired all three, not realizing or indifferent to the fact that he was already in trouble with the law for removing half of his ministers from office during the four years of his presidency. Under the Iranian Constitution, one more minister and he would be left at the mercy of the parliament, the Majlis.

After cooling off, and with a little help, Mahmoud realized the severity of the situation. With only a few days to his second inauguration and the apparent distaste of most lawmakers for the president, the chances of receiving a Majlis vote of no confidence were much higher than ever before.

Mahmoud frantically revoked his decision, and in a tactical ploy aimed at scoring points with the people and deceiving them into believing that he was on their side settled for dismissing only Ejei. A firm believer in his own intelligence, Mahmoud then appointed an acting intelligence minister and proclaimed himself caretaker minister.

To survive in Iranian politics, one must have unswerving loyalty to the Leadership. When one's loyalty can be questioned, it usually means the end of a politician's career. Mahmoud, who has been flirting with political suicide for some time, is now on the precipice. His fellow Principlists are now openly accusing him of disloyalty and mocking his public shows of enslavement to the Supreme Leader.

Ironically, even his staunchest supporters, like the Ansar Hezbollah, have threatened him with demanding their votes back and have gone so far as to accuse him of having greater love for Mashai than the Leader. All there is left to see is whether the 'just jurisprudent' will step in to save his pawn or watch him booed off stage and taken to the stake kicking and screaming.

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

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I wonder do the hardliners have any choice than to stand with Ahmadinejad? By putting him out of power will they not lose grip on the power in the country themselves?

I hope it will happen because all these political intriges read to me like a bad soap.The political power is just divided between a small elite in which the rest of the country have no say and are being opressed through torture, imprisonment and killings.

Hopefully in the near future the iranians will get a goverment representing them and not the people who are only interrested to keep themselves in power.

Bart / August 1, 2009 9:24 AM

Not being immersed in Iranian politics myself, this seems to me like a good overview. But I had come to some different conclusions about Ahmadinejad's recent behavior.

I see there being a number of actors involved in Ahmadinejad's decisions regarding the makeup of his cabinet: (1) the opposition, which includes all socioeconomic groups; (2) the principalists, who believe that the institution of the Supreme Leader should be more than just titular; (3) those in the IRGC who are not really principalists but want to maintain and consolidate the power they've gained under Ahmadinejad; and (4) Khamenei.

I see something like the following having played out: Ahmadinejad's primary loyalty is to (3), but he also depends upon Khamenei. Khamenei is a shrewd politician and has cobbled together a coalition of supporters from both (2) and (3). In order for the coalition to hold together, it is necessary for Ahmadinejad to publicly show deference to Khamenei, even if the reality has been more opaque. But Khamenei is probably surrounded by a coterie of principalist advisers of the (2) variety, who have influence on his decisions. Ahmadinejad is very wary of allowing them to usurp his power by speaking through Khamenei. So the recent cabinet shuffle was not really about Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, it was about Ahmadinejad protecting the power of the non-principalist IRGC faction from the principalists.

It was not until the whole matter was made public that Ahmadinejad needed to show greater deference to Khamenei. But in order to drive home the point in his power struggle against the principalists, he kept Mashai around in an important position. So making this a thing about Ahmadinejad and Khamenei was really a principalist move in its struggle against the non-principalist IRGC folks and not something personal between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei.

Whatever happened, it's all quite murky.

Eric / August 1, 2009 3:52 PM


I agree with your assessment of the situation from an overview perspective. You are correct to separate the Principalists from Khamenei as his son Mojtaba seems closely aligned with the IRGC.

Maziar / August 1, 2009 6:53 PM

Please do not disrespect the president by calling him by his first name. I suggest that at best, you uses the initials of his last name AN, which most Iranians know what it means.

Samanou / August 1, 2009 7:10 PM

Samanou you had one of the best comments.... It was too true to do anything but laugh and cry simultaniously....

I see this power play between principlist, AN clan, and the leader as more so a grab for the cabinet of the next president. It is a common thing in Iran for the supreme leader to appoint certain cabinet posts (look into Rafsanjani and Khatami governments for proof) and then there are certain cabinet posts that are deemed too sensitive to change, or rarely do... In this case, I see it that AN saw the protests and attacks on Khamanei as a weakness, and tried to do a large grab, to show his strength. Principalists slapped him down and Khamanei put an end to this. Now we have to stay tuned to see what the makeup of the next cabinet will be like. Expect the principalists to try and grab many of the economic portfolios, and then Khamanei to appoint his choice to interior, defence, information, state and other such ministries. Ahmadinejad will have the remainder, but education and higher education should also be watched. If they are appointed by Khamanei it shows the speeding up of some of the cultural changes, and the weakness of Ahmadinejad. Seems like he will be a weak president with a weak cabinet.... The big gainers are Khamanei that has started for the first time to have direct control of the executive branch of the government.

whereismyvote / August 4, 2009 2:58 PM

I thought this was a very weak article.

Far from "flirting with political suicide", Ahmadinejad has just been sworn in as president, with the vast majority of deputies present. Disagreements within the conservative camp are nothing new - surely the important thing in political reporting/analysis is to distinguish between those disagreements that are important and those that are not. Reading this peice, I would draw the impression that Iran is about to collapse and frankly this is something I doubt!!!

Nazih Musa / August 5, 2009 6:22 PM

With all due respet to my countrymen, I am still baffled at why they are rooting for Musavi so much? He did not propose women to discard their head scarf and wear mini joup as soon as e is president? I followed the campain and debates and am yet to understand what Musavi stood for?

I think (may be I am wrong) that all these protests are for regime change and not for Musavi. If the protest is for regime change, we will need an agenda, a plan and a charismatic leader to push it forward.

Hamid / August 7, 2009 3:50 PM

What do you mean by regime change?

I doubt what you want is what most Iranians want. There is a huge gap between people in exile and people who live in the country.

If demonstrators all took off their hijab, the police could do nothing. This issue isn't as important to people in Iran as to people in Los Angeles or to westerners obsessed with women's bodies. Iran is an Islamic country, that's part of its character and challenging it will produce resistance, even violence.

Nazih Musa / August 8, 2009 3:40 AM