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Iranian Voices: The Drama of Mashaei

28 Dec 2010 20:415 Comments


Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, has become one of the most controversial figures in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Mashaei holds 17 official positions, including presidential representative on the council that supervises IRIB, the state television and radio broadcasting company; supervisor of the presidential office; presidential delegate to the Supreme Council for Iranian Expatriate Affairs; and head of the President's Young Advisers' Group.

Mashaei's appointment as a special representative for Middle East affairs -- eventually reversed -- sparked one of the gravest in a series of disputes between Ahmadinejad and former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki that ultimately led to Mottaki's dismissal. It is widely believed that Mashaei will run in Iran's next presidential election in 2013.

His controversial remarks often generate a media frenzy in Iran.


"There are people in Iran whose left and right sides of their brains lie to each other. You can't go to FriendFeed and throw your weight around like you own it. Next thing, he'll join Facebook and start patronizing Zuckerberg!"

--Blogger, 24, Tehran

* With the help of the presidential office's cyber team, Mashaei has apparently joined FriendFeed to "express his unofficial opinions." In his first post, Mashaei wrote, "According to the Constitution, insulting the political system's officials is a crime and based on the penal code it can be subject to prosecution and punishment." Like Facebook, FriendFeed has been blocked by the Islamic Republic.


"In line with Mashaei's remarks, we can conclude that we have no drug addicts in Iran. It's just that scientists need to study narcotics, so a bunch of people use them. We have no poor people in Iran. It's just that sociologists need to study poverty, so a bunch of people have volunteered to be poor for the sake of scientific research."

--Engineer, 32, Tehran

* On December 25, in a meeting with Iranian expatriates, Mashaei claimed, "There is no such a thing as brain drain in Iran. What we have is migration, which is an old Iranian custom."


"If they [the young and talented] stay in Iran they will have to live their lives bent over! Why can't we make our ceilings taller so that they aren't forced to walk around bent over?"

--Anonymous comment on Persian-language website

* In the December 25 meeting, Mashaei declared, "The world has advanced, but we are lagging behind. Iranians are talented and capable people.... If these people stay here with such a low ceiling, they will have to live their lives bent over."


"If migration is such an old Iranian custom why don't you [IRI officials] go somewhere else and make it a better place? We will be much happier if you revive this custom. Let us encourage you.... There is no need for concern -- if you leave, we will fix the ceilings."

--Student, 25, Tehran


"[Ali Akbar] Salehi should be given a medal for his courage in contradicting Mashaei. He must be itching for Mottaki's fate."

--Political science student, 23, Tehran

* Almost immediately after it was reported that Mashaei had denied the existence of an Iranian brain drain, acting Foreign Minister Salehi said, "Brain drain is a reality." It is widely believed that anyone in the government who opposes Mashaei is invariably dismissed from office.


"The people are to blame! In a place where drought is the people's fault and climate change is contingent upon good relations among the people and earthquakes are the result of not observing Islamic hejab, you can't blame anyone else but the people."

--Political activist, 26, Tehran

* In the December 25 meeting, Mashaei said, "Scientifically, we are behind the rest of the world.... They won't wait for us to catch up.... We are the ones to blame for these shortcomings."


"Can you show us the door to heaven?"

--Anonymous comment on Persian-language website

* In a meeting at the Foreign Ministry on December 20, Mashaei said, "They lie and say I appoint ministers. The door of the website and magazine that spreads such lies opens to hell."


"Maybe the reason the mullahs don't understand music is that they have never been to a concert. So why doesn't Mashaei, as the secretary of the government's Cultural Commission and the Research Center for Globalization, resolve this misunderstanding by rounding up the Sources [of Emulation -- high-ranking clerics] and giving them each a Sandis and a concert ticket."

--History teacher, 50, Tehran

* In a December 9 meeting with artists in Markazi province, Mashaei said, "If I say this they will call it blasphemy, but there are people who do not understand music. [So] they say it's haram [forbidden by sharia law]." Sandis is an inexpensive box juice handed out at government-sponsored rallies. The opposition calls government supporters "Sandis-khor" (Sandis drinkers).


"The only person who has the right to freedom of speech in Iran is Mashaei. He can speak to his heart's desire and no one calls him a seditionist! I envy him. Making ends meet is so hard that we can't afford the price of speaking to our heart's desire."

--Cab driver, 40, Tehran

* "Sedition" is the term routinely used by regime officials to describe the country's democratic movement.


"If Mashaei says the Prophet was Iranian, he probably was. If you hadn't learned by now, you should know that he is an encyclopedia of expert opinions in every field."

--Student, 20, Tehran

* Mashaei reportedly said in Tajikistan that he would prove that the Prophet Muhammad was Iranian.


"Why are you raising a ruckus? You [government supporters] are all firm believers in dialogue -- all you need to do is tell him to prove his claim. You uncultured lot."

--Anonymous comment on Persian-language website


"Iranians should be commended for their zeal. If someone had said this [that the Prophet is Iranian] anywhere else in the world, the Basijis would not have let it go without a fight."

--Anonymous comment on Persian-language website


"If he can prove the Prophet was Iranian, we can lay claim to part of Saudi Arabia!"

--Journalist, 28, Tehran


"Saying that the prophet was Iranian is Mashaei's [own] soft war tactic. Arabs called the Persian Gulf 'Arabian,' so Mashaei retaliated and said the prophet was Iranian."

--Journalist, 35, Tehran

* "Soft war" is an expression coined by IRI officials after the 2009 presidential election. The term, which has no fixed definition, is used to assign any difficulty faced by the Islamic Republic to the subversive efforts of its enemies.


"I'll prove that Obama is from Qazvin."

--Anonymous comment on Persian-language website

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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Wow really? very funny

Arta / December 29, 2010 10:33 AM

I really like this new feature: 'Iranian Voices'.
Great idea - please keep it coming. Thanks!

Catherine / December 29, 2010 11:28 AM

Very clever assortment. I enjoyed this very much as well.

Kurt / December 30, 2010 11:18 AM

This man Mashaei is a threat for Iran's ruling establishment if he becomes president his time will be like that of Khatami's and may be more liberal.

ali zadeh , Tehran / January 1, 2011 7:57 PM

Mashaei's agenda for a potential future presidential bid is to play up to Iranian Nationalism as a strong counterpoint to the mullahcracy's Islamism which so many are disillusioned with, especially after 2009. If this helps break public speech taboos and eventually lead to relaxing of oppressive policies in its own warped way, then kudos to Esfandiar jan.

Ehsan / January 3, 2011 8:47 AM