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Time to Seek Political Asylum? A Letter of Advice to Ahmadinejad

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

20 Sep 2011 20:42Comments
N1010201-1744477.jpg"You are a shrewd man, Mr. President. Think of something for your future. It's not looking good."

[ satire ] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has arrived in the United States for the seventh time since he rose to power in August 2005. His first visit was "triumphant"; he had defeated Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the most powerful Iranian politicians since the 1979 Revolution, in the second round of the presidential election -- though it is widely believed that Ahmadinejad made it that far only through vote manipulation. Just as he was taking office, Iran rejected a European Union proposal to resolve the conflict over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, putting Iran on a defiant path that has led not only to the activation of the Bushehr light-water nuclear reactor, but also to the production of a significant stockpile of low-enriched uranium at Natanz and the near completion of a second enrichment facility in Fordow, at which faster, more efficient centrifuges will be installed to produce uranium enriched to 19.75 percent.

Since the June 2009 presidential election that many, including the author, believe was rigged, the scene has changed dramatically for Ahmadinejad. The most recently revealed evidence of electoral fraud is a WikiLeaks-released document that quotes a statement by Seyyed Salman (Rahim) Safavi -- a brother of Major General Seyyed Yahya Rahim Safavi, former top commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and current senior military adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- to a gathering in London on June 16, 2009, only four days after the presidential vote. Salman Safavi stated that "'a majority' of the IRGC have split from the Basij and from IRGC commander [Major General Mohammad Ali] Jafari over the manipulation and aftermath of the June 12 elections. He added that a person he 'cannot name, very close to the Supreme Leader' [presumably Khamenei's son Mojtaba] and 'working in the Leader's office,' conceived and ordered engineering of the election and of attempted suppression which has followed" (emphasis mine). Salman Safavi referred to what had taken place as a political coup. Although the hardliners and their supporters, both within Iran and in the diaspora, still insist that the 2009 election was legitimate, the world does not view it that way, particularly given the brutal crackdown on those who demonstrated peacefully in the election's aftermath, resulting in more than 100 murders, and the subsequent show trials (see here and here) that yielded long prison sentences for some of Iran's finest sons and daughters.

Perhaps most importantly, Iran's political dynamics have changed drastically over the past two years. It is now no secret that Ahmadinejad and his supporters are loathed by the hardliners around Khamenei, the top Revolutionary Guard commanders, an overwhelming majority of the reactionary clerics, and many Majles deputies. Hardly a day goes by that does not feature new accusations by the Khamenei camp against the "perverted group" -- Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and closest confidant, and his inner circle -- and counteraccusations by Ahmadinejad's supporters. Many thought to belong to the "perverted group" have been arrested, and more than one prominent figure has threatened Mashaei with death (see here and here).

Given this state of affairs, I would like to "deliver" the following letter to Ahmadinejad, while he is in New York.


President Ahmadinejad:

Now that you are in the United States and are taking a break from the daily attacks and threats of your foes back home, I would like to say a few words to you as a citizen of Iran who has not been able to visit his beloved homeland for nearly five years precisely because of you and what your presidency has meant to Iran and Iranians.

First of all, let me explain something. I refer to you as Iran's president only because you officially hold the title. I do not recognize the legitimacy of your election in 2009; never have and never will. Your former allies -- those who now smell blood and are after you -- staged a coup in order to keep you in office. Mir Hossein Mousavi is Iran's legitimate president.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, I suggest you consider Iran's political landscape and your own fate. As I see it, not only is your future not bright, it is positively gloomy. Your second term as president will end in less than two years; that is, of course, if you survive that long. We both know that is not guaranteed. The Majles elections will be in a little over five months and the Revolutionary Guard officers have already threatened that "if the elections for the Ninth Majles do not turn out to be compatible 'with our values,' there will be bloodshed." And yet those elections are your only hope for political -- and, perhaps, physical -- survival.

Knowing that you love attention and being the star in the Big Apple, perhaps you are too busy taking meetings, giving interviews, holding press conferences, and having dinner with Columbia University students. So let me draw the landscape for you. Recall, Sir, that you came into office promising that:

* You would bring Iran's great oil wealth to the people's tables. Instead, you have eliminated or drastically reduced the subsidies on basic food items and energy, triggering inflation so high that even your own officials are afraid to disclose the true rate. In the past, when one invoked the Persian proverb beh noon-e shabesh mohtajeh (he's in need of bread for his dinner), it meant that the person was poor. But now, many people literally cannot afford even bread for dinner. Is there an Iranian alive who believes your outlandish claims that you oversaw the creation of 1.2 million jobs last year and 2.5 million this year, and that the economy now enjoys a 10 percent rate of growth?

* You would uproot the "oil Mafia" in the oil industry. You could not find any Mafia. Instead, you helped create what many consider a new Mafia -- the Revolutionary Guards and their subsidiary, Khatam ol-Anbiya, have taken control of the oil industry.

* You would have a "cabinet of 70 million," in which the common people would have their say. Instead, your performance has been so dismal and your arrogance so deep that few are willing to work with you. You must constantly turn to the same people who have been accused of rampant corruption and dishonesty, from your First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi to your "billionaire minister" Sadegh Mahsouli and plagiarizing minister Kamran Daneshjoo, with his many fabricated academic "degrees." Is it truly so difficult to find a few good people among 70 million that you must endlessly rotate the members of this sorry crew from post to post?

* You would ensure that Iran was "the freest country in the world" -- a notion you reaffirmed last year when you declared, "Freedom is a divine right." Instead, repression and violations of human rights have reached a sickening level. Detention centers and prisons, from Kahrizak to Evin and Rajaei Shahr, have become macabre places in which prisoners are subjected to the vilest treatment. Do you not think that lashing a young, pious, educated woman, even if symbolically, is terrible for your own image, let alone our nation? I know, you will say that you have no influence over the judiciary. But, then, may I ask how you pulled off the "barter" in which you and Sadegh Larijani agreed that the judiciary would not prosecute Rahimi and, in turn, you would not reveal information about how his brothers -- Ali and Mohammad Javad -- have allegedly taken illegal control of vast agricultural lands east of Tehran, between Varamin and Garmsar, as well as in northern Iran?

Well, not only did you not deliver on your promises, you also began to believe that you actually received 24 million votes in 2009. Pardon me, you believe that you really have the support of 35 million voters, but because of Mr. Khamenei, your former patron, you were cheated of 11 million of their votes. Ask yourself, Sir: What happened to those 24 or 35 million people when you stayed home for 11 days, trying to resist Mr. Khamenei's order to reinstate Heydar Moslehi as minister of intelligence? Nothing, Sir! Granted, it did take guts to do what you did! But you are despised by so many that not a single person, out of that imagined 24 or 35 million, came out to the streets anywhere to shout in your support. Not a single group, no matter how small, mobilized on your behalf. There was not a single cry in cyberspace to rally in your defense. Compare this with what Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi can do. They do not have any resources other than the moral support of the people. But whenever they have called on the people to come out to the streets and protest peacefully, the large cities have had to be heavily militarized by the Guards and the Basij to prevent the demonstrations from reaching critical mass. Even prominent figures in the regime have acknowledged this.

So now here are the realities. By emphasizing your supposed links, through Mashaei, to Imam Mahdi, you have infuriated Mr. Khamenei and the reactionary clerics around him. After all, if you can be in direct contact with the Imam, you do not need Khamenei, do you? You and I know that those clerics have to resort to the Imam and his supposed deputy in his absence, Mr. Khamenei, in order to duck the question of their legitimacy after all that they have done to the nation. If you take that away from them, what are they left with?

By standing up to Mr. Khamenei, you have also stood up against the top Guard commanders, who owe everything to him. Remember your recent brawl with General Jafari over the illegal wharves under Guard control?

The vast resources that your supporters have amassed to help you with the Majles elections are being confiscated under a variety of excuses, including, of course, redress for that embezzlement case with which your dear friend Mashaei has been closely linked. If you do not have any resources to distribute to the people in small towns and villages -- the way you did right before the 2009 election -- what are your chances of winning?

Even if you have the resources, do you really think that the old man, Ahmad Jannati, will allow you and Mashaei to pass your candidates for the Majles elections through his net at the Guardian Council? They were not afraid to thwart Mohammad Khatami and his 21 million true voters, in 2004 and 2008. Why do you think that they cannot do that to you? Only a coup can win the Majles for you, but who will lead the coup this time? Your Revolutionary Guard patrons, Mr. Mojtaba Khamenei and his father, and the Basij militia all despise you. Mojtaba is, in fact, pressuring his father to peremptorily remove you from office!

And if your supporters cannot win a sizable share of seats in parliament, what will you be left with? If the opposing camp is most kind to you, it will tolerate you for another 18 months until the 2013 presidential election. But then what? You cannot run again and ask the supposed 24 million or 35 million to vote for you. And if Jannati is still around -- Mashaei, informed by his divine connections, has predicted that Jannati will be dead by then -- he will not allow your favored candidate to stand. Even if he is gone, Mr. Khamenei has access to a large reactionary pool from which to fish out a new Guardian Council chief. Mohammad Yazdi is waiting. And if they are not so kind -- and I doubt they will be -- you ought to think about your future now.

You see, Mr. President, your future is bleak. I ask you to seriously consider your options.

You and Mashaei are both in New York, out of the reach of your enemies in Iran. You can both ask for political asylum. To be sure, it is unlikely the U.S. would grant it -- unless, like some other Iranian exiles who see themselves as the future Iranian Ahmed Chalabi, or like that former Guard officer who tries to imitate Mikheil Saakashvili, you are willing to work for the "great Satan," which you would never do, of course. Still, imagine the support you might garner among some self-proclaimed American "leftists" because of your "anti-imperialist" positions.

But if not the U.S., then where? Cuba? Fidel and Raúl are too principled to grant you asylum. Besides, what would you do there? Perhaps Venezuela? Just remember that Chávez also made many promises to Muammar Qaddafi. Maybe Syria? If Bashar al-Assad can save his regime and himself from the internal opposition and external enemies, like Saudi Arabia, who are after his head, that will be a tremendous accomplishment. Besides, as long as he is in power, he will need Iran and he knows who really calls the shots in the Islamic Republic. It will certainly not be you. How about Zimbabwe? Tyrants like Robert Mugabe care only if there is something in it for them. Why should he give you asylum? Besides, it will really look bad for you if you ask such an internationally despised figure for a hand. Could it be Senegal? After you fired your foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, while he was in the middle of a meeting with Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, do you really think you can go there? Senegal has severed diplomatic relations with Iran, anyway. Any chance in Saudi Arabia? I know the oil-rich kingdom has become a home for tyrants, from Idi Amin to Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Ali Abdullah Saleh. But you? No way. The Saudis had good relations with the Islamic Republic under Khatami and Rafsanjani, but you ruined it.

I am sorry, Mr. President. You have no place to go. You see, if your hardline foes want to get rid of you, they will not even bother putting you under house arrest, as they have those two old, courageous, and principled men. They placed Mousavi and Karroubi under house arrest because they are afraid to murder them, or put them on trial in an open, fair way for the whole nation to see, because they know that the two men enjoy vast support. You, however, have no base. As one of your critics put it, "Mousavi has a social base that, even if he does not want it, can be mobilized against the Leader, whereas Ahmadinejad does not have any social base that, even if he wanted it, could be mobilized against the Leader."

You are a shrewd man, Mr. President. Think of something for your future. It's not looking good.


Muhammad Sahimi

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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