Iran's Ahmadinejad survives worst storm of his presidency
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have been locked in a stand-off that had some predicting the president would resign this past weekend.
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But within hours, Khamenei overturned the president’s decision. Ahmadinejad then refused to accept Khamenei’s ruling, and for 11 days boycotted official functions, from cabinet meetings to religious ceremonies.
The spat turned into a full-blown political storm as the days went by, damaging the image of a unified leadership in the Islamic Republic as senior voices across Iran’s conservative spectrum – from grand ayatollahs and Revolutionary Guard commanders to parliamentarians – made clear their view that challenging Khamenei was akin to apostasy against God.
Ahmadinejad was given a deadline by the supreme leader to accept the return of the Intelligence minister or resign, according to an videotaped account to followers by Morteza Agha-Tehrani, the hard-line “ethics” adviser of the cabinet, as described in the Guardian newspaper.
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Before leaving for Istanbul on Monday, Ahmadinejad tried to reclaim the high ground, while restating his loyalty to Khamenei.
“Due to actions of two groups, I feel it is necessary to once again defend the supreme leader,” Ahmadinejad told Iranian state television. “One group is those who assume that the supreme leader is a tool for regulating political debates between parties for their advantage. And another group is the one that defends the supreme leader in a wrong manner.”
Even hard-line supporters criticize president
In fact, it is Ahmadinejad and his controversial chief of staff who have been widely accused of deviation from the tenets of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, and from accepted Shiite religious practice. Some of Ahmadinejad and Mashaei's close advisers have been arrested for “sorcery” in recent days.
Ahmadinejad this week repeated his statement that Khamenei’s relationship with him is like a father to a son. But even high-ranking hard-line voices in the regime, who have supported Ahmadinejad for years, have taken aim at the president this time.
“To obey and submit to the supreme leader is a religious duty that has nothing to do with politics,” said Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, who has often been cited as the president’s spiritual mentor. He added that the president’s “legitimacy is based upon the approval of the supreme leader and not the popular vote,” according to a translation by Agence France-Presse.
Khamenei’s representative to the Revolutionary Guard, Hojatoleslam Ali Saeedi, had a similar warning for the president. He told Ahmadinejad that “resisting the supreme leader’s orders is opposition to God and the Hidden Imam…”
Ahmadinejad last week reaffirmed his allegiance to the velayat-e faqih – the post of supreme leader which gives Khamenei final say in all state affairs – but he and Moslehi did not appear in the same room during a Wednesday cabinet meeting.
The immediate crisis was finally defused on Sunday, when Moslehi was shown by Iranian state media sitting in a cabinet meeting, several chairs away from the president.