New York Times: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has maintained a markedly low profile since Iran’s disputed presidential election erupted into bloody street protests.
The New York Times
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
Published: June 25, 2009
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has maintained a markedly low profile since Iran’s disputed presidential election erupted into bloody street protests.
But analysts said the crackdown now taking place across Iran suggested that Mr. Ahmadinejad had succeeded in creating a pervasive network of important officials in the military, security agencies, and major media outlets, a new elite made especially formidable by support from one important constituent, Iran’s supreme leader himself.
Mr. Ahmadinejad has filled crucial ministries and other top posts with close friends and allies who have spread ideological and operational support for him nationwide. These analysts estimate that he has replaced 10,000 government employees to cement his loyalists through the bureaucracies, so that his allies run the organizations responsible for both the contested election returns and the official organs that have endorsed them.
“There is a whole political establishment that emerged with Ahmadinejad, which is now determined to hold on to power undemocratically,” said one American-based Iran analyst, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of his work in Iran. “Their ability to resist the outcome of the election means they have a broad base as a political establishment.”
There is a pattern to the way Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has selected allies throughout his career, said Said A. Arjomand, a professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook who has just finished a book analyzing the rule of the supreme leader. The ayatollah has repeatedly surrounded himself with men lacking an apparent social or political base of their own, men who would be dependent on him, Mr. Arjomand said.
During the presidential campaign of 2005, the supreme leader endorsed Mr. Ahmadinejad because the humble son of a blacksmith appeared to be just such an obscure candidate. But he entered the presidency with a coterie of veterans and ideologues shaped by the Iran-Iraq war who were conservative, religious, largely populist and disdainful of the old guard from the 1979 revolution.
Today, these allies, many of them former midlevel Revolutionary Guard officers in their 50s, run the Interior, Intelligence and Justice Ministries. They also include the commander of the Basij popular militia, the head of the National Security Council and the head of state-run broadcasting. They are aligned with another member of their generation who has emerged as the most important figure in the Khamenei camp, the spiritual leader’s son, Mojtaba Khamenei.
Mr. Ahmadinejad has also changed all 30 of the country’s governors, all the city managers and even third- and fourth-level civil servants in important ministries like the Interior Ministry. It was Interior that announced that Mr. Ahmadinejad had won the June 12 election with just 5 percent of the votes counted, analysts pointed out, and it is the Intelligence Ministry that has been rounding up scores of supporters of the reform candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, and other dissidents.
At the same time, Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s spiritual mentor, runs three powerful educational institutions in the holy city of Qum, all spun off from the Haqqani seminary, which teaches that Islam and democracy are incompatible. The ayatollah favors a system that would preserve the post of supreme leader and eliminate elections. The Ahmadinejad administration has provided generous government subsidies to the seminary, and its graduates hold significant government posts nationwide.
Perhaps the most important media organization to spread the government’s message is the hard-line Kayhan newspaper. Its general director, Hossein Shariatmaderi, in recent days has resurrected a standard accusation: that foreign governments were manipulating the demonstrations on Iran’s streets.
There is also a battery of blogs and opinion writers aligned with Mr. Ahmadinejad. Those writers include Fatemeh Rajabi, the author of “Ahmadinejad: The Miracle of the Third Millennium,” a hagiography of Mr. Ahmadinejad as the revolution’s savior. Sometimes described as the “harridan of the hard right,” Mrs. Rajabi, the wife of the justice minister, regularly publishes vitriolic attacks on the reformists. She called for former President Mohammad Khatami, a cleric, to be defrocked for shaking a woman’s hand in Italy, and she has suggested that Mr. Moussavi face the death penalty for promoting antigovernment demonstrations.
While the Khamenei and Ahmadinejad camps have had their differences, they share the messianic vision that the supreme leader is a surrogate for the Hidden Imam, who will return to usher in a golden age of Islamic rule. On a more practical level, both camps would like to eliminate the former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, as a serious contender for supreme leader when Ayatollah Khamenei dies. Finally, they both believe in a confrontational foreign policy.
Analysts say those shared goals are the reason that Ayatollah Khamenei has stressed almost daily, as he did again on Wednesday, that the government will not retreat from the announced election results. “The only thing they stood to lose was the presidency and they have been able to thwart that outcome because of their closeness to the supreme leader,” said the American-based Iran analyst.
Still, the conservative camp is hardly united. Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, told Iranian state television on Wednesday that “we have to address the passions that people have about the election and this cannot be solved by resorting to force.” Another conservative, Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Parliament, questioned the neutrality of the Guardian Council to judge the election result but later backed down.
“None of them like Ahmadinejad, but they don’t want to cross the leader,” said Ali Ansari, a professor at the Institute of Iranian Studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
The reformist candidate who has been the most outspoken in attacking the Ahmadinejad government on legal and religious grounds has been Mehdi Karoubi. In a letter attacking the election results, he said that the victorious camp were “advocates of a reactionary and Taliban-like Islam,” meaning no dissent would be tolerated.