World View: Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Defies Supreme Leader and Runs for President

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gestures as he leaves a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey May 9, 2011. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defies Supreme Leader and runs for president
  • Ahmadinejad waits for the appearance of the Mahdi

Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defies Supreme Leader and runs for president

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gives a 'V for Victory' sign after registering on Wednesday to run for president
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gives a ‘V for Victory’ sign after registering on Wednesday to run for president

Iran’s colorful former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had already served two consecutive terms, from 2005-2013, on Wednesday astonished people both inside and outside of Iran by filling out and submitting registration forms for the May 19 presidential election.

Ahmadinejad reversed an earlier decision not to run. In September of last year, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said he would not find it advisable for Ahmadinejad to seek a comeback to politics “both for his own and the country’s good.” At the time, Ahmadinejad said that he would not run, but now he has changed his mind.

After filling out the registration forms on Wednesday, he made a “V for Victory” sign and said, “The Leader advised me not to participate in the elections, and I accepted. His advice, however, shouldn’t be taken to mean that I’m banned.”

There are three major categories of Iranian politicians, with Ahmadinejad among the most hardline extreme, the “principlists,” who insist on adhering to the extreme “principles” of the 1979 Great Islamic Revolution. They are mostly in the old geezer generation of survivors of the Revolution. They impose strict social laws, such as requiring headscarves, forbidding unrelated male-female couples in public, no street music in public, and so forth.

Iran’s current president, Hassan Rouhani, is in the middle category called the “moderates” or “pragmatists,” who are often as hardline as the principlists, but who are in favor of gradual reforms. (The “reformists” are in the younger generations, and favor immediate reforms.)

So it would seem that the major campaign battle will be the principlist Ahmadinejad and the moderate Rouhani. But the Supreme Leader, who is the principlist-in-chief, does not like Ahmadinejad, and has put forth his own principlist candidate, Ebrahim Raisi. And since Khamenei controls the Guardian Council, which has the final say on who’s allowed to run, it’s expected that Khamenei will see to it that Ahmadinejad is disqualified.

But wait! This is actually even more bizarre than it seems so far.

Ahmadinejad has made a statement that he is not really planning to run for president, and has implied that the only reason that he is registering to run is to support his former vice president Hamid Baghaei.

In fact, Ahmadinejad put on a spectacular show on Wednesday. Ahmadinejad walked Baghaei through the registration process, ostensibly with no other purpose. But as soon as Baghaei registered, Ahmadinejad started to leave, but then suddenly turned around, and pulled out his own registration documents in front of a melee of shouting journalists and stunned officials.

So how does this help Ahmadinejad’s deputy Baghaei run for office? Because Khamenei would find an excuse to disqualify Baghaei, in order to get his own candidate Raisi to win. But with Ahmadinejad running, Khamenei would have to disqualify both Ahmadinejad and Baghaei, and that would apparently be too politically difficult.

And to top it off, another of Ahmadinejad’s close allies, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, also registered to vote. So Khamenei would have to disqualify Ahmadinejad and two of Ahmadinejad’s allies.

When Ahmadinejad was first elected in 2005, he and Khamenei got along well. But even principlists have policy differences, and by the time of Ahmadinejad’s reelection in 2009, Khamenei refused to give Ahmadinejad the perfunctory kiss on the cheek. During Ahmadinejad’s second term, Khamenei repeatedly humiliated Ahmadinejad, and Ahmadinejad adopted policies with the partial objective of infuriating Khamenei. There’s little doubt that what Ahmadinejad did on Wednesday will be particularly infuriating to Khamenei. Tehran Times and AP

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Ahmadinejad waits for the appearance of the Mahdi

As mentioned above, a top aide and close of friend of Ahmadinejad, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, also registered to run for president.

In 2009 Khamenei accused Mashaei and other Ahmadinejad aides of being sorcerers, of using “supernatural powers,” and of being “magicians” and invoking djinns (spirits).

The charges of sorcery are related to the devout belief, held by Ahmadinejad and Mashaei, in the Mahdaviat — the Shia Muslim belief that the Mahdi (or “the 12’th Imam” or “the Hidden Imam”) is coming to save mankind. This belief is roughly equivalent to the Christian belief in the second coming of Christ, or the Buddhist belief in the Maitreya — that a new Buddha is to appear on earth, and will achieve complete enlightenment. Ahmadinejad disobeyed Supreme Leader Khamenei in several matters, which is considered to be equivalent to disobeying God. But Ahmadinejad was just paving the way for the return of the Hidden Imam, and was using his claim that the Hidden Imam’s return is imminent as a justification for disobeying Khamenei. Thus, the charges of sorcery.

It’s possible that the belief in the Mahdi is related to some of Ahmadinejad’s conspiracy theories.

Probably the most famous of his conspiracy theories is that the Holocaust never occurred, but was put forth by a conspiracy of Zionists.

On other occasions, he said that Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush were friends, and that the West had engineered HIV aids.

That was far-fetched enough, but even more far-fetched was his claim in 2012 that Western technology was preventing the rain from falling in Iran:

“Today our country is moving towards drought, which is partly unintentional due to industry and partly intentional, as a result of the enemy destroying the clouds moving towards our country and this is a war that Iran is going to overcome.

I feel that the world arrogance and colonization, by using their technologies, are affecting the environmental situation in Iran.

In 2007, Ahmadinejad gave a speech at Columbia University in New York, and made this claim: “In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I do not know who has told you we have it.” He drew hysterical laughter.

As I’ve been writing for many years, Iran is basically a schizophrenic nation. Its principlist top leadership, starting with the supreme leader, are survivors of the 1979 Great Islamic Revolution, an extremely bloody civil war. Like generational crisis war survivors in any country, these leaders imposed austere rules and institutions designed to prevent another bloody civil war, and this has led them to adopt a harsh anti-Western attitude. But the generations born after the crisis war have no such motivation, and Iran’s younger generations are, in fact, reformists and generally pro-Western and have no particular desire to see Israel pushed into the sea.

In the late 1990s, college students in these younger generations started holding pro-Western and pro-American protests, during Iran’s generational Awakening era. Khamenei and the Iran hardliners brutally suppressed those protests, but doing so didn’t change minds. Today, those students are in their 30s, and have risen to positions of power, ready to take over when the current hardline leadership dies off. They are generally pro-Western and pro-American, and consider Saudi Arabia to be an existential threat. This is one of several reasons why I’ve been saying for years that, in the approaching Clash of Civilizations world war, Iran will be an ally of the United States, along with Russia and India, versus China, Pakistan, and the Sunni Muslim countries. Newsweek and Al Monitor (15-Mar)

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KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, Hassan Rouhani, Ebrahim Raisi, Hamid Baghaei, Mahdaviat, Mahdi, 12’th Imam, Hidden Imam, Maitreya
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