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Ahmadinejad Bows to Khamenei on First Vice President
From a Saturday, July 25, 2009 entry on Informed Comment a blog run by Juan Cole
Ahmadinejad Bows to Khamenei on First Vice President
This issue of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's appointment of Esfandiyar Rahim-Masha'i as his first vice president came to a head on Friday. Rahim-Masha'i, the father of Ahmadinejad's daughter-in-law, had offended the hard liners last year by saying Iranians are friends of the Israeli people (as opposed to the 'Zionist regime.')
'The main issue is that Velayat-e Faqih (guardianship of a religious jurisconsult [demand for rule of the top cleric]) is a principle for our people, and the other basic principle for our people is to safeguard the revolution. But there are some individuals who do not want to accept that the vali-e faqih (supreme jurisconsult [cleric]) has the final say. They do not obey the guidelines of the supreme leader. They regard the supreme leader as supportive of a particular faction. They even sometimes make childish remarks. They are nothing, however, compared to the wave of the loyal ummah [Muslim community] who are ready to sacrifice their lives for the leader.
Jannati went on then to another key value of the hard liners, which is xenophobia or keeping Iran isolated from close connections with the Western Powers, on the grounds that when they could, these Powers put the dictatorial Shah on the throne and used him to keep control of Iranian resources such as petroleum. Jannati says,
' The second position that the enemy has targeted is the culture of fighting against arrogance [Western hegemonic powers]. This culture has brought us dignity. It has its foundations in the Koran and Islamic traditions. We (God) appointed prophets in every society to worship God and dispel arrogant powers . . .
Beyond those two points, Jannati denounced the opposition for plotting to keep society riled because they did not like the outcome of the election. He rejected the reformists' call for a referendum on the election, insisting that the election was itself the referendum. (The opposition maintains that there was widespread fraud in reporting the election results):
' The fifth point is about the power of the Islamic state. Thank God, our Islamic state is powerful and of course it uses this power in the service of the people and promotion of the status of Islam. Unfortunately, some people questioned the power of the Islamic state following the elections. They were disappointed of course, but the harm they caused is still considerable. The blow they dealt to the authority of the state was worse than anything else. And some of them do not let go. Apparently, some people intend to keep the quarrels going for the next four years. They want to play a different tune every day. One day they demand the annulment of elections. When they were disappointed they proposed a referendum to decide the legitimacy of the government. Wake up! The referendum was held, 40 million people came to the scene and elected a president with 24.5 million votes of support. Pay attention! Do not pretend that you are sleeping. The referendum was held. The people's decision is clear, there is no room for discussion. They want to repeat that this government is illegitimate for the next four years. No, this government is an elected government and, with the grace of God and the endorsement of the leader, will be legitimate and our nation will support this government.
The final point I'll deal with in Jannati's sermon is his demand that Ahmadinejad dismiss Rahim-Masha'i. Jannati said that in light of the letter that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's wrote to Ahmadinejad insisting on Rahim-Masha'i's dismissal, Ahmadinejad had an obligation to obey:
'However, the meaning of legitimacy, or support for an individual, does not mean that the individual is flawless. We have never said that the most qualified candidate (Ahmadinezhad) was flawless. We believe that criticism is a God-given gift. My best brother is the one who presents to me my shortcomings
I think Jannati is hinting around that Ahmadinejad, by defying Khamenei's order, was himself undermining the clerical ruler, the vali-i faqih or Guardian Jurisprudent. Given the structure of Jannati's sermon, which began by reaffirming the centrality to the regime of the principle of the supremacy of the clerical ruler. It is that principle that underpinned everything else-- the isolation from the West and Iran's fierce independence, and the affirmation of the legitimacy of the June 12 presidential elections (if the Supreme Leader says the outcome was legitimate, it was legitimate). Since Ahmadinejad owes his legitimacy to the affirmation of the Supreme Leader, it was unwise of him, Jannati implies, to undermine the latter's authority.
On Friday, Khamenei's letter was read out on official media, which put Ahmadinejad in much more of a bind than when it was a private affair between the Leader and himself. This is the USG Open Source Center translation from Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran radio.
'In the name of God,
There were then street demonstrations by hard line supporters of Khamenei denouncing Ahmadinejad.
Then late on Friday, Rahim-Masha'i resigned, a sign that Ahmadinejad had ceased running interference for him.
When this controversy broke, I pointed out that Khamenei has the authority to dismiss Ahmadinejad himself, and to overrule him on virtually any issue, so if he really wanted Rahim-Masha'i gone, he would be gone.
The ever perceptive Kevin Drum at Mother Jones pointed out in response that the situation in Iran is new and unsettled:
' Perhaps. But this has gone so far beyond merely a conflict between Khamenei and Mir Hossein Mousavi that it's hard to say what's really happening behind the scenes. Khamenei is obviously not the unquestioned authority he was before all this started, and the fact that he's now being challenged by Ahmadinejad, the very guy he attached his fortunes to in the first place, says something about his position. Or about Ahmadinejad. Or about something else none of us can even guess at. Stay tuned.'
Kevin was correctly pointing out that my statement assumed that Khamenei's authority remains intact. While that authority has obviously been widely and deeply questioned in the reform camp, as Jannati admitted, in the aftermath of the presidential elections, it clearly remains enough intact with the hard liners that Ahmadinejad had to bow before it.
The up side for Khamenei is that even in his weakened state he won on this point. The down side is that some the people have been chanting 'down with the dictator,' and Khamenei has played into their hands by demonstrating himself to be high-handed and to be to the right of Ahmadinejad. The regime's kabuki-like attention to stylistic details and hierarchies may in the end be making it too brittle to hope to survive in the medium to long term.