May 21, 2006


The ultimate martyr (Pepe Escobar, 3/31/06, Asia Times)

Ahmadinejad's ultimate spiritual mentor remains Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, who is the dean of the Educational and Research Institute of Imam Khomeini, a very influential hawza (theological school) in Qom. It's impossible to interview Ayatollah Yazdi - officially because of "new government rules", unofficially of his own volition.

The crucial election of the Council of Experts (86 clerics only; no women; no non-clergy) will take place this coming summer, by universal vote. It's the Council of Experts that chooses the all-powerful supreme leader. Influential people such as former presidential candidate Hojatoleslam Mehdi Mahdavi-Karrubi and former imprisoned philosopher Shoroush are terrified: according to them, Ayatollah Yazdi is trying to influence the outcome of the elections to take over power.

"You see, it's a circle," said a ministry official insisting on anonymity. "The people elect the Council of Experts, but only religious people can run. The Council of Experts elects the leader. The leader elects the Guardian Council. The Guardian Council filters the presidential and the parliamentary elections. And people believe they are electing somebody."

In the event of taking over power, Yazdi would implement "real Islam", as he sees it. He does not believe in Western democracy. He wants a kelafat - a caliphate. Ayatollahs like Yazdi are simply not concerned with worldly matters, foreign policy or geopolitical games; the only thing that matters is work for the arrival of the Mahdi. The ayatollah is on record saying he could convert all of America to Shi'ism. Some of his critics accuse him of claiming a direct link to the Mahdi, which in the Shi'ite tradition would qualify him as a false prophet.

US researcher Dr Muhammad Legenhausen, who has lived and taught in Qom for more than a decade, speaks fluent Farsi and is married to an Iranian, is one of the top scholars at Yazdi's hawza. By telephone, he declined an interview, saying he's "not interested".

Ayatollah Yazdi is also the spiritual mentor of the Hojjatieh, a sort of ultra-fundamentalist sect whose literal reading of Shi'ite tradition holds that chaos in mankind is a necessary precondition for the imminent arrival of the Mahdi. Ahmadinejad may not be a Hojjatieh himself, but he totally understands where they are coming from.

Ahmadinejad's slightly more worldly mentor is Mojtaba Hashemi Samareh - his closest adviser. Samareh, also a former Revolutionary Guard, met the president during the Iran-Iraq War, in Khuzestan. Then he came under the wing of, once again, Ayatollah Yazdi, who sponsored him for entering the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (one of his jobs was to teach the "psychology of infidels"). He has also spent many years at the Intelligence Ministry.

Samareh's allegiance is first and foremost to Ayatollah Yazdi - not to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. He's always right behind Ahmadinejad - a sword of Damocles over every minister, ambassador or high official. Every day they pray together at the mosque at the presidential palace. [...]

There's one huge problem, though. He's not delivering - in economic terms. As a ministerial government official put it, visibly anguished, "of course he is an honest man. In his declaration of assets, mandatory in our constitution, he put only his old car [a rickety Paykan from the 1970s] and a small house. But he does not have the personality for the job."

The masses were totally excluded from the late shah's secular, Westernized, petrodollar banquet. They kept getting nothing under the revolutionary, clerical oligarchy that never implemented in practice the rhetorical slogans of Islamic solidarity. Former president Mohammad Khatami, for all the appreciation of his "dialogue of civilizations", did nothing to put more mutton kebab on people's plates. Every major decision - even in domestic policy - remains with the supreme leader.

The economy remains atrophied, dependent on bazaaris and bonyads (foundations) that ultimately respond to the supreme leader. According to a US-educated economic analyst, who insists on anonymity for his own protection, income tax accounts for less than 7% of the state's budget, deficits are underestimated, inflation could easily spin out of control and the private sector is atrophied compared with the omnipresent state.

Ahmadinejad's much-taunted plan last year to "put oil revenues on people's plates" was ditched: it would lead to an explosion of inflation. He couldn't even place his own man at the crucial Ministry of Petroleum. As another government official put it, "It's hard to believe we have to import 60% of our gasoline from abroad. The previous governments built too many mosques and not enough refineries."

The worldly, secular Ebrahim Yazdi, former Iranian foreign minister (under Khomeini) and current secretary general of the Freedom Movement of Iran - an opposition party banned from contesting the latest elections - tries to sum it up. "Ahmadinejad has failed his promises of economic justice. Under Khatami, at least we had long-range planning and investment in the private industrial sector. Ahmadinejad is in favor of the welfare state, a 19th-century idea. We have a proverb in Persian: 'A good year could be judged by the spring.' Ahmadinejad's 'spring' says it all."

Nine months into the Ahmadinejad administration, Iran's political apartheid is still more than evident. For all of the president's populist rhetoric and his outsider posture, it remains a case of the khodiah (our people) against the gheyreh kodiah (the others), insiders against outsiders. In many aspects, foreign outsiders cannot shake the impression of an austere, melancholic, suffocating society carrying the weight of 27 years of a historical, sociopolitical and religious experiment gone wrong.

The majlis (parliament) could invoke its constitutional powers and sack the president before this coming summer.

The inability of regime critics to differentiate Khamenei from Ahmedinejad cripples our ability to play them against each other.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 21, 2006 8:51 AM

Let's differentiate. One has fewer loose screws than the other.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at May 21, 2006 9:31 AM

You sound like liberals a few years ago, plotting how to divide Colin Powell from George W. Bush. They always had hope, but the wedge never got driven in. Perhaps they eventually realized their wishful thinking was allowing them to be played.

Posted by: pj at May 21, 2006 9:32 AM


Excellent example. Colin's off to oblivion.

Posted by: oj at May 21, 2006 10:32 AM


Who's Ahmedinejad, Bush or Powell?

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at May 21, 2006 12:14 PM

The one who's gone.

Posted by: oj at May 21, 2006 12:17 PM

Colin was only let go when the administration was strong enough that it didn't need to pretend to have a liberal voice. So, too, if the regime replaces Khamenei it will signal their confidence.

Posted by: pj at May 21, 2006 12:19 PM

Bush is the liberal voice. Powell is a conservative.

Posted by: oj at May 21, 2006 12:28 PM
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