August 4, 2009

THE WATER OFF AMITY:

Frenemies: Will Iran's right wing abandon President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? (Babak Dehghanpisheh, Aug 4, 2009, Newsweek)

At Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's pre-inauguration ceremony yesterday, the awkward two-step said it all. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave his imprimatur to the election by officiating the ceremony, but it didn't go entirely according to plan. As Ahmadinejad stepped in to kiss Khamenei's hand, the Supreme Leader stepped back and raised his left hand. The two shuffled back and forth for a few moments before Ahmadinejad said a few words and bent over to kiss Khamenei's shoulder, a sign of deference more common among Arabs than Persians. It was the perfect emblem for the weeks of protest that have begun to cleave the two apart. [...]

[T]wo weeks ago, Ahmadinejad had to withdraw his nominee for top cabinet deputy after a firestorm of criticism from hardliners in the regime. The nominee, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai (a relative of Ahmadinejad by marriage), was criticized for a 2008 statement when he said Iranians are "friends of all people in the world, even Israelis." In 2007 Mashai also attended a ceremony in Turkey where women performed a traditional dance without hijab.

At first, Ahmadinejad refused to budge, even though Khamenei made it known he disapproved of Mashai's nomination. Ahmadinejad was blasted by conservative parliamentarians as well as newspapers like Sobh-e Sadegh (affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards) and Ya Lesarat (affiliated with a radical militia called Ansar-e Hezbollah) for disobeying the Supreme Leader. Only after a letter from Khamenei, expressly stating his disapproval, was read on national television did Ahmadinejad withdraw his nomination. But he didn't completely back down: the president appointed Mashai his chief of staff. All of this may seem like insider politics, but it shows that even conservative opponents of Ahmadinejad smell blood.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 4, 2009 4:05 PM
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