September 10, 2010


The president's awkward friend: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, pictured right, is at risk of falling out with Iran’s clergy because of the rise of the controversial confidant who stands behind him (The Economist, Sep 9th 2010)

As the president’s closest adviser, the slim, handsome, self-confident [Esfandiar Rahim Masha] has come to represent all that traditionalists in Shia Iran find odious about Mr Ahmadinejad’s presidency. The Islamic Republic was founded on the idea that the Muslim community awaits the reappearance of the hidden “12th imam”, a messianic leader who was “occulted”—hidden by God—in the ninth century; in the meantime it is up to the clergy to run human affairs, under an arrangement known as the Guardianship of the Jurist. Mr Mashai, it is strongly rumoured, believes himself to have a direct link to the hidden imam, and hence regards the intercession of Iran’s clergy as superfluous. He is also said to have encouraged the president’s well-known millenarian tendencies.

For long, Mr Mashai’s critics have expressed their fears sotto voce. Over the course of the summer, however, several conservatives openly raised fears of a campaign among Mr Ahmadinejad’s closest allies to drive the clergy from public life. Last month, a conservative parliamentarian, Hamid Rasai, revealed that the country’s current “guardian-jurist”, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had spoken to him and a few other deputies about a “new plot” carrying even greater danger than last year’s protests. Mr Rasai hinted that Mr Mashai and the Green Movement, albeit now much diminished, may be working in sinister concert; after all, he pointed out, both are “uncommitted to the Guardianship of the Jurist”.

Reverence for the hidden imam has long been an accepted part of Shia Islam, but millenarian zeal has produced schismatics in the past—the Bahais, for instance, who are now banned and persecuted. From a position of ostentatious piety, Mr Mashai clearly feels he has the licence to behave provocatively. He has renounced hostility for the people of Israel (for which he received a dressing down from Mr Khamenei), suggested that Iran is incapable of dealing with modern challenges, and flirted impiously with a famous actress. Were he a reformist, it is likely that he would have been silenced months ago.

In August Mr Mashai caused perhaps his biggest rumpus to date, when he urged hundreds of expatriate Iranians, who had been invited to Tehran at government expense, to act as propagandists for a national ideology, as opposed to an Islamic one. Lacing his address with references to Iran’s pre-Islamic history and claiming that Iran had saved Islam from Arab parochialism, Mr Mashai’s patriotic theme provoked a storm of recrimination from members of the religious establishment. “If someone turns away from Islam,” warned Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, a longtime leading government supporter, “we warn him, and then, if that does not work, we beat him.” [...]

Ayatollah Khamenei has tried his best to end the infighting, but his authority is limited by his record of support for Mr Ahmadinejad, which may be all that stops parliament from impeaching him. However according to Mr Mashai, it is only a matter of time before “certain people are calling Ahmadinejad an apostate.”

The Ayatollah understands his country as poorly as we do.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted by Orrin Judd at September 10, 2010 8:28 PM
blog comments powered by Disqus