June 23, 2011


A Divine Wind Blows Against Iran’s President (NEIL MacFARQUHAR, 7/23/11, NY Times)

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, seeking to repair a politically reckless rift with the country’s supreme leader that is leaving him isolated and embattled, recently portrayed their relationship as one of “father and son.”

Conservative clerics, convinced that the ambitious, messianic president remains determined to supplant them, rebuked Mr. Ahmadinejad for elevating his own station.

“The relationship with the leader of revolution should be the relation between the guide and the guided,” growled Mojtaba Zolnour, the supreme leader’s representative to the Revolutionary Guards, in a speech in Qum, Iran’s religious center. “What does it mean to say that my relation with the leader is like the relation of a son to his father. This is nonsense. This is deviant discourse!” [...]

Fundamentally, the fight conforms to a pattern of presidential politics that has troubled the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution. The system allows for two presidents, one divine, the other democratic. The divine leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, holds most of the power levers, controlling the military, the judiciary and the state broadcasting services.

The divine leader is also permanent, while elected presidents serve a maximum of eight years. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s predecessors — Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, who also clashed with the supreme leader over prerogatives — have gradually faded from view.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is determined to avoid their fate, and that, say Iran experts, set off the current showdown.

“The game they are playing now is Ahmadinejad trying to politically maneuver himself to gain more power, while Khamenei tries to contain him,” said Mustafa el-Labbad, director of Al Sharq Center for Regional and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “It is a struggle motivated by politics and economics, being presented by some as an ideological and spiritual struggle.” [...]

In creating a vision of an Iran less dominated by clerics, Mr. Ahmadinejad has evoked Iranian nationalism, redolent of pre-Islamic Persia, and holds that Shiite Muslims do not need the clergy to engage with the Hidden Imam, a messiah-like figure who Mr. Ahmadinejad predicts will return soon.

Then there is the matter of djinns. Several aides arrested in recent weeks have been charged with evoking djinns, or secret spirits, and dabbling in other dark arts. Traditionalist clerics abhor the president.

“They don’t like his suggestions that he alone is so close to the Hidden Imam — the connotation is that he has a privileged position is religiously problematic,” said Vali Nasr, the author of “The Shia Revival.” “They don’t like his messianism, they don’t like his meddling in religious affairs, they see his populist folksy brand of Shiism as a threat.”

We have met the Messiah, and he ain't Mahmoud.

Posted by at June 23, 2011 6:09 AM

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