Ahmadinejad: Muscular Style
by Amir Taheri
July 9, 2005
While the outside world is trying to size up Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad and decide whether or not he was involved in terrorist operations,
the people of
are witnessing an impressive build-up of power around the newly elected
Ahmadinejad has hit the ground running.
Just two days after his election he sent emissaries to all
the defeated candidates to warn them in no uncertain turns that they would have
to cooperate with his administration or else. Even Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani,
who was beaten by Ahmadinejad, stopped sniping at his rival after receiving an
offer he could not refuse. According to sources, Rafsanjani was told to either
fall into line or have a special commission investigate his family's business
deals. Mahdi Karrubi, another mulla who lost in the election, had promised to
lodge a formal compliant against the results, alleging "massive and
shameless fraud". By last week, however, he had been "persuaded"
by Ahmadinejad to swallow his words. He now says that not only will he not make
a complaint but is advising his supporters to rally behind the winner.
Next it was the turn of another mulla, Muhammad Khatami the
outgoing president, to stop his jibes against Ahmadinejad and ask to meet him
for a photo opportunity. Significantly, the president-elect insisted that
Khatami call on him rather than the other way round.
The power show continued with another unprecedented scene.
This time a delegation of Majlis (Islamic Parliament) deputies called on the
president-elect to read him a letter of support composed in a language of
panegyric usually reserved for the "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei. The
letter was signed by over 260 of the 290 members of the Majlis, making
Ahmadinejad the first president of the Islamic Republic to start work with such
a huge base within the legislature.
While all this was going on Ahmadinejad's aides were busy
organizing a campaign of declarations and newspapers advertisements in which
prominent political, clerical and business figures expressed their support for
the new president. This type of operation, unprecedented in
, is routine in Arab states ruled by despotic regimes.
But if there is one message that Ahmadinejad seems keen to
impart is that he hopes to limit the role of the mullas in government. Instead,
he intends to give the military a bigger voice in all aspects of
This theme has been hammered in with a series of
spectacular encounters that Ahmadinejad has organized with the military leaders
in recent days.
The parade began with the army's Commander-in-Chief Maj.
Gen. Ali Salimi who called on the president-elect to pledge "the unfailing
loyalty of the armed forces". This was interesting because legally speaking
the president has no direct relations with the armed forces that Khamenei is
supposed to control as "Supreme Commander".
The military theme of Ahmadinejad's presidency became more
emphasized Wednesday when the entire top brass of the Islamic Revolutionary
Guard Corps (IRGC) called on him to pledge loyalty.
Before the meeting the IRGC issued a statement, composed in
almost lyrical prose, to welcome Ahmadinejad's victory and promise to defend his
administration against "all domestic and foreign enemies."
"President-elect Ahmadinejad is a son of the Islamic
Revolutionary Guard," the IRGC Commander-in-Chief Gen. Rahim Safavi said
before the meeting. "It is our duty to make sure that he succeeds."
This was in sharp contrast to Safavi's statements eight
years ago when Muhammad Khatami won the presidency. At the time Safavi had
warned Khatami not to "dream of dangerous reforms", and publicly
promised that the IRGC would step in to stop policies it deemed to be a threat
to the regime's "truly Islamic foundations."
It may be too early to speak of "akhundzodai"
(de-mullaization) of the regime as some commentators in Tehran are doing. But
there is no doubt that Ahmadinejad's election brings Iran closer to the Middle
Eastern model in which the military and security apparatus, rather than the
clergy, provide the backbone of the state. Far from being a puppet in the hands
of Khamenei, the new president, elected on anti-status quo platform, is almost
certain to try and impose his own agenda.
But what is that agenda?
Domestically, we may expect a generational changeover in
which older revolutionary figures, most of them mullas, are replaced by younger
figures mainly emerging from the IRGC and the paramilitary Baseej Mustadafeen
(Mobilization of the Dispossessed). The IRGC's expanding political role will be
reflected in the appointment of new provincial governors and major city mayors
with military and security backgrounds.
On the economic front, the new president will almost
certainly move to the left in the sense of increasing government intervention in
business, raising subsidies on basic necessities, and offering more government
hand-outs for the poor.
Socially, the election may also lead to a retreat by the
urban middle classes in favor of the poorer strata of society. During his
eight-year long presidency Khatami tried to pander to the urban middle classes
and failed to win their sympathy and support. Ahmadinejad is focusing on the
lower middle class and the mass of the urban and rural poor, hoping that they
would provide him with a lasting support base.
As far as foreign policy is concerned, expect the Islamic
Republic to project its power more decisively. While Rafsanjani tried to sell
himself as the man who could deal with the United States, Ahmadinejad told the
Iranians that the US was "a failing power" and, quoting the late
Ayatollah Khomeini, "cannot do a damn thing" against the rising tide
of the global Islamic revolution. Ahmadinejad has also dismissed the regional
Arab countries as "irrelevant" to what he sees as the coming showdown
between Islam and the United States. "These are not countries but petrol
stations," he quipped at a recent television interview in Tehran. Later, he
forecast that the Islamist revolution would, in time, spread to the entire
Ahmadinejad's muscular style has already affected the
behavior of the Islamic Foreign Ministry that has threatened a number of
countries, ranging from Bahrain to Belgium and Austria, of dire consequences for
a variety of incidents.
The threat to Bahrain was related to the publication by a
Bahraini newspaper of a cartoon of the "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei.
According to the Iranian constitution Khamenei is not only the "Supreme
Guide" of the Islamic Republic but also the highest religious authority for
all Muslims throughout the world. Thus any disrespect to Khamenei is regarded as
an insult to the entire Muslim "Ummah" (community). The threat to
Belgium came after the president of the Belgian Senate cancelled a meeting with
the visiting Iranian Majlis speaker because the latter refused to shake hands
with the former because she is a woman. Austria received its threat after a
public prosecutor in Vienna opened an investigation into the murder of three
Kurdish leaders there in 1989, alleging that Ahmadinejad had been involved in
The new president is also certain to take a tougher line in
the nuclear nonproliferation talks with the European Union. The daily newspaper
Kayhan, which was Ahmadinejad's strongest supporter in the election, has called
on him to take the Islamic Republic out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)
altogether thus making any talks with the EU and the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) unnecessary.
"Why do we need to talk to any foreigners about what
we want to do in our own country?" demanded Hussein Shariatmadari, Kayhan's
executive editor, in a recent comment.
Ahmadinejad may not go that far. He may even try to lead
the EU trio up the garden path for a while. But one ting is certain: He is
determined not to be a pushover.