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By Global Public Square staff
A historic event took place this past week – an Iranian leader visited Egypt for the first time since the 1970s, marking a thaw in relations between two of the Middle East’s heavyweights.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy quite literally laid out the red carpet for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, greeting him with a kiss on each cheek.
But when Ahmadinejad visited a Cairo mosque, he was greeted with a very different Arab tradition – a shoe hurled at him by a protestor. And the head of Egypt’s greatest Islamic center, al-Azhar, warned him to stop meddling in Arab countries. The Iranian president has had a turbulent week, not just in his travels, but, more importantly, at home. Why? Well, try this comparison. We all know President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are not best buddies, but imagine Obama playing a video in the middle of Congress, a video that claims to show Boehner’s brother soliciting a massive bribe.
The Iranian version of that is exactly what happened in Tehran last Sunday. In the middle of a packed house, Ahmadinejad played a secretly filmed video, one of many he claims to have collected. The man at the center of all this was Fazel Larijani. His brother Ari Larijani, the speaker of the parliament, was enraged. The speaker berated the president saying, "You are not allowed to talk anymore." And then, "Please leave. Please leave."
The president of Iran was forced to walk out of parliament. And, remember, he was there to defend his labor minister, who was being impeached. It was the ninth such impeachment procedure in the last eight years. What is going on?
Well, in the West, we know Ahmadinejad as the face of the Islamic Republic. He is a globetrotter, dropping by the U.N., Venezuela, Brazil and China. Ahmadinejad has probably become the most recognizable Iranian face in the world. He makes outrageous, provocative statements about everything from gays to Israel to the Holocaust. But back home, he has always been a dangerous opponent of the clerics who actually run the country.
Ahmadinejad, remember, is a lay-person without any spiritual authority, but he is a twice-elected president with populist appeal. Real power rests with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, the man who controls the revolutionary guards, the military backbone of the regime.
On the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, from what we can tell, Ahmadinejad is actually the moderate. He wants to be the president who negotiates with America, breaks Iran's isolation and makes a deal resolving the nuclear problem.
During his last presidential campaign, he was actually attacked by the opposition leader, Mir Hussein Moussavi, for offering too many concessions to the West.
Well, last week, Ayatollah Khamenei slapped him down. Ahmadinejad and his foreign minister had expressed interest in negotiating directly with the United States responding to comments by Vice President Biden. But Khamenei rejected the process and dismissed people like Ahmadinejad as naive, even wondering if they wanted America to dominate Iran again. So what happens next? Well, Ahmadinejad will step down in June when his term ends. Khamenei remains in control. The Green Movement has been silenced at least for now.
So despite the pressure, isolation and increasing sanctions, Iran remains defiant and the most defiant forces seem firmly in charge. Not a good prospect for a nuclear deal.