By Geneive Abdo, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Geneive Abdo is a fellow in the Middle East Program at the Stimson Center and a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of the recent paper The New Sectarianism.
As Iran’s election draws near, powerful figures within the ruling establishment seem more worried about the future of the incumbent than they are about the potential for violent protests.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is prevented from running for a third term. But this does not appear to have diminished his ambitions to remain a political force after leaving office, a goal he hopes to achieve by hurting his political opponents and pushing his top aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, as the best candidate in next month’s poll.
Alarmed by both of these prospects, Ahmadinejad’s many influential foes are working to stop him – and they are leaving no stone unturned in their efforts (including, according to the Iran News Network site, the blocking of text messages containing the family name Mashaei – a filter that was reportedly removed once the story broke.)
Ahmadinejad has for his part been positioning Mashaei as a presidential candidate for years. The two are not only like minded in their nationalism and shared disdain for the clerical establishment, but they are also relatives – Ahmadinejad’s son is married to Mashaei’s daughter.
But despite the support of a popular incumbent, Mashaei is no shoo-in to the presidential palace. After all, the Guardian Council, which is under the control of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vets candidates and decides who is allowed to run for president, and is not expected to allow anyone from the so-called “deviant faction” of Ahmadinejad supporters to run. Indeed, on April 12, Ayatollah Mohammad Momen – an influential member of the 12-member Guardian Council – reportedly warned: “Don’t have any doubt. If we just sense a little deviation from a [candidate], we will disqualify him.”
More from GPS: Three possible crises for Iran in 2013
Yet despite the Council being seen as unlikely to approve Mashaei’s candidacy, opponents worry that he will somehow still find a way to become a serious contender. And his campaign, although not officially announced, looks in practical terms to be under way already anyway.
This will worry Iran’s leadership – and with good cause. Ahmadinejad has on more than one occasion indicated his willingness to publicize confidential documents that expose his opponents’ past indiscretions. And he is no doubt aware that most presidents under the Islamic Republic have been cast aside and politically marginalized after they have left the presidency, leaving them with no access to the state-controlled media.
Ultimately, Ahmadinejad appears keen not to let the same fate befall him that has his predecessors. Former reformist President Mohammad Khatami and his allies, for example, were deprived of continued national prominence due to Khatami’s calls for political reform and his criticism of the system. When he complained about violence and repression after the protests that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election, he was marginalized even further.
Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani was for his part ousted from influential assemblies, while Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, former regime members and 2009 presidential election candidates, are still under house arrest.
But Ahmadinejad’s concerns likely extend past his future political influence – he also appears to fear being physically harmed after leaving office. He has already claimed to have been threatened, reportedly noting during a trip to Khuzestan Province last month that: “They have sent a message saying that if I become any bolder, they will try to hurt me. I will fight in the service of justice, revolution, people…”
Helping Mashaei become president might therefore be the only way Ahmadinejad can ensure his own survival – politically or otherwise. Yet it’s hard to gauge the potential success of his all-or-nothing strategy, an approach epitomized in his showdown on the floor of the parliament in February during a confrontation with Ali Larijani, the speaker of the parliament.
During the incident – unprecedented even in Iran’s sometimes rough and tumble politics – Ahmadinejad played a tape of what he claimed was a recording of a conversation between Tehran’s chief prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, and Fazel Larijani, the speaker’s brother. According to the tape, the Larijani family had used its prominence for economic gain (a claim disputed by Larijani, who described the tape as blackmail).
More recently, during a trip to Semnan Province last month, Ahmadinejad turned on Supreme Leader Khamenei and the ruling establishment. “Some say that the leader’s opinion dictates that this person should run and that person should not [campaign]. How is this any of your business? The people should decide. All [political] types should run,” Ahmadinejad reportedly announced in apparent reference to Mashaei.
Right now, despite his maneuvering, the odds seem stacked against Ahmadinejad remaining a political force post-election. But whatever his chances, no one seems likely to convince the president to go quietly into the political wilderness.
In spite of all the idiotic, right-wing rants against him, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a good man. The right-wing thugs in Washington hate anyone who doesn't play ball with them and now most people are brainwashed, thanks to the right-wing media!
Agreed I think hes a good man too, west put this devil image on him to go to war.
Thank you both above, Dennis and Patrick. It makes feel good to see intelligent posts like yours above. All that Tea Party, right-wing mumbo-jumbo posted by those ignoramuses does get old!
Well you son of a bag of feces, listen bag licker, stop using my handle, you dung eater. You puss infested, son of a goat loving sheep diddling pair of trolls. You like Ahmadinejad, and secretly you want to make mad passionate love to him, on a bed covered with pages of the koran.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants more freedom for the people of Iran, he is a very good man who himself lived in Iran as a ordinary citizen unlike the ruling elites in the government. I believe he is honest which is rare in a politician, he wants to help create a better and just world which he has always said from the start although western media has found all different methods to discredit him and others wonder why there is so much violence and animosity in the world, this behaviour has to stop or we will have more distrust and conflict, the world will be worse off without him.
Well put, Matthew. Thank you.
USA is a cancer tumor and must be destroyed.
Warning!!!!!!!............Warning!!!!!!!!............Warning!!!!!!!!!!!..........Towel Head Detected!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Jealousy is very unattractive
Sounds like the little leader wants to pull a Putin, and place his own little stooge in control, where he will be able to control him. It won't fair well for this idiot, he has been a great mouth piece for the religious and real leaders of Iran. If he can convince someone and I mean anyone to attack Iran he may be able to stay in office a little longer. The bombs will probably fall after the election (which is just a sham, because the clerics couldn't possibly be elected in Iran if there were ever a free vote. Who knows the world could get lucky and he might just vanish into thin air. Turd wrangler that he is.
Soon the candidates will start registering. Ahmadinejad will endorse the candidacy of his chief-of-staff and close confidante, Esfandiar Mashaei. However, long-term tensions between him and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have tainted Mashaei's reputation among some conservative elements.
True, he's not stepping down quietly and he's not leaving politics neither. He hopes to rely on popular Support in rural areas. His simple and frugal life-style had always appealed to the poor.
You've got to hand it to Ahmadinejad. The guy's got cojones made of brass to go around complaining about Khamanei and the clerics controlling the electoral process when he directly benefited in the last presidential election from that same control. I'd say he has an immense amount of chutzpah, but that might cause a rift in space-time that destroys the very fabric of existence.
I pray that Ahmandinejad will not be harmed physically, that is so unIranian to do such a thing. We are peaceful people and only want big powers to leave us alone.
Left-wing Washington doesn't like him either. Only public support comes from the peasants that have grown to power and they are dying off.
"Left-wing Washington", you say? That is the very opposite from the truth. Washington has never been any further to the right since the 1950's when McCarthy had all those useless hearings without proving anything. Just where have you been, anyway, JB?
Well well well....
Ahmnablowmajob..The Blazer toting force from 1979...Once the darling of The COUNCIL ..now fears for his life from the Same Theocracy..No real surprise there..It is after all IRAN...He did not think he could question the COUNCIL in public and survive...DID he...He did not for once split second confuse his Leaderships authority with that of THE COUNCIL ...DID HE....Oh well for a moment there I thought This darling of the REVOLUTION had mis-steped..Had taken IRAN for theocratic democrasy...He should know better than that after fixing the last elections...I think this Blazer toting midget of a Man is in the Bed..THAT HE MADE...and Im sure the COUNCIL will make certain he SLEEPS WELL..............It is IRAN after all....
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