May 9th, 2011
01:54 PM ET

Where in the world is Ahmadinejad?

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is not exactly the shy and retiring type. He loves attention. He makes outlandish claims, bold statements and outright lies - all to get the world to watch.

But over the last few days, we've been seeing his quiet side - so quiet that he actually disappeared from sight. For ten days late last month the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran skipped cabinet meetings and canceled official visits. He wasn't even seen in his offices.

He wasn't ill. He wasn't on pilgrimage.

What in the world was happening?

Ahmadinejad was staging a boycott.

Now, why would the country's leader have to stage a boycott?

Because in Iran there's someone more powerful than the president - that's the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khameini.

We're witnessing a power struggle, and it's getting more intense. First, Ahmadinejad fired the minister of intelligence. The Supreme Leader blocked the move. Then, the president fired his foreign minister, another Khameini protege. This time the Ayatollah wrote a letter - not to President Ahmadinejad but to the deposed minister - reinstating him to his post.

This open tension is unprecedented in modern Iranian politics. Never before has the president of the Islamic Republic wielded so much power and never has he clashed so openly with the clerics.

Ahmadinejad has also been mounting an ideological challenge to the mullahs. He says that he, too, gets divine revelations, even though he is not a priest. He's talked about Iran's pre-Islamic past with great pride, which is something the clergy regards as sacrilegious.

Those in the know are watching closely to see who wins this internal struggle, and here's why it matters: These are the first major moves by Tehran's power players to position themselves ahead of next year's elections. There's a school of thought, which holds that President Ahmadinejad senses that people are tired of the clergy, so he thinks he could gain mileage by distancing himself from them.

Another theory holds that Ayatollah Khameini himself wants to be seen as separate from the government. Remember, inflation in Iran is at 25 percent. Some assessments show that unemployment is at 30 percent.  So Khameini may need a scapegoat.

And, of course, this all comes as leaders of Iran's opposition movement, the Green Movement, remain under house arrest and many other opposition figures and journalists have been jailed. The Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi is so worried for her safety that she is not returning to her country.

The big picture here is that the revolutions in the Middle East have gotten all dictatorships in the region worried, including the one in Tehran. Even as its key ally, Syria, descends deeper into chaos, the Iranian government has managed to rein in disaffection with a mixture of money, bribery and repression. Iran has learned from its own protests of 2009, and so far it doesn't seem likely that it will go the way of the Arab world yet.

Meanwhile, Washington is worried that Tehran is gaining mileage out of the regional unrest. Secretary of State Clinton says, "We do see activities by Iran to try to take advantage of these uprisings. They are trying to exploit unrest. They are trying to advance their agenda in neighboring countries."

But I think the Iranian regime is more nervous than it reveals. Sure, it will gain some foreign policy advantages  - a better relationship with Egypt, for example.  But it faces the much larger problem of the dissatisfaction of its own people who have now seen democratic revolutions in the Middle East that have succeeded. Perhaps that's why President Ahmadinejad took a break and went AWOL.

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soundoff (348 Responses)
  1. Budha

    Why doesnt someone put a bullet in this monkey's head already? He used to empty bullets in people's heads himself when he was younger. Someone needs to return the favor now. Go ahead please do us all a favor!

    May 12, 2011 at 1:16 am | Reply
  2. Neo

    I hope he is in hell, where he belongs..

    May 12, 2011 at 6:18 am | Reply
  3. Barry

    In order for there to be freedom–and for a free society to thrive and succeed–the people must be willing and able to be responsible—and by that I mean responsible to each other. Having the freedom to do whatever one wants, without having a sense of responsibility to others would surely be disastrous.

    Sadly we see this in our own country (the USA). We have people who want to be free to do whatever they want and who want privileges, but they have little, if any, sense of their own responsibility and little, if any, regard for the rights, needs and feelings of others.

    Unfortunately we see this not only among the poor and ignorant, but we also see this among the rich and elite, as we have seen on Wall Street, in the bank scandals, and in the irresponsible actions of our corporations, their lobbyists, and the political leaders they patronize.

    Of course I hope and pray good things for these people.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:10 am | Reply
  4. rakkasan1187

    Hopefully, he was in the same room as bin Laden and he was also taken out by the SEALs. That would be really nice.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:38 am | Reply
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    May 22, 2011 at 9:42 am | Reply
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