As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Curious Case Of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei

The civil unrest in Iran has sparked some very strange internal power struggles. While the main rift between reformers and hardliners continue, with the reformist former President Mohammad Khatami seeking a referendum on the legitimacy of the government (good idea, the way to deal with a stolen election is ANOTHER election), a Vice Presidential appointment by hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has caused yet another split:

Iran's president, under attack by reformists after his disputed election victory last month, on Tuesday openly defied his most powerful backer, refusing an order by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to dump a newly chosen vice president who is despised by hard-liners for insisting last year that Iranians had no quarrel with the Israeli people.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad finds himself under increasing pressure from Iranian hard-liners who appear eager to reap political rewards after leading a weeks-long crackdown on supporters of opposition figure Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who say vote fraud was responsible for Ahmadinejad's victory [...]

Ahmadinejad surprised many observers by defending the vice president, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, an in-law, in the face of a torrent of criticism from his hard-line allies.

News agencies confirmed Tuesday that Khamenei sent a letter to Ahmadinejad on Monday asking for the removal of Mashaei.

"The president should announce the dismissal, or acceptance of the resignation of Rahim Mashaei right away," said Mohammad Hasan Abu- torabi, the deputy speaker of parliament, according to the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency.

But Ahmadinejad insisted on state television that Mashaei "will continue his job," adding, "he is very loyal to the Islamic Revolution and a servant of people."

Kevin Drum thinks this is a sign of Khamenei's weakened power, but Juan Cole thinks something's up:

There is something fishy about this story, since if Khamenei wanted Ahmadinejad to do something, why would he do it in a secret letter that only two MPs have seen? [...]

One possibility is that Khamenei is displeased but does not want to weaken Ahmadinejad by publicly overruling him, at this juncture when things are already unstable. That would make sense of his sending a private letter. Maybe it was circulated to other hard liners only when Ahmadinejad declined to heed it?

In the Iranian constitution, Supreme Leader Khamenei can overrule Ahmadinejad on virtually anything, and can dismiss him at will. So if Khamenei really wants Rahim-Masha'i gone, he'll be history.

I could also see this being more about Ahmadinejad trying to gain favor on the moderate side by appointing someone more in line with their less strident perspective. Which would be a sign that the protests are taking their toll.

Hardliners have continued their assault on Ahmadinejad today. This has become a case of palace intrigue rather than a popular movement. But the popular movement is the catalyst. Ahmadinejad knows he can defy the Supreme Leader because his legitimacy has waned.

...Ahmadinejad caved, firing Mashaei. Should be interesting to see the fallout.

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