The supreme guide is threatening to use his stick against the defiant president, eerily recalling the early days of the revolution, says Amani Maged
For almost one month disputes between the Supreme Guide of the Islamic Revolution Ali Khameini and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have continued to escalate, but the most recent quarrel between them about Khameini's refusal to sack Intelligence Minister Haidar Meselhi has been the most tense. Khameini has even given Ahmadinejad an ultimatum: either reverse his decision to dispose of Meselhi or resign.
Clashes between the two parties have escalated on Tuesday with an outright warning published in a pro-Ahmadinejad army newspaper. The stark headlined was "Nijad's strategy to defy the Supreme Guide," has actually resulted in a long list of detainees under the pretext of confronting the regime.
Although this is not the first disagreement of its kind between the two, it recalls the troubles of Abul Hassan Bani Al-Sadr, the first Iranian president after the 1979 Islamic revolution, who was removed because of his clashes with the clerics.
The relationship between Khameini and Ahmadinejad had so far been agreeable, and survived even after the events following the presidential elections in 2009 when the religious institution and Revolutionary Guard backed Ahmadinejad. But Ahmadinejad eventually became "arrogant", according to some analysts, and problems began to bubble to the surface as each side tried to control the other.
The crisis began after Ahmadinejad appointed his brother-in- law Asfandyar Rahim Mashaie as Iran's vice president, a move which was widely criticised even within the Iranian president's camp, causing the vice president to resign within three days. Mashaie triggered an intense controversy by stating that: "Iran is a friend of the people of Israel," and was strongly criticised for hosting a party where women wore traditional dress and reportedly held copies of the Quran while music was playing.
Even MP Hamed Rasay, one of Ahmadinejad's allies, told Etimad Milli : "I think it would have been better if he wasn't appointed." Darwish Jahanbri, a reformer and member of parliament, was quoted as saying that Ahmadinejad could be removed from power because of this decision, and "MPs could question Ahmadinejad and dismiss him because of the appointment." That day, Khameini interceded and condemned the statements and ordered an end to the controversy triggered by Mashaie.
The recent spat erupted when Ahmadinejad sacked Meselhi, but Khameini insisted the intelligence chief should continue in his post. Indeed, Meselhi was reinstated but Ahmadinejad refuses to deal with him. This is the second time since 2009 that Ahmadinejad has challenged an order from the Supreme Guide and directly clashed with the Ministry of Security and Intelligence. Meselhi is the second intelligence chief to be fired by Ahmadinejad.
Members of the Shura Council demanded that President Ahmadinejad implement Khameini's orders. In response, Ahmadinejad refused to participate in cabinet meetings. MPs moved quickly, with 100 conservative representatives drafting a memo demanding that the Iranian president appear in front of parliament to respond to their questions. The overwhelming majority of MPs signed the memo demanding the questioning of Ahmadinejad and calling on him to abide by the Supreme Leader. This is not that surprising, considering all MPS are vetted by him in the first place.
Religious institutions are also involved in the quarrel. The Society of Scholars in Qum and Najaf called on religious leaders to distance themselves from both the regime and the president, describing Khameini as a "despotic ruler" and rejected continuous "sanctification" of the Supreme Guide. They also object to claims by Khameini supporters that he is a precursor for the appearance of the awaited Mahdi (Guided One, redeemer of Islam) and can lead the region in holy wars.
Khameini's representative in the Revolutionary Guard Ali Saiedi warned Ahmadinejad of procrastinating in applying the Supreme Guide's directives, emphasising that Ahmadinejad's legitimacy relies on Khameini's support even if the former received 100 per cent of votes. The Revolutionary Guard launched a stinging attack on Ahmadinejad, and some of its members indicated that his fate may be the same as those they call "the leaders of strife" or reformers, namely removal from power or imprisonment.
The question now is whether this row is genuinely over firing a minister. It is primarily caused by the intention of the Supreme Guide of the Islamic Revolution to take direct control of the security agencies known as the Ministry of Security and Intelligence, removing them from under the control of the executive power, the president, allowing Khameini to arbitrate differences among its leaders., curtailing the president's powers.
Ahmadinejad did not attend the last two cabinet meetings as an expression of his rejection of Meselhi's presence there. He also canceled a visit to Qum and did not attend a meeting last week of the Supreme Council for the Cultural Revolution which he chairs.
The tug-of-war between Ahmadinejad and Khameini continues, even as Islamic sage Mortada Aqa Tahrani gave the president a few days to reverse his decision on firing Meselhi or resign the presidency. Tahrani told Ahmadinejad that the decision to sack the minister implies that the president has become an enemy of the Supreme Guide.
The other struggle which this incident hightlights is over the growing Persian nationalism which Ahmadinejad and Mashaei represent. Hooshang Amirahmadi, president of the American Iranian Council, told the Guardian : "After the revolution, an extensive obsession with Islam made the authorities neglect Iran's history and Mashaei is now seeking to promote this sort of nationalistic narrative. I think Ahmadinejad himself is also in favour of Iran's history and has sought to revive Iran's ancient glory and power. Obviously Mashaei's nationalistic views are a threat to the clerics. They are afraid that their power might wane if people begin to respect their pre-Islamic history."
Ahmadinejad is reliving the scenario of Iran's first president Bani Al-Sadr who challenged Ayatollah Khomeini, tried to circumvent the Islamic revolution and go against the wishes of the Supreme Guide. The latter fired him after two years serving as president.
When false religion is established, when all avenues of protest are closed, when potential revolutionaries are bribed, coopted or killed, then Hussein's model teaches man to be a martyr, and by his death witness to the truth and shake the evil empire:
"It is an invitation to all ages and generations that if you cannot kill, die".
- Ali Shariati