Iran cleric says Ahmadinejad pressured over staff

Mohammad Davari – AFP May 13, 2011

Three weeks of political infighting in the higher echelons of Iran’s regime have ended, an influential conservative cleric said on Friday, but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is still under pressure over his controversial chief of staff.

Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have healed the rift sparked by the president’s aborted dismissal of intelligence chief Heydar Moslehi, Ayatollah Ahmad Janati said in a weekly prayer sermon at Tehran University.

“We did not expect this from (Ahmadinejad) … but the crisis has passed. Calm has returned and minds have been put at ease,” said Janati, who heads the powerful Guardians Council, the body that overseas elections.

Ahmadinejad’s repeated public assertions of allegiance to Khamenei put an end to “the crisis, which had become a source of happiness for domestic and foreign enemies,” Janati said in remarks broadcast on state radio.

The hardline president has been harshly grilled by conservative opponents for challenging Khamenei’s decision to reject Moslehi’s dismissal in late April.

Moslehi, whose ministry has a key role in vetting electoral candidates, was reportedly forced by Ahmadinejad to resign amid a struggle for control of the intelligence network ahead of a parliamentary poll in March 2012.

In protest at Khamenei’s veto, Ahmadinejad consequently withdrew from the public eye and abandoned cabinet meetings as well as official visits, provoking a fresh crisis within the conservative camp.

But Janati warned Ahmadinejad, without naming him, not to allow the recurrence of any rebellion against the authority of the all-powerful Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters.

“He who makes bad decisions will lose the popular support,” Janati said in an allusion to Ahmadinejad’s efforts to invoke popular support against his critics.

Janati also indirectly cautioned the president that he could not indefinitely protect his controversial chief advisor. Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, the bane of religious traditionalists in the regime.

Mashaie, a close relative of Ahmadinejad who has worked closely with him for more than 25 years, has been condemned for holding nationalistic views dating back to pre-Islamic Iran.

“Some people seek to cause a deviation, and act against the country and Velayat-e Faqih (the supreme leader),” Janati said. “But there will come a day that the regime and the people will deal with them.”

In recent days, conservative leaders have called on Ahmadinejad to separate himself from Mashaie.

An influential religious conservative, Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, accused Mashaie on Thursday of preparing the emergence of a heresy comparable, according to him, to the Babism movement that shook Iran in 19th century.

He criticised Mashaie for advocating an “Iranian Islam,” and for seeking to introduce into the Islamic regime the “pluralism that we have always fought.”

Babism signalled a break with Islam and attempted to start a new religious system that was crushed by the clerical establishment, according to experts.

Mesbah Yazdi, often recognised as Ahmadinejad’s former mentor, urged the president to admit to an error by constantly supporting Mashaie against his critics.

A prominent conservative lawmaker, Alireza Zakani, also advised Ahmadinejad to distance himself from Mashaie, saying the president must “fight his internal and external demons … in the near future.”

Mashaie was quick to reject the criticism on Friday, as he reiterated his allegiance, and that of the president, to Khamenei and Velayat-e Faqih.

The doctrine of Velayat-e Faqih grants absolute authority over all matters to the supreme leader who, according to it, should remain above daily politics.

In an interview with state news agency IRNA, Mashaie said the recent crisis had not affected Ahmadinejad’s relationship with Khamenei at all, and accused his opponents of “following their own petty factional interests” in fuelling discord among the elites.

He also said criticism against Ahmadinejad stemmed from jealousy of those who “could not bear to witness the president’s outstanding management” in bringing “development and hope” to the country.

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Also see: Iranian power struggle takes a bizarre turn

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