The abrupt firing of 14 advisers to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government on Sunday might indicate a growing rift between the president and Iran’s supreme ruler, Ayatollah Kamenei, analysts said.
The dismissals came less than a month after three other surprise firings. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Vice President for Youth Affairs Mehrdad Bazrpash and Deputy Culture Minister for Press Mohammad Ali Ramin were all sacked without notice in December. Ahmadinejad fired his foreign minister, in fact, while he was still out of the country.
All of those fired appear to have run afoul of the president’s closest confidante, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei — a controversial figure in Iranian politics who is believed to have significant influence over the president and designs on the presidency himself when Ahmadinejad’s term is finished.
It was the way the advisers were dismissed, however, that drew ire from the country’s clerical leadership and showed just how far Ahmadinejad had strayed from the authority of Khamenei.
“The manner in which Mr. Mottaki, as well as these advisers, were removed from their posts are far from the Islamic Republic’s morals and teachings,” wrote Ebrahim Beheshti on Monday in Tehran Emrooz, a hardline Iranian news website.
In other words, Ahmadinejad is not following the teachings of the Supreme Leader, highlighting a discord between the religious leader and the president.
The sudden dismissals also followed several attempts by Ahmadinejad to enact laws to increase his power. Although his attempts failed in the end, analysts said the president has clearly been out-maneuvering the religious leadership and the country’s parliament, known as the Majlis.
“The Majlis now has very little power compared to the president,” said Seyed Mojtaba Vahedi, former editor of Aftab Yazd, a reformist newspaper, and adviser to Mehdi Karoubi, a rival of Ahmadinejad in the past election and a member of the opposition, in an interview.
According to Vahedi, the supreme leader miscalculated Ahmadinejad’s ability to consolidate power and influence the country’s development.
“The supreme leader wanted to support someone less known, not very savvy and powerless,” Vahedi said of why Khamenie supported Ahmadinejad. “But he was wrong. He is now terrified of Ahmadinejad, and it is too late.”
Bolstering his position, Ahmadinejad has secured large amounts of cash from a number of different sources and has used it to buy support inside the mighty Revolutionary Guard, Vahedi said.
The dismissals have also served as a means to distract the public (and the media) from the country’s many crippling problems, including an economy that is teetering on the edge, new subsidy cuts that are threatening to spark renewed public unrest and out of control pollution in Tehran, Iran’s capital.
“Ahmadinejad has used this all the time during his presidency,” Vahedi said. “By firing 14 of his advisers, he wants to avert the attention from what state of mess his government has created.”
The shocking way the advisers were all fired has riled the more religious in the government, who have called the moves immoral. Mottaki, the former foreign minister, had been on an official visit to Senegal when he was fired.
Fararu, an Iranian news website reported that after his removal, Mottaki was left without bodyguards or an official escort in Senegal. He later didn’t attend a reception held in his honor and called his dismissal “anti-Islamic” and “insulting.”
Mehdi Kalhour, a top adviser to the president told Mehr News Agency he had no idea he would be fired until he received a letter thanking him for his contributions and wishing him good luck.
Beheshti, from the Tehran Emrooz website, said there were almost certainly political motivations behind the shakeup.
“It is impossible that the president could find 14 members of his advisers incompetent at the same time,” he said.
Several analysts, in fact, have suggested Mashei, Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff and closest adviser, might be consolidating support as he plans a run for president when Ahmadinejad’s term is finished. In an interview on the Fararu website, Jafar Shejuni, director of a newly-created clerical faction, said Mashaei had even begun handing out cash to round up followers.
“Mr. Mashaei would be Iran’s next president, and Mr. Ahmadinejad his chief of staff,” Amirifar, one of the clerics, was quoted as saying.
Mashaei denied he had any plans to become Iran’s next president. But then again, Ahmadinejad and Mashaei are all about surprises.