By Selim Celal
- The Turkey-based writer is an expert on Iran’s foreign policy and domestic politics.
ISTANBUL (AA) - On Feb. 14, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made his boldest statement ever about Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Having been denied entry into the trial session of his close ally Hamid Baqaa’ee, he stood on the stairs at the entrance of the court, and in a desperate tone, stated that even the Supreme Leader was "wriggling out of the responsibility" for misuse of power by the judiciary.
Ahmadinejad’s quarrel with the Supreme Leader over the judiciary is not something new. Earlier, in Nov. 2017, he wrote an open letter to the Supreme Leader complaining against the judicial system. Notwithstanding this, the Supreme Leader has remained supportive of the judiciary. In his last meeting with the judicial authorities on July 3, 2017, the Supreme Leader advised them to take the necessary measures to protect oppressed people, such as Ibrahim Zakzaki, a Nigerian Shia convert and religious activist.
We can trace Ahmadinejad’s statement about the Supreme Leader in the latter’s personality. Unlike his predecessor, the current Supreme Leader is very good at taking credit without sharing responsibility. While Ayatollah Khomeini was brave enough to accept the responsibility of his decisions, Khamenei always runs with the hare and hunts with the hounds. As we noted in one of our previous articles, it is said that “men make mistakes; big men make big mistakes.” But one should also add that “big men have the courage to carry the responsibility of their mistakes as well.” Khamenei seems to lack this kind of courage. Therefore, Ahmadinejad should at least be given credit for highlighting an important dimension of the Supreme Leader’s character since it is something no one has dared to do so far.
However, one needs to delve into the questions of how far Ahmadinejad would be allowed to continue along this path and to what extent he can keep on criticizing and accusing Khamenei so openly and blatantly? To answer these questions, one would need to have a clear understanding of the ongoing political discourse in Iran, the alignment of the political forces as well as the socio-political dynamics of this country.
Ahmadinejad belongs to the conservative camp, which is itself a minority among the Iranian masses. As a result, Ahmadinejad’s current is a “minority within a minority”. To put things into a clearer perspective, the camp from which he can draw supporters is the very camp of hardliners that supports the Supreme Leader. Obviously, the hardliners prefer a powerful Supreme Leader rather than an “empty-handed” Ahmadinejad. The Supreme Leader enjoys greater leverage to get them rallied behind himself. After all, he is still in power, and power is always persuasive.
In addition to that, as is the case with the political culture of most third-world countries, the phenomenon of personality cult plays an important role in Iran; and Ahmadinejad does not have this privilege. Iranians widely refer to him as “Comedy-nejad”. In the absence of a charismatic personality, any ambitious politician would need to fill the gap by offering a unique discourse. For instance, former President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) did it very well. He offered a discourse of “reform” at the national level, and spiced it up with "dialogue between civilizations" at the international level. President Hassan Rouhani was also successful, albeit partially, in selling his “moderation” discourse during his first term.
As far as Ahmadinejad is concerned, he is not offering any proper dialogue, or at least, a marketable one. He starts his every speech with a long prayer for the reappearance of Mahdi, the twelfth Shia imam, and the “Mahdavite Global Just Society”, thereby making his speeches a laughing stock, and even abominable for many Iranians. This is because the Iranian public has been going in an opposite direction for quite some time. To be specific, the currently prevailing trends in the Iranian political atmosphere are “freedom” and “referendum”, which are the only items one can capitalize on.
It is also necessary to note that only one specific version of referendum is marketable; one that would be conducted under the supervision of international observers and provide the Iranians with an opportunity to choose between the current theocratic political system and a new secular democratic political set-up. For instance, it was just a few days earlier, on Feb. 11, that President Rouhani, on the occasion of the 39th anniversary of the victory of the Islamic revolution, suggested, in the presence of top Iranian officials, holding a referendum. Though as president he is much more important than Ahmadinejad, his statement was not taken seriously by the public, because he talked about referendum at the policy level, and not at the system level. What he meant by referendum was that political forces should settle their differences through a referendum within the framework of the current theocratic system.
Furthermore, it is not easy for a politician in Iran to rise to power for a second time. Essentially, falling and rising in healthy political environments are natural things. To name only two examples, Winston Churchill of Britain was disgraced in 1945, but rose again six years later in 1951. Cyril Ramaphosa, who was once regarded as “heir apparent” to Nelson Mandela, was shunned for years, but just a few days earlier he reemerged and has now succeeded Jacob Zuma as the new president of South Africa. Nonetheless, the history of the Islamic Republic, particularly that of its conservative camp, shows that once someone has fallen from grace, he cannot reemerge, and Ahmadinejad is not an exception. He is not more clever than the late Rafsanjani. One should not mistakenly think that Rafsanjani had made a comeback in the later years of his life. He seemed to have reemerged only because he had switched his line. In other words, he reemerged only when he was adopted by the reformist camp, and this is again not the case with Ahmadinejad.
Although Ahmadinejad employs a language that most others would strictly avoid, he must be seriously deluded if he is defining himself as the leader of the opposition forces. Iranians will not forget that while they were on the streets for several days about two months ago, Ahmadinejad effectively went into hibernation, and until now, he has not made even a single comment about the popular uprising, the most widespread national protest in the history of the Islamic Republic.
That said, Ahmadinejad now seems to be using his last bullets. He will probably not be able to go any further, though he may give a few more similar statements. But such statements would not have any substantial bearing. So far his statements have created media waves, but have failed to generate any real social following. His recent statement can also be seen in this context. It may help him consolidate his position within his own close circle, but the general Iranian psyche is that one must first be victimized by the system, and only then would people start believing in him.
On the other hand, had Ahmadinejad’s words made any social impact, he would have been placed under house arrest long ago. In a political system where such a polite character as Muhammad Khatami has been banned from appearing in public, the free galloping of Ahmadinejad suggests that the establishment knows very well that he cannot pose any serious threat. Perhaps that is why the establishment does not want to make any effective effort to stop Ahmadinejad, and create a hero out of him. There is no attempt to accommodate him, either. Iranian authorities openly refer to him as a “hooligan with a mental disorder who does not deserve any attention”.
Commenting on Ahmadinejad’s statement on Nov. 28, Mohseni Ezhe’ee, the Iranian judiciary’s spokesperson, said: “A crook, who was not getting any attention, came to the city’s main square once and started vilifying others. Some people gathered around him. A wise man who was passing by said: this individual is doing so only to get attention, and if you people watch him, his intention will be fulfilled.”
In fact, what is painful for Ahmadinejad is that despite his straightforward language, he is not getting any attention either from the general public or from the establishment. Nevertheless, a free and helpful piece of advice to Ahmadinejad is that he should stop defending his eight-year presidency, and instead, he should engage in some self-criticism. Most importantly, he should open the black box of the controversial presidential election of 2009, and explain what happened during the election, the way it was manipulated, as well as the organs involved in the manipulation and the subsequent crackdown of the post-election rioters. Only then he might perhaps attract people. Doing anything short of that, he will remain who he already is: someone with personal grievances with no significant social impact.
* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.