Through their separate remarks two days ago, Jaafar Shajooni, a cleric supporting Ahmadinejad’s administration, and Ali Motahari, a principlist member of the Majlis critical of the administration, revealed the existence of differences between Iran’s leader ayatollah Khamenei and the head of the tenth administration Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on current issues facing the country.
Speaking to KhabarOnline website close to Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, Ali Motahari implicitly disclosed ayatollah Khamenei’s displeasure with the recent policy of lifting government subsidies was implemented. This Majlis representative pointed out to what he called “insistence” of Ahmadinejad and Mashai on their views and said, “The leader knows that the president does not retreat from his positions and so he normally does not intervene” in the latter’s work.
The example Motahari gave for his observation was the implementation of the recent law that rearranged the government subsidies on some basic goods to the public. “What is taking place right now, regardless of whether it is good or bad, is not according to the law that Majlis passed. It is something that Mr. Ahmadinejad has been pressing for from the beginning, and now is not the time to explain in this in more details,” the conservative lawmaker said.
Jaafar Shajooni, a cleric who is a member of the ruling body of the Majmae Rohaniyoon Mobarez (The Association of Combatant Clerics, a reformist clerical group) and the Motalefe party is also a principlist member (a Majlis faction that has expressed criticism over some of the administration’s policies) also spoke of differences between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. In his interview with Hamshahri Mah newspaper, he spoke of Ahmadinejad’s disregard for the views of the clerics and the senior ayatollahs and the supreme leader’s weak posture towards the administration.
According to Shajooni, the principlists are (i.e., advocates and followers of ideological principles) are tolerating the government. In response to a question by the reporter about Ahmadinejad’s errors, he responded by asking, “How long is the life of this administration?” implying that it will not last forever.
The member of the Combatant Clerics also spoke of the senior clerics’ dissatisfaction with the administration. “This is a weakness of the government. The government of course contends that they are not ashamed of this. But this is undesirable and nothing can be done about it. We shall wait.”
The Only Capital Left for Khamenei
Analysts and observers of the Iranian scene have talked about differences between ayatollah Khamenei and Ahmadinejad in recent months. They point to the appointment of Esfandiar Rahim Mashai as the first vice-president and the changes at the top administration levels to be contention points between the two, appointments which the leader has disapproved.
One commentator in Paris Mohammad-Ali Tofighi believes the differences are serious and real. Speaking with Rooz, he compared Ahmadinejad to a child who has found a flaw in his dad and therefore regularly asks for a ransom. “Nobody knows better than Ahmadinejad how he was made president and he knows how much support he has from Khamenei, which is why his administration has more authority than any other administration since the 1979 revolution,” he said.
“On the other hand, Khamenei has vested all his credibility in Ahmadinejad, which is why he not only eliminated the reformists but even his long-time friends. Ahmadinejad is now the only capital Khamenei is left with,” Tofighi believes.
Differences Exist but the Administration is Obedient
Principlists and members of the ruling circles in Iran admit to differences between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad even though observers point out that the verbal support that Mr. Khamenei has given to Ahmadinejad is more than such support to any other chief executive. Khamenei has said that the reason for his strong support of the president is because Ahmadinejad is under the greatest criticism and attack than previous administrations.
In his most recent trip to Qom where ayatollah Khamenei met with the Shiite’s senior ayatollahs, he again defended and supported Ahmadinejad’s administration. As reported by Fars news agency and other media outlets close to ayatollah Khamenei, the leader told the clerics, “When the president or other senior administration members go on foreign trips, I have no concerns. Whereas before, I was concerned about what the officials would say.”
According to Ali-Reza Islamian a member of the experts Assembly of Experts on Leadership – Mr. Khamenei also said, “Differences exist under the current conditions and I too do not support some of them; but if the leader says something today the president accepts it and implements it.” In another part of his talk, Khamenei is reported to have said, “Government authorities today present the views of the regime and the revolution.” He then raised the issue of the Iranian interpretation of Islam that Mashai had publicly raised and said, “I am against this issue and have pointed this out to the gentlemen. Still, I do not believe that they are pinning Islam against Iran.”
In speaking about the meeting that Khamenei had with the senior clerics in Qom, Hassan Mamdoohi, a member of the powerful teachers association of the Qom Theological Association said, “In the various meetings that the leader had in Qom, he said that the level of criticism of the administration was meaningless.”
Tofighi points out that the real differences between Iranian leaders do not make to the media as they try to portray an image of unity in public. Still, he says, there are many subtle and coded messages that point out to the differences between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. He cites another such example to be Ahmadinejad’s negative remarks about the 20-year vision plan for the Islamic republic. He had said that the document was prepared by someone who had no knowledge about the potentials of the country. This document had been approved by ayatollah Khamenei as a 30-year plan for the Islamic republic.
Support Because of Lack of Alternative
Tofighi also points out that the differences between the two have been managed and have become rationalized. But he also says that Ahmadinejad also enjoys support in the Pasdaran Revolutionary Guards. Tofighi, who used to be a member of the Mojahedin Enghelab Eslami reformist group, believes that the president is the person on whom the security and Guards have agreed on to lead the country, and he in turn has given them plenty of the state booty through economic deals, government positions and other privileges. He believes that Khamenei supports Ahmadinejad because he has no other choice right now, pointing out that as the next round of Majlis elections approach, Ahmadinejad’s differences will become more public and apparent as he and his team have set their eyes on those elections and even on the future of the supreme leader.