Evidence is piling up that suggests Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will order the arrest of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the not-too-distant future. This conclusion, based largely on information from open sources, is supported by extraordinary new revelations provided by a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who recently spoke with this reporter.
According to the officer, who insisted on anonymity, forces loyal to Ahmadinejad have allegedly been secretly negotiating political and military cooperation with foreign states that are Iran’s nominal enemies. According to the Revolutionary Guard officer, one such state — a NATO member — was in the final stages of reaching agreement with Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei to provide training and sophisticated equipment to an elite paramilitary organization created by the president himself. All 15 men who attended the most recent of several meetings concerning the deal, claims the Guard officer, were put under arrest by the country’s security services upon their return.
Ahmadinejad may be anticipating a move against him. On August 13, Iran newspaper — published by IRNA, the official state news agency, which consistently backs the president — warned ominously that the administration’s adversaries aimed to create a “hot summer” and a “red [i.e., bloody] Shahrivar.” The Persian month of Shahrivar begins in four days.
When on June 19, 2009, the Supreme Leader lavished praise on his president before an audience of millions of Iranians, few would have thought that in less than two years the two strongmen would be conspiring to eliminate one another. But that is precisely what appears to have happened. In fact, even without recourse to the new revelations, Ahmadinejad’s fate had been more or less sealed. The litany of his offenses is extensive, from defying two “state edicts” issued by the Leader to undermining the clerical order to vastly enriching his closest supporters. The following analysis, based entirely on Iranian media reports from the past three months, leaves little doubt as to the future course of events.
The electoral front
The most critical battle confronting the establishment are the parliamentary elections next March. Any political force that can control the Majles can pave the way for victory in the 2013 presidential race. The Ahmadinejad-Mashaei camp has thus started an early campaign that so far remains largely behind the scenes. This is because of the extremely hostile environment stirred up against Mashaei, and by extension Ahmadinejad himself, since the spring. In early April, it was revealed by several hardline websites that the so-called “deviationist current” — Mashaei and his inner circle — intended to get at least 150 supporters into the next parliament. Majles deputy Reza Hosseini, who broke the news, gave detailed information on Mashaei’s electoral strategy. On April 11, the Fararu website — aligned with Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf — revealed that several clandestine campaign operations have been set up in the provinces under the cover of “cultural headquarters.” The focus on the provinces is not accidental. In the last presidential election, the vast majority of Ahmadinejad’s votes came from small towns and villages. On top of that, the government has built an impressive constituency in these areas with cash subsidies as part of its subsidy rationalization scheme. On May 27, around 130 delegates congregated in Tehran to devise strategy. The website Mashregh News, connected to the country’s security establishment, reported that so far 900 individuals have been selected to run in the election next March. The large number includes several unknown figures who would replace those disqualified by the watchdog Guardian Council. Possessing a huge war chest and an enviable political machine, the Ahmadinejad-Mashaei camp’s chances of emerging victorious in the next election is quite high.
The political front
Starting in the third year of his term and accelerating after his 2009 reelection, Ahmadinejad has amassed an extraordinary record of flouting the law and defying the entire establishment. At one point or other, he has ignored or challenged the Supreme Leader’s office, the Majles, the judiciary, the Guardian Council, the Expediency Council, and several other constitutional and extraconstitutional entities. He has twice ignored “state edicts” of Khamenei’s, defined by the system as the most important law on the land. In several private conversations, he has questioned the very institution of Velaayat-e Faghih — guardianship of the Islamic jurist, as represented by the Supreme Leader. In the last two months, which have supposedly seen a scaling-down of rhetoric by the presidential camp, we see the same defiance in operation. Just ten days ago, Ahmadinejad had positive comments he made to Euronews TV about the Supreme Leader removed from his official website. Almost every day, Iran, the main pro-Ahmadinejad media outlet, is replete with derogatory comments about important religious and political figures and entities. For example, in a June 12 special supplement to the newspaper, its editor and Ahmadinejad’s media czar, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, scorned clerics like hardline Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi for being “despotic.”
The religious front
On the religious front, Ahmadinejad has pursued a multipronged strategy. On the one hand, he has created his own religious outfits. For example, a year and a half ago, Mashaei engineered a split in the powerful Preachers Association by a group calling itself the Velaei Preachers Association. The government has also been using its control over the Treasury to reward or punish various religious figures. It also helps out its supporters in the Basij militia, which are largely based in the mosques. According to Majles deputy Gholam Reza Mesbahi Moghadam, the government has tried to take over control of the mosques from the clerics. Indeed, Ahmadinejad has stated, “The government’s cultural programs are mosque-based.” Last year, budgets for mosques were increased fivefold. According to the paper Jomhouri Eslami, several pro-Ahmadienjad MPs used their districts’ mosques for “public outreach” during the celebrations for the 12th Imam. Ahmadinejad has also moved to seize the Religious Endowment Office (Oghaf).
Simultaneously, Ahmadinejad has tried to supplant the dominant traditionalist strands in Shia theology with his own worldview. Just last week, Iran published a supplement that included several unprecedented attacks against the traditional veil. He has also used hot-button issues like sex segregation and morality police to undermine conservative norms. Though this is donwwith a clear view to capturing the middle-class vote, it serves to undermine the reigning ideology.
The financial front
The faction associated with Ahmadinejad has amassed a vast fortune through legal, semilegal, and illegal means. While the practice is well-established in the Islamic Republic, concerns over the deterioration of the political situation have evidently accelerated the process. These efforts have been focused on the banking system, the energy and automotive sectors, and, recently, hard currency manipulations.
In the banking sector, a handful of individuals have taken multimillion-dollar loans and never paid interest or even the principal back. In the oil sector, huge, lucrative deals have been given to Ahmadinejad-allied businesses working as subcontractors. According to the Majles Energy Commission, no one has any idea of the magnitude of these schemes. In the automotive sector, two firms, Iran Khodro and Saipa, control the entire market. Two dozen Ahmadinejad loyalists control Saipa with an iron grip, to the extent that the Majles is now investigating cronyism and nepotism at the huge firm. While the company announced losses last year, “administrative” costs rose 35 percent. Many people believe the claims of losses are overstated or entirely fictitious. Nobody has any idea which one of the scores of Saipa subcontractors are linked to Ahmadinejad, but the figure must be large. In addition, last July, currency markets underwent unusually wild fluctuations. According to the reformist newspaper Roozgar, several individuals scored huge profits through currency manipulation — evidently benefitting from inside information. According to the Guard-controlled news agency Fars, one man who has been apprehended made millions of dollars. The news agency linked the man, known by the initials “H.M.K.,” to the “deviationist current.”
The diplomatic front
By now everybody knows that Ahmadinejad appointed four plenipotentiary envoys in an attempt to circumvent the Supreme Leader. Now, according to the Guard officer’s recent statement, we learn that there were apparently many other informal diplomatic channels operating in the last few months. On May 8, for example, the Washington Post reported on secret efforts to establish talks with the United States.
The security front
Aside from trying to steer such entities as the Ministry of Intelligence away from the Leader, Ahmadinejad has tried to establish brand new security-related fronts involving such organizations as the Boy Scouts and the Red Crescent, with which he has aimed to supplant the Basij militia.
In short, the faction associated with Ahmadinejad is frantically preparing for a showdown with the Supreme Leader and his allies. In turn, the latter are preparing to eliminate the Ahmadinejad camp before it is too late.
Aside from daily revelations of government malfeasance, security-related offenses are beginning to be added to the crimes of the Ahmadinejad faction. This is quite ominous, since this kind of propaganda usually precedes detention and execution. On April 13 — that is, within days after Ahmadinejad’s 11-day sequestration at home began — the spiritual father of the violence-prone hardline faction, Mesbah Yazdi, fired the opening salvo: “The danger I feel is so insidious, the like of which Islam has never been seen before. It is coming from people planted among us from outside…. Today in our society, a Freemasonry organization is being created.” Experts believe that by referring to the Ahmadinejad faction as Freemasons, Mesbah Yazdi officially sanctioned a frontal attack on it. (In the view of Iranian fundamentalists, the Freemasons represent a dangerous cabal of spies and saboteurs.) Soon after that, Javan, a newspaper operated by the Revolutionary Guards, linked a recently detained member of the Ahmadinejad faction, Abbas Ghafari, to Israeli intelligence. Several hardline websites are claiming that another Ahmadinejad associate, Parivash Satvati, is linked to British intelligence.
Parviz Severi, a ranking Majles deputy and former Revolutionary Guard commander, told Fars, “The links between the deviationist current and foreigners will become clear very soon…. The deviationist current is taking aim at the entirety of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Later, Mesbah Yazdi said of Mashaei, “He has made several trips abroad and met with foreign leaders whose reports have never been divulged before.” He added, “If this trend continues…and support arrives from outside, imagine what would happen to the country…. Young people would think someone is now in power above the Supreme Leader, who is also in communion with the 12th Imam.”
On August 4, the website Basirat — also connected to the Revolutionary Guards — published an item that claimed, “There are documents and evidence available in our hands which point to secret meetings between held between the ‘Mashaei cult’ and Western spy agencies as well as Masonic elements, which we will publish soon.”
The big question is: If Ahmadinejad were indeed going to be arrested, when would it happen? There are three groups of dates on which it might well occur.
The mourning days of Ashura and Tassoa, when the emotions of the pious are at a fever pitch, constitute one group.
The Qorban and Qadir feasts, separated by a few days, are other possible dates. Qadir Day, when the Prophet announced his successor to be Imam Ali — Shiism’s founding father — is especially propitious for this, as Khamenei has espoused his deep allegiance to Imam Ali. Last year, when he traveled to the holy city of Qom on that day, pro-Khamenei newspapers called it Qadir Qom instead of Qadir Khom, its Arabic name.
Finally, the first three Qadr Nights — today, the 21st, and the 23rd. On these occasions, Shiites engage in deep prayer and mediation, mourning the death of Imam Ali. Any of these three dates would be ideal for arresting the republic’s president, since millions of Iranians are emotionally charged and receptive to the Leader’s pronouncements.