As talk continues about the Arab revolutions with all their exciting, frustrating and disturbing developments, discussions about Iran and its recent news come as an important addition. The controversial President of Iran has hit the headlines again, but this time not through an instigative political address against his neighbors, or a speech exploiting an international political circumstance, or a statement quelling Iranian protesters demanding rights and liberties. This time, Ahmadinejad made the headlines because of a “cold war” that has begun between him and the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Ahmadinejad has by large lost all of his battles. He has increased his enemies the Arab world, increased the amount of sanctions imposed on his country, and aroused widespread new hostilities amongst his regional surroundings of Arab Gulf States. Furthermore, Ahmadinejad provoked a vehement popular wave of [internal] rage after the results of the 2009 presidential elections, where the winning party was accused of forging the results. In the wake of those elections, a storm of angry mass protests broke out in different parts of the country, unsettling the general atmosphere and causing a rift in the relationship between the Guardian Jurist and the people. After all, Ahmadinejad was strongly seen as a protégé of the Supreme Leader, and the latter was always supportive and speaking in defense of the former.
The Supreme Leader tried to appease the public by criticizing some of Ahmadinejad’s policies, yet he continued to defend the President himself. Nevertheless, the gap between the two men began to noticeably widen, as criticism of Khamenei rose in popular protests, and he came under heavy public attack during the latest clashes between the opposition and security forces.
Ahmadinejad felt he could end up being a political scapegoat for the regime, so he tried to distance himself from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) (the powerful yet widely detested apparatus strongly favored by Khamenei). It is noteworthy that the IRGC was the primary supporter and recommender for the election of Ahmadinejad as president, during his first term in office. Now Ahmadinejad is trying to extend his personal influence over the ruling regime in Iran, and make changes to the IRGC itself. Yet the IRGC is Khamenei’s personal project; he can appoint or sack whomever he pleases from that apparatus.
Once Khamenei directly interfered, in his capacity as the highest-ranking authority in Iran, to reinstate a figure whom Ahmadinejad had dismissed from the IRGC. This prompted Ahmadinejad to withdraw from public political life for two weeks!
Ahmadinejad knows that “Khamenei” is not like “Khomeini”, especially where political status is concerned. The latter is the symbol of the Islamic revolution in Iran, and enjoys an almost unparalleled stature. He also had an exceptional clerical and religious standing, which made his authority broader and more legitimate.
In contrast with that, Khamenei’s clerical worthiness has remained open to question, due to the presence of many others who are deemed worthier and more knowledgeable than him. However, Khamenei did not choose any of them to succeed him, because of a disagreement over the controversial issue of the Guardian Jurist. This concept is regarded by some as religious heresy, with no foundation.
Amidst all the major events taking place around Iran, the Islamic Republic attempted, either through Friday sermons delivered by Khamenei himself, or political speeches issued by Ahmadinejad, to “hijack” the Arab revolutions, claiming to have created or inspired what is occurring in the Arab streets. The Iranian regime was compelled to do so after sensing its absence from this popular mobility. [During the Arab demonstrations] no flags of Hezbollah were waved, and no pictures of Hassan Nasrallah were raised. It is common knowledge that such icons are the marketing tools of the Iranian Revolution’s ideology, which Iran is fervently endeavoring to export to the Arab World, and thus the Iranian regime was forced to react to the Arab revolutions in the way it did.
As time went by, Ahmadinejad’s ambitions grew as he believed he could change the powers of the Supreme Leader, strictly limiting his role to religious affairs only, while distancing him from anything to do with politics, security and the economy. Ahmadinejad thought he could exploit the state of anger and discontent dominating the Iranian street, and link this to the Supreme Leader in person. But in the process, Ahmadinejad forgot that he himself is a part of the Iranian regime just as Khamenei is.
Ahmadinejad’s ambition has no boundaries, but his frustrations and failures have accumulated. The regime is now convinced that his role has ended. This conviction has reached the Supreme Leader, the IRGC, and the masses. But the challenge in executing a complete divorce still stands. Rafsanjani was described as “practical”, Khatami was dubbed a “reformist”, whereas Ahmadinejad will definitely be labeled the “hesitant President”, because his record is void of any achievements. Suffice to say that during his tenure, trade exchange with his Gulf neighbors has plummeted more than 40, percent and his relations with most of the Gulf States have become endangered. Ahmadinejad’s political career is in its final days, no doubt about that.