Friday, September 10, 2010

A power struggle in Iran: The president's awkward friend

September 9, 2010

In the summer of 2009 Iran’s divided conservatives came together to save the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, after his disputed re-election provoked huge street protests by the reformist Green Movement. To have lost Mr Ahmadinejad to a liberal “plot” would, they judged, have imperilled the Islamic Republic which succours them all.

All the same, many conservatives are far from enamoured of Iran’s president. Challenging him, however, is turning out to be a different matter. Barely a year into his second and constitutionally final term, his future is again the object of dark speculation, only this time by people who once professed to be his friends. His immediate entourage, in particular, is being castigated and none more so than the man whom, it is thought, Mr Ahmadinejad would like to succeed him: his old friend and relation by marriage, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai.

As the president’s closest adviser, the slim, handsome, self-confident Mr Mashai has come to represent all that traditionalists in Shia Iran find odious about Mr Ahmadinejad’s presidency. The Islamic Republic was founded on the idea that the Muslim community awaits the reappearance of the hidden “12th imam”, a messianic leader who was “occulted”—hidden by God—in the ninth century; in the meantime it is up to the clergy to run human affairs, under an arrangement known as the Guardianship of the Jurist. Mr Mashai, it is strongly rumoured, believes himself to have a direct link to the hidden imam, and hence regards the intercession of Iran’s clergy as superfluous. He is also said to have encouraged the president’s well-known millenarian tendencies.