Apparently bowing to unprecedented pressure from Iran’s clerical establishment, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcomed an intelligence minister he had ousted in April back into his cabinet meeting on Sunday.
While Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had publicly reinstated intelligence minister Heydar Moslehi following his dismissal by Ahmadinejad, it took more than three weeks for the two men to officially meet in a cabinet session.
Following the supreme leader’s decision, Ahmadinejad did not go to his office for eight days. He returned to work a week ago, publicly pledging his allegiance to Khamenei and denying that a rift had developed between the two men. But when the cabinet met on Wednesday, the president and Moslehi apparently avoided being in the same room, Web sites reported, citing “busy schedules” as their reason for not meeting.
Ahmadinejad’s delay in confirming Khamenei’s decision led to public anger by clerics, parliamentarians and military commanders, who accused the president of ignoring orders from the Supreme Leader. Khamenei, who has been the highest authority in the Islamic Republic since 1989, has the final say over state and religious matters in Iran, but, according to the 1979 constitution, daily affairs are handled by the government, parliament and the judiciary.
“All of the officials of the country, from the highest level downwards should understand that their religious legitimacy and their political legitimacy depend on their obedience to the Leader,” the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani, told the semi-official Mehr News Agency last week.
The criticisms of Ahmadinejad go far beyond the dispute over the intelligence minister and are not over with Moslehi’s return to the cabinet, analysts say.
Several key Iranian leaders are publicly demanding that Ahmadinejad cut ties with Esfandiar Rahim Mashaee. He is the closest adviser of the president, but a man hated by Iran’s clerics for advocating the importance of Iranian culture over Islamic tenets. Mashaee is seen by some as the leader of a “deviated” current of politicians who aim to decrease the influence of Shiite clerics, opponents say.
I expect that conflicts between Ahmadinejad and Khamene’i are going to continue for quite a while. With any luck, that fight will expose larger cracks in the reactionary leadership that the reform movement can take advantage of to good effect, and to the benefit of the country as a whole. After over three decades of enduring the Dark Ages, Iranians deserve a little light in their political lives.