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World Iranian Power Struggle Takes A Bizarre Turn

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Soul_jyot: Signs of KALKI AVATAR ?

Iranian power struggle takes a bizarre turn

President's days may be numbered as 25 of his closest advisers, including personal prayer leader and chief of staff, face charges of 'sorcery'
By Jonathan Manthorpe, Vancouver Sun - May 13, 2011

At first glance from outside, the struggle for authority in Iran between Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has become weird in the extreme.

In the last few days, about 25 of Ahmadinejad's closest confidants have been arrested and charged with "sorcery" and being "magicians."

One of them, Ahmadinejad's personal exorcist, Abbas Ghaffari, is accused of summoning up a genie, or "djinn," while being questioned, which caused his interrogator to have a heart attack.

Ahmadinejad himself has been warned by his own religious mentor, Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi MesbahYazdi, that he is risking "apostasy" by allowing himself to be portrayed as Shu'ayb bin Salih, one of the figures who will accompany the Mahdi, the saviour, when he returns to bring justice and peace to the world.

There is, however, nothing strange or unfamiliar about these events and accusations in the world of the Iranian Islamic Republic, the heartland of the Shiite faction of the Muslim world.

Ahmadinejad is playing a very calculated, bold but dangerous political game stemming from his own intense Messianic belief in the imminent reappearance of the Mahdi -the equivalent of the Messiah in Judaism or the second coming of Christ in Christianity.

Ahmadinejad speaks frequently about the Mahdi and his return within the next few years to cleanse the world.

He has even made this a theme in two speeches at the General Assembly of the United Nations when, he said in a video interview later, the Mahdi bathed him in a green aura that transfixed his audience.

But by associating himself with the Mahdi, Ahmadinejad is claiming to have higher religious and thus, in the Iranian context, political authority than Supreme Leader Khamenei.

There have been persistent rumours coming out of Iran in the last few days that Ahmadinejad has overplayed his hand and, at best, will be forced to resign.

That may be, but it is hard to believe that a man prepared to play a high-stakes game involving some of the core beliefs of his society would go easily or willingly. One of the central beliefs in Shiism is that the Twelfth Imam of Islam, Muhammad al-Mahdi went into hiding -it's called "occultation" -in 873 CE.

Shiites believe the Mahdi is present in the world and at some point will reveal himself and usher in a period of revolutionary social and political change.

He also will take vengeance on Sunni Muslims, whom Shiites believe have blocked the rights of the family of the Prophet Muhammad to rule the world, and he will slaughter Muslim religious leaders who have not established just Islamic law.

Since the ayatollahs came to power in Iran in 1979 they have downplayed the role of the return of the Mahdi in their theology, just as the second coming of Christ is not a central obsession for most Christians.

But the Mahdi and his imminent return is an aggressively promoted belief and driving force for Ahmadinejad.

Since he was elected president in 2005 he has put a great deal of political authority and money behind the development of the shrine at Jamkaran, near the holy city of Qom south of Tehran, which is one of the messianic sites associated with the reappearance of the Mahdi.

Under Ahmadinejad's patronage, the Jamkaran mosque has become a major hub for the publication of books and DVDs concerning the Mahdi and the imminent apocalypse.

It was the content of one of these DVDs, published last month, that seems to have directly spurred the arrest of Ahmadinejad's associates for sorcery. One of those arrested, the president's personal prayer leader, Abbas Amirifar, has been singled out in state media in Iran as having been behind the DVD, which portrays Ahmadinejad as the Mahdi's right-hand man, Shu'ayb bin Salih.

Another of those arrested is said to be Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who is a central figure in this story.

Unless he has some other plans to stay in power, Ahmadinejad must retire in 2013 after serving two terms.

It is widely believed he wants Mashaei to succeed him. But the ayatollahs and other religious leaders think Mashaei is close to being a heretic.

Matters started coming to a head last month when Ahmadinejad attempted to fire his intelligence minister, Abdulhassan Banisadr, who he thought had authorized surveillance of Mashaei on behalf of the supreme leader.

Khamenei demanded the reinstatement of the minister, and Ahmadinejad reluctantly agreed after boycotting cabinet meetings for 11 days.

The last few days have seen the sorcery charges against Ahmadinejad's cohorts.

But perhaps most indicative that Ahmadinejad's days in power may be numbered are some remarks by the commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards, the ultimate bulwark of power in Iran.

"The Islamic Republic cannot survive without the existence of the supreme leader," Mohammadw Ali Jafari was quoted as saying last week by an Iranian newspaper.


© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun



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Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Iran's Leadership Struggle Reveals Secular-Islamist Split

World Politics Review
Jamsheed K. Choksy - 13 May 2011

At first glance, the power struggle currently taking place among Iran's ruling elites might seem bizarre. After all, it is not often that the chief executive of a 21st-century nation is accused of "witchcraft," "experimenting with exorcism" and "communicating with genies." Mullahs have tarred Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration as containing "deviants, devils and evil spirits." Ahmadinejad responded that his opponents have launched a "conspiracy" to undo socio-economic changes beneficial to most Iranians.

At the heart of the widening dispute is Ahmadinejad's increasing independence from the system of "velayat-e faqih," or guardianship of the -- religious -- jurist, on which Iran's Shiite theocracy has been grounded since the 1979 revolution. The disputed presidential election in 2009, where protests initially targeted Ahmadinejad but swiftly turned to abolishing the theocratic state, opened this avenue of attack for Ahmadinejad. Now Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other mullahs say they fear that Ahmadinejad has turned against guardianship of the jurist. In the process, Ahmadinejad is becoming less of a wildcard, while the Shiite clergy are appearing irrational.

In essence, Iran's political battle is over two possible paths ahead: a continuation of the Islamic Republic with its Islamist system of governance or the emergence of a more secular nation with elected, nonclerical officials.

The clergy have plenty of reasons to worry. The president has demanded that the mullahs refrain from stipulating societal norms, arguing that Islamic mores are not part of Iran's heritage. His allies, including Chief of Staff Esfandiyar Rahim Mashaei, have belittled clerical roles in politics as "unproductive" and "worthless."

More recently, Ahmadinejad began purging his administration of supporters of velayat-e faqih. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was removed for opposing Ahmadinejad's attempts to restart nuclear negotiations and reconcile with the U.S. Intelligence Minister Hojjat-e Islam Heydar Moslehi was dismissed for reporting that the president's office stifles Islamist activities by the clergy. Khamenei subsequently reinstated him, invoking the supreme leader's authority to oversee Iranian politics, but Ahmadinejad made his objections clear by boycotting affairs of state.

Although Ahmadinejad eventually returned to work after a 10-day standoff and several tense meetings with Khamenei, no real reconciliation has taken place. The mullahs persist in railing against the president, plotting to excise him and the secularist threat. Essentially the stage is being set to remove Ahmadinejad from office if he does not fall back in line with the fundamentalist mullahs.

The ayatollahs had originally endorsed Ahmadinejad for the presidency in 2005, expecting him to be their puppet, and subsequently went along with the much-contested results of the 2009 election for the same reason. What the mullahs had not fully realized until now is that Ahmadinejad and his loyalists have little reason to support the system of velayat-e faqih, which is closed to nonclerics like them. For all that he's been reviled -- and rightfully so -- in the West, Ahmadinejad is now leading the fight for many of the changes the world would like to see in Iran. That is why Ahmadinejad is being denounced, in both religious and constitutional terms.

Ahmadinejad's group frames its envisioned changes in a distinctly Iranian discourse about the relative merits of nationalism versus Islamism -- also the focus of a clash in 2010. Ahmadinejad, Mashaei and those who support them champion Iran's long history of secularism. They laud Zarathushtra, the prophet who founded the world's first monotheism in the second millennium B.C.; Cyrus the Great, who established the Persian Empire -- famous for its tolerance of diversity -- in the 6th century B.C.; and Ferdowsi, who composed Iran's national epic, which focused on truth, valor and national pride, in the 11th century. Islam pales compared to those achievements, they insist, and so does the theocratic state of modern Iran, which must therefore be reformed.

The mullahs are aware that, in Iran, nationalism will likely trump other sentiments, even Shiite religious ones. Moreover, Ahmadinejad, Mashaei and others in the executive branch know enough about Iran's history to understand that Iranians have traditionally supported the removal of religious leaders from political office. For now, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' leadership is divided on the matter. But, like the president, military commanders are rarely from clerical families and have historically sided with Iran's secular leadership.

So the struggle for Iran's future is being forcefully joined by factions on both sides of the secular and clerical divide. The secularists, led by Ahmadinejad and his heir apparent, Mashaei, recognize the pressing need for Iran to rejoin the community of nations -- even at the expense of the Islamic Revolution. The fundamentalists, led by Khamenei, remain xenophobic and hostile to the West. They see the Islamic Revolution as the only means to keep themselves in power and their society under religious rule.

Khamenei has urged the president not to create division in Iran, declaring there can be no "dual authority," only "unity of direction" under the supreme leader. A former mentor to Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, equated Ahmadinejad's choices to "an act of treason." Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, head of Iran's judiciary, ruled that "refusal to obey the leader is against the law." Alleging that Ahmadinejad is not fulfilling his duties appropriately, members of parliament are seeking to impeach him. Attempts to thwart Ahmadinejad's secularization of Iranian society have extended to extraconstitutional actions too, with his supporters being arrested on charges of sorcery.

Even if he survives in office, Ahmadinejad may not be the ideal person to lead Iran into a secular, representative future. His political legitimacy was contested by many Iranians after the last presidential election, and his inflammatory words have made him an outcast to the world's democratic leaders. However, his rebellion against the mullahs could very well set the stage for a modern equivalent of the Magophonia, when Darius the Great eliminated clergymen who had seized power in ancient Iran. That ancient event established a separation of church and state that endured until 1979 -- one that may be appearing on the horizon once again.

Jamsheed K. Choksy is a professor of Iranian, international and Islamic studies and is the former director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program at Indiana University. He also is a presidentially appointed and congressionally confirmed member of the National Council on the Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities. The views expressed are his own.

source: http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/...rship-struggle-reveals-secular-islamist-split



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