Guest Post by Jon Weinberg: Things Fall Apart — Ahmadinejad’s Cabinet Row

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Jon Weinberg is a research intern at the New America Foundation/Middle East Task Force.
Over the past week and a half, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has lost over half his cabinet (twelve out of twenty-one original appointees) as well as the support of many of his conservative allies, most notably the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Ahmadinejad’s recent difficulties began after a rare letter of condemnation from the Supreme Leader was read on national television and forced Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie – Ahmadinejad’s nominee for vice president – to resign.
Mashaie’s resignation appears to reflect a rift within Iran’s conservative leadership. Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami (not to be confused with former reformist president Mohammad Khatami), was outraged by the appointment, saying it “will test Ahmadinejad’s loyalty to the supreme leader.” Meanwhile, ABC News notes that the president received a letter from 200 members of Iran’s majlis (parliament), more than two-thirds of the body, asking that he “correct his behavior [and] follow the leader’s opinion seriously.”
Almost immediately after Mashaie’s resignation, the president renamed him chief of staff – a bold move considering that the backlash against Mashaie’s appointment had less to do with his position than his character.
Since then, Ahmadinejad’s cabinet has begun to fall apart. On Sunday, Ahmadinejad dismissed his Intelligence Minister, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejeie. BBC’s Jon Leyne claims that Ejeie was sacked after “what sounds like a heated argument in a cabinet meeting over Mr Mashaie’s appointment.” According to Reuters, Ejeie raised questions about Ahmadinejad’s and Mashaie’s allegiance to the supreme leader.
Robert Baer and Omid Memarian suggest that as Intelligence Minister, “Ejeie customarily reported directly to the Supreme Leader, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, rather than to the President,” suggesting Ejeie was dismissed as a consequence of his closeness with Khamenei.
Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad’s minister of culture, Mohammad Hossein Saffar-Harandi, also resigned on Sunday. Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency reports that Harandi’s resignation brought the number of changes in the president’s cabinet to more than fifty percent of its original members which, according to article 136 of Iran’s Constitution, requires the government “to seek a fresh vote of confidence from the parliament.”
While it is unlikely that Ahmadinejad will be removed from office, he appears to have lost a tremendous amount of credibility among the Iranian elite.
— Jon Weinberg

Comments

7 comments on “Guest Post by Jon Weinberg: Things Fall Apart — Ahmadinejad’s Cabinet Row

  1. Facebook Application Developer says:

    Mr Ahmadinejad also announced his choice for the powerful intelligence portfolio after sacking the previous holder in a row over another ..

    Reply

  2. Mr.Murder says:

    We should all be enthused that a religious leader can pnitifcate to make half a cabinet resign as sign of ‘democracy’ in action.
    One nation under…..

    Reply

  3. Dirk says:

    The Mashai appointment was initially depicted as a sort of nepotism, since I believe he is the father of his son’s wife. Because of Mashai’s “we are friends of all people, including the Israelis” that he came under sharp criticism from Khamenei and all hardliners. Recently there have been statements that the real concern is that Mashai is in some strange messianic sect.
    Khamenei first let his displeasure be known privately and when Ahmadinejad didn’t respond he had his statement read on the air, forcing Ahmadinejad to act.
    Because he was forced to act and since the intelligence minister had interjected himself into the dispute, Ahmadinejad fired him and a number of other cabinet ministers favored by hardliners. However when it was pointed out that that would require a vote on new appointees, he decided to just fire the intelligence minister.
    This doesn’t strike me as someone who is moving closer to the reform camp but rather someone that is piqued at his hardline benefactors.
    I am cautiously optimistic on all the developments as Rafsanjani seems to be pulling those hardliners that have a sense of justice from the more illegitimate hardliners around Khamenei, who isn’t even a Grand Ayatollah as I at one time thought. The wildcard is the Revolutionary Guard which, for now, seem to be on Khamenei’s side.

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  4. Doug Czajkowski says:

    Isn’t it possible that this is all just political theater designed to portray Ahmadinejad as being independent of Khamenei?

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  5. Dan Kervick says:

    … and here’s Trita Parsi’s column today on Iran:
    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/07/30/make_them_wait

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  6. Dan Kervick says:

    More on Mashai’s background. He appears to be an internationalist of some kind, having taken over from Khatami in running the Center for Dialogue among Civilizations:
    http://www.iranembassy.or.id/news_detail.php?idne=1344&idn=1&idsn=

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  7. Dan Kervick says:

    Well, this is all interesting but confusing. Jon Weinberg offers no analysis.
    It sounds like Ahmadinejad is trying to save his position in Iran, under growing pressure from Rafsanjani and Mohammed Khatami, by distancing himself in some way from Khamenei and the more hard-line, ultra-conservative clerics and by moving a bit toward the moderates.
    The initial press reports suggested Mashaie had provoked the ire of the hardliners by speaking too kindly of Israel among other things. Ahmadinejad was also criticized by figures in the Basij for the appointment. I wonder if Ahmadinejad is mainly trying to send a domestic or international signal here. My guess is domestic.
    Ahmadinejad may be losing credibility among the Iranian elite. But the key development here might be that it is the conservative clerical elite that is most rapidly losing power and credibility. By appointing Mashai and sacking Khamenei’s spies and loyalists in his cabinet, the Ahmadinejad camp is now joining the Mousavi camp, the Khatami camp and the Rafsanjani camp in challenging Khamenei. It sure looks like everyone thinks Khamenei is a sinking ship, and that they are scrambling to avoid being sucked down with it when the next round of protests occur.

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