May 10, 2011
Semira N. Nikou
Iran’s political crisis over Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi may be over, but the drama over presidential chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei is not.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has now accepted the supreme leader’s instructions to keep the disputed intelligence minister. But the controversy over his chief of staff lingers. Mashaie has come under scrutiny because he reportedly encouraged the president to dismiss Moslehi. The political storm could well last through parliamentary elections due in March 2012 and the presidential elections in 2013. Mashaei is widely considered a potential presidential candidate and Ahmadinejad’s designated political heir. Asked in April by local reporters whether he will run, Mashaei said to ask again six months before the presidential vote.
The political crisis has evoked some support for Masheai, but also generated serious criticism of the presidential chief of staff from Iranian politicians and the media. Opponents accuse him of promoting an Iranian nationalism that threatens the Islamic foundations of the state. After the crisis erupted in late April, Mashaei’s critics increasingly charged that he represented a deviant political current and urged Ahmadinejad to distance himself from his top aide. But the president’s connection with Mashaei is personal as well as professional one. The two are longtime friends, and Mashaei’s daughter is married to Ahmadinejad’s son.
The following are recent comments on Mashaie’s political standing.
Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, conservative Tehran prayer leader and member of the Assembly of Experts
“Today the very clergy that supported Mr. Ahmadinejad is saying in unison, take heed of the deviatory movement.”
“Why is it that the Minister of Intelligence is missing from cabinet meetings but this questionable person still sits beside the president?”
May 6, 2011, interview with Shoma, a conservative weekly
Mojtaba Zolnour, the supreme leader’s deputy representative to the Revolutionary Guards
"Today Mashaie is the actual president. Mr Ahmadinejad is holding on to the decaying rope of Mashaie... I hope that God will rid the president from the evil of this person,"
“[Mashaei and his followers] are propagating an Islam without the participation of the clergy.” April 29, 2011
Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari, Revolutionary Guards commander
"[A] Diversionary trend is hiding behind a popular, accepted and beloved figure [President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad]…This movement will definitely act against the [Islamic] revolution in the future." April 24, 2011
Mehdi Mohammadi, columnist for hardline Keyhan newspaper, considered the mouthpiece of the supreme leader
"The pious and revolutionary people of Iran have been concerned over the last several days that there is a hand within the government that is trying to replace the Islamic values, for which people support the government, with fake principles and values." May 8, 2011
Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of hardline Kayhan newspaper, appointed by the supreme leader
“Imagine it is during the election campaign one candidate declares in his speeches, interviews, posters and leaflets: ‘In my view the Islamist period is over… Whoever does not agree with me and my views has no place in the government… I will go to America, England and other nations whenever I wish and I will sit and speak with any foreign policy official or fugitive Iranian and if for example someone in the Ministry of Intelligence tries to understand the reason for these trips or the essence of these meetings, I will dismiss him immediately.’”Editorial in Keyhan, Apr.19, 2011
Hojatoleslam Abbas Amiri-Far, head of the cultural council of the presidency
"The president and his colleagues, which include Mashaie, have a laid-out plan for the upcoming elections [March 2012 parliamentary elections] and they will definitely beat the conservatives in the competition.” April 22, 2011
Ali Akbar Javanfekr, managing director of Iran’s official news agency, which has supported the president and the chief of staff
“Insults and slurs against the president’s colleagues—particularly Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who is among the president's innocent colleagues—is not becoming of those who claim they are defenders of Islam, religion and the guardianship.” Javanfekr’s personal blog, May 1, 2011
Read "Esfandiar Mashaei: Iran’s Next President?" for a profile of the chief of staff
Semira N. Nikou works for the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention at the U.S. Institute of Peace
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