Iran Primer's Blog
Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has been a pivotal player in Iranian politics since the 1979 Islamic revolution. His views have often adapted to the times, issue or public sentiment. But he has often argued that “moderation” and national unity could help Iran overcome domestic challenges as well as repair its relations with the outside world. The following are excerpts from various interviews, public remarks and campaign materials.
Iran’s government reportedly imprisoned, harassed and discriminated against more people for their religious beliefs in 2012 than in the past, according to a new report by the U.S. State Department. It notes an increase in reports of the government charging religious and ethnic minorities with enmity against God, “anti-Islamic propaganda,” or vague national security crimes related to religion. “All religious minorities suffered varying degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education, and housing,” according to the 2012 International Religious Freedom Report. The following are excerpts, followed by a link to the full text on Iran.
We take no sides in the election, but we know that the desires and aspirations of the Iranian people must start with free, fair, and transparent elections...
How is Mashaei perceived among Iran’s political elite?
He has also sparked controversies over statements about everything from Biblical history to foreign affairs. If the Prophet Noah “had had good managerial skills, other prophets would not have appeared after him,” he reportedly said. He also pronounced, “Without Iran, Islam would be lost.” On current events, he once said, “Iranians are friends of Israelis.”
His daring comments and actions have pushed the envelope of the Islamic Republic’s officially sanctioned values. Many clerics consider his remarks on religious affairs to be encroaching on their territory and dismissing them as uninformed or even heretical.
Even fervent supporters of Ahmadinejad have criticized Mashaei. Hardline cleric Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi branded Mashaei’s statements “erroneous and inappropriate.” In 2009, the supreme leader’s representative on the hardline newspaper Keyhan accused Mashaei of being an agent of the “velvet revolution.” General Hassan Firouzabadi, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, denounced Mashaei’s remarks as a “deviation” that undermined national security and against the principles of the Islamic Republic.
In 1984, Mashaei joined the Intelligence Ministry in Kurdistan, where he met Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then governor of the northwestern city of Khoy. The two men developed a close friendship that has endured almost three decades.
In 1986, Mashaei was appointed director of an Intelligence Ministry department that dealt with ethnic issues in sensitive regions. He left Kurdistan to help formulate a national strategy. In 1993, he became head of the Interior Ministry’s Social Affairs Department under President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. After the 1997 victory of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, Mashaei left the Interior Ministry and worked for state radio, which is under the direct control of the supreme leader.
In 2003, Mashaei joined the staff of Tehran’s new mayor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, after he was selected by the conservative municipal council. He headed the city’s cultural-artistic affairs organization. Among his controversial initiatives, Mashaei proposed building a major thoroughfare to prepare for the arrival of the twelfth Shiite Imam—the Mahdi or “Hidden Imam”—who disappeared in the ninth century. The Mahdi will return as a messiah as the world comes to an end, according to Shiite eschatology.
Mashaei has held other key positions on both domestic and foreign affairs. Besides chief of staff, he has been the president’s adviser for Middle Eastern affairs; vice president of the High Council of Iranian Affairs Abroad; and the secretary of the administration’s cultural committee.
Mashaei is often blamed for formulating apocalyptic and religious-nationalistic themes prominent in Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric. Ahmadinejad has urged Iranians to actively pave the way for the coming of the Mahdi. The two themes have been widely viewed as an attempt to build a new constituency among the young and the poor. Ahmadinejad’s messianic interpretation differs from popular Shiite mythology and diminishes the role of Shiite clerics.
As clerics are falling out of favor in Iranian politics, Ahmadinejad’s opponents are concerned that his rhetoric of “principlists minus the clergy” will become more popular and enhance hardliners around the president.
The Iranian constitution states that the first vice president has the duty to lead cabinet meetings in the absence of the president. He also succeeds the president—with approval of the supreme leader—if the president dies or becomes incapable of performing his duties. Ahmadinejad’s critics suggested that the president was manipulating the post-election turmoil to insert his right-hand man into the center of power. In the end, however, Mashaei’s opponents had enough leverage to block his appointment. Ahmadinejad instead appointed Mashaei his chief of staff.
Kourosh Rahimkhani is an independent scholar specializing in Iranian affairs. He worked as a journalist for a number of reformist newspapers in Iran before moving to the United States.
The Islamists Are Coming
The Islamists Are Coming, edited by Robin Wright, surveys the rise of Islamist groups in the wake of the Arab Spring. Often lumped together, the more than 50 Islamist parties with millions of followers now constitute a whole new spectrum—separate from either militants or secular parties. They will shape the new order in the world’s most volatile region more than any other political bloc. Yet they have diverse goals and different constituencies. Sometimes they are even rivals.
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