Friday, June 15, 2007

Ahmadinezad: Our Man in Saadabad

On the day of the 2005 elections, worried, angry and disappointed, my sister-in-law and I walked down one of the narrow winding streets of northern Tehran towards Ghaytariyya Park to distract ourselves. We knew that we did not have much of a chance of winning. Since early in the morning, we, along with my brother and brother-in-law, had checked almost all the more than fifty polling places in northern Tehran. They all were embarrassingly empty.

Just few yards passed our house we ran into Haj Shahrokh, our neighborhood’s sweet old grocery and bakery owner. I asked if he had voted.

“Yes of course.”

“For whom, if I may ask?”

Very shyly he said, “Ahmadinejad.”

My brother had been campaigning for Rafsanjani, though he could not convince his own family to vote for him in the first run. I laughed and told him not worry, I won’t tell my brother. My sister-in-law asked him, “Why Ahmadinejad?”

“Rafsanjani has been president and had been in the Parliament and has been the head of the Expediency Council. In short, he has had enough chance to do whatever he wanted to and now is time for younger people to be given a chance. Furthermore, I felt bad for him since no one was supporting him and I thought it is good to vote for him.”

I think it was this second reason which softened my heart. I got the feeling that he went to the voting booth with a fatherly attitude with his late son, who had died the previous year of stroke, in mind. I could forgive him for betraying my brother, I could understand him very well; we all are entitled to listen to our hearts and even value it more than our minds even in political matters. This is one aspect of Iranian life which we cannot ignore. If King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom abdicated because he cannot take his heart with him to the palace, we can surely accept the grocer’s heart in the voting booth. The night when Ayatollah Khamenei appeared to vote and the cameraman moved close enough to show his hand moving so that it was clear that he was voting for Hojjatoleslam Rafsanjani, I was even more certain that Ahmadinejad will be our ninth president. ( Aristotelian syllogism does not permit it but the Iranian politics does.)

Our ninth president happens to be the most controversial man in Iranian politics. Though Ahmadinejad has a doctorate, he does not speak any foreign languages, his Persian is only suitable for talking to peasants. His statements on various subjects, from soccer to nuclear energy, from economics to religion, are so naïve and ignorant that it is surprising that he has a driving license.

I met Ahmadinejad just few months after he had been elected, in the New York Hilton Hotel. His speech was as shallow as any of the other speeches he would later give, and devoid of any content. Basically, he said how good and kind Iranians are. I’m sure he was very sincere about this. Indeed, we all know how good and kind we are. However, his premise for that conclusion was not valid: His declaration, “What nation do you know which has Naser Khosrow or Baba Taher Oryan,” even when coupled with his statement that Iranian mothers are the best in the world could hardly lead to it. And his piety? I shook hands with him without any gloves on, nor was my head covered either. And believe it or not his head, was not covered either by a light nimbus.

Then all the gaffs began, one after the other. From wanting to wipe the Israel off the map to his latest, that America was looking to find the home of our Imam of the Age (عج) to attack him directly; they were all met with uproars, cheers and jeers, many being shocked and embarrassed.

Though he has been under attack from various sides, including the members of his own government, and was criticized harshly for his mismanagement and ignorance and inexperience, his incompetent ministers, his hasty decisions which, after some waste of money, are either abandoned or are undone cost overruns, and for his various orders and plans which are either done on a whim or without sufficient preparation and consideration, he still goes forward and keeps doing whatever he was doing. He arrests the British Navy crew and releases them with newly tailored suits, reduces the interest rate without considering the consequences, says women can go to the stadium to watch soccer and then says not yet. He says women’s hair is not our concern and then he says it is our concern indeed. He is against wasting money, yet he has wasted more money than any other government. The economy is sinking and inflation is soaring. His friends and cliques applaud and regard him with awe, while the opposition criticizes him and some pretend that they are surprised.

I’m neither his fan nor his enemy. Indeed I’m not even surprised that he is the way he is. He is simply campaigning! Odd? Yes. Everywhere else one campaigns and then gets elected. But in his case he got elected first and then he was smart enough to figure out he needed an agenda to gather a constituency. The front pages of newspapers and few staged trips to the universities and, probably, all the jokes and cartoons gave him the message: “Sir you don’t have any base in today’s Iran. You had better move and reach out.” That he did. Well he knew very well that his constituency, the basijis and the Haj Shahrokhs, wouldn’t last till the end of his presidency and that he had better build a more reliable one.

Ahmadinejad’s election was a coup, a coup de chance! (No wonder he claimed the Imam of the Age was behind it all! It was truly miraculous!). In the absence of credible statistics, it is legitimate to assume that Ahmadinejad was elected simply with the votes of the basijis and a few Haj Shahrokhs, the party of pure fleeting luck, and he knew that he could not rely on it. He was smart enough to know that he could not rely on the basijis; in a couple of years their kids would enter political life and would not be like their fathers, they would not be basijis or Revolutionary Guards, but would go through a rapid political development. And the Haj Shahrokhs? They don’t grow, they just shrink even faster. Ahmadinejad knows how fast Behesht Zahra Cemetery is growing. He knows that in the next elections he won’t have the benefit of a boycott either. He also knows that in the next election, the women’s vote alone will make it impossible for any conservative or fundamentalist to get elected to any office. The last City Councils elections and the election of Mohsen Rezai Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf as the mayor of Tehran by the City Council just to spite him confirm how politically shrewd the people have become. It also confirms that the generation that helped him before, the generation who believes in predestined politics, is not there any more. Within a mere two years that little constituency of Ahmadinejad and the fundamentalists has already been reduced to a very dangerous low. He realized soon after the election that he had to do something.

Ahmadinejad started by defining himself as a protégé of the Imam of the Age. He is not shy when it comes to his relationship with the Twelve Imam. Right before his election, he allegedly invited a group of clerics from the holy city of Qom to determine from what direction the Imam of the Age will enter Tehran so he could make an appropriate highway to welcome him. (Does not his virtue lie in his absence?) His halo in the UN was another example of his relationship with the higher worlds. He has used such hidden links to the Twelve Imam in most of speeches, particularly in the countryside.

Moreover, when the basijis recently gathered in Isfahan, he compared himself to Ayatollah Modarres who single-handedly faced down the hoodlums (arazel and obashes) just as he wanted to face down the current hoodlums who oppose him. (Incidentally, all are his own people are criticizing him now.) I do not know Modarres well enough to be of any judge in this regard, but I do know Iranian well enough to wonder whom he meant by hoodlums.

It was so interesting that when he gave his famous anti-Israel and Holocaust denial speeches, it was Kofi Annan who advised the international community not to get excited since they were are all for domestic use. The outrageous messages and letters he sends to various heads of state are all sent with the same intention. He is reaching to some twenty million Iranians who had never bothered about politics before.

Unfortunately there are people in many remote parts of the country who have never entered into the political life in Iran, either due to their isolated existence, the brutal and hard condition of their lives, or their lack of education, and politics has no place in their lives. Ahmadinejad is giving them a very new concept of politics, though it is a little closer to witchcraft. Just as Imam Khomeini managed to engage many people whom the leftists and the nationalists could not, Ahmadinejad is reaching out to those who have not yet been engaged, people who understand better messages from the Imam of the Age, those who are wise enough to believe in His protection and blessing, rather than United Nations and other Human Rights organizations. The cult of the Twelve Imam is a safe and assured party to be established, and sure enough there are many people who are truly awaiting his physical appearance and see only the practical value in his advent. And Ahmadinejad is taking a lead on that front. I doubt that he can gather as many to help him in any coming election, but he might be saved from deadly embarrassments. Let’s see whose list for the next parliamentary election would be signed by the Imam. Let’s see what else would appear in Ahmadinejad’s speeches. Let’s see if he will act as a president after all. Let’s see if he finally agrees that the best way to draw the people to his side is to help to improve their lives. Let’s see if he finally, as a man of science, recognizes that the age of taking advantage of people’s religious beliefs is over and that one cannot substitute a program which can satisfy the people’s basic necessities with demagoguery.


Nazy said...

Salam Mina Jan:

A very interesting post, fair and thorough. Thank you. Jesaratan Tehran's appointed Mayor is Ghalibaf, not Rezaee, unless I'm mistaken about your meaning.

Your interesting perspective, about Ahmadinejad's "campaigning" post elections is unique and refreshing, though I wonder whether it is not overly optimistic of Ahmadinejad's access to time. So much precious time has been wasted and mismanaged, that I am skeptical he would be successful in turning things around in his favor again. I, too, met many people during the presidential elections who were voting for him, hoping for change, a change in their standard of living to be specific. As we all know, not only have things not changed for the better, they have actually taken a sharp turn for the worse. Iranians did not really elect him for his charisma, his political prowess, his literary and communication skills, or his self-professed piety. They voted for him in search of economic growth and justice, which has been a major disappointment to them. Yes, he and his supporters might be able to buy a few million votes for him from rural areas, but not enough to win him the elections without major cheating this time. This would pose a dangerous and unpredictable social outcome. I think a better title for Ahmadinejad is "Our Man Out of Time." Thanks again for your enlightening pen. I am so fortunate for having found you. Be good.

Mina said...

You are, of course, right, Nazy khanum, about Tehran's mayor.
Thanks for your visits and your kind words. As you can see, I've linked to your wonderful blog.

Nazy said...

Salam Mina Jan:

Ba ejazeh, I have added you to my list of links. I plan on writing something about your very warm and intelligent blog soon, too. I love the way you write about your topics in depth. I'm really honored to have found you. Be good.