This issue of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appointment of Esfandiyar Rahim-Masha’i as his first vice president came to a head on Friday. Rahim-Masha’i, the father of Ahmadinejad’s daughter-in-law, had offended the hard liners last year by saying Iranians are friends of the Israeli people (as opposed to the ‘Zionist regime.’)
Ahmadinejad was presumably, by his appointment of Rahim-Masha’i, trying to signal three things.
1. He is not just a puppet of the hard liners, or even of Khamenei (Ahmadinejad portrays himself as a populist standing up to the fat cats and elites on behalf of the little person, a message he could hardly keep on point if he is just a hired gun of . . . the elite).
2. Ahmadinejad is tolerant of Iranian liberals. Rahim-Masha’i has been accused of favoring religious pluralism (saying that all the great religions are true) and of declaring that “Islamism” is outmoded and its era over with (thus he is accused of being a ‘post-Islamist’ in Asaf Bayat’s terminology). The appointment may have aimed at mollifying some of the reformists?
3. Ahmadinejad is not the crackpot on the question of Israel that his opponents in the presidential race, such as Mir Hossein Mousavi, had painted him.
Of course, if those were his goals, they were unlikely to be achieved in this way, and now the whole thing has in any case come undone. [continued…]
Questions surround the Mashaei controversy.
Some analysts have said hard-liners oppose him because of friendly comments he made last year about Israel. Others say he is a member of a secretive sect, the Hojjatieh, which has a messianic worldview so extreme that the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had outlawed it. A video posted online shows Mashaei making a speech in line with Hojjatieh philosophy.
According to Islamic Republic News Agency reports, Ahmadinejad has described Mashaei as a “pious man who is a devotee of Imam Mahdi,” a Shiite saint whose return is awaited by believers.
Several weeks before the June 12 presidential election, Rezai said Ahmadinejad was “surrounded by dangerous individuals” pushing the country toward a precipice. Many considered that to be a jab at the messianic bent of some in his inner circle.
Others describe Mashaei, born in 1960 in the Caspian Sea town of Ramsar, as an opportunist who has parlayed his longtime friendship with Ahmadinejad, an in-law, into a position of power.
Several sources say the two men met in the 1980s while serving in the Revolutionary Guard. Mashaei cultivated strong ties to the intelligence and propaganda divisions of the Revolutionary Guard, as well as the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, where he served in the 1990s. In 2004, Ahmadinejad named him to a position within the Tehran municipality.
Publicly, conservatives say they despise Mashaei for his comments about Israel. He was quoted by the semiofficial Fars news agency as saying in a July interview last year that, despite the conflict between the governments, “Iran is friends with the American and Israeli people. No nation in the world is our enemy.”
He has since strenuously disavowed the comments.
On Friday, a news website quoted Tehran Mayor Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf as accusing Mashaei and his wife of supporting the Mujahedin Khalq, an outlawed Iranian exile group that seeks to overthrow the government and that the United States considers a terrorist group.
Qalibaf said Mashaei’s wife is a former member of the group and the two met in prison, where he was her interrogator. A source close to the Mashaei family confirmed that, saying that she had been sentenced to hang when he proposed to marry her to save her from the gallows. [continued…]