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Iran Feature: Leading Conservative Website Tears Apart Ahmadinejad's Rahim-Mashai

An EA correspondent passes on a translation, provided by the US Government's Open Source Center, of a 30 March article in Khabar Online --- the website connected to Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani --- challenging and eve ridiculing President Ahmadinejad's close ally and Chief of Staff, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, "Will Masha'i Be Eliminated or Achieve His Presidential Ambitions?":

One may regard Esfandiar Rahim-Masha'i as someone for whom "words go in from one ear and go out from the other ear" (someone who does not listen to the criticisms of others). He was one of the most provocative figures during the year 89 (the Iranian year that ended 20 March 2011), but he never took back any of his words.

While his efforts for holding Nowruz celebrations with the participation of the heads of Persian-speaking neighboring states were subjected to the greatest criticisms due to his invitation to the king of Jordan (to take part in those ceremonies), he (Masha'i) had decided to go to America to take part in the United Nations Nowruz celebrations, so that at the time when the Iranian celebrations were going to be held in Shiraz - which were later transferred to Tehran - he would not be in Iran. However, fortune did not come to his aid, and the second visit of the government's cultural theoretician to New York in the year 89 was canceled. He had already visited New York once, accompanying (President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad, (Mojtaba) Thamareh-Hashemi, and (Manouchehr) Mottaki to take part in the conference reviewing the NPT.

Although the BBC, quoting some officials in the American Ministry of Foreign Affairs (the State Department), had raised the possibility of some talks between him (Masha'i) and American officials on the margins of that visit that was canceled, nevertheless, Masha'i was going to visit New York not as the head of the president's office but as the president's special envoy and adviser. Although since 31 Mordad 89 (21 August 2010) he has been the president's adviser on Middle Eastern affairs, nevertheless, he has met twice with the Swiss foreign minister, both before and after Mottaki's dismissal (as foreign minister). He paid a quiet visit to Albania, and he also handed Ahmadinejad's written message to the king of Jordan. Masha'i's most provocative actions in the year 89

Even if we dismiss the sensational media reports about Masha'i's education, alleging that he was studying for a post-graduate certificate (MBA) at Chahbahar International University, with his own words Masha'i gave rise to some media tsunamis! His joint project with (Hamid) Baqa'i for setting up "The Headquarters for Pursuing and Obtaining the Rights of the Iranian Nation and Receiving Reparations for the First and the Second World Wars" was one such action. Those provocative acts reached a new high when Masha'i met with the members of the House of Cinema and purchased a painting donated by a Tehrani painter.

However, the highpoint of that tsunami was reached when Masha'i made his remarks about music, saying that music was lawful (according to the Shari'a); about the Iranian identity of the Prophet (Muhammad); about the Iranian School (of thought, or ideology); and about the greatness of Cyrus. On 3 Tir (23 June 2010) during ceremonies to exhibit Cyrus's Charter, Masha'i heaped a great deal of praise on Cyrus and said: "Cyrus banned slavery in Iran."

In the month of Mordad (the month that started 22 July 2010), while opening the conference of the Iranians living abroad, he said: "The Iranian ideology shows the way and resolves the problems." He ended his speech at the end of the same conference with the following words: "Some people criticize me, saying why I do not speak of 'the Islamic ideology' and instead speak of 'the Iranian ideology.'" Pointing out that there are different understandings of the Islamic ideology, he said: "But our understanding of the reality of Iran and the reality of Islam is the Iranian ideology." He continued: "From now on, we should introduce the Iranian ideology to the world."

Despite all the criticisms that were made regarding those words, on 20 Mordad (11 August 2010), on the sidelines of a session of his government (cabinet) meeting, Ahmadinejad defended the stances of the head of his office. He said: "Masha'i speaks on behalf of the government." At the same time, General (Seyyed Hasan) Firuzabadi (chairman of the joint staff of the Iranian armed forces) described Masha'i's words as a "deviation (enheraf) and an offense against national security."

The spokesman of the Association of the Militant Clergy also called for the dismissal of Masha'i and added: "The Wahhabis have welcomed Masha'i's words." Seyyed Ahmad Khatami, who is also one of the most steadfast supporters of Ahmadinejad's government, recommended: "Masha'i should stop using insulting language." The issue attracted so much attention that Ayatollah (Mohammad) Yazdi said: "Masha'i has no knowledge or expertise regarding religious issues, and he should not comment about such issues."

However, Masha'i showed that he was totally indifferent to such comments, because a short time later he spoke about the Iranian origins of the Prophet and then, in order to correct those remarks, he said: "I have also said that His Holiness Abraham is an Iranian, and he too is a prophet (presumably all of them have been influenced by or represent Iranian ideology)."

His remarks about music being permissible and what he understands about music gave rise to another wave of criticism. In the month of Dey 89 (the month that started 21 December 2010) in a meeting with artists from Alborz Province, he (Masha'i) said: "Some people do not understand music and they imagine that music is just 'bada bada mobarak bada' (a popular jingle sung during celebrations such as weddings). I believe that, apart from decadent music, there are other forms of music that are also forbidden. That type of music that trivializes human dignity and degrades man is forbidden, but some people who do not understand music keep saying that it (all forms of music) is forbidden." The lines of Masha'i's supporters and critics in the year 89

Masha'i's provocative words in the year 89 have made the line of his critics even longer than in previous years. His critics have not been limited to the opponents of the government, but most of them are clerics and some of them are even supporters of the government.

Even the president's brother could not tolerate his words about the Prophet having been an Iranian. He said: "Even if the Prophet (God's peace and blessings be upon him) had been an Iranian, what problems of the Muslims would be resolved by that? Such words only cause problems and will create challenges for unity and will result in differences." He even objected to Masha'i's views about the culture of Cyrus and declaring music to be lawful and added: "Some members of the Hojjatiyyeh Society (named after Hojjat or Proof of God, a title of the Hidden Imam) that has now changed its name to Rah-e Haqiqat (the Path of Truth) will give rise to the next sedition."

Mohsen Gharavian declared: "Masha'i is responsible for weakening the government's relations with Ayatollah (Mohammad Taqi) Mesbah-Yazdi." The head of Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi's office also said: "Some people believe that Masha'i is an agent of (Akbar Hashemi-) Rafsanjani who has infiltrated the government and is delivering blows at (undermining) Ahmadinejad."

Mehdi Ta'eb also believes that Masha'i's relations with Ahmadinejad are the same as Behzad Nabavi's relations with (former president Ali) Raja'i, but he does not pose a threat to the system (Raja'i was a hardline president, but Behzad Nabavi, who was a former friend of Raja'i, was a reformer).

However, Ali Motahhari believes that Ahmadinejad and Masha'i are trying to win over the 14 million people who voted for (Mir Hoseyn) Musavi. He regards Masha'i as the theoretician of the government's cultural policies and a liberal figure who is far removed from Islamic ideas and who is dragging the climate of the country toward decadence. According to him, the tolerance and support that exist (that Masha'i shows) for cultural issues and for certain issues such as movies, women's sports, the issue of hijab, and views about music and the Iranian ideology stem from the same thesis.

Of course, each time the wave of criticisms against Masha'i is intensified, his supporters from the president down to his advisers start defending him. We saw that in his television interview on 27 Bahman (16 February 2011), referring to the pressures that are exerted on the government, Mahmud Ahmadinejad referred to Masha'i as a pious and pure person who has lofty and clear ideas.

Baqa'i, Masha'i's successor in Iran's Cultural Heritage Organization, has also repeatedly defended him. In a speech, he referred to Masha'i as a wronged person who lives in a rented house and whose son had been unemployed until a few months ago. In another place, he referred to (the rumors on) Masha'i's connections with the Unseen World as false accusations and attempts to create a hostile climate against him. Baqa'i went a step further and said that, even at the time of the Prophet, some people said that he was a sorcerer. He added: "I do not intend to compare His Holiness the Prophet with Mr Masha'i, but I wish to say that such events have been repeated in the course of history." In order to prove Masha'i's righteousness, Baqa'i called on the Voice and Vision (Iranian National Radio and Television) to provide an opportunity for Masha'i to appear on the Voice and Vision, but Masha'i has refused repeated invitations by the Vision.

Ali Akbar Javanfekr, too, in his notes (articles), on several occasions has referred to Masha'i as someone who has new things to say but whom others are incapable of understanding. Meanwhile, Mojtaba Thamareh made the weakest defense of Masha'i and said: "Some of the remarks that have been attributed to Mr Masha'i are incorrect and must be corrected." From Masha'i's file in the Majles to his candidacy for president

In order to defend (First Vice President Mohammad Reza) Rahimi against (Elyas) Naderan's allegations, Masha'i had demanded that Majles Deputy Naderan ought to be put on trial. Referring to the remarks of the spokesman of the judiciary who had said that the judiciary was investigating Rahimi's file, Masha'i said that Rahimi's position in the government had been strengthened by the president.

However, Rahimi's defender himself has three open files in the Majles. Two of those files are in the Principle 90 Committee (which investigates public complaints against the government) of the Majles, and there is another file in the National Security Committee. Ebrahim Nekunam, chairman of the Principle 90 Committee, said that those files concerned "creating anxiety and causing differences between the religious seminaries, the sources of emulation, and the believers" as well as "providing government financial assistance to Iranian Houses outside the country."

Investigating the Supreme Council of Iranians Abroad was also put on the agenda of the Majles after some festivities were held by that council for the Iranians living abroad. (The newspaper) Keyhan wrote about an expenditure of 80 billion tomans (about $80 million). Elyas Naderan also spoke about the participation of members of SAVAK (the shah's former security and intelligence organization), dances by both women and men, and the consumption of alcoholic drinks on the margins of those festivities.

However, in response to those allegations, Masha'i said: "It is below the dignity of the Majles to say that in the gathering of Iranians abroad they played music, danced, and drank wine." He added: "Those who in the course of that investigation have leveled such accusations against the Supreme Council of Iranians Abroad must explain to the Iranian people about such allegations."

Nevertheless, in the year 89 one could often hear the rumor that Masha'i would be a candidate in the 11th presidential election (to be held in May or June 2013) and that his aim in making all those sensational remarks was to find a more extensive social base and win the support of the silent votes (silent majority). Although those rumors only produced a smile on Masha'i's face, nevertheless, they have given rise to some serious reactions.

Hasan Ghafuri-Fard spoke about the rejection of his qualifications (presumably by the Guardian Council to run as a presidential candidate). Nevertheless, Abbas Ali Kadkhoda'i (the spokesman of the Guardian Council) said that speaking about the rejection of his qualifications by the Guardian Council belongs more to the realm of prophecy. At the same time, Sadeq Zibakalam predicted that Masha'i would attract both the reformers and the principlists and that his qualifications would be confirmed by a sovereign decree (presumably Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i). Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi also believes that Masha'i is spending money to win the presidency.

However, Masha'i prefers to dismiss all those rumors with a smile, and his old friend Baqa'i also neither confirms nor denies those rumors. Nevertheless, Abol-Hasan Faqih, the head of the Red Crescent organization, says that Masha'i has no desire to take part in the (next) presidential election.

Maybe we should wait for the publication of the book called "Masha'i's Puzzle," which includes all his interviews and speeches from Tir 82 to the end of 88 (21 June 2003 - 20 March 2009) to find out what line he will be following and what his views are. Maybe in this way the questions raised by some figures such as Motahhari and Gharavian will also be answered as to whether Masha'i is Ahmadinejad's guru or his disciple!

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