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The Latest from Iran (19 May): An Ahmadinejad Albatross Named Rahim-Mashai

1540 GMT: The President's Right-Hand Man. Another shot at Presidential Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai....

The weekly Ya Lesarat Al-Hossein quotes a student of Ahmadinejad’s mentor, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi: “Mashai is a freemason and should be arrested.”

Qasem Ravanbakhsh added that the contents of the president’s public speeches prove he has been heavily influenced by Mashai’s ideas.

The head of the conservative Society of Islamic Republic Martyrs, Hossein Fadai, accused the “deviant current” in the government of trying to foster relations with the US and foreign intelligence services (see 0500 GMT).

1530 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. The Governor of Fars Province, Ruhollah Ahmadzadeh Kermani, has been named head of the Iranian Culture and Heritage Organization.

1410 GMT: Campus Watch. The Ministry of Science and Technology has announced plans to reduce the number of students enrolled in humanities programmes at universities across Iran.

Currently 43% of Iranian students pursue humanities degrees. The target is now 36%.

The Supreme Leader has criticised humanities for being taught as being "Western" disciplines, and a recent review of 12 subject areas recommended sweeping changes in curricula.

1350 GMT: The President's Right-Hand Man. A bit of devious media trickery in the fight around Presidential aide Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai....

This week Deutsche Welle Persian ran a lengthy article, in the context of charges of "sorcery" against at least one Ahmadinejad advisor, about the growing criticism around allegations of cavorting with spirits and genies (djinn).

How to deal with this unwelcome publicity? A pro-Rahim Mashai website, Mahremane Online simply claimed an "exclusive" report --- it never mentioned Deutsche Welle --- revealing that belief in Djinn is not an un-Islamic deviation.

1340 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch (Religion Edition). Back from an extended academic break to find this interesting turn in Iranian justice....

On Saturday, the Revolutionary Court in the northern city of Bandar Anzali acquitted 12 Protestant Christians of “forming a society with the intent of disrupting national security”.

The 12 were all Christian converts and members of a group called the Church of Iran. The court ruled:

Considering the content of their case file… and the activities of the defendants described in the case file, fundamentally [there is nothing that] leads to the conclusion of forming a society… with intent to disrupt national security. And their activities, in reality, are consistent with performing religious rituals according to their religion… According to the principle of presumption of innocence...the court does not see any [evidence for the] offense associate with the charges.

The court continued by finding that the defendants’ religious practices were protected by Iran’s Constitution:

According to Article 13 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, followers of minority religions that have been officially recognized, meaning Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism, are free to perform their religious rituals as long as they are within the limits of the law. And the defendants have confirmed that they are followers of the Christian religion.

0855 GMT: Echoes. A reader notes the title of today's LiveBlog and takes us back to an article by Tehran-based Thomas Erdbrink of The Washington Post last Friday, "Ahmadinejad’s Support of Aide Has Become a Political Liability":

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s refusal to cut ties with his best friend and top adviser is damaging his presidency and could imperil his ability to keep his job, analysts here say.

What started as a disagreement between Ahmadinejad and the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, over the forced resignation of Iran’s intelligence minister last month has evolved into public attacks against the president and his adviser, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, by former supporters. The criticism has come from influential clerics, members of parliament and military commanders who are aligned with the supreme leader, creating the biggest rift in Iranian politics since Ahmadinejad’s disputed 2009 election victory.

0725 GMT: Subsidy Cuts Watch. Fars reports that authorities have approved support payments through June to cover rising prices from subsidy cuts.

The payments are approximately $40 per person per month plus $5 per month for energy and bread.

0715 GMT: And The West Will Dry Up Our Rain. President Ahmadinejad, speaking at the opening of a dam in central Iran, has levelled a new charge at the US and its allies: they want to "create a drought in some regions of the world".

Fars focuses on the more important claim in the President's speech: Iran has "all the capacity, opportunities and facilities" needed to complete its infrastructure programme this year.

0500 GMT: A long-time EA reader sends us this concise prediction: "If Ahmadinejad doesn't drop Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai very soon, he's career as president will be over, and not because his term is finished."

Perceptive words. Only four days after the President made his Sunday night speech to sweep away the recent crisis over his Government, the attacks are re-building, and the President's confidante and Chief of Staff Rahim-Mashai is the central target.

In the most dramatic development yesterday, claims circulated that another long-time ally of Rahim-Mashai, Kazem Kia-Pasha, had been arrested in connection with the controversial film about the imminent return of the Hidden Imam.

Meanwhile, a range of conservative media pushed claims from dodgy financial deals over a $450 million development on Kish Island to approval of an "international university for all Iranians" linked to Rahim-Mashai and his allies. The phrase "diversionary current" has now become established in Iranian political discourse to describe the danger within Ahmadinejad's office.

There is an escalation this morning with allegations that Rahim-Mashai and his advisors tried to contact "America and its intelligence service". That allegation is based on less sensational fact --- Rahim-Mashai has been used by Ahmadinejad in an attempt to discuss the nuclear issue with Washington. As recently as February, the Chief of Staff tried to visit New York --- ostensibly this was to mark the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution with expatriates, but the more significant task of chatting about Tehran's negotiations with the "5+1" powers after a disappointing resumption of talks in January in Vienna.

And Javan Online --- the outlet of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps --- launches another attack upon Abbas Ghaffari, the member of Ahmadinejad's office recently arrested for "sorcery". Potkin Azarmehr summarises the new allegations:

- Ghaffari obtained his supernatural demonic powers after rubbing the holy Koran on excrements
- By now 360 women, including married women, have claimed they have been raped by him
- Ghaffari would eat his own dried-up excrement on a daily basis
- He possesses two main spells which, by mixing with two minor spells, can paralyse people's hearts, minds and eyes or -- as a "minor", everyday curse --- rendering them deaf and dumb.
- Ghaffari is completely competent in numbers sorcery as well as in the art of energy healing. It is said that he spent some time in King Fahad's palace trying to heal him too.

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