Robert Tait, writing for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, offers an overview of how Iran's political crisis has put the President in an increasingly precarious position:
Whenever cornered, Mahmud Ahmadinejad always seems to come out swinging. But Iran's notoriously abrasive president appears in danger of suffering a knockout blow over his political attachment to Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, a man widely seen as a threat to the country's clerical-based political system.
What had been a long-rumbling but low-intensity row has now become so rancorous that it appears Ahmadinejad has lost the political support of his onetime patron, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, who has the final say on all state matters.
And dislike of Rahim-Mashaei, the president's chief of staff whom he is believed to have anointed as an eventual successor, has grown so visceral and widespread that some believe it has reduced Ahmadinejad to a lame duck and may even prevent him completing his second term.
Matters appeared to reach crisis point this week when it emerged that several presidential aides --- including two known to be close to Rahim-Mashaei --- were arrested by the security services.
One, Abbas Ghaffari, was said by Tehran's chief prosecutor to be involved with spirits and exorcism. Another, Abbas Amirifar, head of the president's cultural office, was linked to a controversial recent film, "The Appearance Is Imminent", which praised Ahmadinejad -- as well as Khamenei -- for paving the way for the return of the 12th imam, one of Shi'a Islam's holiest figures, whose return to earth is supposed to herald a new era of peace. The president's messianic forecasts for the return of the imam are deeply controversial to many clerics, who believe he is unqualified to preach on religious affairs.
Scott Lucas, head of the EA World View website and an Iran specialist at Birmingham University in England, says the accusations against his aides are symptomatic of the Islamic republic's biggest political crisis since the disputed 2009 presidential election, which reformists claim Ahmadinejad stole.
"Mr. Amirifar was arrested apparently in connection with this controversy that claims the Hidden Imam is about to return and that the president is a prophet who is welcoming that," Lucas explains.
"Mr. Ghaffari was effectively accused by conservative websites of being someone who called up spirits, who dabbled in the black arts -- again this supposed connection that Ahmadinejad's enemies are making of Ahmadinejad and Rahim-Mashaei being involved in this mysticism around the Hidden Imam," he continues. "One of the websites said that the interrogator of Ghaffari had suffered a heart attack because of Ghaffari's skill in the black arts. The fact that the tales are out there and that they are escalating is a sign that there is a very heated political dispute going on."
The arrests followed a public disagreement between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei over the president's attempted firing on April 17 of his intelligence minister, Heydar Moslehi. Having been ordered by the supreme leader to reinstate the minister, Ahmadinejad responded with an 11-day disappearing act -- failing to show up at cabinet meetings and missing a host of scheduled public engagements, including a trip to Qom, home to Iran's religious establishment, where he is increasingly mistrusted.
While the row appeared to be over control of one of the Islamic republic's most sensitive ministries, the trigger seems to have been Rahim-Mashaei. The "Los Angeles Times" reported on May 2 that Ahmadinejad had tried to dismiss Moslehi after it emerged that Rahim-Mashaei's office had been bugged by the Intelligence Ministry and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
Ahmadinejad only reemerged from what has been described as a prolonged sulk on May 1, when he chaired a cabinet meeting. Moslehi is reported by some accounts to have been asked by the president to leave the cabinet's most recent meeting, on May 4. Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad has had to endure the indignity of a chorus of public warnings from senior clerics close to Khamenei about the need for obedience to the supreme leader.