Iran Election Guide

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Iran Analysis: As Ahmadinejad Is Challenged, The Supreme Leader Tries to Protect Himself

The headline story in Iranian media on Wednesday was the Supreme Leader's visit to Bojnourd in North Khorasan Province in the northeast of the country, with emphasis on the affection and support of a large crowd for Ayatollah Khamenei.

Beyond that presentation, however, the interesting politics --- as news across the economy and currency was still restricted by the regime --- was circulating around Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Any protection from last month's Presidential trip to New York and appearance at the United Nations has long dissipated, as Parliament symbolically halted the flagship subsidy cuts programme and renewed claims about Government mismanagement.

That pressure has produced a petition to interrogate Ahmadinejad, signed by 102 MPs and now being considered by the Board of the Majlis. Meanwhile, the President was being battered verbally across the media.

Former Revolutionary Guards commander Saeed Qassemi, a member of the "hard-line" Endurance Front, used a speech for "martyrs"  at Iran’s largest cemetery to lambast Ahmadinejad, especially over the President's call for resumption of negotiations with the US:

Dear brother, you have started a new approach…but I want to say that your opportunity has finished. You presented your positions...[which] show a green light to that side [the West]. Your recent positions annoy us.

I want to say reverse your positions and change your views. Others had spoken the way you did in the past, and Mr. Ruhollah [Ayatollah Khomeini] stood in their way. If the people wanted to be the servant of America and have relations with America why did they have a revolution at all? The people’s vote for you were for the values of justice. So know that now is not the time for such words.

But that pressure on Ahmadinejad brings us back to Ayatollah Khamenei. For if the President is to be toppled or even cut down to size,  there is a risk that --- with the loss of that "firewall" --- Iran's problems can only be attributed to the rule of the Supreme Leader.

The Bojnourd visit and Ayatollah Khamenei's speech were part of the pre-emptive strategy to prevent that development. As the media hailed his unquestioned popularity and the loyalty of Iranians, the Supreme Leader again spoke of the Islamic Republic's defiance and triumph over the enemy's sanctions and psychological warfare.

In the midst of that proclamation, however, Ayatollah Khamenei left an interesting trail of admissions. He confessed that there had been "problems" caused by the sanctions and "some mismanagement". For the first time, he referred to last week's public protest in Tehran, spurred by the currency situation and featuring the closure of the Tehran Bazaar, even if he tried to reduce this to a "few people" pleasing the enemy by setting firing to rubbish bins. Amidst the escalating attacks on Ahmadinejad, he called for unity among the branches of Government.

And so the paradox: even as he maintains that his Islamic Republic will triumph, the Supreme Leader has finally acknowledged specific, ongoing problems. If Ahmadinejad can no longer be the lightning rod for anger and frustrations, for how long can Ayatollah Khamenei substitute the "enemy" as the target of a blame that could reach up to the highest levels of the regime?

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