Region | Iran

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reign strewn with controversy

Eight years of rule earned the Iranian leader many enemies

  • By: Jumana Al TamimiAssociate Editor
  • Published: 13:37 June 12, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/©Gulf News

Dubai: Leaders and presidents go down in history for different reasons. They are usually remembered for decisions they took that changed the course of their countries.

For Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he will be remembered not only for his famous white jacket, but also for his rhetoric. It was his inflammatory statements, mainly against the US, UK and Israel, that have promoted his country’s isolation.

After serving two terms as president, Ahmadinejad ends his 8 years while Iran “has more divisions among its political elites, suffering from the economic deterioration and a negative image abroad,” said Mahjoub Zweiri, an expert in Iranian affairs at Qatar University.

“In the first statement he gave after becoming a president in August 2005, he said ‘we don’t need the world. The world needs us’”, Zweiri added in an interview with Gulf News, quoting the Iranian president.

“The world reacted by imposing four rounds of economic sanctions on Iran that badly hit the bases of the Iranian economy,” in the past 8 years, said Zweiri, who wrote and co-authored several books on Iran.

In 2005, not much was known about Ahmadinejad outside Iran when he won that year’s presidential election. But inside, it was a different matter for the former mayor of Tehran. He became the sixth president of the Islamic Republic of Iran after he received the support of the spiritual leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word in the country’s affairs. Ahmadinejad was clear in showing his loyalty to the ultimate decision maker in the country by kissing his hand in the inauguration ceremony, noted press reports. However, the relation between the two became colder, and even tense, in the following years.

Coming from a poor background, Ahmadinejad’s election slogan in 2005 “it’s possible and we can do it,” has actually won him the support of the underprivileged and rural Iranians alike. He was looked at as the man of people. He won with nearly 62 percent of the votes.

But for the result came as a surprise to the supporters of his rival in that year’s elections, the powerful, “moderate”, and former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Some young Iranians still remember “crying inconsolably” the night Ahmadinejad announced the winner in the presidential race.

Outside Iran, Ahmadinejad succeeded in attracting the attention, especially with his jacket. Some believed it is a sign of the man’s modesty, and some other said it gives a bad image of Iran’s fashion.

To him, as long as his attire is “clean, simple and comfortable,” there is nothing wrong with wearing them whether he is a president or not, he was quoted by a journalist when Ahmadinejad was asked about his “controversial” attire.

While Ahmadinejad changed his white jacket and was seen in the past few years wearing suits (but not ties, as Iranians after the revolution consider it a western practise), he has not changed his opinions, rhetoric and positions. He rather made things worse, experts said.

“When he (Ahmadinejad) came to power, he said economic reforms are his priority. But what happened was he has failed in reviving the economy and caused political chaos,” said Zweiri.

Other experts shared similar view.

“He lacks expertise in foreign policy and diplomacy,” reformist analyst Mohammad Sadeq Javadihesar was quoted as saying by AFP.

“His abilities were equivalent to those of a university graduate,” he added.

Among the decisions taken by Ahmadinejad was the decision to fire his former foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki while on an official visit to Senegal in 2010. He also sacked the Intelligence Minister, Heidar Moslehi. But the minister was reinstated by the spiritual leader Khamenei.

The firing of officials who are usually appointed by spiritual leader was among the main reasons for the intensification of the political dispute.

Khamenei was about to dismiss Ahmadinejad himself if it was not because of the nuclear crisis with the west and the concern of the consequences, said experts. Foreign policy is one of the instrumental elements in the internal political scene in Iran, they added.

Ahmadinejad was not able to achieve his foreign goals because of his way of handling issues, experts say. His approach differed from those of his predecessors, Mohammad Khatami and Hashemi Rafsanjani. Both are from the “moderate” camp in Iranian politics.

During Khatami’s reign, Iran’s relations with neighbouring Arab countries and the west were good. But those relations deteriorated during the rule of Ahmadinejad for many reasons, including Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme. Iran’s nuclear programme is still raising concerns on the regional and international levels. While Iran insists its programme is of peaceful purposes, there are fears that Iran is heading towards producing a nuclear bomb.

Also, Arab countries are accusing Iran of interfering in their internal affairs, mainly in Bahrain. Iran’s support to the Syrian regime of Bashar Al Assad is also among the reasons behind the tense relations.

At the same time, the way the Iranian authorities silenced popular unrest in 2009, while they encouraged revolutions in Arab countries has further fuelled the deterioration in relations.

Iran’s dispute over Ahmadinejad’s re-election in 2009 and the forceful regime suppression to it have led to further Iran’s isolation on the international arena. Moreover, Iran’s relations with the west further went down because of Ahmadinejad fiery rhetoric. He denied the Holocaust and spoke of conspiracy theories about September 11, 2011 terrorist attacks in the US. Positions in both issues put Iran in trouble.

Ahmadinejad appeared several times at the UN General Assembly, and his speeches, every time, have caused him and his country problems and controversy.

“I called him the president who moved from one crisis to another,” Zweiri said.

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