The son of a blacksmith, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was born on October 28, 1956, in Garmsar, near Tehran, and holds a PhD in traffic and transport from Tehran’s University of Science and Technology, where he was a lecturer. He was not well-known when he was appointed mayor of Tehran in 2003. During his tenure, he reduced social freedoms and curtailed many of the reforms introduced by more moderate figures who ran the city before him.
In 2005, he ran for the Iranian presidency with the full backing of conservative leaders who used their network of mosques to mobilise support for him. He also had the support of a group of younger, second-generation revolutionaries known as the Abadgaran, or developers, who are strong in the Iranian parliament, the Majlis.
A populist hardliner, Ahmadinejad promised to address the poverty and social injustices in Iran, and to work to end corruption.
On June 24, he swept to the presidential post with a stunning 17,046,441 votes out of a total of 27,536,069 votes cast in the runoff election.
As the sixth president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, he often courted controversy with his strong rhetoric against the United States and Israel. Ahmadinejad’s stubborn stance on Iran’s nuclear programme proved popular at home but enraged the West.
He also angered Western powers with his views on Israel. In October 2005, Ahmadinejad made a statement in which he envisaged the replacement of Israel with a Palestinian state. He was quoting Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, and his words were widely translated as a call for Israel to be “wiped off the map”, though this translation is disputed.
Ahmadinejad later insisted that his speech was exaggerated and misinterpreted. He denied that he meant military intervention and said instead that Israel’s “Zionist regime” would eventually collapse on its own.
He once made a defiant speech at the UN on the nuclear issue and refused to back down on Tehran’s decision to resume uranium conversion. He defended what he said was his country’s right to civilian nuclear energy and its missile development programme.
In June 2010, when the UN Security Council voted in favour of fresh sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme, he said they should be thrown in the dustbin like a “used handkerchief”.
Shortly after Ahmadinejad was elected president, some Western media outlets published claims that he was among the students who stormed the US embassy in Tehran, sparking the Iran hostage crisis. This claim was denied by the Iranian government, the Iranian opposition, as well as the CIA. Ahmadinejad’s website says he joined the Revolutionary Guards voluntarily after the revolution, and he is also reported to have served in covert operations during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
In 2007, Ahmadinejad introduced a gas rationing plan to reduce the country’s fuel consumption, and cut the interest rates that private and public banking facilities could charge.
Despite crippling economic sanctions, surging inflation and rising unemployment, Ahmadinejad was nominated to run for the second term in 2009. In the presidential election of 2009, 39,165,191 ballots were cast on June 12, according to Iran’s election headquarters. Ahmadinejad won 24,527,516 votes, (62.63 per cent). In second place, Mir Hossein Mousavi won 13,216,411 (33.75 per cent) of the votes. The election drew unprecedented public interest in Iran.
The results were disputed as Mousavi and his supporters alleged electoral fraud. This ignited demonstrations in the large cities with a united slogan of “Where is my vote”, which resulted in the birth of “Green Movement” of Iran.
Finally, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei formally endorsed Ahmadinejad as president on August 3, 2009.
Ahmadinejad’s supporters consider him to be a simple man who leads a modest life. As president, he wanted to continue living in the same house in Tehran his family had been living in but his security advisers insisted that he should move. Ahmadinejad had the antique Persian carpets in the presidential palace sent to a carpet museum, and opted instead to use inexpensive carpets. He is said to have refused the VIP seat on the presidential aircraft, which he eventually replaced with a cargo aeroplane.
In an interview with CNN, Ahmadinejad had said that, after the end of his presidency, he would return to the university and retire from politics. However, he announced from Russia on the sidelines of an Opec summit on July 2, 2013, that he might stay involved with politics by creating a new party or non-governmental organisation. Ahmadinejad left Sa’dabad Palace on August 3, 2013, and returned to his private house in Narmak.
This column aims to profile personalities who made the news once but have now faded from the spotlight.
What he said:
Show me one dictatorship in the world that has not been supported by the United States government or some European governments. It almost doesn’t exist.
Those who insist on having hostilities with us, kill and destroy the option of friendship with us in the future, which is unfortunate because it is clear the future belongs to Iran.
We do believe that freedom, the right to choose, the right to vote, respect and justice is the fundamental right of all people. All people must obtain these rights.