BERKELEY, California - Amid a struggle
between two major clerical factions for control of
Iran's influential Assembly of Experts, President
Mahmud Ahmadinejad is trying to shore up his
conservative base by portraying himself as a man
with a direct link to God.
who enjoys close ties to the country's security
services, has generally feeble support among the
clergy system in the Islamic Republic. He is a
strong supporter of Ayatollah
Mesbah Yazdi, one of the
most radical clerics in Iran, who believes in an
"Islamic government" - where the ruler is chosen
representatives such as Supreme Leader Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei - rather than the current Islamic
Republic, where people vote for their leaders
according to Islamic laws.
The Assembly of
Experts election on December 15 is significant
because it could shift the balance of power
between the pragmatic faction of conservatives led
by former president Hashemi Rafsanjani and the
radical faction represented by Yazdi.
86-member assembly is charged with electing and
monitoring the supreme leader, who, according to
Iran's charter, has ultimate power over all other
institutions and individuals, including the
authority to interpret the constitution.
Rafsanjani supports joining the
international community and opening up dialogue
with the West, while Yazdi is a symbol of
hostility toward Western ideals and values. Since
Ahmadinejad came to office in August last year,
his pursuit of a nuclear-power program -
repeatedly said to be for peaceful civilian
purposes - and harsh threats to "wipe Israel off
the map" have isolated Iran more than ever.
His latest round of speeches emphasizing
God and religion feed this defiance regarding
Iran's nuclear program, and also serve subtly to
threaten civil society and political reformists in
the country, a tactic that is strongly supported
by Yazdi. The presence of Yazdi and his followers
on the Assembly of Experts would empower
Ahmadinejad's wing more than ever, and give them
greater influence with Khamenei.
my friends most of the time, don't worry about the
nuclear issue, [because] they [Westerners] are
just bluffing," Ahmadinejad said at a recent
ceremony, reported by the Iran News website on
October 15. "I tell them that the West is disarmed
toward us and doesn't know how to handle this
"Believe me, we have been
successful in terms of legal and public opinion. I
am speaking from my own knowledge. Somebody asked
me, 'People say you are connected?' I said, 'Yes,
I am.' 'Do you really have a connection? With
whom?' and I said I have a connection to God - if
we stay faithful, God will show us his miracle,"
Ahmadinejad said at a mosque in Tehran.
also lashed out at President George W Bush, saying
the US president "also receives inspiration but
Ahmadinejad's speech came
shortly after talks with European Union diplomats
failed to achieve progress on halting Iran's
uranium-enrichment program. On Thursday, Russia
said it opposed the latest draft proposal for
sanctions being circulated at the UN Security
Council by the EU, in particular provisions that
would bar Russia's participation in building a
nuclear reactor at Bushehr in southwestern Iran.
While many Iranian analysts have warned
the conservative government not to overplay its
hand and to simplify the nuclear crisis in its
negotiations with Western countries, Ahmadinejad
has assured supporters of the success of his
"Now, they [Western
countries] are stuck in violent waters and don't
know what to do with us [on the nuclear issue]. We
won't retreat even a millimeter," he said this
week. "Because if we retreat a little bit, they
would say that we just retreated under the
pressure. Secondly, if we do so, they will say to
the world that, finally, Iranians stopped their
enrichment activities. But didn't we stop all our
activities in the previous era [under president
Mohammad Khatami]? And what did we achieve? I
assure you, with God's will, we have gone most of
the way, and be sure that they do not have the
courage to attack us."
He also commented
on the deployment of the Nimitz-class nuclear
aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower to the Persian
Gulf: "This is also one of those things. I say
right now that your minds should be at ease. Two
aircraft carriers are coming, so what? Now some in
Iran are shouting that two carriers are coming ...
Actually I believe the fact that they're coming
shows that nothing is going to happen. If they
leave the area then that is dangerous - that
reveals that they have plans."
It is not
the first time that Ahmadinejad has claimed a
direct connection to God. After addressing the UN
General Assembly in September 2005, he said that
someone present told him that a light surrounded
him while he was delivering his speech. He added
that he had also sensed it.
"I felt that
all of a sudden the atmosphere changed there, and
for 27-28 minutes all the leaders did not blink,"
he asserted later at a meeting with one of Iran's
ranking ayatollahs, Javadi Amoli.
Ahmadinejad's claims created a huge stir
in Iran, with a transcript and video recording of
his comments published on a conservative website,
Baztab.com, and later widely circulated on a
Hooshang Amirahmadi, a
professor at Rutgers State University in New
Jersey and director of the university's Center for
Middle Eastern Studies, who has met personally
with the Iranian president, told Inter Press
Service that he sensed renewed defiance despite
the mounting international pressure.
met Ahmadinejad twice, when he came to deliver
speeches to the General Assembly in 2005 and 2006.
In our conversations, I felt his self-confidence
has increased dramatically over the last year
since he came to office," he said.
year, I told Ahmadinejad that US-Iran relations
are getting very dangerous, and I think this
danger has increased even more this year, and I am
sorry you did nothing to remove this danger as the
leader of Iran," Amirahmadi said.
Ahmadinejad responded that he disagreed, and
added: "Last year we were facing the threat of
war. But now we have the threat of sanctions
which, with God's will, we can cope with and move
toward peace. Last year, the threat of war was
looming, but now the real threat is just
While his statements seem
designed to appeal to Iran's conservative
religious base, critics of the president's
domestic and foreign policies would likely agree
with a famous Persian saying: "When you talk with
God, you are a pure person, but when God talks to
you, you must be insane."
Memarian is an Iranian journalist and
civil-society activist. He has won several awards,
including Human Rights Watch's highest honor in
2005, the Human Rights Defender Award.