Mashaei, 51, who has been at the center of a string of controversies in recent years, is proving to be one of Ahmadinejad’s biggest liabilities. In recent weeks, several of the adviser’s associates have been arrested, although the precise accusations remain unclear. Among those detained are the prayer leader at the presidential complex, the elderly wife of a prerevolutionary foreign minister, and a man who is said in Iranian news accounts to have engaged in sorcery.
State media now refer to Mashaei as the “leader of a deviated current.” According to the semiofficial Fars News Agency, Mashaei and his allies are seeking to diminish the role of clerics in the Islamic republic and are predicting the imminent arrival of the Shiite messiah, known as the Mahdi, in order to attract supporters. “This group is unprecedented in the history of the Islamic Republic,” the managing director of Fars, Hamid Reza Moghaddam-Far, wrote on Wednesday.
Iranian media outlets have reported corruption allegations against Mashaei. In addition, parliament has stopped funding for his council for Iranians living abroad, with some accusing the group of contacting the Iranian opposition in the West.
Supporters of Mashaei say that his name is being tarnished in order to pressure the president. Ahmadinejad himself has shown no sign of giving in. “They are making up these jokes of fortunetelling and exorcism,” Ahmadinejad said in an appearance on state television. “Our rivals clearly want to make the people laugh.”
The reason Ahmadinejad has stuck by Mashaei is simple, analysts say: They need each other.
“Both men are two pieces of the same puzzle,” said Amir Mohebbian, an analyst who has in the past supported the president’s policies. “They don’t contradict each other, they complete each other.” He said that the arrest of Mashaei was a real possibility but that it would lead to “an aggressive” reaction by Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad on Sunday publicly declared his allegiance to the supreme leader, complaining that “enemies” were trying to create a rift between the two men. Mashaei, speaking for the first time since the latest controversy erupted, on Friday told the Islamic Republic News Agency that some within the government were “raising the issue of a rift in order to meet their own petty group and factional objectives.” He also expressed strong support for Khamenei and emphasized that the “recent propaganda” had “no effect whatsoever” on the president.