Arrests show Ahmadinejad under increasing pressure from Iran’s clerics

May 6, 2011

Several associates of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s closest adviser have been arrested in the past few days, Iranian Web sites reported Friday.

Among them is the cleric who leads the prayers at the presidential mosque, Abbas Amirifar, as well as a person accused of sorcery, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

The arrests follow increasing pressure by clerics, politicians and commanders on Ahmadinejad to cut ties with Esfandiar Rahim Mashaee, the closest adviser of the president, but a man hated by Iran’s clerics for advocating the importance of Iranian culture over Islamic tenets.

Many of those arrested are said to have a connection with Mashaee and with a movie, distributed though millions of DVDs, that claims the Shiite Messiah will appear in January. Predicting the exact date of the coming of the 12th imam is regarded as superstition in the Islamic Republic. Ahmadinejad often says the coming of “Imam Mahdi,” as the Messiah is called, is “near.”

Several influential ayatollahs, politicians and officials referred to Mashaee in terms normally used for Iran’s worst enemies, labeling him a foreign spy, a freemason and a leader of an effort to overthrow the Islamic Republic.

Despite frequent calls for Mashaee’s resignation from official posts, Ahmadinejad has continued to protect him. Mashaee’s daughter is married to the president’s son.

The arrests seem connected to increasingly tense relations between Ahmadinejad and Iran’s clerical leaders. He recently tried to oust his intelligence minister, Heydar Moslehi, but last month Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly revoked Moslehi’s forced resignation.

In turn, Ahmadinejad did not go to his office for eight days. He returned to work Sunday, publicly pledging his allegiance to Khamenei, who holds final power in state matters in Iran.

But when the cabinet met Wednesday, the president and Moslehi apparently avoided being in the same room, Web sites reported, citing “busy schedules” as their reason for not meeting. That evening, Ahmadinejad was not present during an important religious ceremony, while most other representatives of Iran’s power circle were.

A speaker and an influential religious chanter openly criticized Ahmadinejad in front of the leader, who for years had supported the president, according the Entekhab Web site, which has ties to Iran’s parliament head, former nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.

A close associate of Ahmadinejad, Morteza Agha-Tehrani, also the morals teacher of the cabinet, was caught on cellphone camera saying that the Supreme Leader had given the president a deadline to publicly accept the reinstatement of the intelligence minister or resign, the Ayandeh news Web site reported. The site has links to Iran’s intelligence service. There has been no official confirmation of such a deadline.

Parliament members are warning Ahmadinejad that if he does not listen to the Supreme Leader, he could be called in for questioning, which theoretically could lead to impeachment. In another public threat, Tehran prayer leader Ayatollah Kazem Seddighi warned Ahmadinejad on Friday that in the beginning of Iran’s Islamic revolution, governments were easily swept aside when they “acted against the system.”

“We must not be fooled by the nice words and false vows of hypocrites,” Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi said Thursday, according to the Entekhab Web site, in a comment aimed at the president. Yazdi for years was known as a key supporter of Ahmadinejad. “People must not be fooled by false claims of following the Leader,” he said. “They must accept his orders.”

But last week, Khamenei in a speech stressed that the case of his reinstatement of the intelligence minister was not of “much importance” and said there was no “rift” among Iran’s leaders.

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