He was the leader who presided over a Twitter ban in Iran, but now former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made his own debut on the social networking site — complete with an English-language video message and posts encouraging mercy and love.
Off social media, Ahmadinejad is better known as a hard-line conservative who worked hard to censor the Internet, blocking Facebook and Twitter amid anti-government protests in 2009.
But on Sunday, tweets began to flow from an account first created in January that bears Ahmadinejad's name and a personalized video message. The former leader quickly gained more than 14,000 followers, and top aides retweeted his posts. He also drew jeers from Iranian and other Twitter users alike, with some joking about a potential Twitter war with President Trump, another prolific user of the site.
(Twitter is still technically banned in Iran, but an increasing number of Iranian officials use it, including Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and its current president, Hassan Rouhani).
"Follow me at @Ahmadinejad1956 — that's me," Ahmadinejad said in a short video message posted Sunday, in which he speaks English and stands next to an Iranian flag.
Later, on Monday, he wrote: "The merciful creator created all human beings from the essence of love."
"Let's all love each other," he wrote.
The tone of his new tweets is a departure from his political image as a populist firebrand who challenged the West. Ahmadinejad served two terms as Iran's president from 2005 to 2013, a period when human rights deteriorated, government corruption spread and Iran became increasingly isolated from the rest of the world.
Late last year, Ahmadinejad emerged as a potential chief rival of Rouhani, who is seeking reelection this spring. But Khamenei, who holds considerable sway over the political process, urged Ahmadinejad to abandon any presidential ambitions he might have ahead of new elections in May.
Still, Ahmadinejad is seen as an influential player and potential spoiler. His former vice president, Hamid-Reza Baghaei, announced in February his intention to run for president — a move widely seen as having Ahmadinejad's backing.
Other hard-liners have joined Twitter in recent months, including the ultra-conservative editor of Kayhan newspaper. Other conservative-affiliated organizations, including the Mizan News Agency and even state-run businesses, maintain Twitter accounts, according to the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, Ahmadinejad's bio describes him as: "Husband, Dad, Grandfather, University Professor, President, Mayor, Proud Iranian.”