Going Back to the Early Days of the Islamic Revolution

However much of a dark horse Iran's President may have been to the West prior to his election, his past history and his radical principles were no great secret in Iran. Peter Philipp has the details

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahamdinedjad, photo: dpa
It's common knowledge that Ahmadinejad joined the Revolutionary Guard after the Islamic Revolution, and that he was responsible for a series of secret missions during the lengthy Iran-Iraq war

​​Since his election victory at the end of June 2005, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been on a collision course with the international community.

In negotiations on his country's nuclear programme, he has taken an uncompromising stance; and he recently sent shockwaves around the world by questioning Israel's right to exist and describing the Holocaust as a "myth".

For the son of a village blacksmith, he has come a long way. Born in Garmsar, near Teheran, in 1957, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became a lecturer at Teheran's Technical University before being elected Mayor of the Iranian capital.

In the summer of 2005, he was the surprise victor after the second round of voting for the office of Iranian President. Since then, he has shocked the world with anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish statements, he has remained intransigent on the issue of Iran's nuclear programme, and he has frustrated the Iranian people, who can only look on as their country drifts into a new era of isolation.

Iranians might have seen all this coming when they elected Ahmadinejad; for, however much of a dark horse he may have been to the West, his past history and his radical principles were no great secret in Iran.

Certainly, no proof has yet emerged to confirm allegations that he had participated in the American Embassy siege, or (years later) the assassination of Iranian dissidents in Vienna.

But it's common knowledge that Ahmadinejad joined the Revolutionary Guard after the Islamic Revolution, and that he was responsible for a series of secret missions during the lengthy Iran-Iraq war. Later, in his role as governor, he also pursued critics of the regime with great ruthlessness.

Extremism and lack of experience

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was and is regarded as a supporter and champion of the poor and underprivileged. During his election campaign, he promised to pay more attention to their needs and to improve their living conditions.

He is probably still a kind of hero to the poor: a man from a humble background, quite clearly modest and abstemious. When it comes to his politics, though, the extremism of his views is matched only by his lack of experience.

This was made strikingly clear by the great difficulty he experienced in finding suitable candidates for important ministerial positions – including that of Oil Minister.

Ahmadinejad had nominated individuals who were clearly unfit for their tasks, and even the conservative Iranian parliament put its foot down and vetoed his favoured appointees. No such objections were possible, however, when the new President appointed governors and bank directors and recalled the country's most important diplomats.

When Ahmadinejad made his notorious public statements, nobody dared to object: in October, he stated his conviction that Israel should be "wiped off the map"; shortly thereafter, he predicted that Islam would triumph over Israel; and then he suggested that European countries, particularly Germany and Austria, should hand over part of their territories for the establishment of a Jewish state – if they really felt so guilty about the "alleged genocide of the Jews".

Distinct lack of enthusiastic backing

The reaction worldwide was one of outrage. Also the Palestinian leadership distanced itself from Ahmadinejad's remarks; and in the rest of the Arab world, there was also a distinct lack of enthusiastic backing.

Most Arab countries have long since taken leave of such of such views, and they are also beginning to fear the prospect of a resurgent Iran that might soon be in possession of nuclear weaponry.

The nuclear issue is and remains a major element in Ahmadinejad's politics. Although the President does not determine the direction of his country's nuclear policy or of its negotiations with the EU, he does speak aloud what many Iranians are thinking.

Faced with international pressure, they feel their country is being treated unfairly. In such an atmosphere, Ahmadinejad's "shock speeches" are welcomed as a way of showing the world that Iran will not be intimidated.

It's a short-sighted strategy, and an ineffective way of buying time, because Iran is now drifting into a kind of isolation that can damage the country severely in several different ways.

The President seems indifferent to this danger. He would prefer to turn back the clock to the days immediately after the Revolution, when Iran was isolated indeed, but still attempting to implement the true teachings of Islam. In this respect, the secular President is more radical than most of the mullahs who preceded him.

Meanwhile, theories are rampant in Iran about the best way for the mullahs to rid themselves of this "awkward customer"; most are predicting that he'll be removed from office for incompetence, or else that he'll suffer an "accident". Such wild imaginings, of course, rarely turn out to be true.

Peter Philipp


Translated from the German by Patrick Lanagan


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