Khamenei steps into the fray, relieves pressure on Ahmadinejad

Iran's Supreme Leader, Sayyid Ali Khamenei tells traditional principalists within the Majlist to stand downSource: , Date: 03 October 2011

In a sign of just how acrimonious the mudslinging between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration and its rivals has become, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stepped into the fray to end the infighting that has fractured the Principalist faction.

In recent weeks Traditional-Principalists, particularly within the Majlis (Iran’s legislature), have gone on the attack against Ahmadinejad’s chief-of-staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei and his circle, linking them to a major financial fraud scandal labeled the Big Graft by the Iranian media. Traditionalist-Principalists allege that the central figures of the scandal, which involves an illegal $2.6 billion state loan used to purchase privatized state assets, have close ties with Mashaei. These attacks appear to be aimed at weakening Ahmadinejad and his chief-of-staff in the lead up to the 2012 Majlis elections.

While Ahmadinejad has vowed silence in the face of these allegations, he has also promised to release thousands of incriminating documents against senior regime officials if the attacks on his administration continue. In this context, Dolat-e Ma, a pro-Ahmadinejad newspaper, published documents on 02 October 2011 which it alleges implicate Majlis representative Ahmad Tavakoli in corruption and fraud. The documents purport to show that Tavakoli, Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani’s cousin, received full government funding for his seven children, wife and himself to pursue a doctorate at a British university when he did not have a Masters degree and other necessary qualifications. If proven true, these allegations could prove devastating for Tavakoli, who has been a consistent critic of Ahmadinejad, particularly over the Big Graft scandal.

Khamenei’s intervention came during a speech to Iranian officials in charge of the Hajj pilgrimage. He pointedly criticized regime officials for not heeding his advice over a decade ago to deal with issues of economic and financial corruption, an implicit attack on the integrity of the Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) and Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (1989-1997) presidential administrations. He then praised the current government for its handling of the scandal:

“Fortunately, government officials in each of the three branches [of government] are combating this incident, and, god-willing, incidents [such as this] in the future…Some want to use these incidents to bash officials across the head. The country’s officials are working [on this matter], including the executive, legislature and judiciary.”

Alluding to the attention the Big Graft has received in the country, Khamenei said that while the attention had initially played a positive role by creating public awareness of some of the issues in the country, “this affair should not be dragged on any longer. Let officials do their work…” He warned that the persistent focus on the scandal would open it to abuse by those who would use it for wrong. Khamenei then tried to reassure Iranians that the matter was receiving the utmost attention from the government:

“The people should know that these things will be pursued without rest, and god-willing the traitorous hands shall be cut off.”

Editor’s note: Khamenei’s intervention in the escalating conflict among the Principalists appears to have taken pressure off the Ahmadinejad administration. If this is to be the end of the matter as Khamenei has declared, then the Traditionalist-Principalist’s attempts at sidelining Ahmadinejad and his group have once again hit a dead end thanks to the supreme leader’s intervention. As the conflict within the Principalists worsens, we must wait and see if the Traditional Principalists can mount a serious challenge to Ahmadinejad after another failed political attack.