By Ehsan Mehrabi
February 24, 2021
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s most incendiary remarks concerning speakers of the Iranian parliament always seem to fall on a Sunday.
Back on February 3, 2013, on a day some principlists later referred to as Black Sunday, the then-president used an open session of parliament to play a video clip of a meeting involving Fazel Larijani, the brother of then-speaker of parliament Ali Larijani, and Saeed Mortazavi, head of the Social Security Organization.
In the tape, Fazel Larijani appeared to try to use his family connections to buy a factory from the Organization – an insinuation that prompted Larijani to accuse Ahmadinejad in turn of economic corruption.
Both men were rebuked by the Supreme Leader, whose special consultant Mojtaba Zolnour declared the following day: “They broke the leader’s heart and almost gave the friends of the Islamic republic almost a seizure. They provided ammunition for the foreign media on the eve of our election.”
Now, on another Sunday some eight years later and similarly ahead of an election, Ahmadinejad has taken to the internet to re-accuse former ex-speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel of “kissing Farah Pahlavi’s hand”.
This time the fight was prompted by Haddad-Adel, who served as speaker in the seventh parliament. He is close to the Supreme Leader and father-in-law to his son, Mojtaba Khamenei. Haddad-Adel stated at a meeting of the Islamic Union of Students that the possibility of Ahmadinejad running in the 2021 presidential election could be discounted, and that Ahmadinejad would not be able to participate in this election just as he had been formally disqualified by the Guardian Council in 2017.
“Do not consider Ahmadinejad coming to the polls,” Haddad-Adel told those present, “because such a thing will not happen. It did not happen the previous time, let alone the fact that four years have passed and it has become even less probable.“
The remarks were interpreted as an effective disqualification of Ahmadinejad this year, prompting a backlash from his supporters. Haddad-Adel made the comment was very shortly after news had been published by Ahmadinejad’s relatives about his having met with Mojtaba Khamenei, similarly intending to dispel any speculation about it.
Around the time that news of the meeting surfaced, some members of Ahmadinejad’s close entourage, including his former media advisor Abdolreza Davari, had again been raising the issue of Mojtaba Khamenei’s potential future leadership. Talks about “Mahmoud’s presidency; Mojtaba’s leadership” abounded in cyberspace. Now, the words of Mojtaba Khamenei’s father-in-law [Hadad-Adel] appear to have put an end to this dream.
Ahmadinejad’s outspoken reaction to Hadad-Adel’s remarks were posted online on Sunday. They were also curiously reminiscent of comments he made three years ago in October 2017, when in response to the arrests of his close friends and allies, he accused the daughter of then-judiciary head Sadegh Larijani of being a spy.
In his latest remarks, Ahmadinejad attacked Haddad-Adel by claiming that during his presidency, his detractor had met with Parivash Satvati, the widow of Hossein Fatemi – the foreign minister of Muhammad Mossadegh’s government, who was executed after the 1953 coup – and called on her to oppose him. In his telling, Satvati rejected this request and in response, showed him a photo of Haddad-Adel kissing Farah Pahlavi’s hand during the monarchy.
According to Ahmadinejad, security agents then went to Parivash Satvati’s residence that night and took her laptop away with them, after which they arrested her. Parivash Satvati, he said, had traveled to Iran in 2011 and gifted the diary of Hossein Fatemi to him. She was arrested at the same time and holding meetings with her was announced as being among the charges against Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a member of Ahmadinejad’s former cabinet who was sentenced to prison in 2018 and is currently on garden leave.
The report of Haddad-Adel’s “kissing Farah Pahlavi’s hand” was by now hardly a new revelation. In fact in the early 1980s, it came up whenever Haddad-Adel’s name was mentioned in his then-capacity of deputy education minister. During his tenure at MP in the sixth parliament, some reformists also raised this issue implicitly. But the speculation has ebbed off in recent years; as such, Ahmadinejad’s re-activation of it now might also be an allusion to Mojtaba Khamenei and the notion that he should be considered in the equation.
At the same time, however, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks have created another stir among his supporters. They could also mean that his disqualification is now certain.
Hessam al-Din Ashena, Hassan Rouhani’s adviser, has also said the remarks don’t do much to confirm Ahmadinejad’s competency. “Dr. Haddad,” he wrote, “probably did not intend to provide information about the impossibility of Dr. Ahmadinejad’s qualification, but expressed his personal views. One can agree or disagree with this analysis. But slandering others and sending proof of it from a confiscated laptop does not help him to qualify.”
If Ahmadinejad is disqualified, he will not be able to run in the elections. He cannot imitate the model of former Presidents Khatami and Rafsanjani in supporting Rouhani either, because among his agents, he no longer has people around like Hamid Baghaei, his former vice president, and Mashaei, in whom he has full confidence.
Meanwhile, senior conservative political figures such as Parviz Fattah, although close to Ahmadinejad, would go their own way should they win. Other figures cited as being in the running such as Saeed Jalili, his former head of the Supreme National Security Council, and Saeed Mohammad, commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ construction conglomerate Khatam al-Anbiya, also have political similarities with Ahmadinejad but would not engage in a serious political relationship with him.
As a rule, Ahmadinejad is also aware of the political equations behind the scenes and the possibility of his disqualification. But with his actions and renewed attacks on the principlists, it seems he intends to continue to assert himself in the political arena – and is perhaps aware that his remarks carry greater weight in the pre-election media environment.
Ahmadinejad’s reactive behavior will not help him return to power anytime soon. But he and his close friends, like some other political groups in Iran, are holding out hope for what might happen after Khamenei’s death, and a possible change in the political climate that might bring them back to power. Until then, they are simply trying to stay afloat.