Leadership: Ahmadinejad's Days Numbered?

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January22, 2007: Relations between Iran's unstable President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country's religious leadership continue to deteriorate. The president has been defying the international community, by rattling nuclear sabers (though Iran actually doesn't any yet), which has led to the imposition of extensive economic and political sanctions by the U.N. Security Council on December 23, 2006. Apparently in response to this, several newspapers controlled by the country's religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is also the nation's "Supreme Leader," issued a stunning rebuke to the president a few weeks later, telling him to keep his hands off the country's nuclear research program. This move does not represent a repudiation of the country's nuclear ambitions by Khamenei. The Ayatollah and the arch-conservative religious leadership, and most Iranians (including anti-government elements) believe the country has an inherent right to pursue nuclear power. And, of course, possibly nuclear weapons as well.

But Khamenei and the religious leadership have come to realize that Ahmadinejad's wild antics are politically dangerous. Under the religiously-ordained constitution the president of Iran has surprisingly limited powers. In fact, his authority is largely confined to domestic matters. Foreign affairs are the domain of the Supreme Leader. Until recently, Ahmadinejad was allowed considerable latitude, and made frequent forays into foreign affairs. This was acceptable to the religious leadership in so far as it involved routine condemnations of "The Zionist Entity" (Israel) and "The Great Satan" (The U.S.). But over the past few months his antics have led to the increasing isolation of the country.

After only a month the U.N. sanctions have already resulted in a further weakening of Iran's already parlous economy, strained by corruption, low investment, and the diversion of enormous sums to sustain a military build-up and subsidize Hamas and Hezbollah against Israel. Oil production, the mainstay of the economy, has been adversely affected by the sanctions, which block the shipment of critical equipment and chemicals that sustain production and refining. While smuggling, and dealing with outlaw regimes such as North Korea, will enable the Iranians to get 'round many of the sanctions, the price of materials goes way up, further straining the country's foreign exchange reserves.

The decline in economic activity has been marked. Trading on the country's stock market, already depressed, has declined by nearly half since the U.N. action, and inflation had become severe, while the government is barely managing to pay its bills on time.

Although Ahmadinejad dismissed the U.N. resolution as "a piece of torn paper," the pro-Khamenei newspaper Jomhouri-Eslami said, "The resolution is certainly harmful for the country," but that it was hardly "a piece of torn paper," and urged a more flexible approach to resolving the confrontation over the country's nuclear program

A month ago, the religious leadership sent Ahmadinejad a "message," when it more or less rigged elections for municipal councils and the national "Council of Experts," in favor of more moderate, or at least less pro-Ahmadinejad candidates. A vocal anti-Ahmadinejad bloc seems to have developed in the nation's Parliament, with legislators demanding he appear to answer questions about the country's nuclear policies and others openly criticizing his economic policies.

Just how much time Ahmadinejad has left may be a matter for the bookies. Although when he's gone, major issues will continue to keep the U.S. and its allies and supporters at odds with Iran, the removal of his shrill of level of rhetorice will improve the chances for a reduction in tension.

 


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