Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
May 08, 2011

Iran: No Sorcery But A Constitutional Struggle

So there is sorcery within the Iranian government of president Ahmadinejad, allies of him have been arrested for it and he will step down?

Today Yves Smith links to a Raw Story piece which is headlined Iranian president may resign after allies arrested, charged with sorcery. Raw Story has no sources for that claim but a link to a Guardian piece which claims:

Several people said to be close to the president and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, have been arrested in recent days and charged with being "magicians" and invoking djinns (spirits).

Ayandeh, an Iranian news website, described one of the arrested men, Abbas Ghaffari, as "a man with special skills in metaphysics and connections with the unknown worlds".

The Guardian provides no source for its report but that Iranian website Ayandeh it links to.

But there is little Iranian with that website except its use of Farsi language. It has an English title "Iranian Futurist". It's full domain name is www.ayandeh.nu and it is registered via Loopia Webbhotell AB in Vasteras, Sweden. The admin email for that website is info@ayandehnegar.org and that domain is registered to one Hossein Mola with an address in Kesta, Sweden.

Hossein Mola also registered the domain vahidthinktank.com. That site only has a Farsi Donation page (google translate link) and a button "English" which brings one to a blogspot page of one Vahid V. Motlagh who claims to be a futurist and looks into "Ideas for a deeper sense of life".

But back to the Guardian's source, the futurist Iranian/Swedish/Norwegian website ayandeh.nu. I can not find (google translate link) any article that would fit this as a source for the "sorcery" and "arrests" the Guardian reports. The website is a mix of futurology including from Vahid V. Motlagh, Iranian human rights stuff and a few news items about Iran. It is neither really Iranian nor a reliable source.

The whole sorcery and arrests claims are likely nonsense invented to make a little reported constitutional crisis within Iran's ruling class look more mysterious than it is.

Now lets talk about that crisis.

While the "west" always claims that Ahmedinejad is a "hardliner" or "conservative" that claim has never been true. He is a rather progressive social democrat with a more laical and secular outlook than many of the "principalists" in the Iranian parliament and the conservative clerics. This was already obvious back in 2006 when Ahmedinejad allowed women into soccer stadiums but was overruled by conservatives and the supreme leader Khamenei.

After the 2009 elections, which he won with a comfortable 60% of the votes, an emboldened Ahmedinejad again pressed for a more laical society. His point man for this project was Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. Mashaei, an engineer and politician, is a war-comrade of Ahmedinejad. His daughter is married to Ahmadenejad's son. He is know for a relative liberal view especially with regards to women rights and even on relations to people in Israel.

In July 2009 Ahmedinejad made Mashaei his first vice president. Conservatives protested and within a week the supreme leader ordered him out. Ahmedinejad showed them the finger and made Mashaei his chief of staff and gave him most of the powers he would have had as first vice president. It is rumored that he is grooming him for taking up the presidency when Ahmedinejad will end his current last term.

Recently Mashaei made several comments which set out Iranian nationalism and Shia Islam as two equal pillars of Iranian strength. For the clerics this was an unbearable attack on their position and on the prerogative of Islam and they fought him bitterly. In early April this year Ahmedinejad was pressed to let Mashaei go and to get a new chief of staff. The conservative intelligence minister Hojatoleslam Haydar Moslehi, himself a hardline cleric and the cabinet watchdog of the supreme leader, was thought to have led the campaign against Mashaei.

But then Mashaei reasonably claimed that he found his office bugged and Haydar Moslehi was fingered as being behind the plot. The president did not liked being spied on by his intelligence minister and by mid April Ahmdinejhad fired Haydar Moslehi as minister and reinstated Mashaei as chief of staff. The supreme leader Khamenei then demanded the reinstatement of his spy Moslehi.

There was a lot of back and forth on the issue, including Friday sermons from the pulpit,  but Ahmedinejad did not retreat. The Iranian constitution gives the president as the chief executive the right to seat and fire ministers. The supreme leader's constitutional position is comparable a U.S. chief justice position in the supreme court.  He is certainly not a dictator without bounds. As part of the judicature he has a (small) formal say in (vice-)presidential positions but no formal say at all in cabinet positions.

This led to a situation where Moslehi still acted as minister but was ignored by Ahmedinejad who either boycotted cabinet meetings when Moslehi was attending or ordered him out before they started. For some fourteen days the situation was hanging in balance.

Finally the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, stepped in. In the end a majority requested that Ahmedinejad follow the wishes of the supreme leader. As the parliament has the power to impeach the president Ahmedinejad had little choice but to, for now, give in.

Today Ahmedinejad attended a cabinet meeting with Moslehi present. Also present was Mashaei.

While this all may sound dramatic it was a quite normal situation in the Islamic Republic. Since its foundation power struggles between executive, legislative and judiciary branch are a regular occurrence. The conservatives and the Islamic judges, usually somewhat wrongly described as clerics, demand a higher ranking for the judiciary branch led by the supreme leader. The executive points to its democratic legitimation and sees this as an equal source of power. The legislative is usually split on the issues.

So there is nothing in this story about sorcery or arrests. There may have been rumors of such but those were likely more a part of a smear campaign against Mashaei than a real issue.

What astonished me was how little this whole issue was reported on in the "west" over the last weeks. That may well be because the "western" distorted viewpoint of Ahmedinejad as a "hardliner" who "lost the elections" and as the Iranian judiciary branch as "clerics" gives the wrong frame of reference to understand simple politics in Iran. Not understanding what was going on let reporters turn to nonsensical claims.

PS: The above overview on what happened in Iranian politics in the last month is based on many sources I read over the last month and which I currently have no time to collect and link appropriately. The best source to follow the issue was the blog of Nader Uskowi, not a fan of the Islamic Republic but knowing it reasonably well, who regularly posted on it over the last weeks. The, at times quite partisan, discussion in the Race for Iran comments also helped.

Posted by b on May 8, 2011 at 16:55 UTC | Permalink

Comments

This really is first rate.
Those who seek the absolute truth in daily doses may be concerned by the want of citations; no rational person will not be glad that the author devotes his abilities to sharing the fruits of wideranging and wisely guided research on a matter of vital importance.
It is only the enemies of peace and humanity who benefit from misrepresenations of the situation within Iran.
This blog is an invaluable source of information and analysis.

Posted by: bevin | May 8 2011 17:08 utc | 1

I had just posted a question at RFI about what was going on and I find my answer here. Thanks.

I wonder, though, if the Majlis would ever follow through with impeaching Ahmadinejad. He is quite popular, but I suspect Khamenei has a strong following as well.

As for being moderate on Israel and the west, it probably wouldn't make a practical difference as the west will remain hostile no matter what.

Posted by: Lysander | May 8 2011 18:24 utc | 2

@Lysander - I had just posted a question at RFI about what was going on and I find my answer here. Thanks.

You are welcome, but its only my view, a bit learned maybe but still subjective.

I wonder, though, if the Majlis would ever follow through with impeaching Ahmadinejad. He is quite popular, but I suspect Khamenei has a strong following as well.

An impeachment would damage the "principalists", i.e. the most conservative folks in the Majlis. The people may like the supreme leader but they do not like many of his conservative allies. That is why Ahmedinjad is where he is after all and why he will stay there and keep the powers. At least that is my hunch from quite far away.

As for being moderate on Israel and the west, it probably wouldn't make a practical difference as the west will remain hostile no matter what.

Mashaei is no "moderate". In the "western" dictionary a "moderate" is one who takes orders from Washington. Mashaei is, in my distant view, a nationalist and more in the direction of a Nasser than a Sadat. He likely has a quite hostile view towards Israel as a state but not to Jewish people. At least that is how I understand his comments on the issue.

There would be no difference in the "western" stance towards Iran if Mashaei would be president. The "western" (US/Israel) stand is totally unreasonable by demanding a full declaration of defeat by the Iranian republic and a total sell out to "western" interest. No one in Iran can support that within any representative system.

Posted by: b | May 8 2011 18:49 utc | 3

Excellent overview of the current brew-ha-ha in Iran. It's striking, how such a balanced analysis would never ever be allowed to see the light of day in the U.S. press, and by that note, indicative of just how far the domestic press is buried in the pockets of the deep.
It must be quite the belabored task keeping all these narratives of nothing but pure spin, going in the face of changing real circumstances. And probably accounts for the growing dependency of ginning up a storm of conspiracy potentials in order to conceal the truth, while at the same time manufacturing consent. Because if all these spin conspiracies eventually come to a dead end because they can never be authenticated in fact, then the official narrative from the authorities is the "truth" of last resort - regardless of how poorly that narrative is constructed.

Posted by: anna missed | May 8 2011 19:33 utc | 4

"Constitutional crisis." No, of course not.

Posted by: slothrop | May 8 2011 19:55 utc | 5

Hi b,

Nice right up. I would quibble with some things: It's a bit disingenuous to describe Ahmadinejad-Mashaei as 'war comrades'. As far as is known, neither ever joined the armed forces. Ahmadinejad's service consisted of organizing logistics for the army on a volunteer basis, and Mashaei joined a provincial intelligence ministry at the outset of the revolution and spent most of the war dealing with Kurdish separatists. They may have met one another during the time of the war, but they were not directly engaged in fighting it. Mashaei was also never a politician. The positions he's been appointed to before Ahmadinejad's elections(and afterwards)qualify more as 'civil service' positions. Mashaei's 'liberalism on Israel', is vastly overstated by his enemies, if not completely invented. The only part of Uskowi's blog that is reliable are Mark Pyruz posts.

Posted by: masoud | May 8 2011 20:19 utc | 6

b @3:

No one in Iran can support that [a total sell out to "western" interest] within any representative system

in other words, there's democracy in Iran

Posted by: claudio | May 8 2011 20:42 utc | 7

Thanks, b. When I said Meshai was a "moderate" I didn't mean it in the Mubarak sense.

Masoud, would you say that Ahmadinejad's intent is to liberalize Islamic codes, at home or at least enforce them less strictly, while maintaining more or less the same policies abroad? If so, could you guess what portion of the population would be behind him?

Posted by: Lysander | May 8 2011 21:12 utc | 8

what this tells us is that some people fear an Ahmadinejad govt...

Posted by: brian | May 8 2011 21:42 utc | 9

Lysander,

I think your formulation is off the mark. To begin with you would have to be more specific about what you mean regarding 'Islamic Codes'. If you are talking about the dress code, Ahmadinejad has obvious religious leanings, but doesn't consider the issue a priority, he sees it more of an unfruitful distraction. On other domestic issues, he is allied with institutions and takes positions that most people refer to generically as 'conservative'. He renamed the presidential (non-cabinet)agency that deals with Women and increased it's scope so that it now deals with both women and families, and he's introduced legislation that would force employers to give women more time off to tend to children. He's a big backer of the Basij, and in general approves of their activism, and his tenure has witnessed a surge in the drug war.

In terms of foreign relations, the IRI in general and Ahmadinejad in particular always try to appeal to the largest set of values and ideals they feel their audience can relate to: In the Middle East they talk about Islam, in Central Asia they point shared Iranian civilization and identity, in South America they talk about Monotheism, in India and Africa it's Third Worldism etc... So while i am not sure if you meant to link 'enforcement of Islamic policies' to Iran's foreign policy, this isn't an entirely accurate way of thinking about Iran in the first place.

About the public general feeling, there are actually polls on this. I think the results commonly where that 30% wanted a less Islamic society, 30% wanted a more Islamic society, and forty percent thought things were about right. Of course this tells us nothing about the public's feeling on any particular issue.

Masoud

Posted by: masoud | May 8 2011 21:49 utc | 10

Very welcome post, b -- I'd read about the Supreme Leader forcing Ahmadinejad to take back a cabinet appointee he'd removed, but I don't recall where. The implication was that the president was in big trouble, and this was somehow good for the US. Appreciate the background and summary.

Posted by: jawbone | May 8 2011 22:50 utc | 11

in other words, there's democracy in Iran

I don't think that's what he said. Surely, there's public opinion, as there is in the U.S. and Western World, but as is the case in the U.S. and the Western World, there is only the myth of Democracy. Iran's Mullahs are likened to the Western World's Plutocrats. They have the final say on all matters of any import, especially those that concern their vested interests and the perpetuation of their vaunted status at the top of the pyramid.

Posted by: Morocco Bama | May 8 2011 22:51 utc | 12

Also, Democracy can have rather peculiar results and outcomes. As I said in the earlier post, the Mullahs get the final say, but imagine if they didn't and the following called for measure caught on and became popular. I guess it would still be Democracy because it would be at the behest of popular will, but wow, talk about mob rule.

http://www.katu.com/news/national/116227319.html

Hardline Iranian lawmakers called on Tuesday for the country's opposition leaders to face trial and be put to death, a day after clashes between opposition protesters and security forces left one person dead and dozens injured.

Tens of thousands of people turned out for the opposition rally Monday in solidarity with Egypt's popular revolt that toppled President Hosni Mubarak after nearly 30 years in power. The demonstration was the first major show of strength from Iran's beleaguered opposition in more than a year.

At an open session of parliament Tuesday, pro-government legislators demanded opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mahdi Karroubi and former reformist President Mohammad Khatami face be held responsible for the protests.

Pumping their fists in the air, the lawmakers chanted "death to Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami."

"We believe the people have lost their patience and demand capital punishment" for the opposition leaders, 221 lawmakers said in a statement.

Posted by: Morocco Bama | May 8 2011 23:11 utc | 13

The website they meant was http://www.ayandenews.com/
That does carry the mentioned report.
It is also very accurate and in many occasions has first hand info.

Posted by: Ali | May 9 2011 6:47 utc | 14

Thanks for the excellent post and links. I have no first-hand experience regarding Iran, and my
few recent contacts with Iranian students undoubtedly constitute a biased sampling of the Iranian population. The two that I know best, however, are both "pro-Mossadegh nationalists" and very very disillusioned with not only the present government, but also with the constitutional structure now in force.

Posted by: Hannah K. O'Luthon | May 9 2011 6:55 utc | 15

Great post b, thanks for all you do.

Posted by: Joseph | May 9 2011 9:06 utc | 16

MB @12:

'in other words, there's democracy in Iran'
I don't think that's what he said

That's what I deduce and say; and it's also what I think he (b) said; but then it's also a matter of the meaning one gives to words (read on)

but as is the case in the U.S. and the Western World, there is only the myth of Democracy

If we want to give meaning to the words we use, I propose to use the democratic/plutocratic opposition to the describe the poles of the "Roosevelt-Attlee" vs "Reagan-Tatcher" conflicting paradigms

otherwise we relegate important words like "democracy" in the realm of useless abstractions; worse: we abandon them to our adversaries' redefinitions; so it has happened that today, democracy means purple fingers under a colonialist rule (beginning with the Us); people in the past three centuries would have laughed at the current uses of this term

Iran's Mullahs are likened to the Western World's Plutocrats. They have the final say on all matters of any import, especially those that concern their vested interests and the perpetuation of their vaunted status at the top of the pyramid

One thing is the dialectic, within a nation, between plutocratic and democratic factions; another is the alliance of local plutocracies with global capital and subservience of the nation to colonialist mechanisms;

The plutocrats lost the elections against Ahmadinejad; the clerics, to maintain the stability of the system (privileges included), had to abandon Rafsajani (currently marginalized) and reach a compromise with Ahmadinejad; so the sell-out of the country's resources has been postponed;

b:

the "western" distorted viewpoint of Ahmedinejad as a "hardliner" who "lost the elections" and as the Iranian judiciary branch as "clerics" gives the wrong frame of reference to understand simple politics in Iran

I hope the categories I propose give a better frame of reference than those used by western MSM :-)
Iranian politics really aren't that simple (and I claim no special study or understanding of them), you make them seem simple through your excellent exposition

Posted by: claudio | May 9 2011 11:49 utc | 17

I claim no expertise on matters Iranian but having followed Iranian politics from a distance for several years I'm of the impression that there is a body of religious authorities wielding a quasi-political influence on what might otherwise be called "democratic" or "representative." In addition to whatever parliamentary or constitutional checks and balances may be at work, the "Assembly of Experts" holds a trump card.

Any power struggle between that august (putatively religious) body and anyone with (largely secular) political origins will be an uneven contest because the clerics are bound to win one way or another. This built-in imbalance of power looks irrational seen through strictly legalistic lenses.

The Khomeini-Ahmadinejad tiff has been described several places.

CNN=> http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/05/09/turkey.iran.ahmadinejad/

AJ=> http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/05/201156113955925329.html

But the one I like best, of all places, is at the AEI Iran Tracker.
AEI=> http://www.irantracker.org/roundup/iran-news-round-may-6-2011
...in which a cleric obliquely refers to the authority of a religious leader to declare an involuntary divorce of Ahmadinejad and his wife which would officially deny him the enjoyment of connubial bliss.
This is from a Friday sermon by one Ayatollah Kazem Sediqi.

"Most certainly, the cabinet ministers are first creatures of God and only second cabinet ministers. They are Shiites following the Commander of the Faithful and they emulate His Lordship. They are subjected to Absolute Guardianship of the Supreme Leader... One of the cabinet ministers told me: 'We believe that if His Lordship [Khamenei] divorces the president's wife from the president, the president's wife would be haram [religiously impermissible] for the president and the president can't touch her."

Posted by: John Ballard | May 9 2011 18:54 utc | 18

JB @18 - that's the theory (except for the "divorce" part, which seems quite outlandish); but in practice, it also depends on how many people vote you, how many you can gather on the streets, and how many revolutionary guards and basiji are on your side;

Ahmadinejad is the first "lay" politician popular enough to challenge the clerical elite

Posted by: claudio | May 9 2011 21:49 utc | 19

"Sorcery" is not quite you think in English. Djinns are serious. For example, Djinns are legal persons in Turkey. You can marry a Djinn.

Posted by: alexno | May 9 2011 22:00 utc | 20

claudio@19 How right you are. I've been watching this trend for some time.
http://hootsbuddy.blogspot.com/2009/06/irans-presidential-election-followup.html
His election in 1905 caught a lot of people off guard.
http://hootsbuddy.blogspot.com/2005/07/iran-election-comments.html
My impression is that the Basiji Army (aka Revolutionary Guards) is to Ahmadinejad what Egypt's Interior Ministry militia was to Mubarak. But unlike Egypt this group is more salt of the earth types with roots two or three generations back and a measure of youthful, even patriotic fervor instead of mercenary thuggery.
http://hootsbuddy.blogspot.com/2006/08/children-as-cannon-fodder-or-who-are.html
(Sorry these old posts have so many links no longer working. That's why I copy so much content.)

Posted by: John Ballard | May 9 2011 23:55 utc | 21

Today's All Things Considered picked up on the "power struggle" between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff, sorcery references and all. If NPR is running with it, it must be what the Obama administration wants the US public to understand.

And it's the same story line I remember reading earlier: Ahmadinijad Seen as Loser in Iranian Power Struggle. Audio will be available after 7PM EDT and there should be a transcript up tomorrow.

From the write up of the segment, this comes from Nader Hashemi of the University of Denver, a co-editor of a recently published book about Iran's Green Movement opposition, The People Reloaded.

...it's nothing more than a naked attempt to grab political power, Hashemi says.

"There's no sort of deep principles involved here. All of them will invoke Iranian nationalism and Shia Islam and political Islam as a way of justifying their political position. But really it's a battle between different Mafia-style political camps, each combating against the other camp in order to obtain political power as way of advancing their own group's political clout."

SNIP

The latest chapter in this story, as of a few days ago, has Khamenei ordering Ahmadinejad to support the intelligence minister or quit. On Sunday, Ahmadinejad returned to work and to a Cabinet meeting, with the intelligence minister present.

Posted by: jawbone | May 10 2011 22:49 utc | 22

"There's no sort of deep principles involved here. All of them will invoke Iranian nationalism and Shia Islam and political Islam as a way of justifying their political position. But really it's a battle between different Mafia-style political camps, each combating against the other camp in order to obtain political power as way of advancing their own group's political clout."

That's a pretty good description of Washington D.C.:
"There's no sort of deep principles involved here. All of them will invoke U.S. exceptionalism and God and "freedom" as a way of justifying their political position. But really it's a battle between different Mafia-style political camps, each combating against the other camp in order to obtain political power as way of advancing their own group's political clout."

Posted by: b | May 11 2011 11:48 utc | 23

Heh. Nice catch. Yes, it does sound a lot like US political elites. Increasingly trying to out-conservative the other. Maybe sex for sorcery....

Posted by: jawbone | May 11 2011 18:30 utc | 24

The comments to this entry are closed.