Recent comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, including his provocative rhetoric toward Israel and the U.S., can only be understood in the context of Iran’s troubled domestic politics.
Last June’s presidential election in Iran, which was widely denounced as fraudulent, brought the ultraconservative Ahmadinejad to power. He was backed by the most reactionary factions within the ruling theocratic regime. The election was effectively a silent coup d’etat by right-wing hardliners.
Ahmadinejad’s administration has since embarked on a massive government shake-up. The key personnel of the security and military establishment responsible for repressive measures and policies since the 1980s now occupy almost all senior positions in the cabinet. His administration is deeply opposed to an agenda for reform, women’s rights and individual freedoms. Progressives are routinely harassed in an escalating atmosphere of intimidation.
Ahmadinejad is a protégé of Supreme Religious Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Both symbolize the despotic, clerical regime that is deeply unpopular among the vast majority of the Iranian people. The rigged election has led to growing turmoil among various factions within the regime, each looking out for its own political and economic interests.
During his election campaign, Ahmadinejad employed populist slogans about closing the gap between the rich and the poor. He promised to address deep socio-economic problems, fight corruption and restore “Islamic values.”
The main political benefactors and backers of the regime have always been key elements of the parasitic mercantile capitalists and bureaucratic bourgeoisie. For more than two decades they have profited enormously from corrupt political and economic structures, while the majority of the working people have been facing economic austerity.
Ahmadinejad has done nothing to challenge these structures or to end the neoliberal economic policies that have brought great hardship to Iran’s working people. Thus, the key issue facing the ruling dictatorship is how to reconcile the populist promises it made during Ahamdinejad’s campaign with the reality that it has no intention of fulfilling them.
The regime’s dangerous international adventurism is therefore best understood against the backdrop of its domestic problems. A highly tense situation could well provide Ahmadinejad’s government the excuse it needs to silence the critics, sideline rivals and consolidate its oppressive rule at home. And this has already started.
Further, Ahmadinejad’s hollow and confrontational rhetoric against Israel and the U.S. by no means represent a principled anti-imperialist stand and doesn’t represent genuine support for the plight of the Palestinians. The theocratic regime in Iran has always opposed all moves towards a peaceful resolution of Palestinian issue by trying to transform it into a religious conflict.
The anti-Israel comments (“wiping Israel off the map,” “moving Israel to Europe,” and “the Holocaust is a myth”) aren’t merely statements by a novice president with poor judgment, but are specifically designed to divert attention from a highly reactionary domestic agenda.
Ahmadinejad’s dangerous statements are fueling the aggressive policies pursued by the U.S. administration and its allies in the region. The ruling regime believes that the U.S. is caught in a quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan and is unable to act against Iran. This is a reckless gamble with Iran’s national interests and its security. Under the Bush administration’s doctrine of pre-emptive war, these belligerent statements can provide Washington with the pretext it needs to interfere in Iran’s internal affairs.
The leadership of the Tudeh Party of Iran, meeting in early December, reiterated its stand against any external intervention: “While we categorically oppose the policies of the ruling reaction, at the same time we state our opposition against the policies of the U.S., Britain and other countries which are seeking to exploit the present situation in line with their colonial policies in the Middle East. We condemn any military adventurism against our country and warn against its regional and worldwide disastrous consequences.”
The progressive forces in Iran believe that mutual respect and compliance with the international law and relevant UN conventions is the only way to ensure Iran’s security and sovereignty.
Nima Kamran is a correspondent for the Tudeh Party of Iran.