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With Mahmoud Ahmadinedjad’s arrival in the presidency in 2005, a new era began for Iran.
With the support of the Supreme Leader and the Conservatives right from day one of his government – the Islamic Republic’s ninth – he went on the offensive against his predecessors; using his popularity he accused them of incompetence. However, today the opposition and even certain members of his own camp level the same accusation against him.
“I think that these last eight years has been the worst post-revolutionary period, for the people, too. An incapable leader with no grasp of management, with support from the head of the regime, has taken power, ruining the economy foreign policy and our culture in the process,” said analyst Reza Alidjani.
The country’s nuclear development programme has enabled Ahmadinejad to shine for the Supreme Leader, but it is more and more responsible for Iran’s isolation. Negotiations have dragged on with no result for years, and their failure has led to severe economic sanctions.
At the same time on an international level and from the UN’s lectern Ahmadinejad has angered the West, blaming it for all the world’s ills with his undiplomatic language.
“Ahmadinedjad has denied key historic episodes in the world’s political history. He uses the language of the street, the underclass at home and on the world stage where he claims certain facts, like the Holocaust, are lies. He does not respect the UN’s resolutions. He presents himself as someone who ‘can solve the world’s problems’, with programmes to ‘guide everyone’ “, said Alidjani.
With these political flourishes he has managed to become the champion of the poor and those who hate the West, and this is what makes him so popular with Muslims in the entire Middle East.
As his first mandate ended hopes rose among the opposition to get him out of office, but the Supreme Leader once again supported his prince, and a second term was won at the expense of Mir Hossein Moussavi.
The election, on June 13 2009, saw the start of mass demonstrations followed by arrests, murders, and mass condemnations of journalists and activists. The police and paramilitary militia violently suppressed the demonstrations, sometimes by shooting blindly into crowds. The uprising cost 150 lives, unofficially. Ahmadinejad called the vote “completely fair”, and “a great victory for Iran”. For him, the demonstrations were “unimportant” ; they just “raised some dust” in the streets.
“Ever since Ahmadinedjad has been in power we’ve been in trouble, and when his second term was greeted with unrest the opposition was suffocated and put under even more pressure by the government,” said the International Human Rights Federation’s Abdol-Karim Lahidji.
Human rights are violated in other ways, too. Opponents are frequently executed as “spies for the enemy” alongside real criminals. The death penalty is the ultimate sanction; Iran is only behind China for the number of annual executions, which can be imposed for non-violent crimes, or on minors. Sometimes the sentence is carried out with a public stoning.
Ahmadinejad’s eight years in power have seen 2,670 people either hanged in jail or in public. Sixty percent of the condemned have been executed in public.
“Information gets out of Iran despite the censorship, and the data shows that three times more people have been killed during Ahmadinejad’s second mandate than previously,” said Lahidji.
The economy has suffered just as much. Inflation hit 30 percent in 2012, unheard of in the previous 17 years. Unemployment has ballooned to 20 percent, and no amount of monthly subsidies paid into people’s accounts can offset that.
“I have three unemployed adults at home. The government says there’s no unemployment, no inflation, the economy’s fine and people are living well. It’s all lies,” said one woman out shopping.
Ahmadinejad lost ground on the economic front, despite his support from the Supreme Leader and the Conservatives, who he nonetheless managed to, at best, partially enrage by going against some of them. The worst clash came in the National Assembly, where government and parliamentary leaders accused him of cheating, corruption, and abuse of power.
His protective armour slipped. The Supreme Leader withdrew some of his support and no longer rode to the rescue. He even became critical of the president and his closest advisors.
“Little by little Ahmadinejad started to irritate Ali Khamenei, and he’ll be punished for it. He lacked the proper respect for the the Supreme Leader, and, worse, behaved badly in front of him. Ahmadinejad doesn’t take risks. He never fought on the frontline when Iran was at war with Iraq, and he knows he will be punished for the way he has carried on with Khamenei.
“There will be no place for him in the regime or in political life now, so I reckon he’ll go into finance and use the money he’s amassed with his entourage while waiting for the Supreme Leader to show him favour again,” said Reza Alidjani.
Ahmadinejad came to power pledging to save the nation. But he alienated all his protectors, and the Iranian people will remember him for eight years of economic sanctions, poverty, and repression.