Ahmadinejad – Larijani Media Wars

Iran Media Program and ASL 19 take a look at the Ahmadinejad-Larijani argument.

The long-standing power struggle between President Mahmood Ahmadinejad and the speaker of Iran’s parliament Ali Larijani reached new heights on February 3, 2013 when Iran’s Majlis voted to impeach Iran’s labor minister, the ninth minister in Ahmadinejad’s cabinet to be sacked in his second term. 192 of Iran’s 272 MPs voted to impeach Labor Minister Abdul-Reza Sheikholeslami for his appointment of Iran’s former general prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi to the head of the country’s social security fund. Mortazavi was suspended from the judiciary in August 2010 over the death of anti-government detainees after the 2009 presidential elections.

The impeachment hearing became a stage for the continuing factional conflict between Ahmadinejad and Larijani to play out. At the hearing, Ahmadinejad played a recorded conversation between Mortazavi and Fazel Larijani, the speaker of the house’s brother, and accused Larijani of financial fraud. Mortazavi later confirmed that he secretly recorded the meeting with Larijani in order to use the recording as evidence to distract from accusations against himself. Ali Larijani denied all accusations against his brother and stated, “The positive aspect of the video was that Iranians could see that the President had no respect for the values of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Parliament during impeachment hearing

The following day, SharghFars and Mehr News Agencies, reported that Saeed Mortazavi had been arrested. The arrest of the seemingly immune Mortazavi received much attention inside Iran and abroad; however, he was freed following a special meeting between the head of Judiciary and Iran’s Supreme Leader. No official reason was given for his arrest.

Increasing internal conflicts with the ruling faction

It has been three years since reformists politicians were removed from Iran’s political scene, including the 2009 presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karorubi. However, clashes and power struggles between other political factions have worsened, partly due to the economic crisis and a general dissatisfaction with the government.

Ahmadinejad’s attempt to disclose confidential information about the Larijani brothers coincides with speculation that Ali Larijani will likely succeed Ahmadinejad in the June presidential election. The Larijani brothers are viewed as obstacles to Ahmadinejad, who is planning to introduce his Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as a presidential candidate.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, and Judiciary Head Sadeq Larijani

Khamenei’s difficulties in controlling the ruling party

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ordinarily likes to keep internal conflicts discrete. However, this recent very public conflict (even featured in the NY Times) on the eve of a presidential election, and during a time of immense international pressure and severe economic crisis, could demonstrate Khamenei’s lack of control over the situation. During a joint parliamentary committee meeting to launch an allowance program for low-income families, Khamenei stated, “those who publicly continue these conflicts are traitors.”

Deputy speaker of Iran’s parliament Mohammad-Reza Bahonar believes that the “cost of replacing Ahmadinejad at this stage is far more than bearing him for one more year,” and that “the Supreme Leader would like to avoid any unusual incidents as much as possible.”

Ahmadinejad might be using this to his advantage and seizing the opportunity to attack other factions and jostle for more power in dealing with Khamenei, his appointees, and other government officials.

The media has also criticized the public nature of the conflict, with Kayhan newspaper calling the clash “a bitter and traitorous incident” andKhorasan publishing a protest letter against those who disobey Khamenei’s orders to keep the conflict discrete.

Attention to corrupt government officials

The recording Ahmadinejad played in the impeachment session drew public attention to corrupt government officials. It includes a discussion between Fazel Larijani and Saeed Mortazavi about several projects, including transferring millions of dollars and solving legal, financial, and tax related problems through the purchase of properties to return favors.

Several corruption cases have been filed against players in these internal conflicts, like Ahmadindejad’s Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi, Minister of Science, Research, and Technology Kamran Daneshjoo, and Tehran’s governor Morteza Tamaddon. Last spring, the oldest Larijani brother, Mohammad Javad, was accused of land speculation and a Judiciary spokesperson confirmed that the file is in progress.

Removing opponents through “building cases” and “revealing confidential information”

Media outlets close to Iran’s Supreme Leader, such as Kayhan, do not believe that Ahmadinejad’s intention in playing the recording was solely “fighting financial corruption,” especially considering that his closest allies Mashaei and Rahimi are involved in much bigger corruption cases. Threatening to reveal confidential information has been a powerful Ahmadinejad tactic for defeating his opponents; however, he typically has not followed through on these threats.

During Iran’s 2005 presidential election, Ahmadinejad threatened to reveal proof of financial corruption against Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his family. During the disputed 2009 election, Ahmadinejad threatened to disclose secret information about Mir Hossein Mousavi and his family, and during the live broadcast 2009 presidential debates he made similar accusations against his predecessor Mohammad Khatami, reformist Mohsen Safaei Farahani, and former Chairman of Parliament and Interior Minister Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri. The head of judiciary Sadeq Larijani, however hasconfirmed that the President never shared any information regarding financial corruption cases with the Judiciary.

Fazel Larijani claims the film was a forgery and recorded without his knowledge, and that the faction led by Ahmadinejad and Mortazavi have threatened to “disgrace” him. Ali Larijani also claimed that Vice President for Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad-Reza Mir-Tajeddini threatened to publicize a recording of Larijani’s family members if the impeachment of the Labor Minister was not canceled. Kayhan wrote that the recording was played to force the MPs to cancel the impeachment session.

Internal conflicts welcomed by the public

News of the conflicts between Ahmadinejad and Larijani, and the arrest of Mortazavi have generally been welcomed by the public. According to former MP and sociologist Emad Afrough, the arrest of Mortazavi was particularly well received due to his record dealing with journalists, press, and the Kahrizak detainees. The father of Mohammad Kamrani, a detainee who died while in custody in Kahrizak, told Shargh that he and his wife ‘thanked God’ when Mortazavi was arrested, although the arrest was not in direct response to this issue.

Sharing confidential documents with non-state/unofficial media

The conflict also demonstrates the inefficiency of state media and an increasing reliance on online media by the opposition. In the run-up to the presidential election, political factions are competing to take advantage of non-state and online media, as well as social networking websites, to tarnish their opponents’ images and eliminate them from the competition.

For example, a few hours after Mortazavi’s arrest, an unknown user posted four videos on YouTube showing Fazel Larijani asking Mortazavi for money and discussing the details of a seven million dollar blackmailing plan involving Babak Zanjan, described by the EU as “a key facilitator for Iranian oil deals and transferring oil related money.”

Additionally, Bamdad website, which has ties to student activists, published documents that discussed charges against Mohammad Javad Larijani, including a letter from Khamenei’s special assistant to the Minister of Agriculture. Conservative websites, like Alef and Fararu, accused Ahmadinejad’s allies of disclosing confidential information to the media.

As the presidential election approaches and factional conflicts heat up between camps vying for the position, the Ahmadinejad-Larijani conflict could be one instance of high-profile mudslinging and disclosures among many. This most recent drama has also illustrated the extent to which Iran’s factionalist and partisan media plays a role in framing these conflicts for the public and the increasing watchdog function of online and social media in Iran.

Originally posted on the Iran Media Program website.

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