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Ahmadinejad, Mahmoud

By:
Joseph A. Kéchichian, Nael Shama
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics What is This? Provides in-depth coverage of the political dimensions of Islam and the Muslim world through thematic examination of the major topic areas of political science as they relate to the Muslim world.

Ahmadinejad, Mahmoud

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Ahmadi Nejad) was popularly elected as the sixth president of Iran on 24 June 2005 to serve a four-year term, becoming the first noncleric president of Iran in more than twenty years. He was reelected for a second term on 12 June 2009 in a disputed election.

Born on 28 October 1956 in Aradan, near Garmsar, Ahmadinejad moved to Tehran in 1957 with his family, where he completed his education. In 1975, he earned high marks on the university entrance exam and enrolled at the prestigious Science and Technology University (STU) to study civil engineering. He earned a master's degree in 1986, joined the Board of Civil Engineering Faculty in 1989, and obtained a doctorate in 1997 in transportation engineering and planning. At STU Ahmadinejad became engaged in political activities while studying, teaching, conducting scientific research, and supervising student theses. His interest in religious and political meetings peaked with the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when he became a founding member of the STU Islamic Student Association. Ahmadinejad joined the volunteer Basīj forces and served in the engineering division throughout the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq War. In the early 1990s, he served in various political capacities, including governor of Maku and Khoy provinces, advisor to the governor general of Kordistan Province, advisor for cultural affairs to the minister of culture and higher education (1993), and governor general for Ardabil Province (1993–1997). He was elected mayor of Tehran in 2003 and served until his election as president in 2005.

While campaigning, the populist Ahmadinejad emphasized his own modest life, and promised to create an “exemplary government for the people of the world” in Iran. Ayatollah Muḥammed Taghi Mesbah Yazdī, a senior cleric from Qom, acted as his ideological mentor and spiritual guide.

Succeeding the very popular Muḥammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad became president with 62 percent of the vote in the run-off poll, nearly twice that of former president ʿAlī Akbar Hāshimī Rafsanjānī, and may well have been Supreme Leader Khameneʾi's preferred candidate to address many of the country's socioeconomic challenges. Within a year, however, his spending priorities were heavily criticized, as were his recommendations for family planning and petroleum imports. No matter how hard he tried, Iran's unemployment hovered around 25 percent, which necessitated heavy subsidies on a variety of items. Ahmadinejad proposed a US$1.3 billion fund, called “Reza's Compassion Fund”—named after Imām ʿAlī al-Riḍā—which was intended to help young people with job opportunities and affordable housing. Parliament rejected it, although Ahmadinejad allegedly brought much of the fund into being by ordering the administrative council to create it. His sudden 2006 announcement that nothing prevented women from watching men playing sports in stadiums angered many supporters, including Mesbah Yazdī and other clerics, which necessitated an intervention by Iran's supreme leader to confirm the ban.

Ahmadinejad's gravest controversy was his support for Iran's nuclear program, which pitted him against the international community. The government repeatedly argued that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, and Ahmadinejad as well as other leaders repeatedly denied any military intentions. Few believed him, especially since the president was not responsible for the country's nuclear policy. That responsibility fell to the National Security Council appointed by the supreme leader, consisting of key military officials and members of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government. Ahmadinejad's threatening declarations against the West in general and the United States in particular created controversy. He refused to end Iran's nuclear program, repeatedly called for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” and described the Jewish Holocaust as a “myth.” Despite expectations of a tight race in the 2009 presidential election, Ahmadinejad secured more than 60 percent of the vote in the first round. His chief rival, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, received only 34 percent. Blatant electoral irregularities triggered widespread popular protests, the largest since the Islamic revolution in 1979. Khameneʾi, however, endorsed the election results, and an inquiry by the Council of Guardians confirmed Ahmadinejad's victory. He was sworn in for a second term as Iran's president in August of that year.

During his second term, a power struggle with Khameneʾi curtailed much of Ahmadinejad's authority in the Iranian political system. In 2011, Khameneʾi revoked Ahmadinejad's decision to dismiss the minister of intelligence and blocked his attempt to name himself acting minister of oil. Ahmadinejad was also questioned by parliament in 2012 over mismanaging the economy and challenging the authority of the supreme leader.

A controversial figure both at home and overseas, Ahmadinejad continues to have widespread support among the poorer classes of Iran.

Bibliography

  • Ansari, Ali M. Iran under Ahmadinejad: The Politics of Confrontation. Abingdon, U.K.: Routledge, 2007.
  • Ansari, Ali. “Iran under Ahmadinejad: Populism and its Malcontents.” International Affairs 84, no. 4 (2008): 683–700.
  • Jafarzadeh, Alireza. The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis. New York: Palgrave, 2007.
  • Melman, Yossi, and Meir Javedanfar. The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2007.
  • Naji, Kasra. Ahmadinejad: The Secret History of Iran's Radical Leader. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.
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