Americans might be surprised to learn that President Ahmadinejad of Iran can be quite amusing when he’s not denying the holocaust or claiming Israel’s destruction is inevitable. If you watch enough interviews with the 55 year old former mayor of Tehran, his appeal is understandable: he’s quick-witted, playful with interviewers, and sometimes funny. And, in spite of the controversial election of 2009, you can imagine Ahmadinejad winning an election without fraud.
Last week, Ahmadinejad was summoned by Iran’s parliament (majles) in order to account for his administration’s policies as well as his personal rift with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The majles inquiry was the first of its kind in the three decades of the Islamic Republic. One might assume that the gravity of the situation would lead the president to take it seriously—but Ahmadinejad came out swinging instead, and mocked both the questions he received and the members of parliament who asked them.
Reza Akbari of Inside Iran (and a contributor to Al Ajnabee) posted a review of the episode and the fallout yesterday. “Many Iranian officials have expressed their dissatisfaction with Ahmadinejad’s behavior following a parliamentary session in which the Iranian president was questioned about several controversial decisions made during his tenure,” Akbari wrote. Reflecting the consensus inside Iran: “the majority of analysts inside the country agree that this [inquiry] was a continuation of various attempts by the legislative branch, headed by [majles speaker] Ali Larijani, a known supporter of the Supreme Leader, to further weaken the president and his faction.”
It’s unwise to overstate what Ahmadinejad’s ‘devil may care’ performance means for him as a politician. As of 2012 he is a spent force: any hopes that he might have had to remain relevant were crushed on March 2 when conservatives aligned with the Supreme Leader soundly defeated his allies in parliamentary elections, including his sister; his second and final presidential term ends next year; and it may not be long before the presidential post is terminated to make sure Ahmadinejad is Iran’s last problematic president. But some of Ahmadinejad’s comments are still revealing. The entire exchange is peppered with the president’s dismissive statements and his pronounced eagerness only to joke. What follows are a few quotes drawn from his 6,500-word address.*
Ahmadinejad challenged members of parliament with a series of questions when asked about how rogue youths should be punished for not being conservative enough: “Which one of you has not committed a sin in your life. Sin is a very bad thing. I do not justify any kind of sin. However, who has acted on your behalf? Is it fine because it belongs to you? Is it right that we should deal with others only? Should bad things happen to others only?” he asked.
He also jokingly addressed his reputation as a troublemaker, saying, “These days, everyone blames me for something.” “Probably, the eight-year war which they [Westerners] sparked against us was also caused by my talk. Probably, the death threats against us in the last 1,400 years are also caused by my talks. They take oil money from the Palestinian nation and use that against Iran. They cooperate with Zionists. Is it because of my talks?”
After answering the inquiry’s ten questions, Ahmadinejad challenged the parliament’s understanding of the constitution and the credentials of those in attendance. “In your opinion, can anyone receive a master’s degree by pushing buttons?” he asked. Members of parliament broke into chatter. Many have since accused Ahmadinejad of not taking the inquiry seriously at all and insulting the parliament with the style of his tone and substance of his remarks.
Throughout the inquiry, the president acknowledged the upcoming Iranian New Year, while defusing his insults and sharp comments by saying he was just joking, and that the inquiry should try and have some fun. All the while his political impotence was obvious in spite of his carefree attitude. Speaking of himself and his status within Iran’s theocratic system, Ahmadinejad said: “I swear to God that the president is [a common man] on the street and a servant of the nation. He has no power and strength and his neck is thinner than a string of hair.” Indeed, Ahmadinejad’s performance is only further confirmation that he is weak with nothing to lose—and no hope of securing a legacy or extending his influence in the shadow of the Ayatollah.
*All quotes are from BBC Monitoring.