December 12, 2013 | Policy Brief

Catching Up with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

December 12, 2013 | Policy Brief

Catching Up with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

The Iranian election in June was in many ways a referendum on the policies of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. By campaigning against the status quo, Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, sought to prove that he was the antonym of his windbreaker-wearing predecessor.  But even after Rouhani’s victory, Ahmadinejad is not ready to leave the stage.

Recently, Ahmadinejad challenged President Rouhani to a “forthright, principled, and insightful debate.” This was apparently a response to economic figures Rouhani cited in his own “100th day report.” In the account, Rouhani drew specific attention to the issue of “stagflation” during the late Ahmadinejad era – an era whose troubled finances he “inherited.” Rouhani’s office reportedly consented to the challenge, “on the condition…that the head of the 10th government adhere to the condition of telling the truth.” Currently, the search is on for a representative of the Rouhani administration – not Rouhani himself – to take part in the debate.

Ahmadinejad may be reacting to the negative press he received since Rouhani’s election. Not surprisingly, American outlets took aim at him. But the Persian press has too. During the United Nations General Assembly this year, Iranian Diplomacy ran a piece titled, “Comparing Ahmadinejad and Rouhani’s Trip to New York.” As it turns out, Ahmadinejad’s trip was decidedly costlier. The bad press continues now that he just missed a court appearance, which reportedly involves “nine cases stemming from his time in office.” At least one case was filed by Iran’s Majles [Parliament] speaker, Ali Larijani, a political foe of Ahmadinejad.

But for the former president, all hope is not lost. In August, right after Rouhani’s inauguration, Ahmadinejad was chosen by the Supreme Leader to sit on the Expediency Discernment Council. In late July, Tasnim News quoted Ahmadinejad as saying, “I want to establish an international university that accepts students from outside.” This was followed by a September Mehr News report that he set his sights a little lower, with plans to teach at his alma mater, Iran University of Science and Technology.

Whatever course Ahmadinejad may seek, as with all former office holders, his legacy will evolve with his actions out of office. His legacy will be debated most ferociously among the hardliners who abandoned him in 2011 when he began to challenge Iran’s Supreme Leader. His opponents bequeathed upon his supporters the label,  Jaryan-e-Enherafi” — “the deviant current,” further dividing Iran’s conservatives.

For the West, Ahmadinejad will continue to be known as a messianic extremist. This notion was reinforced by Ahmadinejad’s strange retort this September, responding to a question about his interest in running again for the presidency.

“In four years from now, Imam Zaman will come and he will reform the world,” the former president said. That, along with Iranian public opinion, might rule out another Ahmadinejad term.

Behnam Ben Taleblu is an Iran research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.