An unprecedented power struggle at the heart of the Iranian regime intensified on Friday when it emerged that the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, had given an ultimatum to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to accept his intervention in a Cabinet appointment or resign.
A member of the Iranian parliament, Morteza Agha-Tehrani — who is described as “Ahmadinejad’s moral adviser” — told a gathering of his supporters that a meeting between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei had recently taken place, in which the president was given a deadline to resign or to accept the decision of the ayatollah.
The extraordinary confrontation came to light after Ahmadinejad declined officially to support Khamenei’s reinstatement of a minister whom the president had initially asked to resign.
The rift between the two men grew when the president staged an 11-day walkout in an apparent protest at Khamenei’s decision. In the first Cabinet meeting since ending his protest, the intelligence minister at the center of the row, Heydar Moslehi, was absent and in the second one on Wednesday, he was reportedly asked by Ahmadinejad to leave.
In a video released on Iranian Web sites, Agha-Tehrani quotes Ahmadinejad as saying: “[Khamenei] gave me a deadline to make up my mind. I would either accept [the reinstatement] or resign.”
Although Khamenei is not constitutionally allowed to intervene in Cabinet appointments, an -unwritten law requires all -officials to always abide by the supreme leader without showing any opposition.
Clerics close to Khamenei have launched a campaign to highlight his role in Iranian politics, saying that to disobey him is equal to apostasy, as he is “God’s representative on earth.”
Meanwhile, the president was reportedly absent from religious ceremonies this week at Khamenei’s house, where he was publicly criticized by close allies of the ayatollah. Iranian officials are traditionally required to participate in such ceremonies in order to cover up any political rift that might compromise Khamenei’s power.
Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency reported on Thursday that several members of parliament had revived a bid to summon Ahmadinejad for questioning over “the recent events.” It said 90 MPs had signed the petition, up from only 12 last week.
Under Iranian law, at least 85 more signatures are required for a possible impeachment of the president.
Supporters of Khamenei say that Ahmadinejad is surrounded by “deviants” in his inner circle, including his controversial chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who wants to undermine the involvement of clerics in Iran’s politics. Mashaei and his allies have recently been accused of using supernatural powers and invoking djinns (spirits) in pursuing the government’s policies.
Iran’s elite revolutionary guards, who played an important role in securing Ahmadinejad a second term in Iran’s 2009 disputed elections, have distanced themselves from Ahmadinejad in recent months as Mashaei’s “secular” views have become more pronounced.
In the face of the recent confrontation with Khamenei, Ahmadinejad has been left isolated, with only a handful of serious supporters.