Robert Fisk: It may be too late for President Ahmadinejad to save his own skin


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The Independent Online

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's irascible, unpredictable but devout President, may be forced to resign in the coming weeks as a political crisis far greater than the massive street violence that followed his re-election in 2009 threatens to overwhelm him and his court favourites in the government.

The overweening influence of his close friend and confidant Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei – the President's chief of staff who is also blamed for the firing of two intelligence ministers and for infuriating even the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei – is expected to bring down Ahmadinejad in one of the most spectacular putsches in the Islamic Republic's history.

Iranian politicians are already speculating on who would succeed the President – Ali Akbar Salehi, the Foreign Minister who led Iran's atomic agency for four years, is a favourite – as three of Rahim Mashaei's close allies have been purged in just three days, arrested by security agencies while Ahmadinejad has remained uncharacteristically silent.

The darkness may soon close in over Rahim Mashaei – the nearest Iran has to a government "spin doctor" – and thus embrace the man over whom he has allegedly cast a spell, Ahmadinejad himself. The potential fall of Ahmadinejad is a story worthy of any Persian tale, a pageant of court favouritism, abrupt firings of otherwise loyal ministers, apparent challenges to the Islamic heritage of Iran and an acute case of political hubris by the President himself, all overshadowed by the immense power of Ayatollah Khamenei who holds the near-divine role created by the Islamic Republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

According to those who have followed the saga from Ahmadinejad's original election to the presidency in 2005 – he only won in the second round and was never expected to hold office – the conservative clergy and revolutionary founders, the "principalists" as they call themselves, believed that Ahmadinejad never had the stature for his role as Iran's political leader.

In Iran, they say that Ahmadinejad, who under the Iranian constitution cannot stand for President again in 2013, has at last realised his own desperate situation.

In Tehran, Rahim Mashaei is now being denounced daily as a "deviant" – another dangerous expression in the lexicon of the Islamic Republic – and the President is supposedly prepared at last to sacrifice his chief adviser to save his own skin.

The fact that a senior official in the government was prepared this week, privately, to predict to me his possible demise, suggests that it may be too late.