The origin of the dispute started when I exposed the Iranian secret documentary, The Coming is Upon Us, which depicts both Ahmadinejad and Khamenei as the mythical figures who will bring about the reappearance of Imam Mahdi, the Shiite’s 12th Imam. The movie was made in collaboration with the president’s office, specifically with the help of Rahim Mashaei, President Ahmadinejad’s top adviser and chief of staff. As soon as there was wide coverage of this news in the Western media, the senior clerics in Qom, the country’s seat of Shiite scholarship, harshly complained claiming that now the enemy (the West) is using this video to weaken the Islamic Republic of Iran by showing the inside intimacies of their sacred beliefs to the world. They also complained that Mashaei is trying to empower Ahmadinejad beyond the supreme leader and diminish the role of the clerics.
The rifts became more intense after the dismissal of Minister of Intelligence Heidar Moslehi by Ahmadinejad and the ensuing restatement of the minister by the supreme leader. Ahmadinejad wants control of the Intelligence Ministry and so do the opposing factions close to Khamenei. In the following days, many hardline clerics announced that not obeying the supreme leader would not be tolerated, adding that obeying him is mandated by Allah.
Over the course of last week, the hardliners, thirsty for power and with the backing of Khamenei, arrested 25 people loyal to Ahmadinejad and Mashaei and have blocked several websites allied with them. Among those arrested is the cleric Abbas Amirifar, the prayer leader of the presidential palace. He has been charged in connection with the production of the movie.
In response, the Ahmadinejad supporters, which include many in the Revolutionary Guards and Basij, warned the hardliners (supporters of Khamenei) that there will be blood and that neither Ahmadinejad nor Mashaei will allow this attack without responding.
Most significant is that no one from the inside has ever challenged Khamenei to this extent, so his prestige is diminished. One thing is for sure though: regardless of what happens now, the blow to the Iranian leadership will be permanent. If the Islamic Republic of Iran lost its legitimacy over the fraudulent elections of 2009, it has now lost the legitimacy of the power of its supreme leader!
Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for an ex-CIA spy who requires anonymity for safety reasons. He is the author of A Time to Betray, a book about his double life as a CIA agent in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, published by Threshold Editions, Simon & Schuster, April 2010.