The PJ Tatler

Ahmadinejad in Trouble at Home for Chavez Tribute

It seems that there is a level of nuttiness that even the crazy mullahs in Iran won’t tolerate.

In his condolence letter to the people of Venezuela, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was so effusive in his praise of Hugo Chavez that he drew harsh rebukes from clergy and ordinary people alike:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s lionization of his Venezuelan friend Hugo Chávez caused a political firestorm in the Islamic Republic, as doubts arose over whether the two countries could carry on their tight alliance now that Mr. Chávez is dead.

Mr. Ahmadinejad declared a national day of mourning for Mr. Chávez and wrote in a condolence letter to Venezuela that Mr. Chávez would be resurrected with Jesus Christ and Imam Mahdi—Shiite Islam’s prophesied redeemer—to save humanity and bring justice to the world.

“He was the emotional pillar for all the revolutionary and freedom-seeking people of the region and the world,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said of Mr. Chávez in his letter, which was published on his website and reported by Iranian media. “His holy soul and pure thoughts will shine from above and guide humanity toward dignity and justice.”

The Iranian leader’s response drew widespread condemnation from officials, clergy and ordinary people, as the brouhaha plays out on the front pages of Iranian newspapers.

And that’s not the end of it. Ahmadinejad also gave heart palpitations to the religious police when he embraced the mother of Chavez at the funeral.

The Iranian president’s domestic opponents reacted furiously after photos emerged of him giving Elena Frias de Chavez, 78, a consoling hug at last Friday’s funeral in Caracas – at which he also kissed Mr Chavez’s coffin.

Religious conservatives said the act insulted Iran’s religious dignity and amounted to “haram” – a term used to describe a religiously forbidden act under Islamic rules.

Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, the Friday prayer leader of Iran’s second city, Isfahan, told Mehr news agency that Mr Ahmadinejad had “lost control”.

He added: “Shaking hands with a non-mahram (unrelated by family) woman, under any circumstances, whether young or old, is not allowed. Hugging or expressing emotions is improper for the dignity of the president of a country like the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Mohammad Dehghan, a member of the governing board of Iran’s parliament, the Majles, said the episode exposed the true nature of the “deviant current”, the term used by allies of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, to describe Mr Ahmadinejad and his allies.

Ahmadinejad’s term of office ends in June with the election of a new president. For many ordinary Iranians, the end won’t come soon enough.