Ahmadinejad, Mahmoud (Iran)
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the run-off in Iran’s presidential election on 24 June 2005. The ultra-conservative former Revolutionary Guard and mayor of Tehran promised to tackle domestic poverty and corruption, and analysts expected an end to the fragile social reforms made under his predecessor, President Mohammad Khatami. In foreign policy he has hardened Iran’s stance towards the West, particularly over its nuclear programme, and engaged in anti-Israeli rhetoric, which has heightened international tensions. Signs of internal dissension during his first term were reflected in his hotly disputed re-election in June 2009, which provoked waves of opposition protests and repressive government retaliation for the rest of the year and into 2010. He has since maintained his uncompromising position on Iran’s nuclear development activities and sought to strengthen ties with left-leaning Latin American governments in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador. However, in his second (and final term) of office he has overseen a further decline in the Iranian economy, aggravated by ongoing international sanctions, and has reportedly alienated Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.
The son of a blacksmith, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was born in 1956 in the village of Aradan in northern Iran. The family moved to Tehran a year later. In 1976 he took up a place to study civil engineering at the Iran University of Science and Technology (IUST). As a conservative student, he was supportive of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution in 1979. Some of the 52 Americans who were held hostage in the US embassy after the revolution allege that Ahmadinejad was among those who captured them, though he strongly denies the claim. He remained at the IUST until the late 1980s, taking a master’s degree in civil engineering, followed by a PhD in traffic and transportation engineering and planning, and then winning a professorship.
Ahmadinejad was drawn into the long-running Iran–Iraq war in 1986, when he joined the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and fought on the Iraqi border near Kirkuk. When the war ended in 1988, he worked as an engineer in the local government offices of Maku and Khvoy in the province of West Azarbayejan. In 1993 he became governor of the northwestern province of Ardabil until he was ousted following the election of the reform-minded President Mohammad Khatami in 1997. Returning to Tehran, Ahmadinejad rejoined the IUST’s civil engineering faculty, where he remained until May 2003.
Ahmadinejad was elected mayor of Tehran on 3 May 2003, and pursued conservative policies. He closed down some fast-food restaurants and banned an advertising campaign that featured a Western celebrity. His views were at odds with President Khatami, who barred him from attending cabinet meetings, a privilege normally accorded to mayors of the capital. With the backing of conservative groups, Ahmadinejad contested the June 2005 presidential elections. His campaign was aimed at the poor and disadvantaged, as well as religious hardliners. He emphasized his working-class upbringing and promised to redistribute the country’s income from oil. In a run-off against the former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, on 24 June 2005, Ahmadinejad emerged victorious, with 63.4% of the vote, although there were complaints of voting irregularities.
On 3 Aug. Ahmadinejad received the formal approval of Ayatollah Khamenei, and he became president on 6 Aug. 2005. In his inaugural address, he called for unity and the building of a model state based on principles of ‘modern, advanced, and strong Islamic government’. However, he quickly caused consternation both at home and abroad.
Within Iran, Ahmadinejad instituted a purge of various branches of government, state economic agencies and the diplomatic service, drawing accusations that he was exceeding his constitutional powers. By the end of 2006 there were signs of domestic opposition to his policies. In Dec. his supporters fared badly in elections to local councils and to the powerful Assembly of Experts. Iran’s economic malaise under his management incurred parliamentary rebuke in Jan. 2007, reportedly supported by Khamenei, and in June 2007 his government introduced petrol rationing, provoking public protests. There was also increasing evidence in 2007 of an unpopular crackdown on civil liberties. However, in parliamentary elections in March–April 2008 (in which many pro-reform candidates were barred from standing) there was a strong showing by the president’s supporters.
The June 2009 presidential election saw Ahmadinejad win 62.6% of the vote, ahead of his nearest rival Mir-Hossein Mousavi with 33.8%. However, the opposition challenged the official results and accused the government of election rigging, resulting in violent clashes between police and demonstrators. Opposition unrest continued over the following months and was met with a repressive backlash by security forces. The government, meanwhile, claimed that outside interference was responsible for fomenting the upheaval. In Dec. 2010 Ahmadinejad dismissed his foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, considered a political rival within the Iranian leadership, and replaced him with Ali Akbar Salehi. However, his reported demand for the intelligence minister, Heidar Moslehi, to resign in April 2011 was overruled by Ayatollah Khamenei, fuelling speculation of a rift between them. In parliamentary elections in March–May 2012 to the Islamic Consultative Assembly, conservative candidates supporting Khamenei and opposing Ahmadinejad won the majority of seats.
On the international stage, Iran’s resumption of uranium enrichment from Aug. 2005 intensified Western concerns over nuclear weapons proliferation. Ahmadinejad has maintained a belligerent stance on Iran’s refusal to suspend enrichment, which has resulted in a series of punitive sanctions by the United Nations Security Council, the USA and the European Union. International suspicions were heightened in Sept. 2009 by the identification of a secret uranium enrichment plant (Fordo) near the city of Qom and by Iran’s test-firing of missiles capable of reaching targets across the Middle East. Subsequent negotiations over the nuclear issue between Iran and the major Western powers have to date come to nothing as reports of an increasing enrichment capability at the Fordo facility have emanated from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Tensions were further exacerbated by US accusations in Oct. 2011 of Iranian complicity in an alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington and by the ransacking of the British embassy in Tehran by an Iranian crowd in Dec. that year, in response to which all Iranian diplomats were expelled from the UK. In Jan. 2012 Ahmadinejad’s government threatened to block the shipping of oil exports through the Strait of Hormuz and warned its Arab Gulf neighbours not to back Western attempts to isolate Iran. Nevertheless, further punitive US and EU sanctions, targeting Iranian oil exports in particular, took effect in June and July that year.
Meanwhile, anti-Israeli speeches by Ahmadinejad and his denunciation of the Holocaust as a myth have continued to provoke international condemnation. In Sept. 2010, in his address to the UN General Assembly, he accused the US government of orchestrating the 11 Sept. 2001 suicide hijacking attacks to reverse its declining influence in the Middle East and to prop up Israel, prompting a walkout by Western diplomats. His remarks were labelled ‘abhorrent and delusional’. In his UN address in Sept. 2012 he accused Israel of intimidating Iran with threats to attack its nuclear facilities.
Ahmadinejad was not eligible to stand again in presidential elections held in June 2013, which were won by Hassan Rouhani, a moderate cleric. On 3 Aug. 2013 Ahmadinejad stepped down as Rouhani took over the Iranian presidency. Ahmadinejad was subsequently appointed as a member of the Expediency Council, an advisory body for the Supreme Leader.
In June 2016 it was reported that Ahmadinejad was planning to stand in the presidential election of May 2017. However, in Sept, 2016 Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei advised Ahmadinejad not to run for president. In April 2017 he registered to run but the Guardian Council, which vets candidates, rejected his nomination.