Ahmadinejad: radical dreamer, America-baiter, soccer fan

April 28th, 2008 - 2:30 pm ICT by admin  

By Manish Chand
New Delhi, April 28 (IANS) A firebrand orator, soccer fan, America-baiter, populist leader playing with nuclear dreams, the little-known mayor of Tehran until he became president of Iran 30 months ago. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who will be here for a six-hour visit Tuesday, is unlike any Iranian leader India or the West has known. The hardline leader, known for his ascetic lifestyle and rants against America, is in many ways the antithesis of the erudite, liberal, philosopher-politician Mohammed Khatmai, the last Iranian president India hosted five years ago.

Demonised by the West for his defiance over Iran’s nuclear programme and propped up by powerful hawks in the Iranian establishment, the 52-year-old ultra conservative has come to mean different things to different people.

Relatively unknown when he was appointed mayor of Tehran in 2003, it was a surprise to many when he bested the moderates on the stirring populist slogan of “We can do it” - that is, eliminating poverty and distributing oil wealth among the poor - to become the president of Iran in August 2005.

But after nearly three years in power, he has come to be identified more closely with the spectre of the nuclear bomb the West accuses him of developing and fostering clandestinely and which he denies vehemently.

A defiant speech at the UN on the nuclear issue where he defended Iran’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy struck a chord among the Iranian people, yearning for power and prestige in a world dominated by Tehran’s pet hate: the US.

An expert manipulator of mass psychology, Ahmadinejad, the son of a blacksmith and a civil engineer with a PhD in traffic and transport from Tehran’s University of Science and Technology, has artfully dodged the US-led efforts to isolate Tehran by cashing in on the country’s considerable economic and energy ties with China and Russia.

A US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report last year saying Iran had suspended its nascent nuclear weapon programme in 2003 came as a shot in the arm for the beleaguered Iranian leader.

Ahmadinejad quickly seized on the report to justify his uncompromising hostility to the West’s strident demand asking Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment programme that could be used for making bombs.

His provocative comments to wipe Israel off the map of the world and description of the holocaust as a “myth” may have been lapped up some starry-eyed revolutionaries in Tehran streets. But it has only hardened the resolve of Tel Aviv and the powerful Jewish lobby in the US to isolate Iran.

Born in Garmsar near Tehran Oct 28, 1956, his posturing can be traced to his radicalisation during youth when he took part in Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic revolution as a member of the Revolutionary Guards.

There has been speculation about his role in the famous incident in which 52 Americans were held hostage in the US embassy in the months after the revolution. But Ahmadinejad denies his role in it.

His election promise of “putting the petroleum income on the people’s tables” and ushering in an “exemplary government for the people of the world” has so far clashed with the hard rocks of Iranian reality.

He has made some concessions to moderates by lifting a three-decade ban on Iranian women attending football matches. But that has hardly helped his dipping fortunes and popularity ratings as soaring inflation and frequent cabinet reshuffles have alienated many influential figures in the conservative establishment.

His personal website, Mardomyar, which means People’s Friend, only reflects his penchant for populism. But Ahmedinejad has spent much of his energies in ensuring he remains the US’ “enemy number one” and not in addressing the real issues. He needs to strike a balance between the two. Unless he does that his chances of getting re-elected in next year’s presidential election may just vanish in clouds of popular disillusionment.

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