How to Alienate Your Allies In Iran

Attacks on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are coming from unexpected corners. As he arrives in New York to attend the United Nations' General Assembly opening this week, hardliners back home—including some who were once his close allies—are undercutting their former standard-bearer every chance they get.

The hostility became impossible to ignore last month when Iran's Parliament demanded a review of Ahmadinejad's five-year economic plan and the president balked. Weeks of bitter rhetoric ensued, with legislators denouncing him as "dictatorial" and "authoritarian." Amid the uproar, he tried to appoint five officials to act as his personal emissaries around the world, earning not only another parliamentary smackdown but a direct rebuke from Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Those quarrels faded into relative insignificance when the president's office announced plans to free jailed American hiker Sarah Shourd at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. According to Iranian diplomats who asked not to be named, Ahmadinejad wanted to use Shourd's release to show off his authority before the New York trip. "The release of the American was his chance to say that he was really powerful," says one diplomat. Hours after the announcement, adversaries in Iran's judiciary declared the release illegal. Only after the president's office publicly accepted the judiciary's ruling and retracted its announcement did the judiciary relent and allow the ailing Shourd to leave Evin Prison and be flown out of the country.

Ahmadinejad's hardline critics accuse him of trying to create his own parallel institutions outside the constitutional system of checks and balances. They say he's betraying Khamenei—whose blessing made Ahmadinejad's presidency possible in 2005, and who called his 2009 reelection "a divine phenomenon." The Supreme Leader still needs Ahmadinejad as his attack dog against Iran's reformists, but people close to the ayatollah say he's enjoying the president's discomfiture. A video shows Khamenei presiding over a recent meeting of students belonging to the Basij paramilitary force—the main engine of Ahmadinejad's reelection. One delivers a speech, warning Ahmadinejad that his status as president means nothing if he doesn't obey Khamenei's wishes. As the students chant, "Death to those who are against the Supreme Leader!" Khamenei looks on placidly, nodding with evident approval and taking notes. Ahmadinejad might want to take a few notes of his own.

How to Alienate Your Allies In Iran | World