Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ahmadinejad's dangerous gamble

Ahmadinejad’s latest visit to New York and the U.N. general assembly may have been just another routine visit to the limelight and world media spotlight as far as international media was concerned. But in more serious circuits and company, his bizarre rhetoric, and blatant lies and denials carried little weight as he became a source for puns and ridicule, hardly taken seriously anymore. Evident by the way the US and European heavy weights kept their focus on issues that mattered to them and did not allow for the usual distractions or deflections of Mahmoud and co.

So while Ahmadinejad was cuddled and pampered by his “friends” in the US media, he desperately needed something to divert the attention away from the downward spiral Iran’s economy has taken after the sanctions, the ever widening cleavage of conservatives and the growing number of opposition from within the halls of regime as well as the worsening conditions of human rights in Iran. He needed something equivalent to a media bomb which would suck up all the oxygen from all quarters and take away any straying eye from what awaits him in the country, contrary to what he wants the naïve interviewers in the US to believe. With him, the more provocative the remarks, the better it would suit him.

This move was to be expected. But what was not expected was the subject of his media bomb that was frankly quite reprehensible. Or in the words of president Obama, “disgusting and inexcusable”. Apart from the fact that according to Ahmadinejad, any spotlight on him is beneficial, be it positive or negative, what else did such statement serve? He has been under tremendous pressure at home from the growing number of conservatives, parliamentarians, including some of his own close associates for remarks he and his right-hand, Rahim Mashaei have uttered, pitting the idea of nationalism against the governmental Islam that had quite a few clergy and Khamenei lackeys up in arms.

There needed to be a plug for the loss of popularity among the ruling class and any vile accusation or provocative rhetoric against the “great Satan” would find purchase with this class. And lo and behold as 195 members of parliament immediately issued words of support and encouragement for his “daring statesmanship” on question the role of the US government in 9/11. This, he hoped, would provide some needed respite from the furor of attacks on him and his failing economic agenda.

Such stances also find some resonance in the streets of the Muslim world and he has shown to be sensitive to this issue as the regime has always had an eye on the pulse of the Arab world, always looking for support among the masses.

However, this may have been a very bad time to be this provocative. Especially if he entertained any idea of softening the US administration or Europeans with respect to the crippling sanctions even if he opts for a defiant posture on the surface. In fact he couldn’t have timed it worse as this year saw a major shift in US intentions towards opening up to Iran. Unlike previous years, amidst the familiar sight of empty seats, a couple of US delegates (albeit low level ones) were among those who attended Ahmadinejad’s speech, perhaps an extension of an olive branch. But as he, ever so undiplomatically, brought up the theories of 9/11, the US delegates along with several other European counterparts stood up and departed the hall in protest, as Mahmoud went on and on, addressing even more empty seats.

Such drivel also highlights the vast difference between the regular Iranian population and the ruling class in Iran. Something that Mr. Obama addressed in his interview with BBC Persian. This new attitude of the administration may hold some promise for the people of Iran, worth keeping an eye on in weeks to come.

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