When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.


Will Ahmadinejad Turn Out To Be The Lesser Of Iran's Evils?

Ahmadinejad has loomed over the region
Ahmadinejad has loomed over the region
Gilles Paris

PARIS - For the past eight years, the Western world has loved to hate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Propelled onto the front of the political scene by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian president declared, before being elected in 2005, that the Iranian people hadn’t participated in the revolution for democracy. Since then, Ahmadinejad hasn’t missed an opportunity to make pro-democracy Iranians miss his serene predecessor Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005).

It is true that during the eight years that Khatami was president, the Islamist Republic had a better image. He was not a revolutionary reformist, but he was convinced of the importance of a “Dialogue Among Civilizations,” a mixed-bag concept that was favorable to inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue.

With Ahmadinejad and his hatred toward reformists, his messiah complex and pathological anti-Semitism, Iran had replaced an intellectual with a henchman. But at least now people knew where they stood.

Did the Western world get it all wrong? Was it blind to the point that it did not see that behind the apparatchik was hiding a sort of reincarnation of the legendary Iranian folktale hero – Kaveh the blacksmith? Kaveh, the redresser of wrongs (especially when it is he who is wronged) and defender of the public interest (as long as he has the same interest). Did the West underestimate the president’s ability to involuntarily lead his country to the fatal but effective end – implosion?

Ali Khamenei is Iran’s true leader, a theoretical incarnation of the “government of the doctrine” – Velayat al-Faqih, the foundation of the regime’s ideology. Khamenei is probably kicking himself today for throwing away a big chunk of his political clout by pledging his full support to Ahmadinejad in 2009, during his controversial – and clearly fixed – victory against former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Moussavi, an ex-apparatchik turned dissident (he has been under house arrest for almost two years).

The four years that followed the brutal repression of the Green movement, which took to the streets to contest the 2009 election results, allowed Ahmadinejad to gain independence from the Ayatollah, going from protégé to official scapegoat of the Islamic Republic.

The snubs, public humiliations and press campaigns should have ended his reign a long time ago, but they didn’t. Between the two opposing camps, issues are now settled in the heart of the institutions – for all to see. In what other totalitarian regime can you see – as was the case on Feb. 2 – a president, reading in front of a Parliament that hates him, the transcript of a compromising illegal phone tap of a high-ranking justice official, who is also the brother of the head of the Parliament, and who in passing is also close to Khamenei.

His Arab neighbors, who used to deal with sedition with bloody purges, must have been stunned.

Internecine wars

The balance of power is not really in favor of Ahmadinejad. Against him stand the Ayatollah, the powerful Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution and the Parliament. Faced with all this, Ahmadinejad has little chance of retaining power by installing one of his close allies as president during the next election, in June. The Guardian Council of the Constitution will probably exclude his allies from running, starting with his councilor and in-law, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.

This internecine war has already had hugely damaging consequences. By continually criticizing the judiciary system and accusing it of corruption, by asking to visit the sinister Evine prison, where political prisoners – and now his friends – are held, Ahmadinejad has managed to convince the “silent majority” of the perversity of the revolution. This is the rural and popular electorate who worshipped him and carried him to power. On the other hand, Khamenei, by failing to reign in both sides of the conflict, risks losing his status and falling down from Supreme leader, to the level of mere faction leader.

As much as we delight in this spectacle and public airing of dirty laundry, the weakening of the regime will create a chain reaction of problems. First and foremost, there is a risk that Iranians will lose all interest in the presidential election. Faced with, on one hand the last remaining reformers, who are asking themselves if it is worth participating in the election, and on the other hand with Ahmadinejad’s cronies, Khamenei might be tempted to play it as close to the vest as possible, perhaps asking his Parliament to choose a president.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


My Wife, My Boyfriend — And Grandkids: A Careful Coming Out For China's Gay Seniors

A series of interviews in Wuhan with aging gay men — all currently or formerly married to women — reveals a hidden story of how Chinese LGBTQ culture is gradually emerging from the shadows.

Image of two senior men playing chinese Checkers.

A friendly game of Checkers in Dongcheng, Beijing, China.

Wang Er

WUHAN — " What do you think of that guy sitting there, across from us? He's good looking."

" Then you should go and talk to him."

“ Too bad that I am old..."

Grandpa Shen was born in 1933. He says that for the past 40 years, he's been "repackaged," a Chinese expression for having come out as gay. Before his wife died when he was 50, Grandpa Shen says he was was a "standard" straight Chinese man. After serving in the army, he began working in a factory, and dated many women and evenutually got married.

"Becoming gay is nothing special, I found it very natural." Grandpa Shen says he discovered his homosexuality at the Martyrs' Square in Wuhan, a well-known gay men's gathering place.

✉️ You can receive our LGBTQ+ International roundup every week directly in your inbox. Subscribe here.

Wuhan used to have different such ways for LGBTQ+ to meet: newspaper columns, riversides, public toilets, bridges and baths to name but a few. With urbanization, many of these locations have disappeared. The transformation of Martyrs' Square into a park has gradually become a place frequented by middle-aged and older gay people in Wuhan, where they play cards and chat and make friends. There are also "comrades" (Chinese slang for gay) from outside the city who come to visit.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest