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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.

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Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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