Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Year of Living Dangerously | Current Affairs | DW | 03.08.2006
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Current Affairs

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Year of Living Dangerously

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn into office on August 3, 2005. One year on, Deutsche Welle's Peter Philipp looks back on Ahmadinejad's impact on his country and on the wider international community.

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Ahmadinejad has not shied away from pointing an accusing finger at his enemies

"Even if our Ministry of Finance, our bank accounts and our households should be empty one day, as God is my witness, Ahmadinejad and his government are ready to come here and work with their hands to build up Lorestan. We would be proud to do it."

It was another example of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's skill at gathering the population to him and whipping them into a frenzy of support with populist rhetoric. Speaking at a rally in the province of Lorestan in March, Ahmadinejad showed again how easy it was to get the Iranian people on side -- by showing that he was one of them.

His simple lifestyle and his ability to distance himself from the corruption that has dogged many other politicians in his country adds credibility to his "man of the people" approach and sets him apart from his predecessors.

These qualities and this approach were the primary forces behind Ahmadinejad's election victory on June 25, 2005. In only the second round of the ballot, Ahmadinejad secured 61 percent of the vote to end the challenges of the favorite Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, leading to former parliamentary leader Mehdi Karroubi accusing the newly anointed president of electoral fraud.

Such claims and other voices of dissent have been silent for some time. Ahmadinejad became the Islamic Republic's sixth president last year on Aug. 3; since then, his words and actions have made his country and the wider world captive audiences.

USA: Ahmadinejad's public enemy no.1

With populist outpourings, virulent anti-Israeli and anti-American rhetoric and a self-confident and provocative posture in the crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions, Ahmadinejad has created more foreign policy problems for his country in just one year than any of his predecessors.

Kombo Iran USA Mahmoud Ahmadinedschad und George Bush

Ahmadinejad made a point of antagonizing Bush

The target of most of his vitriol is the West and, specifically, the United States: "They accuse our people of violating human rights and freedom. If God wants it, we will put (the Americans) before people's courts. Our people have culture and civilization; ours are free and revolutionary people."

These people were promised a remedy for the unfulfilled hopes and the underprivileged existence of many of their number after Ahmadinejad's election victory. The qualified engineer-turned-president, who was only two years before made mayor of Tehran, made it easier for the man on the street to get cheap loans, buy homes and also health insurance.

However, it soon became clear that on the domestic front, as well as in the international arena, Ahmadinejad would be no trouble-free president. He appointed old companions from his time with the revolutionary guards in ministerial and other posts -- some of whom he then had to replace again after embarrassing displays of incompetence -- and he began to distinguish himself in the wider world, making enemies and friends in equal measure.

A damning appraisal of the UN

"Justice should be of the utmost importance in this organization and according to its charter, all member states should have the same rights," he told the United Nations assembly during his first speech at the UN. "Bigger power or bigger wealth should not provide any member with more rights than any other."

His speech set a precedent for bating the UN. As tensions increased over Iran's nuclear ambitions, Ahmadinejad resolutely rejected every compromise offered as an unreasonable capitulation. He then further angered the international community by ostentatiously celebrating Iran's first successful enrichment of uranium.

At the same time, Ahmadinejad opened a second front by launching scathing attacks on Israel, quoting the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini by stating the Jewish state should be "wiped off the map" and adding his own words on Holocaust denial.

Holocaust denial caused outrage

Iran Präsident Mahmud Ahmadinedschad fordert Zerstörung Israels

Ahmadinejad favors explosive rhetoric

"If the Europeans say that they killed 6 million Jews in the Second World War; if you have really burned 6 million Jews in the ovens … and this seems to be correct because you maintain this over and over again and punish everybody which is of another opinion, you even condemn your scholars who are of another opinion….So, we ask you: If you have really committed this big crime -- why should the suppressed Palestinian people be punished for it?"

"If you have committed a crime, you yourselves should pay for it. Our suggestion remains unchanged: If you have committed a crime, it is only right that you make part of your own land available -- in Europe, the USA, Canada or Alaska -- and establish (a Jewish state) there. You could be assured that the Iranian people have nothing against it."

Ahmadinejad's comments caused an international storm of outrage, which gave the Iranian president the affirmation he needed to increase his attacks. He compared the US administration, for example, to Genghis Khan and then likened Israel to Hitler's Third Reich. In the Muslim world, Ahmadinejad scored many points with his provocation, even in Arab countries which had a natural distrust of Iran but saw he was a man of conviction who was ready to take on the US and Israel.

Stance has further alienated Iran

Iran Atomstreit Demonstration in Berlin

Attitudes to Iran in the West have hardened

Catastrophically, that loathing and irritation of the West colored the nuclear question and the West's posture towards Iran began to harden.

A year after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office; he has inspired much debate and has acquired mass support in his own country but has consequently painted Iran into a corner. If one is searching for a reason why, the most logical explanation would be that Ahmadinejad would like to restore the atmosphere of the early Islamic republic. Only in self-imposed isolation can such a theocracy survive on a continuing basis.

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