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Ahmadinejad faces pressure after failed presidential bid

Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad turns to crowdfunding to pay for a new office for his bodyguards after a property seizure by the authorities.
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C front) listens to his supporters during the funeral ceremony of Iran's Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi, who was killed in Saudi Arabia in a stampede at the haj pilgrimage, after Friday prayer in Tehran November 27, 2015. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY.  - RTX1W3E5

On May 29, Iranian law enforcement officers along with staff from the presidency confiscated a building in east Tehran used by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bodyguards. In response, the former president’s office issued a statement putting the responsibility for any potential harm to Ahmadinejad on the administration of President Hassan Rouhani, the judiciary and the Ansar-ul-Mahdi Corps, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) unit tasked with protecting top officials including presidents, judiciary chiefs, parliament speakers and lawmakers. Ansar-ul-Mahdi 

On the same night, Ahmadinejad’s office also launched a crowdfunding campaign to pay for a new office for his bodyguards. It said that in response to “increasing calls from across the country,” it was introducing a joint bank account under the names of Ahmadinejad and his former vice president, Hamid Baghaei, for public donations. Of note, Baghaei and Ahmadinejad both registered to run in the May 19 presidential elections — and both failed to gain the Guardian Council’s approval.

Amid the ongoing controversy, the Reformist Etemaad Daily on June 1 cited the presidential administration office as saying that the building in question was state property and seized after three years of illegal use by Ahmadinejad’s security team.

As another war of words was in the making, some pro-government media outlets began publishing articles and cartoons mocking the ex-president and accusing him of engaging in fundraising for his own political purposes.

Ali Akbar Javanfekr, the spokesman for Ahmadinejad’s office, told Al-Monitor, “They introduced the bank account after supporters from across the country contacted [us] and expressed concerns about the security of the ex-president.” He rejected the announced reasons for the confiscation of the building, saying, “Based on a piece of legislation ratified under ex-President Mohammad Khatami [1997-2005], all incumbent governments are bound to provide an annual budget and support the civil and administrative activities of ex-presidents.”

Critics say Ahmadinejad did to his Reformist predecessor precisely what he is now objecting to — pointing to how his government ordered Khatami and his team to evacuate their state-provided offices. They also argue that Ahmadinejad should provide for his own security team, asking why public coffers should be used for such a purpose.

Javanfekr, however, dismissed these arguments, telling Al-Monitor, “President Khatami used a four-story building during seven years of Ahmadinejad’s term [2005-13] and evacuated it of his own will in the last year [of Ahmadinejad’s second term] when another office was suggested to him in the Jamaran district [in the north of Tehran] by Seyyed Hassan Khomeini,” the grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Javanfekr added, “Though the current government has put some hurdles before Ahmadinejad, it still provides Khatami with full security measures. That is in addition to the annual budget [which the government allocates to former presidents], and even in one case, paying the entire cost of renovation works at Khatami’s Baran Foundation.”

It appears that since his failed bid to run for a third term, implicit restrictions on Ahmadinejad have increased, such as apparent limitations on his public appearances. The confiscation of his bodyguards’ office and the fact that they are members of the IRGC also points to political maneuvering being at play.

It was not until June 10 that the Ansar-ul-Mahdi Corps said in a statement that it is the responsibility of the presidency to “support” protective measures in regard to former presidents. Although the statement confirms that based on the Iranian military code, the Ansar-ul-Mahdi Corps is tasked with protecting officials, it warned both sides to keep the force out of their political feud.

In other signs of pressure on the former president, former Ahmadinejad adviser Abdolreza Davari was detained and transferred to Evin Prison to begin serving a two-year sentence only two days after the building confiscation. Davari was in August 2015 found guilty of “insulting the supreme leader” after allegedly posting comments against Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on his Facebook page. He insists that his Facebook account was hacked. Following Davari’s detention, Javanfekr in a June 1 post on his Telegram channel accused the judiciary of being biased against pro-Ahmadinejad journalists and media activists.

Meanwhile, the conservative website Raja News has in past weeks posted several videos on its Telegram channel showing people protesting against Ahmadinejad at some of his public appearances. The last video, posted June 9, was apparently from the funeral of the victims of the June 7 terrorist attacks in Tehran, showing some among the crowds chanting slogans against Ahmadinejad and in support of Khamenei. It is not clear why Raja News later deleted that specific video. Photos released after the public funeral also show Ahmadinejad sitting among ordinary mourners rather than the area allocated to senior officials.

Al-Monitor put the question of whether Ahmadinejad has been put under implicit restrictions to Javanfekr, who responded, “There’s a feeling that such a policy is in place, though it is never told publicly or officially stated.”

On May 31 — two days into the crowdfunding campaign — the semi-official ISNA news agency reported that at least 1 billion rials ($30,807) had been raised. Dolat-e Bahar, Ahmadinejad’s unofficial website, has published numerous photos of receipts with notes of support from his backers. The website on June 5 said that enough money has been raised to cover the expenses for a new office for Ahmadinejad’s bodyguards and that additional funds — which it said were still pouring in — would be allocated to charity. Javanfekr declined Al-Monitor’s request that he elaborate on the specific amount of money that has been received so far.

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